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  • Writer's pictureOliver Nowak

CIOs should Communicate like Psychologists, not Technologists

No matter how well thought out and strategic a CIO’s initiatives and roadmap, they are completely useless unless the business is bought in. As I have already said many times, ultimately, technology problems are people problems - if the people are disconnected, it doesn’t matter how good the technology is, it’s not going to solve any problems.

With this in mind, CIOs shouldn’t be technologists, they need to be psychologists. If their job role is to create a successful technology programme, it’s going to rely on connection and collaboration with the people in your business.

So how do you go about developing this connection?

It ultimately rests with your ability to communicate. Communication is a central tool to connecting with people. It creates an atmosphere of understanding, transparency and purpose. And all of these characteristics are essential to a successful transformation project.

Let’s start with understanding.

Large-scale digital transformation projects are beasts. They rapidly become incredibly overwhelming.

To the indirect recipients of the transformation, a lack of understanding quickly manifests itself in frustration and resistance. If they are unclear on how the project is going to benefit them, they are always going to feel inclined to want to stick to what they know. And the more out-of-the-loop they feel, the more frustration they will feel. If you want your project to succeed, you need these people to not only understand what you are trying to achieve, but be advocates of its success.

To the individual contributors, a lack of understanding can be equally risky. It is essential that these people understand how their efforts are making an impact, regardless how big or small. Showing your individual contributors that they are valued will help morale and make sure that everyone throughout the project remains engaged and bought-in.

Next up, transparency.

The larger the project, the more cloak and dagger it becomes. It makes sense. The bigger the project, the more there is on the line for the organisation and so the key stakeholders are naturally going to do all they can to protect what gets communicated out to the execs or the people on the ground. I’m here to tell you, stop being so proud. Projects are going to face speed bumps, and the bigger the project the bigger the speed bumps - no one is naive enough not to recognise that. And, ultimately, the more detail you hold back, the more you are going to miss out on the plethora of value to be realised through transparency.

So, why does transparency matter?

Well, firstly, the power of progress is fundamental to what it means to be a human being. It’s hard wired into our DNA and a large part of the reason why technology exists in the first place, or we’d still be content as hunter gatherers. The drive for progress is built into our very being, and that’s why transparency is so important.

When we think about progress our minds naturally get drawn to those big one-off, highly emotional achievements like achieving a long-term goal or experiencing a major breakthrough. As great as these are, they are relatively rare. However, research shows that even small wins, as innocuous as they may feel relative to these big wins, still generate outsized reactions influencing motivation, happiness and creativity.

And, again, for those not directly involved in the project, understanding the full scope of the project is going to be almost impossible. Full transparency is going to connect them to something they would otherwise feel like a passenger to.

So make sure you’re always remaining fully transparent and make sure you do it through a variety of channels including email updates, team meetings, and progress reports. The key is to ensure that the communication is consistent and that it reaches all relevant stakeholders.

Lastly, we have purpose.

The power of working on something meaningful should never be underestimated. It’s all well and good making progress, but progress is only truly made if it’s related to a project that people feel is really making a difference and having an impact. When people are working on a project they feel is really making a difference, but not just that, can see how their efforts are making a difference, then they are going to work disproportionately harder and are more than happy to do so.

Any transformation project, even the small ones, requires a huge amount of commitment and you are only going to generate the level of commitment necessary for success if people see the meaning in their work and are regularly reminded of it. But it goes even further than that.

This sense of commitment has a compounding effect. Through communication of the small wins, that sense of meaning expands out to the whole organisation as people feel connected to a shared purpose. This fosters unparalleled collaboration and engagement of the whole organisation, making you more likely to achieve a successful outcome - together.

Key Takeaways:

  • What communication channels do your employees interact with the most?

  • Answer these questions:

    • What change is happening?

    • Why is it happening?

    • What is the impact on them?

  • Identify Change Champions who will create bespoke messaging for their teams

  • Find ways for measuring resistance to change - surveys, channel interaction volumes, sample set of interviews

  • Create a timeline for improvement. What is your level of resistance today? This is your baseline. What is your timeline for improvement?

  • Use these metrics to test and refine your communication plan. Implement regular check-ups to make sure you are seeing the level of improvement that you’re looking for.

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