07 October 2008

Building the IT Process Framework – Part 3 – Blending Culture Before It Curdles

Neal Leininger

Neal Leininger
Project Management Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.


As the Fall season approaches, we are all reminded of the never-ending changes that life brings. The cycle of life if you will. It also reminds me of the ways we adapt to change and embrace it in our daily lives.

The last few sessions we reviewed some
PMO Pitfalls and Process Framework Highlights. In this article we will be discussing key strategies to introduce IT Service Management (ITSM) into your culture, and to ensure continual commitment and momentum.

As with change in any culture, it often is met with resistance. In my opinion, there are a number of ways to re-direct and harness that energy:

  • Leading by Example
  • Mentoring / Consultative Actions
  • Employing Top-Down Leadership

For those un-familiar with the term “curdle,”curd is a dairy product obtained by coagulating or curdling milk with an edible acidic substance, such as lemon juice or vinegar, and then draining off the “whey,” or liquid portion. It is essentially cottage cheese or paneer; an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese. Milk that has been left to sour (raw milk alone or pasteurized milk with added lactic acid bacteria) will also naturally produce curds, and sour milk cheese is produced this way.

This brings the question:

Q: Is “Curdling your culture” a bad thing? It does, in fact, yield a useful product.

A: I think in some examples, there comes a tipping point, where a cultural decomposition is necessary; as it is said in our Declaration of Independence “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Call me a patriot, but there comes a time when the “long train of abuses and usurpations” of a company’s right to a good process requires throwing off the old, and establishing new guards for their future security.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but to obtain curd, you must practice patience and deliberate precision in its preparation. This is no going back after you’ve made the curd, so before you go down that road ensure you’ve exhausted all other alternatives.

Let’s take a step back and look at ways to prevent unplanned curdling in your culture.

Q: How do I instill change in a culture?

A: There are a number of approaches for enacting change.

First, leading by example will show people that you’re serious, and more importantly, successful at what you’re doing. By adopting a “Lead by Example” approach, those key members of your staff will see the vision and direction, and will feel more comfortable walking outside their comfort zones, which is a large part of the battle.

Secondly, by mentoring and taking active consultative actions, you’ll demonstrate you are confident in the direction you are leading, and will also begin to add value at a very tactical level. Maybe it’s helping someone put an action plan or continual improvement plan in place. Or perhaps it’s taking a leadership role in building a communications tour, or helping someone put together a presentation and being his or her sounding board. Either way, it demonstrates that you’re serious, and you don’t mind “getting your hands dirty.”

Lastly, show them the vision. The best way to do that is to have it come from a high visibility and known-quantity leadership individual or body. It is one thing for you to have a vision, and to drive it; it’s another thing entirely if they hear it from an Executive Leadership figure driving the direction of the company. Everyone wants to feel connected to their company, and by knowing that the path you’re paving is the same as Executive Leadership, it will help alleviate fears of being left in the cold.

Q: How do I ensure continual commitment?

A: Engage your experts. Seek out Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), whether consultants or full-time employees. Don’t be afraid to be mentored or to solicit the help of experts. The key is to trust that knowledge and expertise.

Understand this is part of delegating responsibility and letting go of those “pieces,” when things don’t go as “planned” according to your view; give those experts a wide berth. Even if you feel they are truly failing, or not achieving a particular bullet-point on a particular roadmap, you must demonstrate that they are truly empowered.

We learn best by our mistakes. Encouraging those experts to lead, for others to grow wings and fly on their own, will also reverberate in your organization. If others see the first misstep is a “Career Limiting Move” (CLM) for that person’s upward mobility, they will surely avoid every aspect. On the other hand, if they see those “experts” being given the support and latitude to empower experts of their own, those key individuals will seek the same. Those are the “Future Experts” that will help take your wonderful “
Process Garden” and translate it into bountiful profits.

So to answer the question at hand, “How do I ensure continual commitment?” I say, show them continual commitment; not commitment that dries up during a hiring freeze, tough market conditions, or an unpopular presidential candidate. Nay, you must foster the roots of your organization and the roots of your experts, so that they can withstand the fiercest of storms and droughts. Dare I say, they may serve as an oasis for you and yours when the time of need arrives.

Q: How do I keep momentum?

Understand that this is not an easy task; leading change will often challenge you to re-evaluate everything you know about Business, Technology, and Life at large. Keeping momentum is so very important because without it, all your vision, your hard work, and sweet “milk” will succumb to the acid of the old guard. Whether or not you like cottage cheese, it will be the only thing on the table.

Momentum can be felt in several areas.

  • Tactical change: The day-to-day changes; both from what is worked on to how work is done on those things.
  • Strategic change: The horizon will change for those leaders and future experts. They will realize your organization is heading to a new place, and will exhibit renewed fervor.
  • Communal change: The self-imposed status-quo will be lifted and redirected; those around your “area affect” will recognize a change in the tempo and tempest of your organization.

So the important piece to this is recognizing those three areas, and addressing them in a methodical manner. By enacting steady tactical changes -- not too fast, not too slow, and at the right time -- it will be in their faces, undeniable proof that change is happening. For them, not to them.

By enacting Strategic change, they too will recognize the change in the tone at the top. By knowing and seeing how they tie together, it will reinforce changes are necessary and important, and subsequently, they will feel a connection unlike anything they’ve felt before.

Lastly, I feel Communal change is one of the most important and influential aspects. It is palatable at the water cooler and at lunch tables. It’s that sense of belonging to something bigger, and also the sense of being accountable to your peers -- that if you don’t get behind this change, it will let your peers down.

Q: So what does culture change have to do with Curd?

Nothing, and everything.

Curd is a by-product of milk standing still and spoiling, the milk would be wasted, so the cycle of life takes over; it makes something useful from something useless; in this case, perhaps an IT department, in a town not too far from your own. In a business sense, when an organization stagnates, and spoils, there rises to the surface these “clumps,” which when strained and repurposed, makes a wonderful new product.

However, if it’s unintentional, it’s disastrous.

So my advice is this: When you’re blending change into your culture, don’t put your precious resources in the position to spoil. Frequent communication checkpoints with your Subject Matter Experts will keep you in tune with the process. Also, ensure proper precautions are in place to let you know when you’re reaching a resource’s “expiration date.” Lastly, if your intent is to let it curdle, make sure you have good recipes for that curd, and of course; make sure the executive branch likes cottage cheese.

To Recap:

  • Curd isn’t a bad thing, but it’s an acquired taste, and requires some careful planning;
  • Change keeps your culture from spoiling, tune for desired results;
  • Communication keeps you in tune with the process, regardless of the desired end product;
  • Continue to lead by example, and to build executive leadership’s buy-in; and,
  • Commitment and Momentum will keep you on track.

Thanks for your time; I look forward to your feedback at nealleininger@verisassociates.com, or in our blog’s comment section at http://veris-pm.blogspot.com/

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