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Fear and loathing in the cloud: Tackling change in business

Wed 1 Nov 2017 | Josh McKenty

Talking to The Stack at the Cloud Foundry Summit in Basel (last month), Josh McKenty VP global ecosystem engineering at Pivotal discusses the challenges of cloud adoption and its wider implications for creating change in the workplace

What is the key challenge associated with cloud adoption? The stress of migrating data, security concerns, or simple technology barriers? McKenty argues it is fear. In his role advising Fortune 500 companies on cloud adoption, he has found that those at the very top of the organisation want to move to the cloud. Developers want it too. The block is found in between – what he describes as the ‘frozen middle.’

Those at the top are charged with pushing their organisation forward, so are naturally inclined towards adopting change. Those at the ‘bottom’ of the organisation, such as developers, understand the technology and see the benefits. Those in the middle however, according to McKenty, carry all the risk without any of the reward.

Managing change

Organisations can navigate this bumpy landscape through effective change management. By establishing a shared vision, communicating context, empathy and coaching, fears are serviced and addressed. The fear that people have is usually the collapse of self-esteem, argues McKenty. For instance, a Java programmer that needs to learn Node is afraid of being bad at it.

Another fear is that they will be automated out of a job. In the short term, he accepts, this may be fair but is nothing to be afraid of. McKenty argues that the reality is that as the size of IT scales – the size of the role within organisations will also grow bigger. Being good at IT will, therefore, become more important and people will become more valuable.

McKenty identifies two schools of thought when it comes to change management and reaching a broad strategic goal. The first, borrowed from the military, is called ‘commander’s intent.’ The theory goes that a leader states an extremely clear goal, which is everybody’s goal, and outlines exactly how that goal will be measured. For instance – we want to deliver software faster. The organisation can task everyone in a team with that goal, and it’s easily measurable.

Most companies that fail, fail to inspire a vision; an overarching goal can act as a catalyst for everybody inside the organisation

The second is an idea that’s used at NASA. It’s imperative that when people go into space together, they have to be able to work together and get along. To that end, management teams there believe that ‘whatever will work for kindergarteners will also work for adults.’

That theory can be seen in the phenomenon of sports fans. A shared goal produces group identity, and that identity can be reinforced through something as simple as a hoodie. If the hoodie identifies the wearer as a member of a team, and everybody wears the same hoodie, that unites the team.

Moving to a cloud native environment

McKenty works with Pivotal’s Cloud Foundry team to bring new features and functionality to Cloud Foundry-based products. Cloud Foundry is an industry-standard enterprise cloud platform. It can be, however, very difficult to deploy.

McKenty argues that this makes sense. It is designed to serve large organisations on a massive scale, with part of its appeal being its scalability – meaning that deploying it will take a significant amount of work. What he argues is that this is no reason not to do it. He compares it to setting up a data centre – it would be far more work than it’s worth for a small organisation to build their own data centre – but for a large organisation, it makes sense.

The same can be applied to adopting change, for instance, organisations looking to move to a cloud native structure. If the end result is right, change being difficult should be no barrier to carrying it out. Looking again at NASA, McKenty references the ‘moonshot’ – a goal that is audacious it can unite an entire organisation.

He argues that most companies that fail, fail to inspire a vision. An overarching goal can act as a catalyst for everybody inside the organisation. That is not to trivialise the hard work, managing change in an organisation can in some ways be almost impossible, he notes, but there are ways and means of creating an environment within an organisation that will make that change smoother.

Experts featured:

Josh McKenty

VP global ecosystem engineering


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