“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men often go awry.” This famous line from the Robert Burns' poem To a Mouse, 1786, is something that each of us has experienced in our careers as information technology professionals. Planning before taking action is the most prudent method to managing the complexity of delivering meaningful technology solutions to our customers. Unfortunately even the best laid plans may be derailed by contentious and downright obstructive behavior on the part of those individuals who truly are afraid of change. These individuals have a perceived vested interest in the status quo and will do everything possible to keep things the way they are. This is human nature at work. The challenge we face as change agents in our organization is to recognize these obstructionist behaviors in order to respond appropriately.
From a technology perspective, creating a robust enterprise data warehouse (EDW) environment has proven to be a complex undertaking, but ultimately attainable. The typical EDW initiative is driven by the business need for organizations to compete at a national or international level. This requires data standardization, data conformance and data sharing. An EDW sets the foundation for sharing data across the enterprise in a controlled and managed environment providing the end-user community with an integrated view of enterprise data to enable cross-functional and cross-departmental strategic and tactical decisions.
One of the primary reasons for EDW initiative failures is not technology related but is instead directly related to change resistance. This should not surprise anyone given the aversion many of us have to change. If we understand the reasons behind this fear of change, we will be better prepared to use our persuasion skills with those individuals who can do the most damage to our enterprise-wide data sharing goals.
Blinded By Success
Your organization is not built on statistics -- bottom lines, stock prices, global market forces -- but on ideas and visions of what the business could be, what its leaders want it to become. What prevents us from seeing into the future and embracing the changes necessary to enable these new visions? Many leaders, especially those in successful businesses naturally tend to keep playing the same old tunes. After all, why argue with success?
The problem with this philosophy is that nothing on this earth is static. Change is a fact of life; indeed survival is based upon adaptation to changing conditions. Your organization is no different. What if your industry was significantly deregulated? You can bet that your forward-thinking competitors will be planning to prosper in a deregulated environment. Some of your competitors have a sixth sense for industry change. They know it is coming and they have an intuitive sense of how their business can reposition itself in order to take advantage of these changes. We have to be careful that we are not prevented from seeing the future because we are blinded by the sum of our past and current successes.
One of the biggest challenges facing an organization when contemplating an EDW initiative occurs not in middle management, but at the senior management level. Although middle managers appear to resist change, ultimately they will have to embrace change within your company or else find employment with another organization.
When genuine disagreement occurs at the top, senior management often cannot agree on how to accomplish the goals of the EDW or even what the goals are. Having gained personal power within the organization because they know how to effectively work within the current business model, senior managers can have heated disagreements with each other over the need to deploy an EDW. Many executives are not comfortable sharing cross-functional or cross-departmental information with other senior managers.
In order to implement an EDW it is imperative to gain senior management commitment. In many organizations, change agents face a great deal of resistance both inside the IT department and outside it when data integration projects are attempted. IT professionals are by nature a creative lot, who enjoy the challenge of unraveling the nightmare world of data interfaces many organizations struggle under. Outside, in user departments, the user wants exclusive rights over their own data. Senior management must motivate both groups to get onboard the EDW project. Senior management must directly participate in the planning and quality reviews of the EDW project. Without this level of commitment, middle management may oppose and undermine the project.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
What is the secret to getting to a robust enterprise data warehouse (EDW) environment? There is no secret at all; it essentially boils down to a few straightforward tactics:
- Give individuals a chance for involvement. This can help them feel more committed to the EDW initiative.
- Communicate what is happening at every step of the EDW initiative. Let your constituents know what they can anticipate next. Information counts in building commitment to a change especially when done with a step-by-step approach.
- Dividing a big change into a number of small steps can help make it less risky and threatening.
- It is not only important to provide information to build commitment to change, but also arrange the timing of the information's release. Give people advance notice, a warning, and a chance to adjust their thinking.
- Help people save face by not making critical remarks toward the old way of doing things. Instead, commitment to change is ensured when past actions are put in perspective - as the apparently correct thing to have done then, but now times are different. This way people do not lose face for changing; the opposite occurs. They look strong and flexible. They have been honored for what they accomplished under the old conditions, even if it is now time to change.
- Look for and reward pioneers, innovators and early successes to serve as role models.
- Make sure people feel competent by ensuring there is sufficient training and education available so they understand what is happening.
Remember the News Years' resolutions you made on January 1st, about changing something in your life. Typically, these resolutions, while well meant, are not totally implemented by us during the year. This behavior is universal. How many times have you said to yourself that I will lose 10 pounds this year?
Deep down your obstructionist constituents want to change. With your help they will change their mind setting the stage for the comprehensive enterprise-wide business intelligence and the extraordinary return on investment that an EDW environment can deliver to your organization.
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