This year I accepted a CIO position at a state (government) agency. It’s been a great year of learning and growing, not the least of which being that the organizational landscape looks a lot different from this altitude. What a difference one level makes!


You know how there’s always a “they” – those anonymous ones who make a lot of bad decisions and generally make our jobs difficult? Well, in accepting this position, I unwittingly became “they”. Ultimately, it comes down to me, one way or another. Which sounds great until you realize things are more complex and nuanced than you once thought. You come to appreciate that “they” operate with constraints, same as we all do. And yet, there’s a reality that, fair or not, the buck does stop with me.

It doesn’t so much matter how much experience and knowledge of IT Service Management I may have. There are no stock answers to the challenges my organization faces. All I truly have are my charm, wit, and a really great team of IT professionals. Of the three, guess which is my best bet for success.

Yep – the team.

Creating the right culture

I’ve been blogging about Excellence in IT Service Management for a lot of years, and one thing that’s become eminently clear to me is that most of the struggles we face in IT are neither process nor technology. No, the biggest challenge we face in IT Service Management is the culture in which we’re trying to drive improvements.

Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. While the point is pretty easy to understand, it’s never been more clear to me that–despite my most brilliant strategies to improve the performance of my team—ultimately, it’s the organization’s culture that carries the day.

Every organization has a unique culture, influenced by things like geopolitical factors, the industry, the competition, the organizational mission, vision, values, and so many more.

If you’ve spent a great deal of time in one culture, or cultures that are very similar, you may find that you’re confusing your experience with universal reality. We may be blind to how much of our ‘reality’ is simply the culture in which we’ve been operating, and that may or may not be helpful in our current challenge.

In other words – we have to understand the unique challenges and culture of the organization in which we’re trying to lead change.

Leadership Lessons

I often get asked what I’ve learned in my new position. Sometimes people ask what’s the biggest surprise I’ve faced.

So, what have I learned about leading change as a freshman CIO?

Having spent my career to this point in various IT roles in multiple organizations, most of which qualify as ‘IT Service Management practitioner’ of one sort or another, the first lesson is that extensive experience and knowledge of industry best practices does not guarantee successful transformation.

Here’s a few other things, in no particular order:

  • There’s no such thing as a “normal” IT shop. Each one is unique, and you must understand the game you’re in.
  • Neither your business nor IT staff care all that much about “best practices”. They are tools you use to get the job done – not the goal or the only way.
  • Fix problems that matter to people.
  • The skills that got you into your new role are not the skills that will ensure your success.
  • Take care of your staff. Be their number one fan and advocate.
  • The needs of the organization at large – the enterprise of which you’re a part – is why you exist. Do everything in your power to make it successful.
  • Large or small, celebrate success.
  • People pay attention to the smallest of details. Always have a positive word to say.
  • Make changes incrementally and engage staff throughout.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong.

It’s been a wild year for me, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and learning that’s come with it. The view from the CIO’s chair has broadened and expanded my view of the role of IT Service Management and the value it can bring to an organization.

Thanks for your support this year, and I look forward to another year of Excellence in IT Service Management in 2019!