Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Keeping Employees Engaged With ITSM

Employee engagement had been a popular corporate buzzword the past few years. I've been a bit leery of how the term is applied, since it appeared to mean whatever a given organization wanted it to mean. I've seen engagement used to mean productivity (Productivity has decreased, it must mean employees are less engaged). I've also seen where employee satisfaction surveys were used to measure engagement (Employees hate working here. They must not be engaged). Engagement has frequently come to mean the attitude of the employee and how they feel about their direct supervisor.

I just came across an interesting article from Forbes titled, "CEO News Flash: If Your Workers Aren't Engaged, It's Your Own Fault", which gives the most useful context for engagement I've seen. The idea is that humans are intrinsically motivated to be a valued participant in the workplace. The message being that corporate culture is what most frequently squelches that intrinsic motivation, and leaders have the responsibility to reestablish it. The author suggests we start by looking at two key aspects of leadership:
  1. Setting high standards
  2. Creating a culture of recognition

IT in general and many ITSM initiatives in particular can work against these tactics. Who is more recognized for achievement in your organization? The diligent engineer who always plays by the Change process rules, or the maverick who puts out the dramatic IT fire, often created by their own sloppiness? I hope it's the former; but in many organizations I've worked for and with, the latter unintentionally receives the accolades. And don't assume your organization doesn't reward the arsonist/firefighter. Rewards can come in many forms. Some obvious, some not.

What about SLAs? Are they used to measure individual performance in addition to organizational adherence to agreements? Too often they are. We must remember that SLAs are minimally acceptable targets when it comes to individual performance. It is the equivalent of earning a C grade. Meets expectations. If all employees strive to merely meet your SLA targets, that leaves no room for the occasional task that fails to meet minimum expectations. In order to meet organizational SLAs, we need the performance on individual tasks to exceed minimal expectations more often than not. Do your expectations around employee performance reflect a culture of high standards? Look carefully at how you set expectations around individual performance. If they are the same as the standards around organizational performance (ie., SLAs), you may be unintentionally creating a culture of low employee engagement.

Think of it this way. Performance against the standards you set on an individual basis is a key leading indicator of overall organizational performance. Make your standards high, clear, and reachable.

Provide reinforcement. Publicly recognize performance excellence, focusing on the "why" and "how" over the "what." The "what" of recognition just says "well done". "How" takes it a step further and indicates how the performance enables a greater goal or outcome. Most important, "why" personalizes the experience to say "I get why you are good".

Engagement doesn't have to be a nebulous concept. Managed purposefully from the top, it can create tremendous value. At a time when IT departments continue to struggle for the favor of business partners, we need all the employee engagement we can muster. And it starts with you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Big 3 Questions of Consequence

I had a great conversation with a new client today.  It was a pre-workshop call to solidify the agenda for our upcoming process re-engineering workshop.  The discussion turned to how we transition from the old processes to new ones.  It's one thing to design a new business process.  It's another thing entirely to put that process into practice in a manner that optimizes the likelihood of success.

In addition to some standard organizational change management suggestions, such as communication, training, etc, I mentioned the importance of identifying consequences associated with the old procedures.  I said something along the lines of, "It's just as important to understand the positive consequences some staff get for behaving inappropriately."  I did't mean legal or ethical inappropriateness, but behavior that is inconsistent with the desired process.  I asked the questions:

  • Do people on your teams ever get praise for putting out day-to-day fires?
  • How often do they receive praise for doing the right thing so that the fire-fighting situation never arises?

The answer to question 1 is frequently "all the time", while the answer to question 2 is frequently "never".

A while back I wrote about some practical considerations for process and culture change.  One part of that post was about consequences for appropriate and inappropriate behavior.  I find that the most overlooked part of organizational change is that of consequences and rewards.  I thought about it some more today, and realized that almost every example I've seen of failed process change did the following three things poorly or not at all.  Conversely, in addition to clear measurable goals, every successful major process/organizational change did each of these thoroughly.

Three Questions of Consequence

  1. When developing new processes, are you including positive consequences for behaving appropriately?
  2. Does your current process have positive consequences for behaving inappropriately?
  3. Does your current process have negative consequences for behaving appropriately?

Let's take a brief look at each question.

When developing new processes, are you including positive consequences for behaving appropriately (and negative consequences for behaving inappropriately)?

This can manifest many ways, but it is critical to include clear expectations of positive and negative behavior.  How do you appraise employees?  Do you include appraisal criteria for process changes? For example, when re-defining change processes, have the relevant employees' job descriptions and/or performance assessment criteria been updated to reflect desired behaviors under the new process?  I am surprised how often this is overlooked, or considered minimally important.  Process folks all too often assume that everyone else gets the importance of process change the same way we do.  At the very least, we assume that process compliance is out of the scope of any process (re-) engineering project.  We must work with the personnel supervisors to ensure that compliance expectations are documented on a role-by-role basis.  An additional benefit is that you can also determine whether the supervisors are on board.

I can't state this strongly enough: Your process re-engineering or improvement project will fail without clear behavior expectations.

Does your current process have positive consequences for behaving inappropriately?

These are the most dangerous consequences, and the most important to uncover.  As you address organizational change, look for the hidden positive and negative consequences embedded in the current process.  Are there a few "star" performers who are always called out for exceptional fire fighting?  If I'm consistently rewarded for my fire fighting efforts, why on earth would I want to help make a transition to a more consistently applied process?  Don't forget that everyone else notices the rewards and accolades given to those who work outside the boundaries of the preferred system.  What makes it even harder is that we're also talking about perceived positive consequences.  Of course I don't intend to reward the system administrator that routinely takes on requests that should go through the service desk.  As a manager, however, I may forget the occasional process lapses and focus my promotion efforts on all the glowing customer feedback.  What happens when other staff perceive that the rule-bender gets more positive attention and even promotions?

Equally important in this assessment is a determination of why the rule-bender bends the rules in the first place.  Are there problems with the service desk to the point where customers understandably seek out help elsewhere?  Are there issues where, in the best interests of your business, the service desk should be bypassed?

Does your current process have negative consequences for behaving appropriately?

Just as baffling is the idea that there are actually negative consequences for performing appropriately.  These can be the most difficult to uncover, as they are usually the least intentional.  Again, these can be perceived or purposeful, and are frequently associated with positive consequences for behaving inappropriately.  Is someone following expectations around change request lead time also being punished by their boss for slow throughput?  Maybe a service desk agent is evaluated poorly due to a lower volume of incidents handled, while all along they were following the defined expectation of minimizing ticket re-assignments.  Can you add any of your own examples?

Being purposeful about formal and informal consequences is a critical part of any process re-engineering, improvement, etc. program.  The most thoughtful and well designed process changes are doomed to fail without thorough assessment and, if needed, remediation of competing and conflicting consequences.

What are your thoughts?