FRAMINGHAM, 24 FEBRUARY 2011 - Everybody loves a hero, particularly in IT—that talented professional willing to twist himself in knots to please his users and work overtime to get the job done. Most corporate IT organizations actively recruit, reward, and retain those willing to repeatedly save the technological day.
But internal IT organizations wind up paying a high price for that hero culture particularly when they decide to outsource to a third party, says consultants at outsourcing consultancies TPI and Compass Management Consulting (recently acquired by TPI's parent company). The internal culture inevitably clashes with that of the service provider, which values process discipline, predictability, and consistency. Higher costs and lower productivity often result.
Even those IT organizations that never outsource suffer under a superman regime, say Todd Dreger, partner in TPI's operational strategy practice and Bob Mathers, principal consultant with Compass.
CIO.com talked to Dreger and Mathers about the origins of the hero IT culture, the value of the rare provider that resists it, and what happens when cultures collide.
CIO.com: You say that most corporate IT organizations built around a "hero" culture—one that values responsiveness, commitment to quality service, and individual initiative to solve user problems? Does that culture serve internal IT well?
Todd Dreger, Partner, TPI's Operational Strategy Practice: Hero cultures usually develop unintentionally. IT organizations of many Fortune 500 companies seek to recruit the top talent. They look for people with ambition, drive and passion for customer service. These individuals tend to serve a very demanding business. This usually requires reacting quickly to issues or requests, staying up all night or working all weekend. Business and IT management often applaud this behavior and reward it with gifts or promotions.
When this approach is successful, the IT people become part of the business team. A negative consequence is that visibility into incidents and problems is often lost as the business contacts staff in IT directly to resolve issues or concerns, rather than working through a process. And guess who they call? The hero. Success and reward are the motivation. Others in IT pattern the behavior. The result is a culture based on heroics.
Managing business user expectations, adhering to process, and proactively managing problems is contradictory to this culture. While the relationships with business may be good from an IT perspective, we often find little alignment to the business. Projects routinely over-run their budgets and schedule, and the business often cites a lack of innovation provided by IT and inflated cost structure or chargebacks.
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