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Author  Leif Andersson: Change leader, coach and facilitator - IlluminEight

September 29, 2021 |

 4 min read

  • Blog
  • Behaviour
  • Service management
  • Agile
  • ITIL
Why is behaviour a cause for concern in organizational change and improvement – and how does it relate to ITIL® 4?

Behavioural analysis has been around since the 1950s and actively used in companies since the 1970s.

Despite that, many managers today repeatedly tell employees to do things and then leave them to it. When they don’t fulfil expectations, bosses yell at them. What leaders and managers often miss is that people act on the consequences for them; when they are rewarded personally, they feel better and perform better. Yelling and scolding does not cause a specific behaviour; it can even produce undesirable behaviour!

Understanding the fundamentals of behaviour is leadership and psychology 101, before even thinking about making changes in an organization.

Behaviour and the “dead man’s test”

Behaviour is action: if we don’t have actions, we don’t accomplish anything.

This means behaviour must be active. The so-called “dead man’s test” in organizational behaviour management tells us what is active or not. For example, just being in a meeting could be done by a dead man, so it’s not active behaviour.

Such a test can be applied also to concepts such as agile: a method says “you need to be agile”, but how does that look? What is the active behaviour behind it? You “need to co-operate/collaborate/communicate”, but what is the active behaviour and how do you measure it?

Equally, a framework says you “must register incidents”. However, if it doesn’t tell you how, when and what’s in it for the employee, people can choose whether to “behave” or not.

If people understand the “why” and the consequences, then managers can begin to influence behaviour.

Behaviour and best practice frameworks

ITIL 4 is very aware of behaviour change and emphasizes it as important. For example, covering concepts such as co-operation and mindset at a high level.

However, the framework – like any framework – doesn’t make the change. In itself, it doesn’t pass the “dead man test”. This is not a criticism of ITIL, as we shouldn’t expect it necessarily to define behaviour, but it’s still knowledge we need to have. It is probably even impossible to define the actual behaviour behind ITIL 4 practices (along with practices in any model or framework), as performance (behaviour that produces results) depends on the context, organizational goals and other stuff.

When looking at the operative behaviour of people, it might achieve an end result but be either undesirable or unethical for some reason. Therefore, defining the right behaviour and looking at how to reinforce it by managing the environment and consequences is as important as producing the correct result.

Behaviour in ITIL 4

Certain types of behaviour are brought out in ITIL 4, such as servant leadership in ITIL 4 Specialist Create, Deliver and Support; communication and collaboration in ITIL 4 Specialist Drive Stakeholder Value and organizational change management in ITIL 4 Strategist Direct, Plan and Improve. Each organization must define its servant leadership and the behaviour behind it.

ITIL 4 gives you tools and possibilities but it’s people that make the actual changes and improvements. In numerous areas of ITIL, you need to work with people, mindset and organizational culture. Culture is the collective behaviour of people in the organization, but this begins with understanding individuals’ attitudes.

Practitioners need to go deeper into topics such as servant leadership to understand what their behaviour should be, i.e. being there, looking, listening and coaching people.

ITIL 4 practices and avoiding the punishment trap

Managers might think their job is to make other people change, but the job starts with them.

It takes reflection and self-knowledge to achieve personal behaviour change that then influences others. In traditional leadership styles – when leaders and managers use punishment – people might comply and the boss’ behaviour is reinforced. This is the “punishment trap” and to be avoided!

Combining better understanding of behaviour with methods like ITIL 4’s practices will lead to different discussions: not just about results, but about how people will arrive at those results. Rather than telling people what to do, asking them if they’re comfortable with a way of working and how they would do it instead builds better motivation. Knowing what a reinforcer is for each of your employees is the fundamental element for building a high-performance organization with happy people in it.

Seeking more knowledge about behaviour and how it can be used in organizations is one of the key parts we need to add to our portfolio of skills.

The Journal of Organizational Behavior Management: Vol 41, No 2 ( contains practical information from both practitioners and consultants worldwide.