Ready, set, cloud: How to prepare your people for a move to the cloud

Hopefully, you got a chance to check out my blog that I wrote on Jim Abolt’s framework for change. In that post, I mentioned using McKinsey 7S Framework to help you assess your organization in preparing for your move to the public cloud.

In this blog, I’m going to talk to you about one of the McKinsey S’s: staff. As defined by McKinsey, staff refers to the workers of the company, how big the team is, where their motivations reside, as well as how they are trained and prepared to accomplish the move to the cloud.

Make no mistake: moving your entire IT ecosystem to the public cloud is a massive change. Fortunately, the systems being moved don’t have feelings and you won’t get much push back from them. It’s the humans you have to worry about. I’m talking about all the people who have selected, implemented, maintained, fought with and individually succeeded via the “old way” of doing things. As a leader you must realize that the “new way” is a threat to them, and they are going to fight tooth and nail against it – unless there’s something in it for them.

So start by putting yourself in their shoes to understand it from their perspective.

Get on the bus

As I mentioned previously – you’re going to need to repeat yourself until you’re blue in the face that you are, in fact, making this change. You have to create an air of inevitability about it. You need people to truly believe that you will not change your mind and you’re not backing down. Consequently, each individual in your organization will need to decide if they want to follow you. It’s a personal decision. Some will get on board quickly. Others, never. And many others in between. 

For the people that follow quickly – great! Recruit them to be your champions and agents of change internally. Ask them what it was about your message that convinced them that this was the right path, or what got them personally excited about the vision. Their enthusiasm will bleed into the organization, infecting others and convincing them to hop aboard the bus.

Meanwhile, as a leader you need to continue to repeat your message liberally and consistently. At some point, you also need to decide when you’ve given the organization enough time to decide and you’re fighting against the laws of diminishing returns. Some people may never get on board. For these people, it is imperative to show them the door, because they can act like a POISON in your organization, distracting people from the excitement about the future.

It’s hard to say goodbye

With a move to the public cloud you’re probably going to need fewer people in your organization, or you may need new people with a different skill set. I can tell you right now that the number of people who leave because they aren’t excited about the vision you’re painting is going to be a lot less than the number you need to release.

As you do your HR modeling and project your future state where you cease to have data centers with IT stacks to manage, have AWS/Google/Microsoft managing your infrastructure, and have your SaaS vendor managing its platform, you’re going to realize you’re just going to need fewer people. So many CTOs would tell me, “Well, we aren’t going to let those people go…we just won’t” and completely reject the HR savings on TCO. This is where having a HR plan is so important. Don’t try to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Embrace it. This is your opportunity to build a GREAT TEAM that’s energized about your future, so create a solid plan to manage through this part of the change process.

I realize that there are a lot of different redundancy and layoff rules in different countries. What might work in an at-will environment like the United States may not work in a country like France, with workers’ councils. Typically with large scale transformations, the project is over a longer duration of time, and sometimes you can use that time to your advantage.

One thing I’ve done within my organizations that need to go through significant reductions is to communicate to people AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE exactly how the change will impact them personally. I’ve done calls for voluntary departures, told people their exit dates a year in advance, and done reference calls for people leaving my organization to help them find their next position. I always recommend that leaders be honest and transparent with their workforce because their teams can smell the bullshit a mile away. By sharing your plans with your team, even if it’s “bad news” for them personally, you give them more time to find new employment, which is better.

Many leaders I’ve worked with default to telling people at the very last moment, fearing that workers will become unmotivated and unproductive. In my experience, that is rare. Most people continue to work hard because you had the courage to treat them like adults and they appreciate that you’ve given them time to find a new position. I do not pay them transition bonuses to cooperate; instead, where possible, I use the provided severance as the bonus. I tell them if they continue to be a productive member of the team, they can stay as long as we need them; if they leave early or are an unproductive member, they will be terminated for cause. In thousands of implementations of this approach, I’ve had to ask only two people to leave early. I’ve released employees all over the world and have probably dealt with whatever tough employee situation you may find yourself in, so if you need help with this part of the planning, please contact me and I’d be happy to give you some advice.

Put the bus into drive

By this point, you have a group of existing team members that are part of the future. Everyone is excited and the organization is the right size for the path that lays ahead. Do you need to hire new talent to your team? It’s likely that you don’t have enough cloud technologists in your organization today.

One short-term option to close the gap is to lean on the shoulders of your hyperscaler to get the best talent. All three of the big public cloud providers have organizations that can provide migration talent. Leverage this temporary talent to help you move your project along while you maintain normal operations, as it offers an option to rent some excellent personnel and cloud skills for your project. As a side benefit, it will give your team exposure to working with experts – they can learn from the best, so definitely take advantage of this opportunity by mixing in your people with your hyperscaler’s resources.

Finally, you’ll probably need to permanently hire new people to join your team – like software developers. The big four – Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft – easily attract all the top talent, from university through to experienced hires. They offer the resumé cachet, culture, career development, training – and mostly tangibly, the compensation – that is going to be difficult for you to match.

As an example, according to, an entry-level developer at Google just out of college would be looking at a package of almost $190k a year. Microsoft is paying around $165k, Amazon $162k. The figure for the average telco software developer salary in the US is $115k. Accurate salary comparisons are difficult, but it’s a sure bet that the cloud hyperscalers are paying a lot more than telcos and therefore attracting and hiring the best.

There’s an art to change management. You can’t roll out all the changes at once. You have to consider where you are as a company, your readiness to switch, the acceptance by the workforce, and how you’ll manage if there’s resistance. Some of your staff will stay doing the jobs they have always done. Some will be excited to retrain, learn new skills and support the cloud adoption. Some will leave, longing for the old way of doing things and refusing to embrace the change. Where expertise is better outside the company, outsource. Concentrate on creating and retaining a core, cloud-literate team to drive your business through the transformation to the public cloud. They will determine your success.

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