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Posted by on Nov 11, 2010 in Featured, IT Service Management | 1 comment

There is nothing like the love between a Boy and his robot! (The Importance of Re-Humanizing Technology)

There is nothing like the love between a Boy and his robot! (The Importance of Re-Humanizing Technology)


(I bet some of you were expecting a Cherry 2000 picture weren’t you?)

Been an interesting and exhausting few weeks recently and I have found myself reflecting a lot and thinking on the foibles of IT.

Specifically, I have been thinking about the fact that in IT there seems to be far more examples of dysfunctional organizations than there are of High Performing organizations. Far more shocking than that to me is the fact that in my almost 15 Years in IT, I have run across many examples of organizations that are happier to remain in this state of dysfunction, than go through the effort of fixing the underlying causes.

I have come to the conclusion that there are a couple of primary drivers of this dynamic that I think are worthy of discussion:

1) Somewhere along the way in IT we made a conscious decision to divorce people from technology and allow the technology  itself become the primary interface to those we serve

2) In many cases we would rather fight to define an unrealistic existence than accept the true nature of the relationship we have with our customers

3) Human beings are both immensely complex and surprisingly simple at the same time.

This line of thinking has sent me down the path of reading and talking with lots of folks who are dramatically smarter  and more educated than me on these matters.

First, when it comes to technology in the workplace, we have in many cases over the years effectively removed the human element from the systems and support mechanisms in IT. This dehumanization has happened slowly and came attached to one well intentioned cause after another (efficiency, cost savings, process improvement and yes even in the name of Customer Service).

We thought that technology was a good substitute for human interaction. We thought that that is what people really wanted. We thought we were trying to “Do the Right Thing”. What we ultimately did though was isolate ourselves from the customers we serve. We initially reveled in this newfound freedom from the ID 10 T’s of the world. We posted witty geekisms on our cube walls and extolling Scott Adams as a modern day Luther.

In the mean time, much to our surprise, our customers become techno-savvy and realized that they were walking around with more technology in their pockets than they used in a week at work. Thus the divide began, some organizations have managed to minimize this divide through a combination of understanding customer needs, providing relevant service offerings, a most importantly maintain a human face to technology. They did this, not necessarily by making all the technology pass first through their hands into their customers, but by fostering a service centric environment where the IT team and the people in the business who use technology in the course of supporting the business processes and functions they perform. The key to this is creating an environment that encourages feedback and dialog that realistically balances needs and resources. Someone shared this thought with me today: “Soliciting feedback give you knowledge. Experience transforms that Knowledge into Wisdom. Time transforms that Wisdom into Intuition.”. By my math, it seems that if you never solicit feedback or encourage the dialog needed to collect it, you will never have the wisdom needed to ensure the technology really is providing value.

Secondly, I think we have been spending a lot of time the last ten years in our industry trying to sell the dream that we DESERVE to be a Strategic Partner to business. I am going to be controversial here, but at the end of the day in most cases at best we are first and foremost a provider of Services. This is an important distinction for several reasons, not the least of which is HOW we define our relationship with our customer. Typically in IT we either attempt to define our relationship with our customers at a much higher level than we should or in other cases at a much lower level than is valuable for both parties. The appropriate place to define our relationship is through the Services we provide to our customer. These services should be designed and positioned in such a way that they align to support the Vital Business Functions in the business. Without this alignment, you will never be able to have an effective conversation with your customers about the Value it brings to the business. Value can only be measured by your customers, and it can only be evaluated against the clearly defined products and services you provide as they are used to support the execution of business functions. All other measures and relationships outside of these things are unimportant if dynamics of the basic relationship is not in place. Needs being defined and fulfilled through transactions related to those products and services. Most service providers outside of IT get this, and they also get the fact that not only must they deliver those services in this manner, they also must be able to execute on the basic support mechanisms required. Only when you are able to consistently create, deliver and support these services consistently do you have the right to ask your customer to invest allow IT to be more than a Service Provider. If you can’t execute on the basics of Service, you certainly can’t be trusted to have a seat at the table to help drive the strategic direction of the business. Innovation in IT is a luxury reserved for those who have earned trust through consistent delivery and execution. Bottom line here is don’t waste a lot of time trying to pretend to be something you are not. Recognize your role in the company and do it the best you can. A recent quote from a frustrated Business Leader “I don’t need IT to tell me what they are GOING to do, I just need IT to do their job!”. Seems like a reasonable request to me.

Last, and for me the one that has the potential for the greatest impact is the fact that we tend to ignore the fact that humans although painfully predictable when it comes to behaviors, are extremely complex when it comes to changing the factors that influence those behaviors.

I have been spending a lot of time talking to folks and reading on a few areas that I think are largely ignored by IT Leaders. Organizational Development and Organization Change Management.

Organizational Development or OD as it is affectionately known in the HR circles where it originated and was popularized is in it’s most simple form, a series of best practices for developing a high performing organization. Like so many of the tools we employ in ITSM it is only as effective as the people who yield it and the sincerity in which it is applied. OD employs a lot of great and powerful thinking that reinforces the old adage that most organizations are designed and built to achieve exactly the results that they are currently getting (hidden context being that if little thought is put into the design of the organization, it should be no surprise that results are an afterthought).

Being a visual person, this graphic from Linkage kind of brings it home for me:

Essentially an organization is a system of complex parts working together to support a set of common outcomes and goals (Speaking of goals if you aren’t already a follower of Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt and his Theory of Constraints, you need to be. Go here, buy the book and get enlightened. Simple as that.)

For some reason in IT we seem to hire a lot of people who are at best good managers, but true leaders in IT seem to be few and far between. I have had the pleasure of working for several good leaders over the years and the difference between a natural leader and a good manager are immediately noticeable. But good leaders alone aren’t enough to make a high performing organization sustainable in the long term. An Organization must be intelligently designed to achieve needed outcomes. This design takes time, it takes investment, it takes knowledge and it takes commitment. All commodities that are typically in short supply in IT.

After seeing the difference that a well designed high performing organization can make to both the individuals involved and the customers they support, I can honestly say is worth the investment.

Speaking of the individuals, when it comes to getting people from where they are, to where you need them to be, you need to spend time on Organizational Change Management or OCM. I have written in this blog in the past on the importance of OCM, but I have come to realize that even I had underestimated the intricacies of what separates good OCM from barely trying.

Good OCM adresses both the Organization AND the individuals. It get’s to the core of resistance and provides individuals and managers tools to overcome it. The best way I can put it simply is to quote a conversation I had with an expert n this field recently. “People need to see themselves in the story.” A simple but powerful statement. Without the context of how they fit into the changing world, FUD takes over and people assume the worst.

I won’t dwell on OCM in this post but will direct you to some thought leaders in our Industry on the topic first is Charles Araujo of Castlepointe. Charles has a passion for this subject like few people I have ever met. He often shares his opinion on the subject in his blog and ALWAYS provides something of value in his posts. Second is the good people at Suntiva who take OD and OCM to the intersection of IT and Behavioral Psychology.

Many analyst firms report that between 50-75% of all IT projects fail to deliver all of their intended benefits and other studies show that many of them fail because of a fundamental lack of OCM.

At the end of the day, many IT orgs are choosing to strive for mediocrity when with a little work they can be on the path to a much better world.

IT Leaders need to step up and Lead the people back into IT, because as another smart person has pointed out many times recently, “It’s later than you think!”

Thanks for putting up with yet another unfocused and rambling post. I needed to exorcise these demons before they consumed me. I also want to thank James Finister, Ivanka Menken and Craig Wilkey for jumping into the fray on Twitter and contributing to a great dialog on the topic today. You guys are a big part of the reason why I have faith in our industry.

1 Comment

  1. Shane – this is a great post. I was going to tweet it even before I saw that you gave me a little love. I really appreciate the kind words. Most importantly, though, I think you have really hit on something. The dehumanizing of IT’s relationship with its customers is a great insight and a significant problem. I think that it’s an area that needs much more focus and attention. Good job – this is great stuff.

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