Friday, 28 May 2010

Is HR ITSM's Greatest Corporate Enemy?

It was one of those late night conversations with 'T' an ex-service manager colleague when the question came up.

He'd become an ex-colleague thanks to the collusion of the office bully and an out of touch HR department. The sad thing was that any ITSM professional would have realised the miracles he had been working up to that time in a very challenging environment.

Before you shed to much of a tear for him he soon  found his niche in a more humane organisation, so six months on I was chatting to him in his new role as a very successful IT Director, shortly before he was head-hunted for a new CIO role.

Meanwhile the office bully continued to convince everyone she was indispensable, right up to her early retirement, since when I'm pleased to say things have improved substantially in that particular organisation.

Up until that point I'd always thought of Finance, suppliers, and the IT department themselves as the barriers to world class ITSM. The more I thought about it though the more I thought T had a point. OK, his was an extreme, though not unique case, but there are lots of ways that HR nibble away at the effectiveness of the ITSM team. Now to be fair the blame doesn't necessarily always lie with HR per se, so much as the CIO's failure to articulate the actualities of ITSM.

Let's begin at the beginning with recruitment.

Do a quick Google on ITIL jobs.

Here's one I've just come across.

"Service Delivery Manager required to work within a leading IT Outsourcer. Working with bid and costing teams the Delivery manager will be responsible for Design and delivering large complex solutions.
Chairing meetings to discuss requirements and effective strategies to manage service proposals and to represent the company to win complex bids. Managing current relationships and developing new relationships with customers to represent the business. Working with ITIL Service Management to work effectively and efficiently within ISEB standards."

"Candidates must be able to demonstrate actual hands on Service Delivery in operating infrastructure services, ie:- a complete end to desk top, server infrastructure, to compliment the ITIL accreditation's.
Experience of leading on major high-touch bids
Demonstrable Service Management leadership expertise
ISEB Service Management Manager Certified (Red Badge)
Knowledge of Information Technology Management and functions
Customer and business orientation, with sound commercial and financial awareness
Has effective working relationships with customer's senior management as well as internal relationships

To start ASAP"

To begin with WTF does any SDM job have the words "To start ASAP" in it?

Think on that

Possibilities I can think of include:

  • The last SDM gave up in disgust
  • A month before go live they have suddenly realised they need a SDM
  • They expect a masked man to ride into town and perform miracles
  • They believe an SDM should be judged on immediate results
I'm sorry, but everyone of those flashes up "Warning Will Robinson"  to me.

Then look at those responsibilities. Is the SDM really going to have design responsibilities, or are they, as usual, going to have to make a purse out of a sow's ear. What control will they actually have over the delivery of the service? Is their job actually going to be to make endless excuses for other people's mistakes after the event?

ISEB standards? Can some one tell me what ISEB standards there are? This is an advert written in the ITL equivalent of Franglais

I'm glad they want someone to 'compliment' the ITIL accreditations, we need more people to say that ITIL accreditations are wonderful.  I'm sure you all know the peanut joke. Sorry that was underhand.

Then just look at the overall job requirements. Isn't that rather like saying a janitor should know how to mop a floor.

Look at it from the SDM's perspective - does anything make this job sound attractive?

Yes I've suggested all these links before, and yes you've ignored them, but I still think they would be good for you. Buy them as presents for your HR Director.

HR are the vampires of the organisation, that is why they avoid holding a mirror up to themselves. 

Think about it, HR can make two basic mistakes. They can fail to recruit the right person, or they can recruit the wrong person. Is there any mechanism to catch either of those mistakes, because trust me if they recruit the wrong person they won't take the blame.

I spoke at the 2009 itSMF Conference on one of the very basic mistakes HR make. Their ideal candidate is like the average candidate, only more so. They want some one who is more than averagely punctual, more than averagely presentable, more than averagely...average. 

I'm sorry, but to on my ITSM team I want people who are exceptional. I want people who are different. Who are prepared to challenge the conventions that got the IT department into their current situation. I want people who understand that world class ITSM isn't achieved by trying to run before you can walk....I want born ITSM professionals, and above everything else I want people who care.

This is probably a good point to totally castigate recruitment agencies who don't know enough about ITSM to either set salary expectations or to carry out an initial filtration of candidates. For goodness sake, I've seen agencies requesting credentials that don't even exist yet.

OK, you've joined an organisation. Let's have a look at their job design. No, better not really. They are just a collection of buzz words. SDMs achieve success by their influencing skills. They fight wars and campaigns, not battles.

What about the criteria for success in the role? Have you noticed these are never contingent? Nobody ever say "Of course if the project delivers a c**p solution we won't hold you responsible for customer satisfaction."

Training. Dear HR Director, there is a reason why there are ITSM specific training schemes. And the ITSM team understand their value a lot more than you do...

OK, I could go on, but I hope I've made my point.


  1. Hi James

    In my view; getting the best out of your people is much too important and business critical to be left to HR.

    Call me a control freak if you like - but I want to own and drive job specs, recruitment campaigns, selection criteria, selecting recruitment agencies etc.

    I would expect some help from HR and I can delegate them some responsibility but at the end of the day, we (IT managers and leaders) are accountable for the end result so we need to step up and own these things. Most HR people will be only too pleased that we care!


  2. In 2009 I applied for only one job; it was perfect for me and I was at least very good for it. I'm pretty sure I was the best local candidate for it.
    I got to first interview with an HR noddy and was declined. I thought the interview went quite well.
    6 months later their competitor was headhunting me.
    Any company that uses HR for gating candidates deserves what they get.
    HR is not ITSM's greatest corporate enemy, it is every industry's greatest corporate enemy.

  3. Hi James,

    You have come up with a very important challenge organizations face today - and not specific to ITSM.

    Most of the points you have mentioned in the article are valid and true. However, my experience in many organizations show that it would be unfair to put the blame directly on HR for the issues that you high-lighted.

    A few things I have observed are:
    - HR is given very limited (if any) visibility (leave alone involvement - which should be the case) into the organizational strategy, decisions etc and purely given operational targets like numbers to recruit, salary limits etc.
    - It will be unfair to expect HR to have an exposure to the real expectations from a profile unless the resepective function/domain ensures the same information is passed on. This doesn't happen many a time. In fact I have seen even the function/unit team holding as much confusion/ambiguity of the profile/skill requirement.

    The things you highlighted above like 'ASAP', 'ISEB', responsibilites etc - I would see it as a function or system failure than specific HR failure.
    If HR is given the control and authority to question the job profile details given to them, things might improve (even then things like 'ISEB' will not get corrected). But unfortunately, that is not the case in most organizations, at least not in this part of the world.

    Again, if we are blaming HR practices of an organization for such failure, I am 100% with you.
    But if we are blaming HR as a function, then I think it might be a bit unfair - once you have a deeper look, especially on the otherside of the fence.

    - Vinod Agrasala

  4. Vinod,

    I agree we cannot pin all the blame on HR, often the fault does lie with IT management who abdicate responsibility to HR without ensuring that either the HR department are up to the job, or that HR have an adequate understanding of what IT is trying to achieve. As Peter said in his comment IT management retains accountability.

    Having said that in the majority of the specific cases I had in mind the quality of HR staff, and their lack of real world experience, was a major issue. Where they failed again and again was in not being prepared to challenge senior IT management when it mattered.