A Hearts & Minds Framework for Transformational Change


Several years ago I had the privilege of working on what was perhaps the most seminal IT change program in the world.

Two previous attempts to migrate Sun Life’s legacy applications from aging CDC infrastructure to a single application package running on a modern IBM mainframe environment had been a spectacular failures. The organisation was stagnant and following the ‘Black Monday’ stockmarket crash found itself on the brink of collapse. There was no option of a cash injection from its American parent to fund yet another attempt. This time, it was make or break.

The previous IT Director was moved on, and a visionary organisational psychologist called Chris Davies – a man well ahead of him time – was brought in for one last chance at the migration.

Chris had just completed his Masters Thesis which studied the military Hearts & Minds cultural change program used for the reannexing of Dhofar; and proposed a model for applying the principles of Hearts & Minds to the commercial sector. He had had some successes in smaller organisations: this was the first application in a large multi-national with significant commercial imperatives.

The migration program, dubbed The Luxembourg Project, was a wild and heady ride, and not without challenges!

It involved 800 person-years of effort; 550 full time staff; 9 million lines of undocumented code; significant and radical change; a 10 year track record of non-delivery; two previous programme failures and the resultant loss of morale and skills; and a very old hierarchical organisation structure based on class and nepotism that included amongst other things, separate dining areas for “management” and “staff”, and managers taking each Friday off to play golf!

The Luxembourg Project commenced in 1991 and was completed in 1993. Consisting of 43 separate projects, it was at the time the largest such program ever successfully completed in the commercial world. In 1994, the Sun Life IT Division won a British Computer Society Award for excellence for the program.

That significant technical achievement was underpinned by an Organisation Development Program based on the ground-breaking Hearts & Minds research of Chris Davies. It enabled the UK’s largest systems migration to be delivered on time and 4% under budget. Importantly, it changed peoples lives and re-invigorated the organisation  for permanent, sustainable change well into the future.

The key tenets of the Hearts and Minds approach are:

(more coming)

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