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People are biggest hurdle in workplace transformation

When redesigning a workplace, CIOs should focus on three elements: real estate, technology and people, according to Michael McKiernan, vice president of business technology at Citrix Systems Inc. Real estate, or design of the physical space, and technology, tools that enable getting the work done, are the easiest components to work with. The hardest? People.

To help teams prepare for a workplace transformation, he recommended CIOs consider the Prosci ADKAR change management model, a five-step methodology to raise awareness that a change is needed, build a desire to participate in making the change a reality, and reinforce the change once it's in place. One more tip? Don't take something away without giving something in return. When McKiernan jettisoned the use of assigned cubicles, he provided his staff a health room, which afforded employees total privacy to, say, take a quick nap.

McKiernan sat down with SearchCIO's senior news writer, Nicole Laskowski, at the recent Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis., to talk about why people are the biggest workplace transformation hurdle, whether a digital workspace requires an open floor plan and why attitude is a better indicator than age as to where CIOs might experience resistance.

Why are employees such a major obstacle in a workplace redesign?

Michael McKiernan: What we manifest in our behaviors is not always what our way of being is. If I get resistance to a new technology -- let's say that technology is how I'm going to connect to the network -- I may assert the technology is not working. But what lies beneath that is: "I don't want to connect remotely. I don't want to have to work from that location. I liked when I was in a fixed place -- that was working fine with me." If you're going to force [workers] to be mobile and spend the majority of [their] time on the road or something like that -- there can be something deeper than just the technology.

These human elements of how someone may express a resistance to technology is almost always for a rational reason, but they may not want to admit that it's because [their] privacy has decreased ... or [they] don't want to say how [they were] shopping on the Internet and now [are] not able to do that.

Can you provide an example of a change management success and failure?

McKiernan: We told third-party contractors, "OK, I want you to be aware of how we're doing this" rather than saying, "You need to work that way on Monday." We took them through a journey where we have phases of awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement [ADKAR]. And when you take them through a journey gradually, the third-party contractors were quite adaptable for us.

The opposite was true with some of my [direct reports]. Some of my directs were used to having an office. When I told them, "The way we're going to work differently is nobody is going to have a dedicated office. You're going to take a privacy room or you're going to take a space to collaborate as you need." If I introduced it to them in a mandatory way that says, "It's just a hierarchy-based decision," that if I was being hypocritical and saying, "I'm going to keep an office but you're not," that's where I initially got some resistance when people thought I was going to keep my office.

When I then explained, "No, my needs are the same as yours. My preferences may be different but our needs are very similar," that's where I got buy-in.

When I looked at why [someone was] resisting, [it may have been the case where they were] trying to conceal bad business results and they felt that would be exposed.

I've had both successes and failures, but it's about learning quickly and then changing paths.

Does the digital workplace need an open floor plan?

McKiernan: It depends on the business problem you're solving. If I look at the first instance of a workplace redesign I was involved with at Citrix, collaboration and scale were the business problems that we were dealing with. Lowering the walls from the "Dilbert-ville" cubicles was very important. Getting people out and seeing who's around and leveraging that social experience was very important for us.

With the business problems that I experienced within Citrix, yes, the open environment was appropriate. But there are other places where you may use different types of real estate or technology depending on the business problem. It isn't a one-size-fits-all. And even if you have an open environment, it's critical that you still retain privacy.

We have areas that we call "a library." The phones are taken away and it's a "do not disturb" zone. And as long as you have a choice -- that you're not mandated to be in a bullpen all of the time or that you'll get continuously interrupted -- that's when we get better outcomes.

You point to attitude above age or any other demographic as a key to guiding workplace transformation. Why?

McKiernan: With several initiatives that we've implemented at Citrix, we had hypotheses and many of the hypotheses were about Millennials. Oh, they're the entitled generation. Oh, they expect this, they want that. When we measured it, [the hypotheses] proved false in nearly all cases -- gender, age -- with Millennials.

What we found with Millennials is that they want challenging work. They are flexible because they don't have that much choice. When you give them choice, they appreciate it. If we look at bring your own device [BYOD], for instance, a lot of people said, "It's the techies that want that." Within Citrix, the engineers are the most technical people, [and] they have the lowest adoption of BYOD. The highest is the marketing department because they're Mac bigots -- that's what they appreciate. ...

Now, it's much harder to measure attitudes than it is behaviors and demographics ... If I can identify an attitude as a champion or as a detractor and then I manage that attitude to make that person a promoter or try to make sure that detractor doesn't poison the well, that's where I've got much more effective allocation of resources.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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