Eight Steps for Priming an IT Innovation Culture

By Rick Pastore
December 6, 2018
Culture Shift

As the above diagram shows, a majority of IT leaders want to move away from their current organization’s hierarchical culture to one that is more innovative, valuing experimentation and risk-taking. As we know, successful culture change does not happen with a new reporting relationship, a fast-track governance process, an open floor plan, or free energy drinks. Nor is it generally associated with a “go-live” date or launch, , after which the new culture prevails. It is a permanent change in the mindset of the IT organization and its business stakeholders. It’s a new world in which to live and act, with different rules and norms for behavior that flow from new ways of thinking about achieving business goals.

Our research at The Hackett Group suggests the following key steps to help drive and sustain an IT culture shift.

  1. Plan and begin a culture change program in IT within the next year: Most poll respondents have already targeted a desired culture type and are working toward it. Culture change takes time; putting it off or waiting for the enterprise to act may cause IT to lose its window of opportunity to become a valued business partner.
  2. Define behaviors and practices that support the desired culture: These will be the behaviors that IT leaders must model and measure. Also, determine what common behaviors reinforce the incumbent culture and need to be eliminated.
  3. Deal with risk aversion: IT must reconcile its culture goals with the business’s tolerance level for risk or failure, which is unlikely to change. In high-risk industries such as healthcare, innovation experiments must be partitioned off and isolated from operational systems.
  4. Develop future sensing and adaptability: These attributes align with a culture of innovation and are among the weakest in most IT organizations.
  5. Obtain clarity and commitment: Better outcomes will come from a greater upfront effort to clarify why IT seeks to change its culture, and what should be the desired behaviors. Stronger leadership commitment and support can be obtained by creating a business case for culture change. If the enterprise is also pursuing a cultural transformation, IT can leverage broader business efforts to win hearts and minds.
  6. Build a business case for culture change: Link intended new behaviors and attributes to high-priority business goals. Determine which will have the most impact and prioritize these for development.
  7. Address staff resistance: Identify pivotal positions for the desired culture and those most affected by the move away from the historical culture. Then craft personal messaging for these staff members that explains the new culture, how it will affect (and preferably benefit) individuals or the team, and what their role in the change should be.
  8. Designate and deploy change champions throughout the function: This culture change practice is rated one of the most successful but is among the least used by IT leaders. Reduce efforts on structural and role changes, which are less fruitful and not at all effective on their own. When hiring new talent to change the staff profile, protect them from being rejected or beaten down by the legacy culture.