AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

Leading from all Levels: An Ebook of Change Leadership Practices

Transformations can be driven from all parts of an organization. What’s essential is passion, commitment, vision, and a willingness to take on challenges. Driving a substantial transformation in an established enterprise is difficult whether the change agent is in a senior role, somewhere in middle management, or a hands-on implementor: a software developer, infrastructure engineer, or IT operations specialist.

When our enterprise strategy team speaks to enterprise customers, we often remind them of the importance of having an executive sponsor for their transformation efforts. And it’s true—executive sponsorship is an important lever for shifting the organization in the direction of its transformed state. But many of the companies I talk to rightly point out that they just don’t have that support from the top, and I would never suggest just waiting until executive support magically appears!

On the contrary, I think there are viable strategies for driving enterprise transformation from every level of the enterprise, and I have seen many of them succeed. I speak regularly at IT Revolution’s DevOps Enterprise Summit conferences, where the audience is consistently amazed at the stories told by change agents from all levels and roles and in virtually all industries. Leading transformation is first about passion and second about finding ways to get the enterprise to change.

And by the way, leading a transformation from a senior level also has its challenges, as I discovered when trying to do so at US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

I wrote this series of posts in the hope that it would help change agents, wherever they may be on their enterprise’s org chart.

In the first two posts of the series, I talked about driving change from the “top”—from a senior enough position to be able to control or influence virtually all the resources necessary for the change. This might be a CIO, CDO, or CTO position; a senior IT leadership position; or really any CXO position. The challenge in this case is the organizational distance between the change agent and the implementors of the transformation, and the need to convert command-and-control power into the more agile kind of servant leadership that works best in a digital enterprise. The two posts were:

My next two posts looked at transformation from the point of view of middle management; that is, change agents who find themselves with control and influence over some parts of the transformation but also need to gain support from those more senior to them organizationally. In this case, the change agent needs to “sell” ideas up the org chart while simultaneously motivating those “down” the org chart. This requires managers to confront those tasks that are anathema to technologists and technical managers: selling and playing politics. I try to show that these tasks are not as painful or disturbing as they might sound. Take a look at these posts:

But change agents who are implementors, individual contributors, or technologists—that is, with limited scope of influence—should not feel discouraged. They have the advantage that they can cause change in a hands-on way (as opposed to CIOs like me, who don’t actually doanything), and can follow strategies that make it easier to sell upward in the organization by mitigating risks before they become a concern. I talk about “leading from the bottom” in this post:

I hope that these ideas are useful to all change agents, because it is important that we all support those who have the passion and energy to drive transformation. Most of all, I hope that everyone will feel encouraged—transformation is hard but possible. I should know—I spent years working to bring transformation to the federal government. 🙂

A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility
The Art of Business Value


Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz is an Enterprise Strategist at Amazon Web Services and the author of The Art of Business Value and A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility. Before joining AWS he was the CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Service (part of the Department of Homeland Security), CIO of Intrax, and CEO of Auctiva. He has an MBA from Wharton, a BS in Computer Science from Yale, and an MA in Philosophy from Yale.