Typically, when CIOs describe successful transformations they focus on a particular project or initiative in which the results can be easily measured by the delivery of a successful product or service. There are several of these types of activities that I could speak to, but I feel the most important transformation I led, within the IT group, and which had the most positive impact on the business was in the area of culture. Culture is not something that changes overnight, but behaviors that impact long term culture can be addressed in a relatively short period of time, especially if there is a business case for doing so. Now to be clear, there is corporate culture and the culture of a department that exists in the corporation. The culture that I will speak of is within the IT department, not the culture of the corporation as a whole. Corporate culture change is an enormous undertaking that requires a comprehensive executive team effort. IT can play a role in this, but impact will be minimal without the support of the consolidated business units.
"In order for an organization to move from being responsive to proactive, an interpersonal behavior transition needed to take place"
The IT organization that I became a part of, about five years prior, was (and still is) a group of very dedicated individuals who respond to the call whenever the call is made. Responsiveness and the ability to recover quickly is a core competency. This mentality was driven into the mindset of IT and it formed the mission and influenced the culture that ensued. Unfortunately, this type of mindset was difficult to maintain in an environment of high growth through M&A activity. It was no longer acceptable to respond to break and then fix. It was necessary to stop the break from happening to begin with. Also, there was a higher level of customer service expected. The organization matured and customer expectations were set higher requiring a partner mentality. IT was being asked to simplify the processes in place and enhance the level of service provided. Be proactive. Eliminate any bureaucracy and don’t pass on process or department inconsistency to me, the customer. The request was for simplicity, and the ability to be proactive.
In order for an organization to move from being responsive to proactive, an interpersonal behavior transition needed to take place. The organization had to learn how to work closer together as a team. Individual merit which had previously been encouraged and rewarded needed to be replaced with enhanced communications, coordination, and reliance on team members to collectively resolve issues. This was a difficult concept to grasp and gain adoption for. In addition, and more importantly, the idea of one IT team united to serve the customer was needed. That it meant to be customer centric and provide the best customer service in the eyes of the customer had to be understood and shared by all. Again, the concept was hard to understand. For example, it was normal practice for a customer to make a request of a member of IT. That particular member didn’t perform that function. As a result the customer was sent to someone else. They were “passed down the line” and ownership for the well-being of that customer was not placed at a high level of importance. That needed to change and all IT needed to be on board.
So what did we do? Step one was to get buy-in from the CIO team. This required some team-building and training activities including analysis of team dysfunctionality, interpersonal relations, and leadership. We also adopted ITIL best practices for the framework from which we would move forward. A director was assigned responsibility to deploy the concept/ framework which included training and certification of all IT associates. Many also completed certification testing. In addition interpersonal and conflict resolution training was added. Customer surveys were done and plans were put in place to improve the perception as well as the reality of the services. We also were required to walk the talk. In our department meetings and group sessions we discussed opportunities to improve our customer service mindset, accept ownership for the mutual benefit of all IT, and most importantly focus on how we could become the best partner the business could ask for. We have made great progress in these areas and it was due to the commitment and dedication of all involved to make it happen. My role was to build the business case, set expectations, and hold people accountable (including myself). The leaders of the team drove it home and continue the journey today.
The result? Well, it is still work in progress, but in an evaluation of the accomplishments the following attributes are apparent. Our customers are more engaged with us than ever before. We have not had a customer survey for some time now, but the feedback we are getting has been very positive. Secondly, the IT organization is genuinely happy with the work they do and how they do it. Frustrations associated with getting things done have been reduced and we are working together to establish the methodology to compensate for a department or individuals that inadvertently drop the ball. As is the case of the best sports teams in history, when something goes wrong other members of the team compensate because it is in the best interest of the team to do so. In general that is taking place. We are not yet consistent in our delivery, but we are getting better.