Skip to main content
Exploring what’s next in tech – Insights, information, and ideas for today’s IT and business leaders

Navigating the cloud's most challenging blocker: Your people

Here’s a simple model to help frame the organizational obstacles you'll encounter and the solutions you'll need to succeed in your cloud adoption program.

We see the same story play out over and over again within the enterprise—people and process slowing down cloud adoption. Part of the problem is that we cloud technologists typically subscribe to a pure technology solution. We invest a heavy trust in the power of our designs. Who dare question the obvious benefits of on-demand and API-driven cloud infrastructures?

Unfortunately, we all know too well the many dead bodies laid to rest in the “you build it and they will come” project graveyard. So why do most cloud adoption programs flounder in achieving their promise for agility and speed? We find the majority of cloud initiatives inadequately invest resources to address the most common obstacle: people’s natural response to resist, and even obstruct, technology and process change.

Why do people resist the cloud?

The bottom line is the cloud is a transformative technology. It threatens the status quo of the technologist’s traditional roles and responsibilities in the large enterprise. The cloud forces companies to adopt new paradigms for how they consume and provision their infrastructure. The cloud compels them to build out an entirely new array of service capabilities, which in turn forces the adoption of new processes and people competencies. Infrastructure is no longer a physical asset and an operational and service management problem. Infrastructure in the cloud era is a software design and a development management problem.

A major cloud initiative introduces an entirely new set of technologies. This means workers need to retool and acquire new skills. For example, network engineers no longer manage firewall and router hardware configurations but instead must learn how to manage virtual private clouds and build their network architectures engineered as code.

The cloud displaces the demand for certain roles and increases demand for others. The enterprise compute and network consumers can expect to provision their infrastructure by a self-service portal. No longer do they provision their hardware via service tickets and by centralized edict. Automation eliminates the need for long meetings with cadres of system engineers and project managers. In the cloud, any provisioning task can be reduced to the click of a button or a software API call.

An introduction to the organizational change management performance model

Is a cloud adoption initiative any different than any other organizational change management project? What we’ve learned over the years is the resistance to the cloud is really the same people opposition you see in any major enterprise transformation project. Consequently, we can turn to the same tools provided by organizational change management and process re-engineering fields. Figure 1 illustrates an introduction to what is commonly called the organizational change management performance curve.

Figure 1: How employees react to change

Let’s walk through the typical transition phases from the employee’s perspective.

In the early phase, people form an initial excitement and open mind for what benefits a cloud adoption program will have for the company. In this context, the status quo seems intact. Teams involved directly or indirectly generally know what is expected of them and how to react. The new initiative looks like a typical project. All the participants easily navigate the program’s milestones using existing process guardrails.

Once they learn more details, they start to ask questions about how the initiative will impact their roles and those of their team’s. They become more inquisitive as they become more informed. They start to realize the program’s potential consequences on their day-to-day duties. People become aware of the magnitude of the depth and breadth of potential change. Their behavior shifts from cooperation to resistance. They seek refuge in multiple forms of denial such as rejection and diversion. They start to make comments such as “This too shall pass” and “We’re special—the cloud won't work for us given our unique business requirements.”

The realization phase is the most critical time in the cloud adoption lifecycle. If questions remain unanswered, employees will start to build their own, almost always ill-informed narratives. These false narratives, and any associated emotions of fear or panic, start to dominate employees’ motivation. They may start to handicap themselves or their teams with unrealistic goals and poorly thought-through execution plans. They may seek delay tactics such as extensive analysis, over-engineering, or the addition of unneeded complexity. Their personal goals no longer align with the company’s goals. They seek to preserve the status quo at any cost, regardless of their employer’s business objectives.

Eventually, the chaos of realization passes. Integration is the phase where employees and stakeholders start to discover how the cloud adoption program benefits them specifically. The group learns that cloud skills are in high demand and increase their value in the marketplace. People start to have a vested interest in a positive project outcome. They set expectations and norms on others and try to align to the company’s new way of thinking.

Group members in this stage may need more support than might be expected. They can become easily frustrated when things fail to work perfectly the first time. Although team members may feel good, they are also concerned that the initiative may fail, forcing them back to the uncertainties of the realization phase. The employees need reassurance and new methods for forging through the unplanned difficulties of this phase.

The final of the four performance curve phases is a transition point where cloud becomes the new norm. If the change is well conceived and assimilated, the group is in agreement and performance is in full alignment to the new cloud established practices. They feel a sense of accomplishment and are open and honest about what’s at stake should they be unsuccessful. Those directly involved in the project start to actively recruit new believers. Their implementation crawl is becoming more of a fast walk or slow jog.

Your people engagement plan: Defining when and how to engage employees and stakeholders

A thoughtful plan to engage employees and stakeholders is a critical component to a successful cloud adoption program. Leadership needs to commission a governing body of cloud deciders, or what Cloud Technology Partners, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, calls a Cloud Business Office (CBO) to draft a plan to ensure the right people are receiving the right message at the right time so they are prepared for what lies ahead.

A thoughtful change strategy needs to address three dimensions of the people engagement problem. First and foremost, management needs to identify who is impacted by the cloud. For example, the company must categorize its employees into distinct stakeholder groups such as program sponsors, change agents, influencers, resistors, and those directly transitioned.

Second, management needs to outline the many activities needed to positively influence people adoption. These activities vary in complexity and implementation effort. Each needs to break down its messaging and purpose by key people and stakeholder groups. We find the planning process more powerful if management organizes and analyzes their plan into the following six organizational change management disciplines:

  1. Leadership and executive sponsorship
  2. Stakeholder management
  3. Communications planning
  4. Reskilling, education, and training
  5. Performance and incentive programs
  6. Organizational alignment

Finally, management needs to identity when to engage which employee or stakeholder and with which engagement activity. Figure 2 helps illustrate how you can time people-focused activities into four distinct stages of engagement:

  1. Assess and focus
  2. Design and set the direction
  3. Test, learn, and demonstrate – Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC)
  4. Scale migration and full operation


Figure 2: The four stages of people engagement

What to expect from a successful people engagement plan

A successful cloud adoption program depends on understanding the critical employee engagement activities and transition phases as outlined in a well thought out people engagement plan. Employees need help to understand how change impacts them on the journey to the cloud. Ultimately, an organizational change management program for cloud adoption needs to engage impacted employees and stakeholders to understand the following:

  • Why the cloud program is needed and how it impacts the business’s value delivery and effectiveness
  • Cloud adoption readiness and the steps required to reach mature cloud processes and technology capabilities
  • How, when, and why cloud-related changes are implemented
  • Social, process, and technical skills education and training requirements to sustain design and delivery, and run software build cycles in the cloud
  • Metrics and measures to align employee performance and behavior to the cloud program and the ultimate desired business outcomes

Recognizing and overcoming employee resistance is a critical aspect of a successful cloud adoption program. Just announcing you are going to the cloud is an insufficient launch point for transformational success. Walking employees and stakeholders step by step through the change process will give them an opportunity to address their individual fears and concerns. This, in turn, improves their performance and enthusiasm for a successful cloud program outcome. Once they see the light and achieve high levels of confidence, your cloud resisters quickly become your cloud evangelists.

A thoughtful plan to engage employees and stakeholders is a critical component to a successful cloud adoption program. Leadership needs to commission a governing body of cloud deciders to draft a plan to ensure the right people are receiving the right message at the right time so they are prepared for what lies ahead.

This article originally appeared in The Doppler, a publication by the Cloud Technology Partners team, and has been reposted here with permission. 

For more cloud advice and best practices, check out The Doppler special edition "Cloud Power: Getting the most out of hybrid cloud."

Related links:

Cloud Transition – 5 Best Practices to Follow

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.