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7 Communication Tips to Facilitate Culture Change When Adopting a Cloud Model

By: Pierre Moncassin

In my last blog, I talked about the importance of mindset change as organizations progress toward a cloud transformation based on VMware technology. I outlined how an organization’s culture needs to fully embrace the service orientation that’s at the heart of the cloud model if it is to be successful.

A recent discussion I had with a lead technologist from a global organization prompted some further insights into the cultural change that is key for cloud adoption. This organization already had a mature approach to cloud-based services, and was planning a longer-term cloud transformation. However, the technologist noted, his group hadn’t automatically “learned” a cloud-based model.

That struck a chord. His experience illustrates a challenge that even organizations with advanced cloud maturity can encounter: moving to a cloud approach requires a specific learning path for the organization– a path that cannot be left to chance or routine organizational learning. Organizations and individuals usually excel at absorbing incremental changes. For individuals, this is sometimes called “learning on the job.”  But on-the job learning will not work for a ‘disruptive technology’ like the cloud because the cloud model does not just require changing how the job is done: It requires a new way of thinking about the job itself. In my opinion, the learning will best happen by design, and I will share some ideas on how to engineer that learning.

But first, let’s explore in more depth the reasons that can make this learning path challenging:

A Major Change

As a starting point, it’s important to acknowledge that moving to a fully-fledged cloud service delivery model really is a ‘paradigm shift.’  While the expression is over-used, ‘paradigm shift’ does convey how a cloud transformation is not just a quantitative change (realizing an uplift in utilization, for example, or a reduction of capital expenditure) but a qualitative change, as well. It’s introducing both new metrics and new concepts.

How do organizations respond to change? Well, most are highly capable of adapting to incremental, quantitative changes. Ask for a change in their internal processes, metrics, or in response to their external environment and, typically, they will take it in their stride. As the global technologist described it to me: When it comes to incremental changes, most organizations are in ‘Self Learning Mode.’ They just absorb the changes as routine.

But with a cloud transformation, the ‘Self Learning’ mode rarely works. The learning curve is both bigger than with incremental change, and requires the learning of fundamentally new attitudes and approaches. Because of this, such cultural learning is much at more risk of resistance to change – which is one reason, of course, why learning a cloud model is so hard to do.

There is nothing wrong per se when organizations experience resistance to change. They are made up of individuals, after all, and aversion to change is a common, instinctive reaction when we’re faced with new knowledge and new demands.

But how do you to get around, or head off, that resistance and enable cultural change when you need it? It begins with planning effective communication about why things need to be done differently, what needs to change, and how that change can be effected. The question, then, is how can we structure this communication for optimum impact?

The Key to Organizational Learning

A great way to encourage and accelerate organizational learning is to adapt some key principles of adult learning (a body of practice that focuses on how adults learn).

  • For example, compared to children, adults tend to be more goal-oriented. So it helps to paint early on a compelling vision for the future-state organization.
  • At the same time, adults can be more questioning – so a broad-brush vision should be supported by concrete, applicable information, so that everyone can see how the new org culture will help their daily activities in the short and medium term.
  • On the same basis, adults also bring substantial prior knowledge and experience, and will try to relate new knowledge to their past experience. So when introducing new concepts like cloud service models, it is worth showing how these new models can relate to more traditional models (such as IT Service Management).

We also want to leverage positive group dynamics. People naturally listen to, and model, leaders in their teams and the broader organization. So look to enlist visible, charismatic leaders within the organization: these may be roles with formal authority (e.g. IT executives) but should also include key influencers with a more informal following.

Let’s turn these insights into 7 actionable recommendations for optimizing communication to facilitate culture change.

In summary:

  1. Enlist visible leaders to paint the vision and be responsible or be the conduit for regular communication.
  2. Communicate often and in small chunks. This makes the information easier to absorb and remember. Plan to communicate over an extended period of time throughout the transformation and beyond.
  3. Include enough detail to make the communication personal and practical whenever possible. Explain the practical relevance to day-to-day tasks.
  4. Vary the communication approaches. Some people prefer visual communications (for example engineers often do as they are used to schemas and diagrams). But others respond better to verbal communication.
  5. Avoid too specialized vocabulary (a.k.a. “jargon”) or too technical content, especially at the early stages when the cloud concepts are being introduced.
  6. Explain the continuity, or at least relationship with “traditional” approaches, concepts and practices that individual are familiar with.
  7. Welcome resistance to change (to a point). This is a normal part of the learning process. Allow concerns and questions to be aired as early as possible.  It is worth remembering that sometimes your most hard-core initial skeptics, once they are convinced, turn into your most dedicated and vocal supporters.

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