Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Plus Ca Change...?


Obama liked it, and the IT service management community like it too. It seems that change really was the hot topic of 2009. Of course we're not talking political change or RFC-type technology change - it's organisational change that is the new revelation in our industry. Of course it may have something to do with the V3 Service Transition volume introducing models such as Kotter's eight-stage process for change into the ITIL framework. However, irrespective of the forces that have construed to make this such an important area all of a sudden, the ITSM community may need to stop and think about this for a bit.

Everyone's asking the question "how do you make change stick?". Yes, of course successful organisational change is important, but it's not an end in itself; it's a method. It's a means to an end. Of paramount importance is the endpoint itself. So ask yourself, where do you want to go? I hear culture change mentioned often and I would respond thus: define culture. Measure it. Prove that it exists. Empirically demonstrate positive outcomes associated with it. Now one could provide you with a team of ethnographers and qualitative researchers who would perhaps be able to assess your dominant culture. They may even detect the existence of sub-cultures whose orientation is diametrically opposed to your dominant culture. Do you want to change all of those? I'm not saying culture change is impossible, just that it's probably a lot trickier and riskier than you think.

Now if you're talking to me about some kind of climate, for example your climate for service, we could be on to something manageable. I could perhaps whip out an established psychometric measure to help understand your people's perceptions of the practices in your organisation that relate to service. We could then create a change program that seeks to address some of the deficiencies highlighted by the measurements - and then we'll have an end. After the change intervention we could then evaluate your people again to see if the climate for service has improved. (Be very aware that sometimes the uplift is only temporary, for example due to the social effects of the change programme itself, and we'd take steps to combat that).

So cards on the table time: I think that for many IT service management environments change programmes that have some kind of measurable goal is preferable to the nebulous transformation efforts that often seem to be a little unfocussed. Perhaps in the jargon, I adhere to the 'long-march' kind of emergent change in these contexts (read Kanter to understand more). But let us return to the "ends" of change programmes. Work psychology researchers have found factors which if included in the design of work in organisations lead to desirable outcomes such as motivation, satisfaction, proactivity, better performance at heuristic tasks etc. So the goal of your change programme could also be to promote these factors within your organisation. You could justify this by pointing decision makers to the supporting empirical evidence.

Why not therefore change your organisation to one where workers are set and are committed to challenging goals? One where staff are able to easily gain access to knowledge of the results of their work (i.e. feedback)? An organisation where the autonomy of individuals is supported, and where managers have a facilitating and enabling role rather than a command and control one? There's a lot of studies that suggest that such a transformed organisation may deliver a proactive, change receptive, motivated, high performing workforce. Throw in the service climate stuff mentioned earlier and you have the beginnings of a high performing service organisation.

Now that's a change worth making.

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