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Using Behaviours To Align People Management and Operations

Stop banging your head against the proverbial brick wall

As illustrated by the fields of psychology and psychiatry, the nature of behaviour is driven by numerous factors. It is not surprising therefore, that this is a subject we all continue to struggle with even in our tiny world of ITSM.

People are not easily pigeon-holed and nor should they be, however there are certain personalities and characteristics that we do look for in the makeup of our organisations, various teams and individuals.  This is meant to produce a magical chemical mix turning lead into gold when it comes to the ultimate formula for business success. Well, there have been enough stories to show that, for many, the elusive formula is still just that.

Roles at all levels of the business (except sometimes HR) do not require the skill of being a psychologist in any way, shape or form except for the expectation that your people skills enable you to manage behaviour.  Not everyone has the innate talent of being able to understand the people you work for, with, and have command over. Nor can everyone easily see clearly within those minds and hearts to either enhance or mitigate the psyche before the consequence manifests in physical behaviour.

Driven by the Unseen

So how do we go from thinking through talking to doing? Firstly we must remember that people haven’t changed very much. Getting people to move from talking to doing is the major challenge.  People are usually well-intentioned and wanting to provide value but the daily grind seems to evaporate their wherewithal to make changes. How do we understand and garner a response from an individual or group to an action, the environment, a person, or other stimulus? Do you find their behaviour such a surprising truth? This is what we are going to explore over a series of blogs about the knowledge, attitude and behaviours for which we search.

Even though it’s not uncommon to feel you are unable to do something about behaviours, it’s not an insurmountable gap, even as wide as it may feel. Remember the goal is getting people to work seamlessly together towards one vision.  The question is how well they connect with that vision. The answer is how well you’re able to influence them and make those connections happen.

Brick wall headaches

Dictating how people behave by writing plans, procedures and processes and implementing them via ‘dead-cat syndrome’, is the one thing you know from previous experiences doesn’t work.  We often refer to ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’ as the definition of stupidity.  We don’t use it here as an insult but to be understood as the result of a lack of awareness, knowledge and/or judgment.  Something endemic when you’ve been banging your head against the proverbial brick wall for a long time. Maybe we were to slow off the mark or acted in ignorance of techniques that would have provided the opportunity for a different decision.

Although a decision may turn out to be foolish, it can be used as a baseline for improving if we are open to lessons learned. That is, if the result you are getting is not working, it’s time to explore some new avenues and approaches.

Is it safe to fail?

‘Culture could be defined as our rules of engagement when nobody’s watching. Driving new behaviors by removing ambiguity and building trust creates joyful work!’

Mike Orzen

‘Safe to Fail’ is a human tenet that is well outlined in the Cynefin framework and other cultural change understanding.  ‘Flying by the seat of your pants’ is a good way of putting it.  You can’t plan up-front which interventions will be successful, so you have to ‘suck it and see’. It’s not that more questions get created, it’s that solutions evolve in their creative implementation. The Cynefin terminology for acting in a complex situation is ‘probe-sense-respond’. If you have a hunch that praising somebody is going to work, try it (‘probe’). Then evaluate what has happened (‘sense’). If praise works, continue with the strategy, otherwise try something else (‘respond’).

With the right techniques and practiced skills, you’ll know what kind of people limit levers you can pull and push, just like test pilots know how to put their plane through its paces.  Even they discover hidden possibilities that didn’t come with the design instruction manual.  Humans don’t come with manuals either!  Occasionally, you push the ‘red’ button just to see what it does, however, are you prepared for the consequence and do you have the skills to manage the possible ‘fallout’?

Is strategic planning sinister to operations?

According to the behavioural resistance at operational level to what they see as impractical strategic planning, sinister is a good word. In general, as Systems Thinking guru John Seddon points out, managers (particularly those working in his so-called ‘management factory’) think in terms of abstractions and theory – coming up with solutions that don’t fit practical operation needs. Take the example of an information system being built, based on how a manager imagines that business operations runs. But when the solution is delivered, business operations reacts with “This won’t work! What on earth were THEY thinking about?”  The “they” underlines the gap between management and operations. It’s only when the strategy makers are able to ‘see’ their belief is flawed, will they make a change in their decision making behaviour.

If you know which skillsets positively impact the outcome of your organisation’s bottom line, then you can have some understanding of the behaviours that drive it.

Stay tuned for the next episode of ‘Behave Yourself’.

Key Resources

Dead Cat Syndrome:

Mike Orzen:

Cynefin Framework:

Systems Thinking:

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