What’s Organizational Change Management and Why Should ITSM Pros Be Bothered?

Have you ever wondered why it happens that when your IT department introduces new technology based on the promise of great benefits, the reality is somewhat muted? That the technology doesn’t make the impact you expected – mostly due to a lack of end-user uptake. If so, organizational change management (OCM) will help.

IT service management (ITSM) professionals probably already know about change management – after all, it’s a significant part of the ITIL training and exams that they’ve probably undertaken. But OCM is something totally different (to ITIL change management).

OCM is about effectively managing change – but change related to people and how they will or won’t behave.

This blog covers what OCM is and how best to address it, plus I’ll cover the reasons why it’s absolutely needed.

So, What Is OCM?

The ITIL Practitioner Guidance Publication describes OCM as being: “… concerned with the people side of change. It is a structured approach that ensures improvements are implemented smoothly and successfully for lasting benefit.”

With the following definition offered:

“An approach for managing the effect of change on people, which could be because of new business processes, changes in organizational structure or cultural changes within an enterprise. Simply put, OCM addresses the people side of change management.”

And OCM is not something that’s applicable only to IT-driven changes/projects – it should be a key part in any change that affects people.

Self-Service Portal: An Example of OCM-Related Change Failure

“Failure” might seem a harsh word to use, but it would be wrong to water-down what has happened with the introduction of IT self-service portals. Or, to be more precise, the introduction of self-service technology.

This can be quickly explained by looking at key statistics related to IT self-service portal use:

  • Both HDI and Service Desk Institute (SDI) survey results show that at least 80% of organizations have implemented some form of IT self-service technology.
  • Self-service adoption levels – in employee-use terms – have been low though, with organizations lucky to get more than 10-20% of employees regularly using the offered self-service and self-help capabilities.
  • SDI’s 2017 analysis of self-service success showed that too few organizations are receiving the expected return on investment from self-service (as shown below).

“The increase in the adoption of self-service tools is undoubtedly due to the range of associated benefits that comes with the implementation of such a solution, most commonly reduced support costs, increased customer satisfaction, and a round-the-clock support channel. However, the number of organizations that have realized these benefits and have achieved the anticipated return on investment (ROI) are few, less than 12% according to recent SDI research.”

What’s the reason for this? OCM-related failures.

There’s usually insufficient awareness of, and attention paid to, the importance of people to change success – in this case, self-service success. And the introduction of new self-service capabilities was often viewed as a new technology-delivery project rather than an initiative to change people’s ways of working, i.e. a people-related change.

The key OCM issues include:

  • A lack of stakeholder involvement, including end users (probably due to the excessive focus on the self-service technology).
  • No dedicated resource, and ambition, to address OCM-related risks and issues.
  • Insufficient communication – of the what, why, how, when, where, and whom.
  • Minimal education and guidance as to what the new way of working involves.

The result was a lack of buy-in (and in this case, self-service use). In particular, because OCM efforts, or the lack of, had not elicited the right – and required – behavioral change, with employees having no idea of the “What’s in it for me” that they require to embrace the change.

OCM Success Enablers

The ITIL Practitioner Guidance also succinctly describes how OCM helps to promote the people change required for business initiatives/projects to succeed, starting with five success enablers:

  1. Clear and relevant objectives – and that these are regularly communicated.
  2. Strong and committed leadership – from messaging to “leading by example.”
  3. Willing participants – that people are ready and willing (and able) to “go with” the desired change.
  4. Prepared participants – especially in terms of education and training.
  5. Sustained improvement – for instance, the first change iteration might not be perfect, or people might revert to “the old ways of doing things” for a variety of reasons.

All of these can be tied back into the root causes of the industry’s lack of self-service success listed above.

These five enablers are further covered in the following three sections – three sets of tips to achieve OCM success…

1. Selling the Change (and Understanding What Buy-In Requires)

It probably sounds obvious that, in order for someone to buy into something (new), the “something” has to be “sold” to them. But how many times have you felt that change has been forced upon you? How did you feel? And how did you react? These were probably classic OCM failures too.

OCM – through the need for clear and relevant objectives, and strong and committed leadership – guides organizations through the process of making sense of the proposed change for those who will be impacted by it.

Even when the change is highly-favorable to the people affected, it can’t be assumed that buy-in will be automatic, or that there will not be resistance to change (often caused by fear of the unknown). So, layout, in simple terms, the what, why, and how of the change as early as possible. And keep repeating communicating these, but do this smartly – adjusting the messages and communication channels as required based on audience feedback and engagement. Importantly, talking in terms of what the audience values not what the change-creator sees as the benefits. Also, organization leadership should do more than just sponsoring, or rubberstamping, the change too (see OCM success enabler #2 above).

In the case of the self-service example, how many self-service initiatives were sold as a way for the organization to cut costs? Think of how the change objectives would have been received differently if the messaging had been about improving speed and reducing employee lost productivity, increased availability (of support), and improving the employee experience. There was no need to mention the cost savings to people who probably don’t care – remember it’s “What’s in it for ME?”

2. Preparing People for Change

Obviously the early and regular communication of the what, why, and how will help to prepare people for the coming change. As will the visible backing and involvement of senior stakeholders. But OCM needs to be further used to create willing and prepared participants.

In terms of willingness, this is the aforementioned “gaining buy-in” – the efforts taken to convince employees that the change is a good thing and that it will benefit them (ideally on multiple levels). But it also includes the removal of change obstacles – the things that will, or might, cause resistance to change. These need to be identified, considered, and actively addressed to reduce the probability of “change resistance” adversely affecting the change.

In terms of preparedness, most of us would probably admit to being better at “entering the unknown” when we feel adequately prepared. OCM helps to ensure – through suitable education and training (and retraining if needed) – that people feel prepared for the change at hand.

In the case of the self-service example, did the technology-deliverers (i.e. the IT staff involved) just expect employees to use the new self-service technology because they use self-service capabilities outside of work? Notwithstanding the fact that the corporate capabilities might not be as good – in terms of intuitiveness and ease-of-use – as consumer-world successes, would you expect employees to waste time trying to self-learn how to use self-service when it seems easier to just pick up the phone, or send an email, as they have previously done?

3. Maintaining and Improving on Initial Successes

As with many aspects of life, things might not be perfect at the outset (and this is okay). They might be open to ongoing improvement as circumstances change.

In the case of the self-service example, there might have been an initial rush to use the new capability that then drops off over time. It’s important to understand why and to create responses that keep interest and usage levels up.

For instance, are people struggling to understand how to use it? Are some aspects at odds with employee ways of working (even though they seem logical to IT)? Or, is using self-service taking significantly longer than calling or emailing the service desk?

Of course, there could be many other factors affecting initial change acceptance and continued acceptance – the important thing is to recognize this, to spot issues (including the employee reversion to old ways of working), and to have formal strategies in place to address the root causes in a prioritized manner.

What would you add to this introduction to OCM? Please let me know in the comments.

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Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).


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