That’s the way IT works!….from words to deeds

Published on Monday 29 April 2013

An organization in the care industry was undergoing a transformation within its IT department. The focus for the previous year was ‘back in control’ in which the ITIL support processes and tools were optimized to gain more control over the outages and the operational processes. With the growing importance of IT for the business, IT’s right to exist was also shifting. The business needed a more professional IT organization, one that is flexible and able to continually align to changing business and market demands, one that can help the business realize results and gain value from exploiting emerging technologies. The growing dependency on IT also requires an IT organization that can demonstrate stability, availability and continuity of IT services. This year’s focus was no longer ‘Back in control’, but ‘Back to business’.

 If  IT doesn’t want to be a victim of outsourcing it must demonstrate value and claim its right to exist”

An ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) workshop with the CIO and the Management team (MT) revealed that IT was coming from a strong technology and internal focus and needed to shift to a customer and Service focused culture. This required a significant change in attitude, behavior and culture if IT was to demonstrate its right to exist.  As part of the ‘Back to business’ program a culture change initiative was started. It was given a name and a logo ‘That’s the way IT works!’.  ‘I don’t like to use the words ‘culture change’, but it really is about changing peoples’ attitudes and behavior. We must change the way we do things as an organization if we are to survive’, explained the CIO.  ‘The current economical climate and drive for cost cutting has meant that many business managers are looking to alternative sourcing options to reduce costs. If IT doesn’t want to be a victim of outsourcing it must demonstrate value to claim its right to exist’. 


Together with the business IT created a set of 5 core values that would underpin ‘That’s the way IT works!’. Five core values that would create ‘customer value’ and shape the culture for the future. Three of the values – the three ‘P’s’ – were aligned with the corporate values of the business. Two new values were created for IT.


The 5 core values were:

  • Professional, Proactive, Positive (the three ‘P’s’)
  • Result focused & Flexible

A powerful message giving people something to aim for and something to be proud of

The 5 core values were presented by the MT at a number of team and employee sessions, together with the need for the change (Sense of Urgency) and what it would mean for the employees (Vision for the future- What’s in it for me?). The sense of urgency painted a realistic image of the consequences of not changing.  The Vision for the future was ‘To be the best Shared Service Center in the Netherlands‘. This was a powerful message, giving people something to aim for and something to be proud of, rather than a message of fear, uncertainty and doubt. ‘Managing the Customer perception is crucial’ explained the CIO, ‘for the IT organizations’ continued right to exist. The business must see us living these values.  

In many organizations these values become simply words and slogans and posters hanging on the walls, ignored. Empty, shallow promises unfulfilled. ‘That’s the way IT works!’ is aimed at ensuring the words are translated into sustainable, consistent, desired behavior’.


IT teams and employees were engaged and involved in describing the current ‘undesired behavior’ they recognized and wanted to remove, as well as ‘desired behavior’ relating to the 5 core values. ‘Desired behavior’ the teams themselves wanted to create and were committed to realizing.

Creating buy-in, translating theory into practice, capturing improvements

Four weeks after the launch of the initiative a series of Apollo 13 Business simulation sessions were held to help assess and confront ‘undesirable behavior’ and to allow the teams to test, explore and experiment with ‘desired behavior’. At the end of the Apollo sessions the teams, as well as each individual, captured concrete improvement actions they wanted to take away and apply. Employees made agreements with managers relating to new ways of working and relating to their ‘Personal Development Plans’. The management team also underwent training to develop more leadership capabilities, and more management of change skills. ‘Managers play a key role in making the change a reality. They must lead by example and be seen to be walking-the-talk’ explained the CIO.   

customer: my perception is the core values are simply words and slogans, and IT doesn’t take me seriously

During the Apollo 13 Business simulation sessions the facilitator played the ‘customer’. ‘What are the 5 core values’?  asked the customer at the start of the simulation. From the 70 IT staff who participated in the games, several could name the 3 P’s, only 5 could name ‘Result focused’ or ‘Flexible’. ‘How do you think this makes me feel’? asked the customer? ‘My perception is that the 5 core values are simply words and slogans, and IT doesn’t take me seriously’! ‘We are now going to play Apollo, prove me wrong!’ – show me ‘That’s the way IT works’!’

During the simulation sessions the team explored what ‘Professional’ meant. ‘What behavior would I as a customer SEE today that demonstrates professional behavior?’ A list was made at the start of the day and updated as new discoveries were made.


At the end of the first simulation round the customer was not happy, results had not been achieved and very little ‘professional’ behavior had been displayed. We reflected on what had happened and discussed ‘undesirabale behavior’. People do not deliberately set out to be unprofessional or demonstrate ‘undesired behavior’. Undesired behavior is often unintentional, unconscious.

The simulation enabled us to make it visible. Below is the common set of undesirable behavior the teams experienced during the simulation and recognized in their daily work.

The team did not:

  • Make and communicate clear decisions when designing their way of working, which led to confusion and incorrect assumptions about who did what;
  • listen and summarize what they heard, in terms of ‘meaning’, ‘decisions’, ‘concrete agreements’;
  • ensure everybody understood the process and their role in it;
  • make clear agreements in terms of tasks, responsibilities, authority;
  • embed the agreements in the processes;
  • embed the agreements in the tool so they could manage the workload, the agreements, the priority, the resources;
  • engage or involve the customer in the process design, or seek  to understand the business, business concerns, business needs, nor did they provide the customer with timely information and alternatives;
  • use the list of  ‘professional behavior’ when agreeing their processes nor did they demonstrate this behavior;
  • escalate when they knew deadlines would not be met or when decisions needed to be made on priority;
  • understand the business impact and priority so that work could be prioritized and resources properly scheduled and allocated;
  • ensure authority to get things done;
  • give each other feedback or confront each other on behavior.

They did however:

  • Lie to the customer about status and results (to protect the customer!);
  • make too many assumptions;
  • start doing other peoples work for them, instead of confronting people on responsibilities and agreements;
  • stop following procedures when the work pressure increased;
  • stop registering and maintaining status information when the workload increased.

  it was painful and confronting…in the end we were successful because we were living the core values

The customer praised the team for their positive energy and desire to deliver results, but there is a difference between trying to do everything and failing and doing the right things.

It was painful and confronting, it was like holding up a mirror. We could see unconscious, undesired behavior happening and the frightening thing is we recognized a lot of it in our daily work. ’ said a number of delegates. ‘In the end we were successful, because we were living the core values, people took ownership and responsibility’.

At the end of the Business simulation sessions the list of ‘desirable behavior’ relating to ‘Professional’ was updated.

Professional behavior according to the teams is:

  • Giving Pro-active advice to the business about solutions and relating these to business results.
  • Listening and showing understanding of customer NEEDs and testing feasibility.
  • Timely information about status. Good and BAD.
  • Providing information the customer needs and understands.
  • Asking for feedback, giving and accepting feedback as a chance to learn and improve.
  • Working proactively to prevent mistakes and issues.
  • Making concrete agreements and sticking to agreements.
  • Confronting people on agreements and confronting people on undesired behavior.
  • Admitting to mistakes, offering solutions and stating how mistakes will be prevented next time.
  • Maintaining Calm/Patience in all situations.
  • Manage customer expectations and perceptions.
  • Understand the customer NEEDS and deliver to these needs.
  • If you are unable to meet an agreement, timely notification and suggesting alternatives.
  • Understand the business processes and activities as well as impact of outages.
  • Giving an answer to the customer’s “Question”.
  • Not making assumptions but confirming ‘Understanding’.

We thought we had made clear agreements…but many were not really understood or carried out.

The challenge they now face is how will they take this away and embed it in their ITIL processes, tools and daily behavior. These lists would now be taken away and discussed in the various team meetings, and agreements would be made on how to embed this in their daily work. The ITIL processes would be evaluated as part of their CSI (Continual Service Improvement) approach and improvements made to ensure ‘desirable behavior’ was enabled, facilitated and executed. The teams also learnt more about making agreements. ‘We thought we had made clear agreements at the start of the game. But many agreements were not really understood or carried out’.

In the second game round teams had made agreements that worked. How did they do this? Their agreements were now:

  • Understood and accepted. They were in fact ‘Agreed’. ‘Yes I accept and agree’;
  • time related. Time agreements in relation to notification, status updates, customer priorities and promises, escalation. ‘Who get notified how and when?’;
  • aligned with escalation actions if the agreement could not be met. ‘who and how does escalation occur to the next level of expertise, to the next level of management and to the customer?’;
  • coupled to information and communication needs. ‘What do you need to know to enable you to decide or take additional action?’;
  • related to automation (tool) related aspects for logging, recording, reporting.’Who and how will the tool be updated and used?’;
  • aligned with levels of authority. ‘Who is authorized to intervene, to override, to decide?’;
  • related to priority, impact, results and customer agreements.’How important? How urgent? What is impact if agreement not met, when, to who, impact on results?’

This was in stark contrast with their agreement discussions in the first round. Here is an example of undesired behavior – Ineffective decision making and agreements at the start of the session.

Capcom: ‘…I think we need a Priority mechanism. Who decides priorities?’
Incident Manager ‘I think Manager specialists?….’
Third Level Support ‘…yeah, but if Incident comes to me first I may need to go to the supplier and pay $2M…who authorizes that’?
Manager Specialist ‘I think the Flight Director….he has the budget’
Incident Manager ‘How much budget do we have’?
Flight Director ‘I don’t know…I’ll go and ask the business’
Third Level Support ‘What if we have to buy a Known error solution’?
SSR ‘I think you should come to me….Do I have a budget?’
Manager Specialist ‘…No he comes to me first I’m his manager’
Incident Manager ‘Who tells me when it goes to the supplier so that I can inform the crew.’

Listening to this exchange the manager said to me ‘It’s good. They are asking relevant questions, listening to each other, providing input…..’, but are they asking the right things? Are they really listening? Are the ideas focused on what counts?

If the team had realized that a service is ‘a means of delivering value to the customer by facilitating outcomes the customer wants to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks’ OR if the team had realized that RESULTS demanded from THEIR business relate to availability and continuity then somebody should have responded to the initial question about Priority! As it was, this question was totally ignored by asking ever more questions.

There were a lot of comments about ‘I Think…’ and few decisions. Nobody summarized – ‘So we have decided, ….’ , and no clear agreements about ‘Responibilities’.

Assumicide! this kills many improvement initiatives

Do you recognize any of this in your IT meetings?’. Many assumptions were made. ‘we assume we all know what we agreed’, ‘we assume people will do what we agreed’. ‘Assumicide’ kills many improvement initiatives. When it all goes wrong you often hear ‘But I thought you….’, ‘I assumed you knew…

Transfering the learning to the workplace

The Apollo simulations had allowed the team to test, explore and experiment with new behavior and to confront each other on undesired behavior. They had seen the benefits to their own work and to results in the simulation. But the real value from the learning is transferring this to the workplace. The ‘undesired’ and ‘desired’ behavior was translated into a set of questions that the organization was to complete, at the start of the program and at intervals, to measure the behavior change. ‘Do we see undesirable behavior declining and do we see desirable behavior rising’?


(answer options:  never, sometimes, often, always)

% always %always
I take responsibility for the results promised to the business 87% 92%
I see other people taking responsibility for the results promised to the business 7% 54%
I stick to my agreements and deliver on time 85% 90%
I see other people sticking to agreements and delivering on time 27% 60%
I notify the customer on status, progress and delays 79% 81%
I see others notifying the customer on status, progress and delays 32% 63%
I confront people and give direct feedback when they do not meet agreements 65% 80%
I see managers confronting people on undesirable behavior 39% 69%
I see others giving direct feedback and confronting people on desirable behavior 27% 55%

The measures of behavior were taken at the start of the initiative and then periodically. The periodic results were discussed in the MT meeting and team meetings and were used to identify behavior that needed additional focus and attention.

These measures were also supplemented with customer satisfaction surveys to determine the impact and results of the behavior change.

Question ScoreJanuary



IT staff behave in a professional way 5.9


IT provides timely information about changes and solutions 6.2