Sunday, October 25, 2009
Situational ITSM Leadership
One Size Fits All Is Not A Viable Strategy For Footwear or Leadership!
A consistent observation one can make about human nature is that we tend to lean heavily on what we know works for us and avoid areas where we are less sure or comfortable. Of course there are those rare individuals that throw caution to the wind, damm the torpedoes and throw themselves at new challenges, methods and approaches without blinking an eye.
However for most of us, our personalities, culture, environment and past experiences shape how we look at life and become the filter by which we make decisions and take on new tasks. Each of these elements contribute to and mold a person’s primary leadership style or at least the default way we try to influence the behaviours of others.
The challenge with this concept is that our default leadership style while effective in certain circumstances will totally backfire in others and unless we recognize this challenge the project or opportunity you have been asked to take on will have a limited chance of success and you may not even realize why.
This leadership challenge is the basis of Ken Blanchard’s model called “Situational Leadership” The premiss of Blanchard’s model is that at various points in a team’s evolution a different type of leadership approach is required.
This article will provide an example of this model in light of an IT Service Management Transformation project.
First lets start with a few Definitions from Situational Leadership:
- Leadership - A process by which a person works to influence others; working with people to accomplish their goals and the goals of the organization
- Leadership Style – a pattern of behaviours you use with others as perceived by them
- Directive Behaviour – Telling rather than asking, focused on structure, goal setting, organizing and asking others to follow
- Supportive Behaviour – Enabling others, focused on taking time to explain and facilitate the learning and growth or your teams
Four Leadership Styles:
- Directing – high directive, low supportive behaviours
- Coaching – high directive, high supportive behaviours
- Supporting – low directive, high supportive behaviours
- Delegating – low directive, low supportive behaviours
- Enthusiasm - The level of openness and excitement a person has for a task or responsibility
- Capability - The level of skill, competency, history and experience a person has for a specific task or responsibility
The ITSM Application:
Ok now that we have the basic definitions out of the way let me share with you the model and how it applies to transformation projects and specifically ITSM initiatives.
The Story: You have been asked to take on an ITSM Improvement Project and and been provided with a team of people to participate in the process design and tool configuration work. You have had an in-house training session (hopefully provided by Pink ) and now everyone is on the same page about what ITSM is all about and the basic elements of a specific process such as Incident or Change Management. Though they have taken the ITIL class they still don’t have the practical experience of ever attempting a project such as this. They know enough to be “Enthusiastic Beginners” about the task but not much more. At this point they think that given a few weeks designing the process and configuring the tool they will all be done and happily return to the lives they knew before. Your team naively believes this should be a walk in the park and maybe even a welcome break from their routine work. At this point their enthusiasm is high but their capability is low.
However, a few weeks head down in a conference room facing both passive and active resistance to changing anything let alone adopting this foreign concept of common process begins to take the shine off their naivety. They now begin to understand that there is a lot more that has to be done other than documenting processes and implementing tools. They now begin to see that what they have been assigned to is a transformation project targeting the heart of the current IT culture and accepted values and beliefs. What at first looked like an interesting project now looks almost impossible and they still don’t really know how to get it done. Your enthusiastic team now have become ”Disillusioned Learners” and start looking for ways to transfer out of their current tour of duty.
When it becomes apparent that they are in this for the long haul they begin to roll up their sleeves and begin learning the trade of ITSM improvement projects. Some things they intuit, others they get outside help for and some things they learn the hard way by making mistakes and having to re-do it the right way. Slowly but surely the team begins to regain some of their initial enthusiasm as they see successes and their capability for certain tasks grow. However give them a new hurtle to cross which they have not seen before and they quickly revert to the previous stage. Your team has now become “Capable But Cautious and will veer up and down on the enthusiasm and capability scale depending what you have asked them to do and their percieved ability to achieve the specific task or responsibility.
Eventually if you have been able to sustain the initiative and keep a hold of your team members you will have a battle weary but hardened set of process improvement veterans who have come out the other side of your ITIL project as survivors with many lessons learned and the scars to show for it. That being said they now are subject matter experts on the specific ITIL process you have adopted and have learned the skills required to navigate the transformation jungle. They in essence have become change agents and process advocates and can now be viewed as ”Self-Reliant Achievers” capable of being told to head in a certain direction and take that hill while leading others over the perilous terrain.
Applying The Right Leadership Style To The Right Stage
The key message of Situational Leadership is that you need to apply the right leadership style at each stage of your team evolution through each of these distinct development phases. Apply the wrong style at the wrong time at your peril if not the project’s likelihood of success.
For example if you naturally have a delegation approach to leadership. “They are professionals and should be able to figure this out on their own” and you apply this to a team that is at a stage 1 or 2 then they will simply stand there looking at you with a lost look in their eyes. I knew a consultant like that once, the guy’s first meeting with a new client was to sit them in a circle and ask what they wanted out of a service catalog and how they though a service catalog should look and function. The results of that meeting let alone the project was to be expected.
For a early development stages you need to be directive, giving clear directions and “A-B-C” steps for the team to move. At this point they don’t know what they don’t know.
Once they hit stage 2 now you still need to directive but also need to turn up the empathy putting your arm around their shoulder as their counsellor and tell them that it really is possible to get there from here laying out clearly the step by step approach the task will be accomplished. Pointing at the other organizations that have overcome the challenges and been successful. (conferences and trade shows are great for this).
Eventually they begin to gain individual capabilities and increased enthusiasm. At this point you need to be the sports coach operating from the side lines calling the general direction of the play but leaving the actual means to execute in the hands of your team members. They begin to charge off and getting things done even when not specifically directed to. That being said there will still be points where they hit new tasks and you will have to revert to a supportive model.
Finally once they have each been through the first three stages and they are the hardened and grizzled veterans you can use the delegation model of leadership knowing that you just need to set the direction and your team will blaze the way forward while you focus on other areas. At this stage if you use directive leadership your team will be resentful of what they perceive as lack of trust or micro management. Try being supportive and they will think you condescending and overly concerned with the details.
The key point of this article is that while each of us will have a default leadership style that comes naturally to us based on our personalities and history we need to recognize the situation we are dealing with and learn to apply different styles at different times of our team’s evolution.
Troy’s Thoughts What Are Yours?
“A leader who confines his role to his people’s experience dooms himself to stagnation; a leader who outstrips his people’s experience runs the risk of not being understood.”
- Henry A. Kissinger