Why do your employees feel uncomfortable about being empowered? Why don’t they follow the instituted risk and change management processes? Why don’t they put customers first? The answers may lie in your control systems — and the fact that mediocrity is too easily accepted.
Whenever an IT organization excels in providing services to its customers, its customer service orientation is guaranteed to be deeply embedded into its culture.
Culture is one of the softer elements of an organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to improve its service delivery system.
Culture offers answers to some really difficult issues in IT services delivery, such as:
- Why employees feel uncomfortable and somehow do not want to be empowered (Review your control systems — your controls might be too tight to encourage empowerment. You might also be surprised to find that making mistakes is severely punished.)
- Why employees don’t follow the instituted risk and change management processes. (Check the extent to which anyone actually follows protocol.)
- Why getting employees to put customers first is so complicated and why there are so many complaints about poor service. (Review what happens when employees fail repeatedly in tasks and have so many complaints against them—most likely nothing! Mediocrity is tolerated!)
- Why critical IT problems are recurring. (Check approach to problem management. Most likely you are reactive in terms of issues resolution. You do not address the root causes of the problems. Do you have a culture of preparedness, contingency and proactive problem management?)
- Why employee turnover is so high even though they are paid competitively well relative to market standards. (Check the extent of camaraderie, teamwork and cooperation. Review learning practices. Are employees mentored or coached by managers and leaders of the organizations?)
If you want to improve the IT service culture of your organization, you have to understand that it is not an overnight endeavor.
Organizations don’t create culture overnight. Culture develops. There is no instant formula for creating culture or else you will end up with an artificial one with a weak foundation. Such type of culture is not sustainable. You don’t create culture by merely creating or declaring mission statements and rules. You don’t create culture by simply implementing new applications and best practices copied from other successful IT organizations. Culture happens through consistent behavior over time embedded and encouraged by leaders.
What does an excellent IT services culture look like? Like any culture, it is a collection of service traits, and behaviors that get repeated over time and embedded in the organization’s subconsciousness. The values, behaviors or traits you need to nurture and develop in your team to improve your IT services culture are as follows:
1. Customer First – Internally and Externally.
Fostering a “customer first” attitude means creating a work culture that values the customers. It needs to be applied internally and externally. Customer-friendly behavior should be encouraged. It is important for IT, at every level of the organization, to build a meaningful relationship with its customers. This practice will help IT to understand the requirements and needs of the business and allow them to align their services accordingly. Every interaction point — from frontline service desk personnel to managers handling customer engagements — should provide a consistent level of customer service.
This “customer first” focus must also be practiced at every unit of the group — and even between themselves. Customer service behavior should not only apply to the external customers of the organization. Each individual, department or function is interdependent. At any point in time, one could either be a supplier or a customer to the other. It is simple logic. If one part is a weak link, it will impact the service of the whole. If customer service behavior is practiced on a consistent basis, externally and internally, it becomes part of the IT group culture.
2. Collaboration and Teamwork
The best teams have a commitment to help each other. The culture of shared responsibility is all about teamwork and collaboration. Developing teamwork is about creating a group culture that values collaboration. With teamwork, no one completely owns an area of work or responsibility. It is shared by members of the team. Each member is encouraged to be involved and contribute to the attainment of the group objectives. In a group that has teamwork, members believe that working, planning and deciding is better done collaboratively.
3. Proactive Approach, Not Reactive
It is important to find or identify patterns and get to root causes of recurring issues. There has to be a strong drive to solve problems and stop recurring critical issues. In addition, teams need to prepare for critical incidents because these will happen. Problem management and disaster preparedness should be built into the IT culture. This is not an individual task. It should be managed collectively and involve all areas of IT.
4. Learning Organization
Learning is the best way to create culture and transmit culture. IT must have a culture of continuous learning. Employees who are well trained take more ownership and have an active role in operations. Attitudes become more positive and people aim to do things better. Learning in an organization should start early. This means starting the moment you hire an employee. An on-boarding program is one of the best ways to prepare employees and cultivate the kind of traits and behaviors you expect from them. In organizations with a strong service culture, new hires — who are selected in part for their service skills — quickly find out that the organization is serious about customer service.
5. Creativity and Empowerment
Creative people don’t accept standards as a given. They are obsessed with innovation and change. They are impatient for progress and will always look for ways and means to improve how things are done. For IT organizations to embed creativity and empowerment into their culture, IT leaders must learn to value negative results as well as positive ones. When you create something new, you don’t always succeed. The culture of encouraging creativity and empowerment will lead employees to be more collaborative, effective and innovative.
Being service oriented, or more specifically, being successful and excellent with providing services can’t be achieved swiftly. A service culture has many attributes that may be difficult to achieve. If you are trying to make your organization more customer-oriented, you need to assess what customer service traits are more prevalent and what needs more work. Creating a culture of service requires that you practice the service traits we covered earlier consistently in order to develop the attitudes and norms that will govern the behavior of all the members of the organization.
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
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11 thoughts on “Building an Excellent IT Services Culture”
Good article about the need to address IT Culture. I agree with many of your findings and observations. We wrote a book called the ABC of ICT (Attitude, behavior an culture) with IT organizations. We developed an ABC worst practice card set which is an assessment tools used to create awareness about ABC and assess organizations. One of the exercise we look at is ‘resistance’ to IT change initiatives (implementing frameworks like ITIL, coBIT and all the rest in an attempt to implement control systems!). This is one of the issues thinking a control system helps. These frameworks are all about changing behavior. This will only occur when we can address and change attitudes. Why people behave the way they do, why people resist change. Changing attitudes is the basis for changing behavior, which means bringing people togethera nd involving them in change is essential, listening to resisatnce, agreeing together behavior change, letting employees and team leads design new controls together, agreeing desirable behavior, identifying and removing barriers that prevent them and consciously confronting and addressing undesirable behavior. We often bring teams together and let them play a business game to do this. They have to interact, communicate, agree, decide and design new procedures and ways of working togther, these help change attitude, identify and discuss resistance and agree improvemenst THEY want to take away.
The top 3 ABC worst practices in our resistance exercise are (more than 3000 different IT organizational representatives worldwide):
– No management commitment (it is more than SAYING how important procedures are)
– saying YES and doing NO
– don’t follow the new procedures (controls) let’s just do what we normally do.
You can see that if the first is missing the second and third will kill an IT improvement program.
I’d ve also happy to discuss or provide input for your book.
paul wilkinson, GamingWorks.nl
Good article and as a CIO I focus on culture as a very priority for my teams. Happy to collaborate as well.
Thanks for your excellent observations on the importance of culture and for describing some of the attributes of an excellent IT services culture – all spot on! Also, 10 out of 10 for describing how NOT to go about creating a desired culture.
But, other than your brief comment that culture change takes, “consistent behavior over time embedded and encouraged by leaders,” your post is light on how to go about changing culture.
Of course, you know me well enough to know that my poke at you is mostly in jest. I’m always suspicious of ‘quick formulas to culture change.’ But I do hope that in a future post you will get more into this thorny topic. I believe, based on 30+ years of management consulting, that the need to change culture is at the heart of most IT organizational dysfunctionality. And, as we move from a top-down, hierarchical and structured organizational context to one that is flatter, more emergent and more collaborative, the need to change culture is more crucial than ever.
Perhaps we can collaborate on such a post (or even a series of posts, given the hairy nature of the topic)?
I sincerely appreciate your comments and feedback. I totally agree with you on this and I am suspicious myself of “artificial/ instant culture” brought by quick formulas. To me culture happens over time from consistent behavior influenced by many underlying factors. However, I also believe that you can make culture happen in an organization like IT… through leadership and embedding mechanisms. Thank you for your offer to collaborate on this topic. Actually this is the core topic of the first part of a book that I am writing right now entitled “Building a Brand for IT” for Gower UK. Perhaps you can give me some inputs on the subject and examples or case studies from your 30 years of experience in IT management, projects, operations and consulting. We can also collaborate on an article for both our websites and perhaps even in http://www.ssonetwork.com where this article of mine was first published. I wish you a great New Year sir. Thanks again!