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Change Management | 12 MIN READ

Moneyball and How to Execute Powerful ITIL Change Management

Planning and executing a successful change management process that complies with ITIL is difficult, there’s no denying that. However, managers and IT professionals alike can get an excellent blueprint from an unlikely source: Michael Lewis’ baseball best-seller “Moneyball.”

Jump to the main takeaways:

 Don't Settle for the Status Quo
 Meet Resistance With Confidence and Purpose
 Manage Conflict by Promoting Understanding
 Don't Let Setbacks Affect You
 Maximize Your IT Resources
 Be the Change You Want to See


The book and the 2011 film adaptation of the same name is more than just a sports-centric fairy tale. Lewis described the theme at the heart of this story as follows:

“‘Moneyball’ was about how people get misvalued and how then, in turn, warped value systems encourage warped behavior [...] There are all these biases that infect the human mind when it’s making intuitive value judgements, especially about other people.”

That statement echoes how too many businesses can’t overcome their inability to adapt to evolving external variables, such as technology, because of those warped, unconscious biases. The stats don’t lie–70% of organizational change projects end in failure.

“Moneyball” has a lot to teach IT service professionals, software developers, and business leaders about how to properly execute a change management plan as part of your ITSM strategy, as well as how to establish new practices that will put everyone in a position to succeed long-term.

Let’s get into it!


Embrace Change by Refusing to Settle for the Status Quo

Why do businesses choose to change how they operate in the first place? Why do organizations, both struggling and already successful, pump significant amounts of time, money, energy and other resources into large-scale digital transformations?

The answer lies in how different operational or industrial status quos do a poor job at setting those organizations up for long-term success.

The hard part here is that, in the beginning, most managers or executives aren’t in tune with what’s really holding them back. They may think it’s a lack of funds dedicated to a certain activity or the fact that they’re missing the right person in a key role, when the issue is far more serious than that.

Consider this scene from the film version of “Moneyball,” where both Beane (Brad Pitt) and Oakland’s owner (Bobby Kotick) fail to fully embrace the change their baseball club sorely needs:


You can see shades of this struggle in Blockbuster’s infamous demise as more forward-thinking companies like Netflix rose to prominence. As per Forbes contributor Greg Satell, the real reason for Blockbuster’s failure was their unwillingness to challenge the status quo they ruled for many years:

“Blockbuster’s model had a weakness that wasn’t clear at the time. It earned an enormous amount of money by charging its customers late fees, which had become an important part of Blockbuster’s revenue model. The ugly truth—and the company’s Achilles heel—was that the company’s profits were highly dependent on penalizing its patrons.
At the same time, Netflix had certain advantages. By eschewing retail locations, it lowered costs and could afford to offer its customers far greater variety [...] Netflix proved to be a very disruptive innovation, because Blockbuster would have to alter its business model—and damage its profitability—in order to compete with the startup.”

The lesson here is simple: if you don’t acknowledge that change is needed, and embrace both the challenge and potential payoff that your digital transformation has in store, your change management process will be broken before you ever try and assemble it.


Meet Internal Resistance With Confidence, Purpose, and Urgency

Okay, so you’ve decided to plunge headlong into the transformational journey your organization needs to evolve alongside technological change instead of trying to play catch-up. Now what?

Well, for starters, you need to prepare for the internal resistance you’re bound to encounter, especially from staff members who are on the front lines of your company’s IT services. One of the most important components of successful ITIL change management is how those in leadership positions stick to their guns by exuding patience, confidence, and purpose.

Here’s Pitt as Beane, relaying a strong-but-fair message to his team of scouts who are stuck in archaic ways of evaluating players. Take the baseball angle out of the equation and you’ve got the DNA of hundreds of change management discussions that take place every year:


The most powerful part of the way Beane presents his position to the scouts is how he normalizes why he wants to overhaul the way his team assigns value to players. Despite initial objections from his scouts, his opposition has a tougher time defending their operational standards the longer the conversation goes on.

As this Harvard Business Review piece points out, Beane’s sense of urgency regarding organizational change is another quality that puts him on the fast-track for success:

“A paralyzed senior management often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders. Management’s mandate is to minimize risk and to keep the current system operating. Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership.”

Meeting resistance with solid leadership can help you avoid becoming the exception to that rule, instead of just another statistic that’s part of the dubious change management norm.


Manage Conflict By Helping Others Understand the Benefits of Change

Internal resistance is one thing, but how do you continue to execute your ITIL change management strategy in the face of full-blown conflict? The solution is simple: help others understand the benefits of your change vision.

This doesn’t have to be an elaborate seance about risk versus reward or benefits versus any potential short-term loss of revenue. What I’m talking about is equivalent to a change management mission statement, one that your team members (even the resistant parties) can understand on a logical level.

Watch how Beane clearly states his and the organization’s intent in just a couple of sentences, drowning out the whines for a more traditional approach (a quick note: the Bill James referred to by one of the scouts is the man behind Sabermetrics, the maverick statistical movement upon which a lot of Oakland’s Moneyball strategy was based):


The image of car counters not only implies how Oakland plans to upend the baseball establishment, but it also ties that benefit statement back to Beane’s sense of urgency. His message is clear: we must do this. It’s not a discussion. It’s a do-or-die scenario. Raising the stakes can also help your team better understand the benefits of wholesale change.

Though his tone and some of his tactics may have been labelled confrontational at the time, it’s clear that Oakland’s GM had his team’s best interests at heart throughout the entire process. He didn’t cower in the shadow of dissension within the organization’s ranks–actually, it may have fueled him even more.

Take the tech-based example of Elon Musk, one of the great tech-based entrepreneurs and innovators of the last 50 years. When asked about Tesla’s position in a “space race” equivalent in the automotive industry, Musk had this to say about his perceived role as an instigator:

“I don’t create trouble just for the hell of it… I think there are important things in the world that need to get done. Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”


Don’t Let Short-Term Setbacks Affect Your Long-Term Vision

Let’s be honest with each other: nothing in this world that’s worth getting, from a promotion to a romantic dinner date to fully-realized organizational efficiency, is ever easy.

Over the course of your change management process, there will be setbacks. In certain respects, you will fail. To use a baseball metaphor (it seems appropriate), you won’t get a hit every trip to the plate.

However, you must also never let your short-term setbacks affect your long-term vision in any way. In moments of weakness or vulnerability, your change management leaders need to operate with the strongest of conviction.

During “Moneyball”, there’s a stretch where Beane looks to be at risk of losing his job and, in turn, undoing all the hard work he’s put into his vision for organizational change. His response? Stay the course and don’t let yourself get distracted by the choppy waters:


If you’re looking for inspiration, this Quick Base article has plenty of real-life stories that demonstrate some of the qualities that are indispensable when dealing with setbacks. Be ready to dig deep and invest in continuous personal growth as your IT and non-IT staff continue to power towards your ultimate goals.

Also, you should never let those short-term setbacks turn your organization in a risk-averse excuse machine. In his cover story with Entrepreneur, business mogul and “Bar Rescue” host Jon Taffer made this abundantly clear:

“The common demonstrator of failure is excuses. Whenever I ask someone, ‘Why is your bar failing?’ I get a million excuses. They say it’s Trump. They say it’s the Euro. It’s construction on my street. It’s wintertime. It’s this. It’s that. They never say they’re failing because of themselves. Not once has someone ever looked up at me and said, ‘I’m failing because of me.’”

Maximize Your IT Resources By Leaning on Data Instead of Intuition

Your business may have your change management strategy all worked out but, to really make the most out of the opportunity to grow and improve how you operate, you need to maximize the return you’re getting from your IT resources.

Whether it’s streamlining how you manage your digital assets in Jira or optimizing your company’s agile software development process, it’s imperative that even the less-flashy change management tools in your organization’s arsenal are used in a way that realizes their full potential.

Let’s go back to Beane’s conversation with his scouting team. As he throws the names of players most baseball pundits would consider misfits up on his free agent board, his underlying reasoning always goes back to strategically using his meager payroll to buy the most runs:


In the world of ITSM, we’re also talking as much about time as we are about money and other, more tangible resources. As Jason Feifer writes, getting the most out of the time you have in a day comes down to realistic prioritization, no matter what the task at hand may be:

“I’d ask myself: What do I get for this hour spent? What can I show for it later? [...] I know this can sound joyless. It isn’t. Instead, it’s what keeps me motivated during times when I’m tired [...] Tomorrow’s accomplishments don’t just happen -- they happen today.”

Especially if your business is operating within an agile or agile-hybrid approach to ITIL and ITSM, every resource is valuable to you. Money and time must sync harmoniously with other tools you have at your disposal–otherwise, successful change management will be less of a proactive mission than it will be a reactive fire-fighting odyssey.


Set an Example By Being the Change You Want to See in Your Industry

Finally, we come to arguably the most important part of executing a change management strategy that will grow your business over time: walking the walk in addition to talking the talk.

Setting an example with actions instead of words is not just an effective outward quality exhibited by strong organizational leadership. It’s a sign that your business is pursuing meaningful, lasting change because it’s the evolution your industry needs to adopt.

Pitt’s Beane says as much towards the end of the movie version of “Moneyball,” iterating that he’s not in it for the championships or the accolades from the outside world–he’s in it because realizing his change management goals is something he can’t bear to fall short of:


That drive and determination shows up later on in the film as well, when Beane is courted by the Boston Red Sox, one of the richest professional sports franchises in North America. They’re looking to leverage his passion for disrupting the established baseball order and bring a championship home to Fenway:


The fact that Beane was able to compete at a record-setting level with players that other teams mistakenly misvalued as “defective” is a testament to his commitment to change and his willingness to be a potentially reviled trendsetter in an industry that was lacking in any kind of innovation.


“Moneyball” is a story about triumph that’s fueled by strong, unwavering change management. By handling resistance and conflict with purpose and clear communication, Beane and the A’s were able to overcome short-term hurdles and vault their team closer to a World Series title.

Whatever your business’ version of an IT-related championship is, agile ITIL change management will bolster your ITSM capabilities and help you achieve those lofty goals, maybe a lot sooner than you think.

To gain more valuable insight and knowledge into how your organization can take your ITSM processes and strategy to the next level, check out our blog!

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Originally published Jul 9, 2019 12:00:00 PM