posted 10 Nov 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 2
Fred Ramos provides an overview of how acculturation techniques can influence successful change management projects
Most organisations have applied change management techniques to their business model and continue to develop an ongoing process in response to an increasing demand for change. Organisations have also become adept at recognising the emerging requirement to change, managing successful change within their business and staying vigilant for the next requirement to implement change.
The next wave of change incentives will have a broader impact on organisations, bringing not only the economic, technology and market changes we have learned to recognise, but also a new type of political, social, and global change. In a free market, competition perpetually disturbs the status quo (which feels good because change has been beaten out of it). However, successful companies understand competition. They have studied it for a long time and think they know all the tricks. They have learned to respond to the impact of competition. However, we are starting to see a new category of change. This comes as a result of disruption to the political, social and global status quo. These new types of changes will also need to be applied to our updated business model.
Business is becoming more global and integrated. Small to large businesses have adjusted to worldwide supply chains, emerging new customers and markets, and accelerating policy changes as the world’s governments respond to the new global model. The planet is getting smaller and we keep getting smarter and more diverse. A business needs to build the capacity to endure; it must remain diverse and productive over time. It must respond to change demands in an efficient and effective manner, while continuing to remain profitable. We need to develop new methods and skills to respond to this demand.
Sustainability is one of the most significant new areas of study and even has a degree in its own right. Sustainability, the concept of meeting our needs today without sacrificing the ability of our children to meet their needs tomorrow, was defined in terms of environment, social, and economic concepts at the June 14, 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (see Figure 1).
Currently, the people working with sustainability focus primarily, and in some cases exclusively, on the environment. However, looking at the intersection areas (bearable, viable, and equitable) you can see how important and integrated the social and economic issues are to a solution. Current global issues further emphasise how integrated the three pillars of social, economic, and environment are to a sustainable solution. As each country responds to economic issues brought on by the current global recession they also find that the population requires an equal emphasis on solutions to environment and social issues.
I have found the sustainability model to be a helpful tool when applied to the management and implementation of IT projects. Successful IT projects have the characteristic of ensuring we give equal attention to people issues as well as the information and technology issues. Collaboration and consensus building is every bit as important as the technology and information. People use technology to work with information.
Sustaining both our world and our businesses is getting more complicated and diverse. The sustainability perspective assists in balancing the people requirements with the technology and information requirements. This perspective further supports an organisation in its pursuit of attaining a competitive advantage with business intelligence systems.
Culture of change
As the source of change becomes broader, accommodating changes to our business model becomes more complex. The change impact is also reaching down further into the business model requiring a response at the individual and personal level. It is starting to impact our personal identity. The answer to the question ‘who am I?’ keeps changing. This is normal but still emotional when experienced.
Acculturation techniques can be applied to managing change projects with good results. As applied to managing change, the focus of the acculturation techniques turns from one of ethnic cultures, to the cultures of different groups, organisations, and situations. The techniques focus on addressing the impact of change to each group member’s personal identity, analysing the emotion this causes, and developing a strategy that aligns the groups’ emotion and generates energy for the change.
The sustainability model emphasises both the interdependency of the three pillars as well as the issues involved with the integration of the pillars. Even though current emphasis on this model is toward the environment, it still frames the impact possible solutions will have on the society and the economy.
I applied that concept to the three components of an IT project in Figure 2. This depicts the equal importance of people issues to business success and how the knowledge transfer of cultural awareness and diversity skills can assist in achieving a successful IT project.
In the remainder of the article, I will provide an overview on the trends that are driving the application of cultural awareness and diversity skills toward change management. My focus will be at the executive and strategic level. I will focus on the internal aspect of change management and its impact on project management. As stated earlier, this perspective is equally helpful in the development of business intelligence applications by focusing on the external aspect of change management. However, that would take more dialogue and may be covered in another article.
Trend towards a global economy
More dimensions are being added to our economy and way of life. There is more of a global impact and increasing complexity along with more technology being applied in response to the new solutions. Sometimes our response may be a bit too complex or not quite understood, which leads to unexpected consequences. The new change incentives will impact more situations, organisations and groups than previous change incentives. As our responses to the new opportunities become integrated into more aspects of our way of life, the impact on involved cultures (groups) will also continue to grow. As the impact grows the change requirements also go deeper into the organisation, all the way down to the individual. This has the consequence of making a big impact on the individual’s personal identity.
Trend to more technology
Initial application of computer technology solutions to the business model had a focus on efficiency. Processes that had been done manually before were now being supported and made more efficient with technology. Most of the changes in this initial stage of the computer technoogy industry were applied toward the operational level of an organisation, and the increase in efficiency was usually easy to identify, which made the choice of more technology an easier one to make. There was little impact to a person’s identity, other than they were getting more high-tech. However as technology projects moved up the organisation chart the resistance to these changes started to increase.
Technology was not only being used to automate operations, it also automated management functions and supported executive functions. Technology not only increased the pace and frequency of change management, it affected the complexity of being a manager and executive. Management cultures changed from an intuitive driven, event based approach, to a data driven, goal oriented approach. This started to impact the identity of a ‘good manager’.
Previously, a good manager had great gut instincts and good intuition, which was still a good characteristic. However, intuition now needed to be combined with data-driven decision making and not gut instincts. At that time, managers and executives had a difficult time identifying with this type of management. It was not aligned with the management culture that they knew. They had a huge investment in learning and excelling in the old culture.
Early technology projects had focused on improving the efficiency of an organisation. As the pace and impact of technology increased, projects started to address improving effectiveness and adding innovation. Efficiency was easier to cost justify, you add up the costs or benefits or plusses or minuses and see what wins. Determining effectiveness generally introduces more unknowns that have to be estimated, and therefore more risk is introduced. With innovation you are changing the status quo, and now we are back to affecting the culture of how things have been done before and to the investment the organisation has in the old culture.
One culture, one identity; many cultures, many identities.
I was raised in two cultures. We spoke English at home, however within my extended family, aspects of the Hispanic culture were still apparent.
As with any culture there were also non-verbal communication traits. Although not verbal, these traits were loud and noisy in the impact they have in communicating.
As an example, when I was mischievous at home my father was quick to correct me. I needed to show remorse during my discipline. But if I looked at him he would usually say, ‘don’t look at me when I am getting onto you’. In the Hispanic culture, making direct eye contact is not an indication of remorse. My grade school had predominantly Hispanic students, however the teachers were not. When I received a scolding, an initial comment would be ‘look at me when I’m talking to you’. I was being scolded, but I also needed to pay attention and attention was determined to be achieved through eye contact. A little confusing, but I modified my behaviour quickly.
I was immersed in two different cultures and needed to develop an identity in both. I learned that I must determine the situation I was in prior to any response. When I heard my name, my first action was to determine where
I was, who was saying my name, and for what reason. Then I could decide how to respond. I was learning to do a quick situation analysis. I could do the analysis quickly with a negligible impact on my response time (important to my Dad) and it provided me a quick payback, which was great motivation. I was becoming acculturated to two cultures and learning to respond appropriately in each. I developed an identity in each culture.
Your identity, your decision
Decision making is an integral component to any project. Most project-related decision making occurs at the higher levels and the impact of the decision is driven down the organisation. At this level, decision making generally follows the cost/benefit model with an emphasis on economics. As the change impact is driven down, the more each individual project member will have to internalise the decision and required change. Project members start to ask the question, ‘what kind of person am I, and how do people like me respond in this situation?’. It can become emotional when the bottom line does not align with your identity. You do not have peace of mind when you consider changing your identity.
An update to managing change – apply acculturation techniques
Early in my career I applied knowledge transfer of my acculturation skills to assist me with managing change. I used it to introduce leading-edge technologies to non-technical staff and to introduce new information and knowledge to executives and students, both undergraduate and graduate.
I used it to introduce new processes to managers that not only did not want to learn a new process; they did not want to find a new way of doing anything. I also used it to introduce new perspectives to individuals not wanting to have their perspective changed.
I found skills learned in becoming acculturated helpful when problem solving the change impact at the individual level. I was using the culture definition as in shared attitudes, goals, and practices that characterise a group, organisation, or situation.
I had noted that as the requirements to change moved closer to the individual, the project started to become more complex. I was running into the emotion created by the change requirement on the individual. I had experienced this emotion during my acculturation at an early age. I had felt the emotion when your identity did not align with what was required. My motivation had been to please both cultures (groups).
To accomplish my goal, I developed an identity in each group. In responding to the change drivers, I was evolving my own personal identity.
Applying this knowledge, I started to study the identities involved, including the identity of a successful project. I aligned the identities with the goal of a successful project and ensured that all groups of identities could identify with the successful project. This created energy from the emotion of all the groups finding and aligning with the successful project identity.
I have applied this knowledge in developing a new process that may be applied to managing change. This process can be used as a guideline for organisations that need to change.
The process has three phases: planning, culture and policy (see Figure 3). The phases are distinct, however from a project management perspective you must manage in an iterative process, as changes and adjustments in one phase will affect the others. The culture phase will generate the greater amount of a ripple effect to the planning and policy phases. However, even if you have a change at the planning or policy stage, it is always prudent to measure the impact on the culture phase.
Culture of the individual
As project manager you must identify with the apprehension project members face when new technology is introduced into their working culture. In most change situations we are only changing how we do the work, not the goals of the work itself. Strategic goals are usually a focus on how to decrease costs, increase revenue, and improve customer service. Operationally it involves innovation leading to efficiency. Tactically and strategically it is about Innovation leading to effectiveness.
Create and develop an identity the individual will like and align the project goals with this new identity. A demand for change can be very emotional as it usually requires a change to your working culture. I found using my old skills of dealing with two cultures very helpful and applicable to the process. In applying to business issues, acculturation techniques take on a consensus building and collaboration focus. Working with the various identities you build consensus which assists in creating the energy that will drive the group toward the goal of a successful.
I have collected a number of quotes on change. My collection continues to increase as I receive quotes from friends that know my interest on the subject. The following is my favourite. Regrettably I do not know the source:
“You don’t have to change, after all success is not mandatory.”
Fred Ramos is the president of RGF Inc., a consultancy specialising in information management and security. He can be contacted at email@example.com