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Preparing your people for a successful cloud transformation

People are key to a successful transformation, but they can also be your biggest obstacle. Here are practical steps to help you navigate the change.

Any transformation, at its core, is about people. Why? Because meaningful, sustainable, and effective transformation of any kind requires change in the way organizations—and their people—operate and behave. This is especially true when it comes to cloud transformations, which are all about injecting agility into the way an organization works. That requires technical change, of course, but in some ways, that's the easy part.

We have found that many cloud transformation programs fail to achieve their promise of agility and speed because of one common obstacle: the natural response of people to resist, or even actively obstruct, technology and process change.

Fundamentally, cloud—regardless of your choice of technological underpinnings or workload placement—involves bringing a transformative mindset and approach to IT in support of business objectives. It threatens traditional IT roles and responsibilities and forces the adoption of new processes and skills, reducing the demand for certain roles and increasing the demand for others.

When cloud transformation leaders are asked how the transition to a cloud experience is going, they tend to default to technical responses: They have cut the time it takes to do a certain task by 30 percent, for example, or re-platformed 200 workloads. These metrics are important, but they omit the more immediate and often under-considered question of how the transition is going for the people it affects.

Are people embracing the changes that "cloud first" brings to their daily work? Are they confident they can do their jobs well in a cloud-focused environment? Do they feel as valued by the organization as they did before? These are valid issues workers involved in a cloud project are dealing with—and not always in obvious ways.

Please read: Successful hybrid cloud projects require a detailed roadmap

A model for organizational change management

Is a cloud adoption initiative any different from any other organizational change management project? What we've learned over the years is resistance to cloud transformation initiatives is essentially the same people-related opposition you see in any major enterprise transformation project. Consequently, we can turn to the same tools provided by the organizational change management and process re-engineering fields.

Let's examine these phases of transition from the employee's perspective:

Phase 1: Initial excitement

In the early phase, people are excited and open-minded about what benefits the program will have for the company. Once more details emerge, they start asking how the initiative will impact their roles and those of their team. They become more informed and more inquisitive. They start to realize the program's potential consequences on their day-to-day duties.

Behavior can then shift from cooperation to resistance. People 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—cloud won't work for us given our unique business requirements."

Phase 2: Realization of effort and complexity

The realization phase is the most critical time in the cloud adoption lifecycle. If questions go unanswered, employees will start to build their own narratives, almost always ill-informed. Fear and panic can start to thwart motivation.

Staff may start to handicap themselves or their teams with unrealistic goals and poorly thought out 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.

Phase 3: Integration

Eventually, the chaos of realization passes. Integration is the phase where employees and stakeholders start to discover how the cloud transformation affects 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 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. Employees need reassurance and new methods for forging through the unplanned difficulties of this phase.

Phase 4: New confidence and continuous improvement

Finally, we come to a transition point where cloud becomes the new norm.

If the change is well-conceived and assimilated, the group is now in agreement and performance is in full alignment to the new cloud established practices. Team members feel a sense of accomplishment and are open and honest about what's at stake should they fail.

Those directly involved in the project start to actively recruit new believers. Their implementation walk is becoming more of a fast walk or a slow jog.


Your people engagement plan

What must be understood is that individuals will experience this transition at a speed and magnitude unique to them. Transitions can be difficult to navigate in any field and are common to employees involved in a cloud transformation initiative.

Take systems engineers who are being transitioned to DevOps engineers. They are taking on an exciting new job that is important to the organization's move to cloud-first practices, but they may not perceive it that way. Even though they can see company outcomes improving, they may still struggle, taking months to become comfortable with the new process and responsibilities.

As people are faced with change, they experience a series of losses, including loss of control, loss of confidence, loss of competence, and even loss of their identity. They may have been happy in their old job: They were subject-matter experts, had deep knowledge of the organization, and knew who to go to and how to get things done. That legacy of knowledge may no longer be important in their new role, leaving them feeling less needed or less important.

Since everyone's acceptance of change is unique, organizations must create a plan to engage employees and stakeholders. A governing body of cloud transformation deciders—a Cloud Business Office (CBO) —has proved an effective mechanism to manage the changes brought by cloud transformation.

A thoughtful change strategy addresses three dimensions of people engagement: 1) recognize the impact of change on people, 2) establish the activities that positively identify those affected, and 3) know-how and when to address potential issues.

Management needs to identify who is impacted by the cloud transformation, identifying stakeholder groups such as program sponsors, change agents, influencers, and resistors.

The next step is to outline activities to support each group. We find the process more powerful if organized into the following six organizational change management disciplines:

  1. Leadership and executive sponsorship. Committed and engaged leadership reinforces throughout the organization that the change initiative is a priority that will endure. By focusing employees at all levels on the outcomes, leaders can manage employees through the "realization" phase and into "integration."
  2. Stakeholder management. Effective cloud transformation engages clients and suppliers as well as the employees and defines expectations and measures of success. An effective CBO establishes a clear view of the steps in the transformation and helps stakeholders understand where the transformation is in its maturity, the next steps, and the wins that have been achieved.
  3. Communication. A multilevel communication plan addresses the organization, team, and individual levels on how the transformation will roll out. Be clear and consistent about what is changing and what is not. Never underestimate the number of times employees need to hear the same message before it sinks in.
  4. Reskilling, education, and training. Retraining is a given with cloud transformation. Hiring new talent is time consuming and expensive, so as far as possible, identify employees with potential to excel in new roles and focus on building confidence and motivation.
  5. Performance incentive programs. A transition to a cloud-first operating model brings opportunity to revisit what performance means and how you reward employees. By aligning metrics to successful outcomes, leaders can motivate employees to embrace the transition and adapt their skills and behaviors appropriately. Individual and team resistance will hurt success, so the organization must adapt appropriately.
  6. Organizational alignment. A cloud-first approach fundamentally changes the way things are done. Models such as Scrum, DevOps, and continuous delivery require new ways of operating. This goes beyond individual skills to breaking down silos and requiring employees and groups to interact in new ways and often with new business units they may not have interacted with previously. This, as much as the technology, is what makes cloud transformational.

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