In ITSM you need the skills to influence people beyond having a process and that’s all about relationships, interaction and successful communication.
Human-to-human interaction seems an obvious concept? But how well do people in IT/ITSM perform in this respect?
Over the past 10-15 years organizations have assumed that by sending people on an ITIL® course, buying a tool, or putting a process in place that everything will change. ITSM and ITIL have become too closely linked with process, which suits IT people who tend to want things nailed down in a logical way, such as drawing up a technology workflow document.
However, the process element of service management is, in my experience, a relatively small part of making it successful. In recent years, I’ve seen the amount of my time spent working on process amount to less than 10%; instead, it’s become more about structure, mentoring, skills, people interaction, politics and culture change. Unfortunately, there is very little guidance in ITSM on how to do this well.
There needs to be more time spent focusing on what skills are needed to influence people and how to communicate what IT and ITSM professionals are doing. Why? These skills are the critical success factors; they require leadership from the top – the CIO or IT director – and enough people with the right personality, willingness and ability to change with the support of a proper change programme.
Bringing best practice to bear
The role of best practice has been a burning issue for some time. Many people are taking best practice qualifications, such as ITIL, but they must realize that training is only the beginning.
In some cultures, it’s important to have best practice that tells people what to do while in other cultures there is more fluidity. But the industry needs to make it clear that there’s more to implementing change than trying to replicate the guidance literally.
Training and development needs to be more practical and vocational, involving role play and simulation to help people remember it.
In addition, I think that AXELOS should look closely at ITIL and the challenges with its adoption in real life and identify areas needing more practical guidance around organizational change skills and approaches. The recent announcement about ITIL Practitioner looks to be a very positive step and should help to address this.
Getting human-to-human with the customer
For some time IT people have got away with not communicating successfully – with customers and amongst ourselves. But consumerization has disrupted that and changed customer expectations.
With so many different ways for organizations to access technology – through applications, services or both – customers are now encountering a different breed of company working in different ways; operating without the legacy of having an IT department with teams, managers and structures. Hence, they can get things up and running quickly and are much easier to deal with!
This reflects the importance of relationship management: getting closer to and understanding the customer while using more agile and iterative ways of working rather than the traditional waterfall approach. For example, DevOps adopts an agile approach; it is concerned with how people interact but without a blame culture or silos. Instead, it’s collaborative working with – in some instances – the added social lubrication of pizza and beer.
Relationship management establishes a more human-based interaction as opposed to the culture of putting in as many controls as possible, and overcomplicating interactions (e.g. draconian Service Level Agreements which the customer often hasn’t understood, been interested in or agreed to in the first place).
A mantra for practitioners from entry level upwards
IT and ITSM practitioners need to work on bringing more personality, people skills and mutually beneficial interaction to their relationship with customers. And if they can adopt simple storytelling as a way of communicating and getting a message across it’s so much more effective.
And organizations need to value such an approach in order to move away from the weight of SLAs, rules and processes.
Now there is much more principle-based management than process. This is leading to better customer experiences and business outcomes, allowing people to by-pass process when it makes sense to do so and act in a more human way.
Working in a more human-to-human way is about supporting people before technology. And that is the right way round.