HDI’s SPOCcast is your single point of contact podcast for service management and support insights. For Episode 5, I conducted an interview with Patti Blackstaffe via Skype to discuss what “people strategy” means and why it matters to IT success. Patti talked about project failures, Agile, and adaptive financing as well as why organizations overlook the importance of cultural, behavioral, and organizational change when they implement new technologies. What follows is excerpted, and I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast to benefit from Patti’s experience and insight.
RA: Your area of concentration is “people strategy.” Can you tell us a little more about what that means?
PB: Well, people strategy is about reaching out regarding the project and the technology, and how it impacts users. Our goal is to really prepare, support, and equip people to be able to handle the change with the new technology and to be able to drive some adoption and utilization and increase that, so that you get some ROI out of the technology that you’re implementing. We help the organization shape their vision. We typically are very good at figuring out what technology we have and what we need the new technology to do; we’re not always as good at figuring out what we need the people to do in order to make that technology work for us. So we work both at the leadership side as well as the end user side, and then we work tightly with the technical team. Because there are three levels of change that are going on: The business is trying to change using the new technology, such as a new ERP system or a new ITSM system or, say a new cloud service, and so the leadership need to understand how that’s going to benefit the business, and we help them shape the vision so that the rest of the teams can understand how they’re hoping that technology will enhance and change the business. Then we work really tightly with technology teams.
But we really truly focus on, “How do we get people to change their behavior so that the new tool is doing what the business is hoping it will achieve?”
RA: In some recent research…HDI found that 76% of the organizations that responded to our survey and that have adopted or are planning to adopt Enterprise Service Management did not include a formal program of organizational change. Why is people change management such a blind spot for organizations, and how can the need for cultural change be brought to the forefront as a necessary component of initiatives and projects?
PB: That’s an easy answer, and a tough answer all at the same time. So the easy answer is, when it’s a piece of engineering, a piece of technology, when it’s software, it’s mathematically based, it makes sense, it’s understandable. It’s easy to roll out because, however complex the technology is, it has a linear-type means or way of being addressed.
People, on the other hand, are complex, they’re messy, they come into the environment with an entirely different set of dynamics; they interact together, there is emotion involved, there is an enormous amount of experiential background coming into it. And then you have the politics of an organization, the culture of an organization—that gets pretty messy. You can’t wrap a budget as easily around that as you can around a linear understanding of technology.
So, that’s the easy answer. That’s why it’s difficult. It doesn’t have to be.
So, here’s a little bit more complex answer: When people are prepared, when they are given the resources they need, when they understand what’s coming, when they feel like their entire world is not going to be sidelined, and they aren’t turned into performance nightmares because of a new technology, but instead are an enabled and an empowered group of people that can move toward a purpose, then you’ve got something.
Our best clients that we work with understand that there is a methodology we can go through for addressing people change when, in fact, they care about the people. We’ve worked with other organizations where they just want to push the tool through, but they have to say they did a little organizational change management, and it’s rarely successful.
RA: IT has been blamed for the high—and sometimes astronomically high—percentage of project failures. Do you think that it’s technical failure or failure to have a people strategy in place?
PB: Let’s get back to that question, because I’d like to address the topic of failure. Failure is subjective. If I am a CIO and I have come in and I have said, “Oh—you know what? I need to implement this tool, and I’m supposed to implement it by that date, and that’s my mandate,” and the tool gets implemented, who thinks that’s a failure? Not the CIO, however it was implemented. However, if the KPI is “We are going to implement a tool and here’s the KPI now. We’d like to change the business this way using that tool,” then we have a completely different idea of failure.
Failure is subjective; it depends on who you ask. If you ask the people who have been imposed upon to take that new tool and change their work day? I would say failure rates average between 60–70% failure. When you look at senior executive level and what their mandate and KPIs are, failure is indicated around 6%.
When we put money to budget, we should be saying, “What is a value we’re adding to the business, and how do we get the people to assist us in adding that value?” Once you’ve done that, you can have some better metrics around what is failure and what isn’t failure. Oftentimes, expectation of what a tool can do fails the business, usually because people strategy wasn’t applied.
Let’s take an example when it comes to who we’re impacting. Let’s say we have a finance department, or we have someone in HR, and we’re impacting them with a specific technology. We see it as an IT initiative; they don’t. How that technology touches them, they see as a performance issue. So we can take people who’ve found amazing workarounds, they’re heroes in our business, they’ve been incredible in terms of what they’ve been able to accomplish…we don’t prepare them for the new tool, and then we turn them into a neophyte. We literally take our superheroes and we diminish their capacity for performance for our industry when we don’t prepare them.
We literally take our superheroes and diminish their capacity for performance for our industry when we don’t prepare them.
Our corporate function, from the CFO side, is not recognizing the requirement for adaptive financing for projects within IT. We’re not addressing it. And that adaptive financing must map with an Agile approach to how we implement tools. If we’re implementing an ITSM program, we can do that in phases, but our budgets need to allow for a couple of adaptive opportunities. One of them is having an experimentation threshold so that we can really understand whether the engagement we’re getting with people is mapping to the design we’re trying to do. That’s one topic that is rarely talked about that actually aligns with the people strategy and the technology strategy being merged.
RA: If I asked you to define adaptive financing, could you do that for me?
PB: We’re looking at Agile as an enabler for the business…saying that we’re going to put in an ITSM system that does X, Y, and Z, and we’re going to do it in the next 18 months, is one budget. That’s a single, solitary budget. But instead, we’re going to impact our business and add value in these ways…we’re going to add this ITSM component to fix what’s not working and to get down to the very basics and foundation of what ITSM can do for the organization. Then with the next budget we’re going to take a look at what that means for the rest of the “nice-to-haves” that we’d like to attach onto the ITSM. Within each of those individual budgets, if we have a threshold for experimentation where we say, “Listen: You can have X number of dollars to experiment and make this work for our culture, and work for the way that we do business in a manner that adds value to the competency,” that adaptive experimentation, and the right and the willingness to accept experimentation, regardless of failure or not, is adaptive financing. And we need to start adding that to how we implement projects.
People really matter in the workforce. We need to bring that humanity back to the work that we do and care about the cultures and emotions and support that we get from the people within.
About Patti Blackstaffe
Patti Blackstaffe is the CEO of Strategic Sense Inc., which focuses on helping clients build transformation agility through people strategy. A specialist in change and transformation, she focuses on complex technology implementations and change through M&A. Her years of hands-on experience in the automation industry, international business, and large organizational projects goes into her people strategy and programs for clients. She is an industry advisor for the Business Technology, Management and Analytics Program within the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, certified in change management, and a local volunteer. You can follow her on Twitter @StrategicSense and connect with her on LinkedIn.
Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as senior writer/analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.