Chapter 14: Change is Hard – Catalogs, Services and Portfolios

CHAPTER 14: CHANGE IS HARD

Sean met me outside my cube, and we walked together to the room where the PSIRB was meeting. It was over in the executive part of the building, a place I’d never been to before. I’d tried to call Crayton, but he was not responding.

‘You’ve got a really tough audience in there,’ said Sean. ‘They won’t give you a second chance if you slip up anywhere.’

I stopped and grabbed him by the arm. ‘What do you mean me? My recollection is that we both worked on this into the late hours last night, or was I hallucinating from too much energy drink’?

‘Now I’m confused,’ said Sean with a grin. ‘I thought you were the one last night who was accusing me of stealing your ideas and taking credit for them … as I was helping you even though you hadn’t asked. And now you want me to have part of the credit’?

I was wedged. Nothing fit exactly together. No matter what I did, the facts wouldn’t align. And to make matters worse, I had instinctively, without considering the ramifications, asked Sean to help me with the presentation. This was all Lee’s influence. I was seeing plots and assassins in every corner. I was really beginning to wish I’d never met him.

Sean followed up before I could respond. ‘Look, I’m just playing with you. I know from others who’ve gone in there that the Review Board likes to keep the meeting small. That way they can have an open and frank discussion.’

Sean leaned over and whispered, ‘That means they curse at each other and yell, and generally act in ways they don’t want the vast majority of people to see, for fear of looking imperfect. For some reason they live under the delusion that the average worker thinks they are flawless, and only speak in measured leader-like tones. Personally, I think they spend too much time with themselves. You’ve gotta remember, the PSIRB has only been in place since about six months before Lee arrived. They’re still learning to work together. Their sole purpose is to give the executive leadership cover when the field gets upset.’

‘Try not to make me feel too optimistic. After all, last night you thought the presentation sucked.’

‘It’s fine,’ said Sean. ‘I just know that you could propose turning lead into gold at no cost to the company, but unless some field manager had requested it, they’d tell you, not this year. You gotta remember, they aren’t there to add more things to the queue of work; their job is to keep things off the table. Any excuse will do. The only thing they might not deny this year is field requests.’

‘If you know people who went through this before, what kind of success rate did they have’? I asked.

Sean shook his head, ‘Only those that originated in the field, even got considered. Nobody got approval. Everyone got told to try again next year.’

‘So maybe I’ve got a chance. This is a direct response to Lee’s objectives and was exactly what Obasi and Henrik were looking for.’

‘I wouldn’t get too optimistic,’ said Sean. ‘Let’s just say you are not guaranteed to fail … yet.’

When we reached the room, Sean said, ‘One last thing. Whatever you do, don’t sit at the table with them. Sit off on the side against the wall … even if you have to sit on the floor. Better yet, don’t sit at all, unless they invite you. Stand. They will think it more respectful. I’m told these people are very fussy about rank and privilege, and if you sit at the table, it is like telling them you think you’re their equal. It’s a tough audience.’ Sean checked his watch. ‘And today the meeting is bumped up tight against lunch. Worse, it’s Friday: the day when, traditionally, senior leaders took some or all of their staff out for lunch as a group. Nothing like a room of bored and hungry executives to give your proposal lots of slack.’

‘It’s nice to know that I can always count on you for such an upbeat view of people, because you always assume positive intent.’

Sean shook his head. ‘I’m a realist. But you’ve got a great idea, and if we ignore this drama, it is the right thing to do.’

There was an Admin sitting at the desk outside the conference room. I hadn’t seen her before and she was dressed like she belonged in the more rarified spaces of the executive offices.

‘Hi, my name is Chris. I’m here to present my initiative proposal to the PSIRB. Can I go right in’?

She looked up at me and said nothing. For a moment she just stared, then pointed to one of the nearby chairs and said, ‘Please have a seat. I will call you when they are ready for you.’

Unlike Sabrina’s PMO meeting, you weren’t allowed into the PSIRB until it was your turn. I guess they didn’t want you to pick up any cues from the prior presenters, or maybe they thought all of it was super secret because that was the world they lived in.

I was the last one presenting today, so there was no one to commiserate with outside the meeting, and the admin guarding the door made it quite clear she didn’t want to chat with anyone … at least not anyone below the executive level.

After about 20 minutes, the door opened, just enough for a woman to walk out. She was carrying a thick stack of documents and looking straight ahead.

‘Hi, my name is Chris. How’d it go in there’?

She didn’t acknowledge me, other than slowly shaking her head from side to side.

‘Did you get approval’? I asked.

She turned and glared at me, but kept walking.

Shortly after she turned the corner, the admin guarding the door carefully laid down her pen and looking directly at me, said, ‘You may go in now.’

This conference room was a long way from the Board Room IT would’ve used for something like this. This room was clean and tidy. In fact, it even smelled clean, as if there were a team dedicated to preventing the executives from being distracted from the business by any malodorous aromas.

The furniture was fresh and unworn. It even still had some of that fresh from the box new smell. The carpet was thick and plush, without the stains and tears I had come to expect in company conference rooms. Even the lighting felt exotic and expensive, with its carefully arranged spots and floods, all controlled in a myriad of combinations, by a panel of switches that looked like something out of a jumbo jet. And unlike the IT conference rooms, there were no crowds of people clustered around. There were only six people inside.

Three suits from the business I’d never seen before were sitting at the table. And I could not believe it. Adjacent to the three suits, at the table, sat Lee with the disgusting Cheshire Cat smile of his. He must have been here for all of the other presentations. How did he merit such treatment when I was left sitting outside?

There was really no place for me to sit, so I stood at the front of the room. It didn’t matter; my presentation was only scheduled to last 20 minutes. I just hoped they wouldn’t toss me out before I’d gone through it all.

None of the suits introduced themselves. I guess that in their hubris, they assumed that anyone who was important enough to merit their attention below them in the organization, would know who they were.

The one closest to me, in a very bored voice, said, ‘Proceed.’

I quickly hooked my laptop to the projector, and, after one of the suits lowered the lights to accommodate the proposal projected on the screen at the far end of the room, I began. ‘My name is Chris. Thank you for giving me these minutes of your valuable time. The initiative I am proposing is driven by requests from the field organization. It will simplify the way they request IT services, improve the implementation time and alignment of those services, and allow the field to focus on their core goals, rather than needing to understand how IT works. By extending the legacy service catalog, so that it contains role-relevant views, the field will only need to work with services relevant to its goals and see them in language familiar to them.’

None of the suits were paying any attention to me. One was staring at his watch, another was checking e-mail on her Smartphone, and the third was sitting there with her eyes closed. Even Lee was sending texts. And it was his group making the proposal. What kind of support was he giving me as my leader? I tried not to let the anger get the best of me, but he could hardly be less supportive. Maybe Sean was right: maybe he really did want me to fail, so he could use that as an excuse to fire me. But he’d never needed excuses for anyone else … at least not that I knew of.

An instant later, I received a text, and, out of habit and without thinking, I pulled my phone out and checked it. The message was from Lee. I didn’t understand until I read the brief content.

‘This morning I accepted Crayton’s resignation. He has gone off to start a new career and build his successes elsewhere.’

The shock must have been noticeable on my face, because when I looked up at Lee, he winked. He had fired Crayton this morning, and was telling me now, in the middle of my presentation. Warning, threat, or just a shock bomb, it didn’t matter. Lee was out to get me.

After that, the questions began almost immediately, and the ones from Lee were the worst. And when it became clear he had some issues, the suits jumped on me with both feet. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, but I kept moving forward. I had worked too hard on this to let it go now, and I knew this was the right thing for the company.

I got to the end, and felt good about the proposal. No, I felt great about it. It was the best piece of work I had ever done, and I had focused the entire initiative down into a single page of how the enormous benefits to the field would clearly outweigh the minor increase in costs.

‘Are there any questions’? I asked, and turned off the projector. Unfortunately, I had no idea of how to bring the rest of the lights up and stood there in the near darkness with everyone else.

After a split second of nothing but breathing, Lee spoke up.

‘Abigail, Gunter, Murali …. please let me apologize to you.’

The lights came up, and Lee was ignoring me and speaking directly to the suits.

‘Chris works for me and I take full accountability for the evident lack of preparation invested in this presentation. Honestly, it looks like something he waited until late last night to begin work on. Frankly, I’m embarrassed and disappointed. We wish to withdraw this proposal, as it is not ready yet. Once it is up to our company’s high standards, I will see to it that it is resubmitted for a proper evaluation. Again, I apologize for wasting your time today and accept full responsibility for Chris’ failure here.’

Abigail spoke up. ‘If you wish to withdraw the request for now, that is up to you, Lee. All of us have the highest regard for your judgment and focus on meeting the needs of the field. Something like this might make sense to begin as a development project in IT, and I think I speak for all of us when I say there is merit in this proposal, and, if ready, it probably should move forward immediately. However, we trust your assessment that now is not the time. The last thing we need is another disrupter in the field. We respect your taking accountability for the actions of your staff. It just reinforces to us the quality and effectiveness of your leadership.’

Heads were nodding around the table. Lee was trying not to grin too much, and I was realizing that he was going to fire me today, right after this meeting. He had set me up, called me out as a failure in front of key executives, even though without him they probably would have approved it, and was going to improve his stature by taking accountability, handling the so-called tough assignment and then firing me.

As I walked out of the room and headed back toward my cube, it occurred to me that if it hadn’t been so directly impacting, I could almost admire the Machiavellian beauty of Lee’s actions. But now it was time to go and pack my office. I knew what was coming next.

Tips that would have helped Chris

Sometimes people succeed because they are good at what they do. But sometimes they succeed because they are lucky. Don’t always assume that, because someone claims a win, it was due to their knowledge, skill, or capability. It could just as easily be due to luck, or being in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes your leadership will decide not to proceed with ITSM projects, even if they are the right thing to do, and will meet leadership’s objectives. Being right, being the best, or being aligned with best practice, is not a guarantee others will see the light and want to adopt it. What becomes important then, is for you to continue to be an advocate for the change, to see how you can implement any parts of the change, even without approval, and most importantly, to not take it personally.

Some leaders advance their own careers by managing up. They spend much more of their time working with their leaders, than they do with the people reporting to them. This is often the sign of a weak or insecure leader. Plan ahead, and identify how you would work successfully for someone if you had only brief chunks of their time, and only on a schedule they set.