When I started in the IT industry I was a fairly junior hardware engineer. One day I went out with an experienced engineer to learn about a particular mini-computer that he was going to mend. It was a complex problem and I learned a lot from watching him work. On returning to the office our manager told us that she had received a complaint from the customer, because the engineer had been rude and didn’t provide updates about what was happening. The engineer’s reply to his manager was so shocking that I still remember the exact words he used. What he said was “I don’t do people, I only do computers”.
That is an extreme example, but I still see a similar culture throughout the IT industry. There are far too many people in IT who think that their role is to manage the technical components, they “don’t do people”. Even in IT organizations that claim that customer experience is the most important aspect of what they do, I often don’t see the investment of time and resources that would be needed to make this true.
We often represent IT service management as a balance of people, process, products, and partners, like this…
… but whenever I see a project to implement or improve an aspect of IT, or IT service management, the people aspects usually have insufficient planning and far too little investment. One example of this was a recent post on the Back2ITSM Facebook group, where James Finister described a project Gantt chart that had “change organizational culture” neatly allocated a two week bar.
There are lots of people working in IT who understand the importance of attitudes, behaviour, and culture (ABC) and some IT organizations do invest the time and resources needed to get these aspects of IT service management right. But for every great IT organization I see, there are another 10 that spend all their time thinking about processes and products, and assuming that the people part will just happen. They “don’t do people”.
So what can you do to address these people issues? Unfortunately there are no simple answers, but there are plenty of things that can help. Here’s my advice:
Start by thinking about yourself, and how you relate to customers and colleagues. A very powerful learning for me was hearing my colleague saying “I don’t do customers”. This made me reflect on my behaviour and led to major improvements in how my customers saw me.
We all have a big effect on the behaviour of people around us. If you demonstrate the kind of behaviour you expect to see from others and share the positive results this generates, then you may start to influence your colleagues, and the culture of your organization.
If you are responsible for managing people or processes in an IT organization, then there are many more things you can do:
Think about how you recruit people. If the only factor you consider when taking on new staff is their technical competence then you are storing up problems for the future. One organization I know recruits many of their first level service desk staff from within the business they are supporting. This gives the service desk an enhanced understanding of the issues their customers face, and helps to ensure they display the required level of empathy.
Include experiential learning into how you train IT staff. There are some very effective business simulations available and a number of vendors can deliver these. This training really can help your staff understand how their behaviour impacts their customers.
Design customer experience into everything you do. Don’t just assume you know what customers want; ask them, engage them, and make sure your processes and tools work for them. Every process, every user interface, and every interaction should be designed to deliver a great experience for your customers. If customers aren’t involved in the design stage then it’s unlikely your staff will be able to get things right.
Make sure that the way you measure and reward people promotes the behaviours you want. One organization had a key metric of average time to close incidents. A particularly rude and unhelpful service desk agent could score very highly on this metric, leading to the exact opposite of good customer service.
Talk to staff about customer experience. Have regular sessions with all IT staff where you discuss customer experience, don’t just talk about financial and technical metrics. You need to help staff understand how they contribute to customer experience, in the same way as they should understand how they contribute to your financial performance.
Finally, you should ensure that people issues are allocated sufficient time, and money, in every IT project. Don’t assume that people will do what you expect, and behave the way you want. Make sure your people understand what you want from them. Don’t allocate a two week slot marked “change organizational culture” to your project plan. Think about how people might react to your project, and how you can help them to adopt any changes you need. I recommend reading Balanced Diversity – a Portfolio Approach to Organizational Change by Karen Ferris for an overview of how to do this.
If you address these people issues then you can be one of the really great IT organizations that does “do people”, and the result of this will be happier customers and increased opportunities for you to deliver great service.
Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!