Time to reset long-held habits for a new reality

Time to reset long-held habits for a new reality

Most tech chiefs have been able to shift several technology capabilities quickly and ensure the business has been supported throughout the disruption.

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As we enter the seventh month of the COVID-19 crisis in Australia, businesses are continuing to manage through the tough rules impacting the economy with so much uncertainty hanging over their heads. While the economy and business environment have made some structural shifts in the way organisations operate, what will be the new reality moving forward is still being determined.

Despite this backdrop, we’re starting to see so many great achievements among Gartner’s CIO clients in Australia, irrespective of where their company landed on the COVID-19 hierarchy, whether they’re making money, breaking even or downscaling. In the majority of cases, they’ve been able to shift several technology capabilities quickly and ensure the business has been supported throughout the disruption.

Whatever the new reality might look like, CIOs must change long-held habits formed throughout their careers to adjust to new business conditions. The increased level of complexity they now operate in also requires them to reset their complexity threshold to make them more comfortable dealing with such an environment, while applying good judgement and decisions.

Habits must change

There are two key ingredients in forming new habits. The first is the psychology and mindset behind the new habit. When we achieve new outcomes and see the benefit of change, the experience drives our psychology and minds to continue doing the changed behaviour.

The second is the time required to change and make the new habit stick. On average, it takes between four to ten weeks to start changing a habit and then making it automatic.

With an extended crisis a real possibility, new habits must be adopted and embraced for the business to adapt, recover and operate successfully in the long-term. It’s important for CIOs to take the time to understand these habits, how they have formed and if they are here to stay.

One of the more obvious habit changes we’ve all experienced is the shift from physical meetings, where cases were presented and decisions made in person, to virtual conferences. This has made people feel more exposed in decision making as the human interaction of reading body language has been lost. However, people have unknowingly started using data more and have shifted to making more data driven decisions.

If new and initial habits are here to stay for the long-term, CIOs must embed them into the new DNA of the business. If they aren’t, however, it’s crucial to curb and manage these new habits before they become automatically ingrained and costly to reverse.

This happened to a CIO I recently spoke with, who made a massive technology investment, changed vendors and even shortened office leases in the rush to shift their organisation to a remote working model. However, the board and CEO aren’t supportive of this mode of operating. The challenge now is that this shift has formed a new habit for the organisation that will be painful to reverse.

CIOs who are more conscious of new habits forming will ensure the business validates them before extending investments and embedding the new habit into the fabric of the organisation.

Increased complexity threshold

As with forming habits, changes in the complexity of the business environment have a similar effect on us. Whenever we’re faced with a more complex challenge, we adapt, take bold actions and upgrade our experience. This complexity threshold then becomes the new baseline.

I spoke with the CIO of an Australian travel company a few weeks ago, who told me that COVID-19 has provided a perfect opportunity for the IT team to rip and replace some legacy systems that the business has avoided decommissioning for years. They’re now working together to consolidate and make more frequent complex decisions in a way they haven’t done before.

Another CIO was forced to make some significant changes to the organisation’s operating model to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. The downside to this is that the company lost some really great talent along the way, as they either didn’t want to adjust to the changes or weren’t the right fit for the changed operations. While this process was difficult, the CIO has gained the ability to make tough people decisions more easily.

Both examples highlight the opportunity CIOs are now faced with to reset their complexity threshold and operate at a different level. They need to take some time to understand changes in complexity thresholds, validate it and embed it in their operating model.

The new threshold stretches risk and decision making, giving the CIO and the technology team a stronger resilience baseline for more complex technology matters. Harnessing and consciously embedding this new threshold can be key to new achievements as businesses in Australia continue to navigate the pandemic.

Brian Ferreira is a VP and managing executive partner at Gartner. He advises C-Suite clients across Australia and New Zealand on shifting to a digital strategy to achieve new business outcomes and how best to approach technology, risk, governance, digital and agile investment for CFOs.

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