The Role of Organizational Change in an ITSM Implementation (Part 2)

by Gerry Geddes

Part Two; Kotter Meets ITSM (A Model for Successful Organizational Change)

In Part One we looked at the lessons learned from the efforts applied to implementing ITSM over the last 20 years. One of those lessons is that of the three People, Process and Product elements, People is by far the most critical accounting for 60% of the equation. We also learned that the reason for this is that by deploying an ITSM delivery model you are fundamentally changing the way people work and collaborate. When you make changes of this nature you are sailing into the waters of Organizational Change. Luckily, those waters aren’t uncharted and we have the benefit of using the navigational charts created by the global leader in organizational change. 

In 1995, Professor John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled, Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. This article has become one of the most reprinted articles in the history of HBR. In it he described the eight reasons change initiatives fail based on the study of over 100 large and mid-sized companies. A year later he published the international best seller Leading Change in which he flipped the approach to create an eight step model for successful change and it is to this day the industry standard “how to” guide. Today, many books later, Professor Kotter is recognized as the de facto expert in leadership and organizational change.

Let’s take a look at his Eight Step Model and how we can use it in an ITSM program.

1. Creating a Sense of Urgency

This means that there must be an overwhelming need for the change to be done in the near term. Kotter’s data says that “50% of transformations fail at this phase” and that “75% of the organization’s management must be convinced of the need”. If you schedule it for Q3 next year that is sending a clear message that this change is not urgent. This does not mean that you need to create an artificial crisis but instead to align the change with a timely major business requirement in terms of strategy, revenue or governance. “A higher rate of urgency does not imply ever present panic, anxiety, or fear. It means a state in which complacency is virtually absent.”

Moving to a fee for services model from a traditional IT as cost center within the current budget year is a common reason for urgency in an ITSM implementation. In this case the organization still wants to provide IT services in-house, but wants their IT department to function as if they were an outsourcer. The urgency comes once the stakeholders decide it’s the right thing to do, and then they want it yesterday.

2. Forming a Guiding Coalition

The existing hierarchy cannot lead the change as it must be led by a dedicated group of leaders who will shepherd the change through the various stages to ensure success. Kotter calls these people the Guiding Coalition.

The guiding coalition has four key characteristics that must be present, starting with Position Power. The members must have influence and be senior enough to ensure end-to-end ITSM processes can to be designed to be efficient without need for political work-arounds. The second characteristic is Expertise, so that the right decisions are made for the right reasons and all points of view are considered. Third, there must be people with Credibility on the coalition who have done this successfully before. As organizational change is considered high risk, you want to get it right the first time. Most important here is that there is a sense of trust that the coalition can pull it off. Finally the fourth characteristic is Leadership by those who have a demonstrated track record as a leader of change. At this point Kotter draws the line clearly by saying management is about “dealing with complexity” while leadership is “dealing with change”.

3. Developing a Vision and Strategy

The leadership must create a Vision of the desired state. Once you have everybody on board that there is some urgency, they will need to know where the organization is heading.  The easier it is to convey this vision to customers, employees and stakeholders, the higher your probability for success.  Kotter says “people often have the mistaken perception that a vision is not related to business realities and is a waste of time.” He recommends that your vision be easily communicated and understood in five minutes and if you can’t do this it should be redone. Typically an ITSM vision would leverage the benefits of an end-to-end service model designed to meet business needs and improve business performance.

4. Communicating the Vision

Once you have a vision it must be communicated up, down and across the organizational line to achieve buy-in. The communication will continue well after the project plan’s end date has been achieved and must be revisited and reworked throughout the life-cycle of the program. It is relatively common to develop a good vision but only to provide a single communication in the form of a newsletter or a staff meeting. Many organizations “under-communicate by a factor of ten”.

Additionally it is also common to see a well communicated vision but the management team does not walk the talk so the buy-in is never achieved. It is often in this context you see the application of the “Sheep Dip Method” of ITIL education mentioned in part one in the hopes everyone will come back from an ITIL Foundations class and just know what to do. Traditionally ITIL projects have incorrectly considered this approach to be the bulk of the People component. When you do a Communication Plan and an Awareness campaign make sure they are not deployed as one-off stand alone activities on the project plan rather than part of a much larger organizational change effort.

5. Empowering Broad Based Action

When most people see or hear the word “empowerment”, they often roll their eyes as if to say “here we go again” another flavour of the month catchword. Usually this is due to personal experience where the “E” word has been used to mean responsible with no chance of success, or “setup to fail”.  In this case we mean the original definition of the word and to many that means not being punished for your mistakes. True empowerment allows people to think and act out of the box and try new things without fear of reprisal.

In this case we want a broad base of people to feel this way. Based on the sense of urgency, the strength and credibility of the coalition and a well communicated ITSM vision and strategy you want to create a climate where large numbers of people are willing to give this a try and find new and better ways to do things. Kotter’s advice is that this is best done by the removal of obstacles that will impede progress. If one department head says that he will continue to use his own Change Management process and simply “interface” with the new one, this needs to be managed. This is also an opportunity to align work groups and systems to the vision and to provide training to help people act on the vision.

6. Generating Short Term Wins

At this step we want to systematically plan for and achieve short term wins as true organizational transformation does not happen overnight. If you don’t create opportunities to celebrate success and progress it is easy to lose momentum. These short term wins also provide an opportunity for the guiding coalition to validate the new changes in the real world of IT and customers.

Like any other organizational transformation, Short Term Wins for an ITSM program must have certain conditions met to be effective. They must be apparent to all and the results clearly visible. There must be no debate or ambiguity that the win ever occurred and it must be obvious to all that it was the direct result of the ITSM change initiative. In IT, particularly when so much of what we do is below the waterline, this can be a challenge so plan for how you are going to deal with this.

Be cautioned that sometimes a PM will compress a schedule to artificially create wins in the short term, but this usually creates issues and is not recommended. The wins should be cheap and easy and “low hanging fruit”. They should be produced fast enough to “energize the change helpers, enlighten the pessimists, diffuse the cynics and build momentum for the effort”.

7. Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change

It is common after several short term wins that victory will be declared too early so watch out for that one. There is also a trap that some organizations fall into thinking that the short term wins are all that is needed. You need a holistic integrated approach to fully realize the value proposition of an ITSM approach.

In this step what we really want is to “entrench the change in every fibre of the organization”. We want change to happen in waves with the same sense of urgency until the vision becomes reality. By building true end-to-end processes and services you will be able eliminate old practices. This is the perfect time in an ITSM program to get rid of unnecessary and redundant work that is a legacy from old bureaucratic and hierarchical organizational limitations.

8. Anchoring Changes in the new Culture

This where we want make sure we are rewarding the correct behaviours to ensure the changes become lasting. The guiding coalition and also by this point, the entire senior IT management team must be walking the talk and reinforcing the new culture. Performance management targets for all levels must be aligned with the desired behaviours and outcomes.

The goal is an ITSM shop where continuous improvement is king, all suppliers and partners are aligned with you and the new way of doing business is the only obvious way of doing business. The message must continue and be part of the regular communications to employees and the program must never be seen to be “over” like a project with a finite end date. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle, as they say. Finally, the existing leaders and any new ones that join the organization must be seen to be actively working to make this part of the culture. You want people to say “how did we ever get work done before?”