Curing the Caveman Mentality

By Carlos Casanova

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I’m sure that the “finger pointing” blame-game approach for determining responsibility dates back well into prehistoric times. Battles between Harry B. Barbarian and Charlie Q. Savage were likely fought because neither would accept blame for a poorly tied rope or poisoned arrows that did not kill the prey quickly enough.

It is not hard envisioning both Harry and Charlie blaming the other for the failed hunt. Their discussions and arguments centered likely on how the other didn’t do their part well enough, neither aware of or acknowledging the fact that both their tribes would go without food for another day. Neither of them focusing on the reality that only with both a properly tied rope and an aggressive enough poison, will they succeed in the mission they set out to accomplish; a mission that was nothing more than a simple food delivery service.

Upon arriving back at their respective tribes, the arguments likely escalated with the population of each tribe taking sides and blaming the other for the failed service they were supposed to deliver. This “It’s his fault!” mentality is so ingrained in every aspect of life that it is difficult for people to see it. Instead of stepping back and accepting that both parties might have had a part in the failure, each side tends to hunker down and isolate themselves even more -- all with the support and encouragement of their tribes. This goes on until one day when both tribes become extinct.

Modern day

Today’s IT departments function very much in the same way because the “go it alone” and “save the protect/ your butt at the expense of others” mentality is what is encouraged and rewarded by most corporate compensation models. In most IT organizations, there are very few shared goals that are tied to the individuals’ compensation.

You may wonder why this is and why it has not been changed. My experience is that the people who would make and enforce such model are the same ones who would become co-dependent on someone else’s success. There have been instances where small incentives have been shared, but that is not enough. This shared model must be corporate wide and significant enough to force cultural change. Not a temporary, project-based truce with the other tribe.

When the “It’s their fault!” mentality is permitted, and financially incented, the business and their customers lose. They lose because outages and slowdowns that could have been avoided are not, the duration of issues are longer thus making services more expensive. This is because the various groups are not working together for the organization. It’s as if they think they could exist without the organization and that they aren’t negatively impacting P&L.

Let’s take for example the IT organization as a whole and their overall expenses. Generally speaking, utility and energy costs are not included within the IT budget and CIOs have no desire for those costs to be listed on their budgets. Most individuals are not aware of this fact but, worse, don’t understand why it is an issue. The issue is that there are decisions being made by IT departments every day that increase the overall costs to the organization while lowering the recorded IT costs. Many feel that the numbers are insignificant until I inform them of the following projections and research:

In the example above, the desire is to lower the measured IT costs (something that is being done by nearly every organization) and organizations are rewarding the executives for doing it. However, how many of those organizations evaluate how IT cost reduction decisions impact potential cost increases in other areas of the organization; delivering no net bottom line benefit. One thing we can be sure of is the IT department is not going to ask that the utility costs are included in their budget, there is simply no financial incentive to do so.

Bottom line

Every day we see and hear about corporations around the globe under pressure to reduce operating costs, but we rarely hear about them increasing the quality of service or about the potential negative impact to services with cost reductions.

In every organization there is a wealth of opportunity to reduce costs while increasing service quality but the incentive structure needs to be changed in order for this to start happening. It must be changed to reinforce a behavior that is in the best interest of the company as whole and not a department or individual as a unit.

Only when we see shared bonus incentives in the range of 40% or more will we start to see this shift. An individual who makes $80K with a bonus of $20K is not going to change their ways if only $1,000 or $2,000 is on the line in shared bonuses. However, if it is $8,000 to $10K I assure you they will be helping resolve issue more than pointing the finger at someone else, casting blame.

Harry B. Barbarian and Charlie Q. Savage may figure this out before becoming extinct. Maybe after weeks of unsuccessful hunting alone, they will realize that if they share their resources they could deliver a better and more consistent meal service with less effort than going it alone. Yes, it might mean Harry’s 8 year old son would no longer go on the hunt because Charlie’s 12 year old son was able to capture larger game. But in the end, the purpose of the hunt is not to take Harry’s son along for a ride, it is to provide food for everyone in both tribes.

Carlos Casanova is the president and solutions architect for K2 Solutions Group and the co-author of The CMDB Imperative: How to realize the dream and avoid the nightmares. Mr. Casanova delivers executive and practitioner level professional services, training and technology solutions that support the delivery of IT service management and knowledge management initiatives. He is widely published, an editor and writer for the itSMF USA Newsletter, treasurer for the itSMF New England LIG and president of the itSMF USA Sustainable 360 SIG. Prior to K2 Solutions, Mr. Casanova was a senior enterprise architect with MetLife where he was the visionary and manager for the first CMDB deployment and subsequently helped design its second generation, enterprise-wide ITSM platform.