IT Culture Got You (Upside) Down?

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The list on the left describes the IT organization of the past, or at least what most organizations strived to be. Less than a decade ago, these were the words woven into IT visions everywhere. The list on the right describes what most IT organizations are striving to be today. Could these lists of attributes be more different?

For the moment, I’ll put aside any discussion about which list is better than the other (we wrote a whole book on that). Some organizations absolutely LOVE their responsive, services focused, cost optimized IT organizations. Today I just want to point out the cultural differences between the two lists of attributes. Companies that are trying to change their IT culture might feel a little less frustrated if they took a moment to stare at these lists, or make their own lists of explicit or implicit cultural norms, and take in the magnitude of the change.

As consultants, we have the unique lens of coming into an organization at one point in time. It is usually quickly apparent to us what the long-standing beliefs are of the people within IT and around the company. These beliefs are hard to change and often prevent moving forward without proactive, holistic action.

We sometimes start by asking, “Do you really want to take this on?” There are options other than transforming a strongly defined, sometimes well-operating, organization. Some companies outsource innovation, buy it from other companies, or create a new department or subsidiary company.

But if you (and your broader business leadership) want to take this on, if you want to transform your traditional IT organization into an innovative, externally focused organization that delivers great products, then don’t take the culture piece lightly.

The transformation requires thoughtful change leadership. We would recommend three steps:

1.  Define the Culture – Start with assessing and acknowledging what the culture has been and what it is today. Then define the new way of being. This must be validated by (if not co-created with) leadership across the company.

2.  Define the Change Strategy – It may be some combination of modeling new behaviors, proactive communications, training, and incentives (a refreshed organizational structure and supporting delivery methods will help, but that’s in an upcoming blog).

3.  Execute on It – This isn’t a short program; it likely spans multiple years. Progress needs to be assessed regularly within the IT group and around the company. Pivots will need to be made. It must be actively managed to do this.

Long story short, if you are feeling upside down on the IT culture, take a step back and acknowledge what you are taking on.

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