Andrew McCune
March 06, 2017

Improving Culture between Business and IT

The corporate salute is alive and well in business, and one of the salutes is between the business and IT. Specifically, the corporate salute is where the business blames IT for delivering late with less than promised, and IT blames the business for not making up their mind in time short of grasping the new technology available.

While in many businesses, this divide is potentially small because the product is technology and the survival of the business is based upon technology, there are still many more businesses that are struggling in this corporate salute as it was identified in Leaders and Pressing Issues, 2016 BTOES Insight Report.. To address this pressing issue, a leader must step forward to accelerate the right change in order to change this culture of saluting between business and IT – as with any functional divide.

In the late 90’s, GE formulated the Change Acceleration Model (CAP), see Figure 1. This model is widely published, written about, improved upon, and illustrates the leading of change. As a Leader, you may recognize it from past training and development. Many leaders claim to do CAP, but the temptation to drive can override creating push leads to shove and the impasse of the corporate salute will   prevail.

Screenshot 2017-03-07 00.41.35.png Screenshot 2017-03-07 00.41.44.png

Figure 1: GE Change Acceleration Model (CAP)           Figure 2: Three Levels of Culture (Schein)


As a savvy leader, you employ an approach to identify a topic that both business and IT need – is essential to their success. This becomes the shared need. You begin along the path of engagement and collaboration to shape a future state vision. You are now in the stage of defining the future state, the current state, the right metrics to know when we have arrived, and who all the stakeholders are that are involved with the path to the future state. Then it happens… 

Mobilizing grinds to a halt with the effort. Action Items slip. Meeting attendance drops. Response to messages fades. Resistance sets in…resistance to what? We were on same page about this effort, right? Instincts to press forward kick in, and driving takes over. Now, it is a forcing function to get the work done.  Make no mistake, driving is important, but often over emphasized, over played at the wrong    time, and ultimately ensures the defeat of the effort entirely.    Why?

Could it be that the effort misaligned with strategy? Is the effort not centered on the right revenue,  cost, profit, EBIT, NOPLAT formula? A clear minded second look will validate for sure - probably not an alignment issue at this point. Rather, this is the cultural wall. Culture is more than what is visible or verbalized. 

Schein identify three levels of culture see figure 2: artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions. The deepest level, basic underlying assumptions, is where to focus. When the stakeholders see a foggy roadmap to the future state, and they perceive a step along the way to violate the unspoken assumption around how the place really runs around here, the resistance will begin. If the food chain comes under too much risk, the resistance will being. If the roadmap takes the other leaders out of the comfort zone of their experience, talent, and skills, the resistance will begin. At this point, resistance becomes your friend as it gives you clues as to why no one is jumping off. 

Resistance is the signal to ensure everyone is safe, everyone is getting their questions answered, and to ensure that the scope is not too big. If you as the leader begin driving here, you will experience speed to failure, but not necessarily the innovation of 3P speed to failure often espoused in the Lean world.

Rather, pause, go back to higher, and ensure the shared need and scope of vision, everyone involved is kept safe. Can the effort fail and not bankrupt the company? Will its success help breakthrough the corporate salute everyone wants to break? Wants to avoid? Check your case for change, adjust, and gain safety. Then, re-engage on the transition state or roadmap to the future. As the leader, your role model of change on the shared need will begin to change assumptions as to how the place really runs. Listen, resolve, refine, and influence the other stakeholders to make the leap into a safe transition state. This is not driving. This is hand holding partnership to safely take on the risk. Rinse and repeat as many times as needed through transition to the changed systems and structures of the future state.  Momentum will rebuild, and the win-win will be realized.

Improving the culture between the business and IT is a leader to leader task before it becomes a leader  to follower task. This task is to build safety around changing the underlying assumptions of how things really get done. Partnering, not necessarily driving, through a Change Acceleration Process (CAP) framework, the corporate salute can be stopped. The first win is always on a right shared need, preserving win-win, and then tipping over to a successive effort. 

Andrew S. McCune
Senior Process Consultant, Engagement Director
Strategy Deployment, Operational Excellence, Change Management

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