IT managers should 'follow The Prince'

Never mind touchy-feely management textbooks, use 16th-century philosopher Machiavelli as your guru, argues change management specialist Peter Dazely.

Never mind touchy-feely management textbooks, use 16th-century philosopher Machiavelli as your guru, argues change management specialist Peter Dazely (pictured).

Rejecting traditional management text-books for the classic novel The Prince, the Australian told the CIO Conference 2002 in Auckland last week that it is essential to get staff on side, otherwise efforts to change will fail.

Dazely, a 25-year IT veteran, illustrates the case with his own experiences. He recounts how he produced a program to collect statistics on the work of social workers for the Australian Department of Social Security. It was rejected because the social workers argued their work could not be measured. On another occasion, a factory inventory management system failed because staff wanted to keep the traditional monthly manual stock counts, which were an opportunity for them to earn overtime.

When a business is changing — restructuring or downsizing, say — Dazely says it’s important that staff be given responsibility for their work. In reality, they often feel powerless and alienated and keep their heads down when they should be productive and accountable.

“The best thing you can give people at this time is role clarity and clear rewards for expected behaviour,” he says.

Dazely argues people do not always have to be happy with the change, as you cannot please everyone; if some are unhappy, they may have to go.

Change should happen quickly to curb damaging gossip and rumour. Bosses should accept they won’t get everything right, perhaps aiming for 80%. Some kind of ceremony — drinks on the company, for example — should happen to mark the passing of old ways for the new.

Since most change involves people losing their jobs, those people should be treated with the dignity of a farewell lunch, for example. But Dazely says investment should also be made to boost the spirits of those left behind. Training might be one way of doing that.

Leadership and empowerment is also critical in spreading the rationale for change as well as gaining the “unquestioning loyalty” of the management team to ensure project success.

“They have to owe you something and you owe them something, otherwise it is doomed to failure,” he says.

The only solution for those who resist change — perhaps because they will lose power — may be for them to go. He recalls a business leader who turned around a business by identifying those who wanted change and bringing in new people to replace those who did not.

“This was very bold but he got unquestioning loyalty in the management teams. It is absolutely critical these folks are with you all the way. If people can’t hack it, they may need to go.”

On the other side of the ledger Dazely is no advocate of loyalty to one’s employer, in a world where job security no longer exists.

“I would not die for the flag. I urge everyone not to do that. Conduct yourself with integrity and professionalism,” he says.

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