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How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one but it has to want to change. So runs the old joke, but there is at the heart of this gag a serious point: want trumps need every time.


As IT organizations face down the challenges of a rapidly digitizing business (and their newly expanded role), it’s clear that the implications are significant and far reaching. Change is needed in terms of how teams organize themselves, the technology they employ, right through to how they how they think and and act.

However, studies indicate that many IT transformation initiatives will fail to deliver on their full potential thanks to cultural issues and other human factors. This is often because most stakeholders don’t understand why the project is happening or how it will be accomplished.

This can be avoided if all parties agree upfront that:

  • The exercise is necessary and will benefit all concerned
  • The project can actually be completed

Simple eh? Hmm…

The chances of an effective and successful delivery increase substantially if you can build on a foundation of broad-based readiness for change. Some of this foundation will be infrastructural and procedural (the easy bits), but the largest part will be cultural and psychological (the not so easy bits).

Want Versus Need

While it’s crucial that all stakeholders believe in the mandate for change, they are more likely to be invested if they want it to happen, hence the unintended profundity of our opening joke.

This is in contrast to feeling that the change needs to happen or ought to happen. Case in point: extensive research done by organizational change experts, John P. Meyer and Lynne Herscovitch (you can find a not too stuffy summary here)

My understanding* is that Meyer and Herscovitch found that when group want a project to succeed, the following factors improve: collaboration, problem solving and teamwork. Further, the number of people actively championing the undertaking, without prompting or coercion, increases dramatically.

(*so you'll definitely want to read it yourself.)

Cultivating a Collective Want

Understandably, the largest part of your organization will not be at the ‘wanting’ stage. Most will be on a spectrum ranging from outright denial through to a strong sense of the need to change, but very few will be actively advocating and championing new ways of working. So - what can you do to engage them?

Idea 1: The practitioner/manager survey

Ask the team to honestly (and anonymously) identify the realities of their working situation. This tends to work better than hosting group or workshop sessions, where participants may not feel comfortable sharing their true feelings and pragmatic analyses.

The following is an example of a simple and effective survey you could use, in this case the focus is on ITSM team, but the principle would be identical for all other groups.

  • How effective are our IT support processes in light of new technologies such as mobile and cloud?
  • Where do we waste the most time in responding to requests?
  • How effective are our processes and supporting software solution?
  • How well do we share information within and between teams?
  • How would you rate the quality of service you are able to provide to our business users?
  • Do we measure and track the right things?
  • How useful is our knowledge base?



Idea 2: Design your outcomes (and KPIs) together.

Invite all team members to define a shared view of success, and you may be surprised to find that even the most hardened skeptics will temper their objections. Their participation is vital to reinforcing the vision and its credibility.

I recommend that you include team members in designing and constructing your goals and KPIs. You’ll discover that this can quickly unify the team and provide a measureable uplift in commitment to the project.

As you work with the team, you may want to consider some questions that people typically weigh when evaluating the merits of organizational change:

  • Will the change resolve organizational shortcomings and, by extension, make my life better?
  • Does the change further the values and ethics of our team?
  • Is there urgency? Is there a sense that something needs to happen sooner rather than later?
  • Is their clear and consistent support of my leadership for change?
  • Is their support from my peers for change? By developing a shared vision for success, you’re likely already addressing the critical decision factors above.


Can We Build It? Yes, We Can!

We’ve all heard the story about the little engine that could. Believing that 
something is possible is just as important as wanting it to happen.

Organizational change experts attribute this to self-efficacy, or one’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in specific situations. This concept directly impacts your ability to build a foundation for successful outcomes. Those who genuinely want change have a much higher sense of their self-efficacy.

If you’re interested in learning more about the significance of believing, try a Google Scholar search on ‘self-efficacy’ or ‘group efficacy’. Google Scholar is better than regular Google in this case, especially if you want to avoid the usual snake oil personal change gurus.

So, how do you convince your team that successful change is possible? You’ll need to reassure them that:

  • A comprehensive, thoughtful plan exists
  • The people involved are capable of successfully planning and implementing the project
  • Sufficient resources and contingencies exist to see the job through to the end
  • There is a sound strategy for communicating and measuring progress
  • Any broader organizational barriers to change can be removed or at least bypassed

The best way to ensure your plan is widely understood and validated is to include the broader team in its construction. This encourages ongoing peer-to-peer collaboration, reinforces support for the plan and helps foster confidence in the project management and methodology.

In my experience, the organizations that built small, yet focused and inclusive, teams were most successful. For example, the following members could comprise a strong core team:

  • Project management professional (some organizations prefer an individual with no ITSM experience)
  • Project sponsor and owner from the IT leadership team
  • Service delivery management representative (if applicable)
  • Business sponsor/s from a supportive and engaged function
  • Two practitioners from each IT process/function (depending on scale)

As you and your core team make progress in formulating a plan, you’ll want communicate your status to a broader group of interested stakeholders at regular intervals. That’s where a strong communications plan comes into play, but more of that in a later blog...


Is your organization: wanting, needing, oughting or denying?

So as you think about your IT organization and it’s readiness to change in response to the new demands of digital business, where are you on the spectrum of cultural readiness? I’d love to hear your views on cultivating readiness in teams and organizations.

You can comment below, or chat on twitter with me as @messagemonger