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Posted by on Dec 4, 2008 in Featured, IT Service Management, ITSM Related | 2 comments

Brother, could you spare some CHANGE? (Managing Cultural Change)

Brother, could you spare some CHANGE? (Managing Cultural Change)

In light of the current economic conditions, many IT Organizations are looking to IT Service Management initiatives as a way to increase organizational effectiveness, better understand and manage IT Costs, and scale to meet rapidly changing business needs.

As these organizations begin to tackle their various initiatives, many will be faced with a challenge that other organizations that tread this path before them found in some cases to be insurmountable.

The challenge I am referring to is not necessarily unique to IT or the IT Service Management space, but it has come to represent one of the biggest reasons why many ITSM initiatives fail before they even get a chance to begin. That challenge is an organization’s inherent cultural resistance to change.

Cultural change is one of the hardest aspects to manage in any ITSM inititative for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the culture of the organization typically took many years to form.

An organization’s culture is a lot like a community garden, in that many hands contributed to it over the years to make it what it is today and if not properly cultivated and managed can quickly become unruly.

The reason why Cultural Change is so important to manage as part of an ITSM initiative is that it can be either a huge obstacle to success, or an amazing catalyst that can accelerate the adoption and realized benefits of you efforts.

To be successful in changing the culture we must focus on creating an environment that inherently encourages the desired behaviors from most of the individuals who are critical to the success of the ITSM effort. Typically, the most effective method of approaching cultural change is a well thought out Communications and Training plan that addresses the needs and concerns of the various constituent groups of individuals impacted by the change.

Additionally focus can be placed upon two key individual types that tend to have a broad influence within an organization:

Key Influencers – Key Influencers are natural leaders within the organization who tend to sway opinions of others towards their point of view. They tend to have an extensive social network in the workplace and are typically plugged into the “goings on” that are occurring in the workplace. They are typically positive in nature and are comfortable sharing thoughts and information with others, and as a result other typically share thoughts and information with them.

Key Detractors – Key Detractors are typically very vocal and resistant to change, and typically voice their Fears, Uncertainty and Doubt in any forum public or private. And while they do not typically have the extensive social network that a Key Influencer might have, by the sheer volume of negative communication they do, they tend to amplify any fears and uncertainty others may have as a result.

By bringing the Key Influencers onto your side early in the process and including them in your efforts, you can benefit extensively from their influence on others.

For key detractors, the strategy is to neutralize as much of their influence as early on as possible so as to minimize the effect they may have on others opinions. You can do this by approaching them early on and allowing them to understand what you are doing then talking to them about what concerns they may have with your effort and approach. Once you understand their concerns you can attempt to overcome them where they may be valid. In many cases, you may not be able to overcome their concerns not matter what you do and in that case you are best served by understanding them and ensuring that your communications with others addresses them as best as possible so that in the event they do come into contact with a Key Detractor, they are not overtly influenced by the Detractors opinions before they have had a chance to form their own.


  1. I agree with your comments and I would like to add a couple comments. Two additional areas need to be covered in order to be successful…training/educating and marketing. The training/educating provides the ability for everyone to be singing off the same song sheet. Nothing is worse than when a Detractor does not understand where your going and tends to grumble to others to the point of undermining the initiative. Second, I believe it is important to “market” the initiative to as many people as possible. Demonstrate the benefits and the value of the initiative. The marketing campaign will be a never ending process for the entire initiative and after. One additional key point, ITSM initiative must be driven from the top down. If senior management is not fully engaged in the ITSM project it will be an up hill battle.

  2. @shane: This is basically what Paul Wilkinson has been saying the past 2 decades. IT Frameworks, ITSM projects,… are still failing due to lack of attention to the A(ttitude), B(ehaviour) and C(ulture) of the people involved in IT and the users/customers of the IT-services. Any decent ITSM-training shouldn’t only adress the more “technical” side of the processes but it should also train you in transforming people’s ABC.
    @thomas: I agree, lack of management commitment isn’t just a bullet in every single process risk-list in the Itil books. It’s there for a reason!


  1. #^@$!*% ITIL! (How to keep ITIL from becoming a 4 letter word in your organization) : ITSM Pundit - [...] the amount of energy you will have to put into managing the People side of the program. Organizational Change ...

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