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Five steps to creating an ITIL-friendly corporate culture

Achieving ITIL success is just as much about people as it is about technology. ITIL expert Brian Johnson offers advice on how to get employees to positively embrace a new ITIL culture.

Organizations that want to embrace change in processes and performance must also often initiate changes in culture. Managers that seek to champion change must therefore be empowered to make relevant changes in attitudes, values and behaviors if they are going to achieve lasting, tangible results.

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A practical approach to implementing ITIL practices
What does all this have to do with IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)? Everything. ITIL adoption is all about embracing change -- which means cultural change is a common prerequisite for success.

While technology certainly helps automate ITIL processes, it can't ensure a successful and sustained ITIL implementation. Neither can the mere definition of those processes. A shift in organizational culture is necessary so that stakeholders and employees modify their behaviors and actions as appropriate to implement the best practices described by ITIL and make them an intrinsic aspect of day-to-day operations.

Actually, the cultural change required for ITIL success is often a much greater challenge than the implementation of any supporting technologies. But a few tried-and-true methods can help foster acceptance of the changes required to effectively roll out ITIL processes across an organization composed of people with widely divergent personalities and attitudes. These methods include:

  1. Assess your culture as part of your overall assessment of your ITIL readiness: In addition to evaluating your organization's ITIL maturity from a process and technology perspective, do an assessment of the culture to pinpoint possible hurdles and barriers to cultural change.
  2. Gain C-level support for ITIL initiatives: Present ITIL from a business perspective rather than a strictly IT perspective. If you can show the CEO and other C-level executives that ITIL is a catalyst for business advantage and benefit -- rather than just another IT project -- you will gain the support to drive the cultural changes you need for ITIL adoption and business success.
  3. Use an "adopt and adapt" approach to ITIL, instead of forcing a "letter of the law" ITIL implementation. As pointed out in the article A practical approach to implementing ITIL practices, by-the-book adoption of ITIL isn't practical. In fact, an inflexible and singular approach simply exacerbates resistance to change. ITIL can help any organization make better use of its IT resources. But when implementation of ITIL becomes some sort of dogmatic end in itself, it consistently fails. The real winners are those who use ITIL as a catalyst for change, adapting it to the needs of their organization as much as they adapt the culture of their organization to its principles.
  4. Present your ITIL initiative as a means of achieving some agreed-upon goal, such as the creation of a more customer-focused IT organization. If you present ITIL as some ideology that everyone has to accept, you run the risk of alienating the entire group. But if you focus on something everyone can agree upon, there is no reason for anyone to push back. This is one of the keys to winning over both your team players and your Lone Rangers.
  5. No train, no gain. A variety of training programs promote ITIL support and willingness to change. For example, one CIO whose organization went through an ITIL training program that used a role-playing scenario involving the rescue of the Apollo 13 crew said his team gained a personal epiphany that change and doing things a different way can be very productive and good -- rather than a negative experience. In the training, the team was able to see all different phases of the process and get a different respect for the needs of the IT customers.

Always remember, ITIL is about people as much as it's about technology and processes. Change the way people think and react, and you're much more likely to develop a culture that's conducive to ITIL success.

Brian Johnson is one of the original authors of the first ITIL books and an ITIL worldwide practice manager for CA. He has also authored more than 15 books on ITIL or related topics and is the founder of itSMF, a professional organization focused on IT service management and ITIL.

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