In the case of Expositions’ codes, IT delivered a business module requiring new finance codes. It was up to Expositions to then take action – the act of “filing” in this case was the act of creating the codes, coordinating their approval with finance, and then inputting and administering the codes – these were all Business requirements.
How many IT departments are producing reports from end-user software that should be produced by someone in the business element? How many IT departments are orienting incoming hires for entrenched business software – the specific use of which is better explained by someone that is in the business department making the hire? How many IT departments are breaking out, coding and tracking mobile connectivity charges for business? Lots. Aren’t those an administrative duty better performed by someone in Finance or the actual departments?
In other words, look for situations where “filing cabinets” have been delivered, but where the duty of “filing” is not being effectively picked up out in the business arena. Making effective use of technology is a profit-enhancing lever, and the user community needs to “file” effectively. Do what is necessary: deliver training, place the expectation, and let Business set up and run their “filing cabinets.” This frees IT to fulfill its obligations in other rapidly expanding arenas – Security, to name one. Content Management to name another. Planning and fulfillment on future, accelerating, business and technical requirements to name more.
Next, let’s look at one additional example on the Business side of the equation before we look at some IT challenges.
Let’s examine an organization that is implementing a new Association Management System. The senior director of the Expositions department needs to identify finance codes used for her department; these codes help track revenue and expense in relation to conference booths, hotel rooms, and services, etc. Subsequently, the Chief Financial Officer needs to approve the codes. The IT department can then test them – but ultimately Expo will even have the authority to edit and configure their own codes.
The project manager with overall responsibility for managing the AMS project has asked the Expositions director to create the codes, submit them, and to then meet with the CFO and PM by a certain date in order to have an approved set of codes ready for IT’s input. However, the Expo director has failed in this task, missing several adjusted dates for completion. It is now incumbent on the PM to make this happen by setting a meeting for these two and ensuring that they do actually meet and hammer out the codes. It matters not whether the Expositions director has valid reasons for missing the assignment or not. It matters not whether the CFO has made himself available for consultation as requested.
It is the PM’s responsibility to move the process along in ensuring that the codes get created for input. Regardless who owns each incremental task – the PM is the ultimate owner and will answer to each success. In other words, the creation of the codes is an issue in the project management context. The PM’s job is to bump along the Expositions Director’s (or delegate’s) creation of the codes – an important task supporting a project – the implementation of a new association management system. The Expositions department is the task’s owner: The action of creating the codes is that department’s responsibility, with a shared component. That was creating them in compliance with the Finance department’s oversight of all finance codes. Let’s look at the “why” of the task’s ownership by the Expositions department.
Part of the lag in the code creation turned out to be the Expositions Director’s insistence that this was IT’s responsibility. However, IT is not the generator of the codes. Nor does IT maintain them – or use them. The syntax and format of the codes is defined largely by Finance. Further, the Expo Department is intimately familiar with their (Exposition’s) financial tracking needs. They know how many codes and definitions are needed in the conduct of their business. They also know the character and number of codes that exist in the old AMS – for various conference booths, hotel rooms, services, etc. Having IT survey a business situation that Expositions is responsible for is not a correct placement of effort or responsibility; nor is it efficient.
IT effort in this regard would mean: IT must perform the administrative drill of creating the codes for approval by Expositions. This would engender a review, any necessary adjustments, and resubmittals with another Expo review. This would be followed by IT’s arrangement for review with Finance. This is inefficient: Expo can drive and complete this process, in its entirety, in less time. Otherwise, it takes IT people away from doing the things that only IT can do. It engages them on a largely administrative task that should be assigned within the Expo department. Expo should not require IT to maintain their finance codes any more than IT can expect Expo to maintain IT’s finance codes.
Once Expositions creates their codes as tasked, they must let the project manager know they’re ready. The PM can schedule a sit down with Finance for review of the codes. Once Finances approves them, the PM (or a delegate) can train Expo on how to enter the codes into the AMS. The Expo department should have the authority to maintain their codes in the AMS so as to match their authority in maintaining the codes in the business sense.
Ask yourself here: who is responsible for knowing Exposition’s codes in order to exercise Exposition’s business? It is within that party, or group, where action must transpire. Today’s employment of “systems” or technology is not an excuse to defer ability, responsibility, or activity. In any circumstance, an oversight authority from Business or Technology can simply ask: who is the relevant party that knows, or should know, the “business” of what is under consideration? That party must be empowered in every possible sense so as to match activity to the root of knowledge.
In short: IT delivers the system – Business must utilize the system.
Next: Empower Business; Free IT…
It’s been said that understanding what things are like… is a large step toward understanding what things are.
Let’s take a break from the topic of False Solutions… I’d like to return to it and wrap up a few more concepts and tips, but we’ll do that a little later.
Today, let’s talk about responsibilities and where they lie. In many business-technology endeavors there blooms a confusion as to who should do what. This is especially true when going down a new and unfamiliar path. Business frequently thinks that anything involving a technical support structure means that most of the responsibility and activity belongs in the IT department. IT frequently thinks that Business should be responsible for some things that in fact are better reserved for IT’s exercise and judgment. We know there is a mutual dependency, but when are lines appropriate and where do we draw them? What answers does the Weave yield?
Let’s look at a couple examples that will highlight some areas, then discuss a simple way to illuminate any area for solution. You will then be able to employ this model to answer your own questions in cases where you’re proceeding onto unfamiliar ground, and unsure as to where to place specific activity and responsibility. You can also look at your existing placements of effort, and in many cases make better assignments in cases where certain efforts have been poorly positioned.
The Filing Cabinet Analogy
Your office is cluttered – you have documents all over the place. The paperless office of the future has not yet arrived, will never arrive, and your hardcopy papers are necessary, important, and accumulating. You must get them filed for safekeeping, and you require ready reference of the content. You call up your supply department and order a filing cabinet. A few days later, a supply clerk rolls your cabinet in, asking where you would like it.
As the clerk wheels his empty dolly toward your door, you say, “Wait! You’re not finished.” Bewildered, the clerk asks you what you mean. You politely gesture to all the stacks of paper on your desk, your table, your office floor. You tell him that he needs to label the drawers. He needs to create tabs for various subjects, projects and tasks. He needs to alphabetize and categorize your paper documentation and file it in the appropriate place in the new cabinet.
What is wrong here? This: You, the recipient of the filing cabinet, expect the supply clerk to do your filing – which is not the supply clerk’s job. The supply clerk has delivered a system for filing – the recipient must file, or delegate that to relevant department staff. But realize too: the cabinet’s recipient must not only use the “system,” the recipient must do some configuring and setup of that system. After all, it is the recipient who best understands the business requirement of that system (the labeling, categorization, content for the drawers, etc. that is necessary).
Now, we know that no one would ask the supply clerk above to do filing – or configuring – yet IT finds itself in that very position as it delivers its “filing cabinets”.
Next: Determining the “Why” for Who Does What…
All organizations must know where they are. This sounds simple and obvious, but many organizations don’t know their own staffs’ capabilities, capacity for learning, willingness to learn, and the various measures of tools and enablements that the company owns – as just some ideas for “Where We Are.”
Tell me how to get to Chicago. Um, you’d better ask a question before you have me embarking on a trip: “From where are you starting?” Any organization embarking on an IT-business solution (destination) had better know exactly where it is before plotting that destination. Ahhhhh.
In the case of XYZ, several ‘where we are’ factors were missed. No destination can be reached if you don’t understand the point from which you’re trying to progress. Here, the point of origin was thought to be one of missing automation, a lack of tools, a lack of enablement. There actually were inadequacies, as there generally are when seeking solutions. However, they were misidentified. This led to false statements of need, a misidentification of requirements, and misdirected actions. XYZ arrived at a destination that did not serve them.
There wasn’t a simple lack of automation or tools for their appraisal process. In actuality, there was a quite robust set of general automation and tools – with a wonderfully low “overhead” of maintenance being that these tools served a broad array of effort and work product. The organization just had to use these resources, and within the discipline that is required of any effort (business or otherwise, technically assisted or otherwise). The point of origin here – the organization’s “Where We Are” – included the lack of priority, discipline and accountability.
The inadequacies were in the organization’s failure to state clear expectations for fulfillment of the appraisal process, and the application of discipline and accountability in order to secure the managers’ serious attention and fulfillment of their appraisal delivery. Understanding this point of origin would have yielded a completely different path; a route to a real solution of the appraisal problem. For example, any manager’s late submission of an appraisal could yield a mention on their appraisal, with corresponding rating impact.
Another part of the path would be the emphasis on the organization’s reliance on the appraisals: What can be more important than placing, developing, and promoting the right people in creating the best organization possible?
Timely appraisal documentation is key: That is the destination, and the True Solution.
So, what ultimately happened with XYZ’s appraisal system? XYZ Corporation eventually threw out the new system, and went back to the old. A fresh set of eyes looked at the appraisal process and saw an opportunity for cost cutting. The vendor and their associated product were simply removed from the environment – saving training costs, upgrade costs, support costs, and eliminating wasted time. Managers were held accountable by their supervisors for timely and correct submission of appraisals, and those supervisors were held accountable, and so on up the line. In other words, this corporation put the push where it belonged – in the general areas of discipline and accountability.
Here too is an important understanding: IT people often don’t want to appear as a “block” to initiatives, and can remain mum on ideas that they see as unwise. Business must recognize this and foster an open dialog on needs and solutions in sponsoring a civil debate on what is best for the organization all around. A well-defined business-implementation team (BIT) is a great forum. Leaders’ responsibility – Business and IT – will be to weigh what they hear during feedback in making decisions. At the same time, IT must maintain solid credibility so that their counsel on the business end of “solutions” is weighed and considered with proper weight and focus by Business.
One important concept that IT can expose is what the false solution does to economy of scale. Any time you remove specific business from common resources and supports, such as wide serving networks, common end-user apps such as e-mail and wordprocessing, you chip away at an economy of scale because almost always there is a parallel deployment of a “specialized” resource, asset, application, platform, etc. You now build a new area of overhead and recurring cost. Be very wary in these circumstances. Before you bring in the “new,” examine the “old” and its supposed deficiencies very carefully.
Keep in mind that the phenomenon of the False Solution is very real. You may have experienced it in full, or perhaps to some lesser degree. Consider that often times you may achieve a strange parity: a “solution” that works, but is no more efficient or enabling than what preceded it. In those circumstances you live with the squander of resources in simply delivering something different. The organization may yet suffer a poor return going forward, as stakeholders in a new system make erroneous or wasted effort in trying to squeeze out advantages that are simply not there. In all cases, remember the adage to “measure twice, cut once.” Take very careful measure of needs, “solutions,” and vendors so as to create proper definitions and deliveries.
Let’s next examine the XYZ case to see where people frequently go wrong, and the red flags to look for. There are always red flags to indicate that you may be embarking on a False Solution.
To drive the point completely home, let’s look at the beauty and simplicity of what XYZ Corporation had in place prior to this “improvement” – this “solution”:
They had a very effective word processing template for the employee appraisals. It contained all of the major areas for evaluation of employees. There was a very effective instruction set that had been constructed and improved upon over time. Also, most managers had a ready history for position objectives and employee performance. It was already “online” as a reference – readily available in past year’s appraisals.
Reusing and repurposing this information should be a routine part of XYZ Corporation’s effective leverage of business content. Consider: Even for new employees (without a performance history), there still exists the position description and objectives from the former incumbent’s appraisals, as an assist to new employees appraisals. For brand new positions, neither system offered much assist – new positions require, and deserve, a fresh document set all around.
During XYZ’s “appraisal season,” expectations for completion of drafts, and submission dates for completed appraisals, were well articulated and communicated via existing tools – namely, the e-mail system, all-staff meetings, and bulletin boards – things which were still employed, by the way, with the implementation of the “automated” system.
From time-to-time we’ll get back to “XYZ Corporation” and look at their “simplified” employee evaulation process… be sure to read the first and second False “Solutions” posts:
In continuuing – XYZ’s first red flag should have been the assertion, or assumption, that the managers could not write. The corporation couldn’t possibly have hired managers without some kind of writing skills. The matter of poor writing was more a human failing on some part to hold managers accountable for their quality of writing. The posit that “managers can’t write” should have been rejected outright. The focus then should have been to set an expectation, a bar, for managers to clear for the quality of their writing. HR, and anyone supervising a poor writer, should think about this condition as exposing a vulnerability, so as to expose a potential strength. If you want your organization to write well, make that a goal. What could HR’s next steps be? Perhaps to sponsor a managers’ plan to get necessary people to training. Perhaps to issue, or direct attention to, an organizational “style guide.” The really important thing: hold people accountable for their writing – rate them on it in their own appraisals. Judge their performance. Trust me: They’ll improve.
Therefore, for XYZ Corporation, there was no technical component, no technical solution, required for this element of the appraisal problem. It is a problem of discipline and accountability, solved by senior managers, in holding people accountable for the quality of their work. No computer or technical system is going to fix your business culture, or overcome lax attitudes.
There was also the flawed analysis in the matter of automated reminders. No technical assist here helped an adherence to schedule. The only leverage that counts is how the reminders influence the receivers – the managers. Could the appraisal software’s e-mail reminders do anything that HR’s former e-mail reminders could not? In fact, there was no leverage to be had on the problem. The managers’ response to the “new” reminders was the same – to largely ignore or overlook them. HR viewed the automatic send-out of reminders from their own perspective: the efficiency standpoint of the sender (HR), not from a consideration of what the managers would do. Again, getting users to respond to reminders is a matter of discipline and accountability outside of any computer or technical solution.
We’ll weave in and out of various topics, but we’ll be returning on a recurring basis to False “Solutions” – they are an ongoing problem for many, many organizations.
These days a company’s personnel have two or more identities: There is the usual professional “company” profile (along with associated expectations and behavior), and the personal “off-duty” persona. An employee’s personal behavior is generally understood to be private – so long as the employee isn’t doing something to put their organization in a bad light.
But now many, if not the overwhelming majority of, employees have online identities. A Facebook account may be the most obvious online identity, but there are also LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Google searches on names, revealing blogs and even accumulated comments that may point to particular information, opinions and peril.
Thus, sometimes online “personal time” identities can pose peril to an organization – and have. Suppose a client stumbles on a client manager’s personal page and finds pictures of drinking, lewd photos, and perhaps even rambling ruminations on the manager’s workplace? Would the trusted relationship between client, manager, and organization survive? How would you feel if a service provider was suddenly thrown into a suspicious light, via something you discovered on the web? It happens… and relationships break and revoke.
More and more companies are running online checks on people as they apply. Applicants and employees, on the other hand, are “hiding” their identities by using nicknames and filters.
There is good reason for doing this, from their perspective: A survey commissioned by Microsoft shows that 70 percent of hiring managers and recruiters in the U.S. have passed on an applicant based on online information. Further, roughly 79 percent of U.S. hiring managers use the ‘net to gauge job applicants. Damaging information has ranged from criticism of past employers, co-workers and clients. Other reasons are inappropriate comments and photos – the inappropriateness of course is in the judgment of the potential employer.
But… what of an organization’s present employees? Surely many, if not most, have an online presence. Do any of them make comment on the organization, its practices, and its personnel? And if they do, what is the modern organization’s prudent activity in protecting its number one asset – its reputation? For that matter, as an employee yourself, what are you doing online? And if nothing inappropriate – would it bother you that HR may check your online presence from time-to-time?
Consider that many an employee has blasted something straight from the corporate e-mail account, tying a domain “tail” on correspondence that may be wholly inappropriate. But even from personal accounts or on personal space pages, any reference to your workplace is a matter of something that is being done in the name of your domain – here, the domain is dominion over your brand, your products, your services… your reputation. And what of an employee’s generalized poor behavior or judgment: if an employee shows poor personal judgment, as documented on the web, might business partners, customers, clients, etc. start to wonder about their own professional associations?
What is being done in the name of your domain?
So… what happened to XYZ Corporation’s employee appraisal process?
After implementation of the software, training, and completion of the first annual review of staff with the new appraisal system, something interesting was apparent. The appraisal process was no better than before. Appraisals that were supposed to “write themselves” turned out to be shallow, trite, and not particularly representative of the employee or their job. Many managers stated that starting with, and editing, the system-generated material was more difficult than preparing their own fresh draft. In fact, the “don’t know how to write” assessment was denied by fully articulated and expressive e-mails on the part of managers.
As far as the adherence to timeliness for submission of drafts and final appraisals: there was no improvement. It turned out that automated reminders from the appraisal system were viewed no differently than the reminders that had been sent from HR in the past – and through the same e-mail system. The recipient viewed appraisal reminders from any source no differently: They were all essentially “HR.” One is as easily ignored, or obeyed, as another. As far as tracking the appraisals HR now had a new burden they hadn’t anticipated – the generation of status reports regarding appraisal production. The reports capability was paired with the expectation they had set with their senior management; hence the new burden to produce and speak to these reports in management meetings. Actually, efficiency for all concerned the first year was diminished due to the learning curve, and in everyone’s requirement to “machinate” the process surrounding production of simple text appraisals.
Even worse, the second year’s effectiveness was no better. In fact, it seemed to be poorer. Because appraisals were annual, the organization’s managers didn’t think about the appraisal application for 10 or 11 months (excepting special appraisals such as probationary). They were “rusty” each year. Some managers needed refresher training. Everyone stumbled through the application inefficiently until reacquainting with it. Therefore, what was supposed to be a “solution” was now a contributor to a larger, layered, problem – to say nothing of having another software suite for the organization to maintain.
How could this have happened? The organization was confused. What happened to their investment? Where was their return? Indeed, there was no positive return – there was a negative return. They were now saddled with expensive software, along with the upgrade schedule required by all business software, with the attendant support burden – HelpDesk, backoffice, and annual user refresher training. Where did XYZ Corporation go wrong?
Next, we’ll examine…
Today I’d like to make an observation about wasted effort in any work environment. Nothing is perfect of course and so there is always room for improvement. Sometimes we can observe effort that has no lack of good intentions yet was misdirected and wasteful. There are “feel good” initiatives, and we often see common mistakes organizations and individuals make in trying to satisfy poorly conceived or off-target objectives that simply don’t satisfy the larger goal. A lot of this waste and error goes into something we’ll call the “False Solution.” It may look great on the surface (but just as often doesn’t); has sanction and support from the top; and the political sway is going its way. But it’s essentially an empty vessel that does not deliver the intended business or technical benefit as painfully evidenced over time.
Here, we’ll look at a very simple, yet illuminating, example of a false solution. By examining a relatively contained organizational risk we’ll be in a position to consider a much more universal scale of risk posed by the false solution as this blog moves forward. But at any scale, we need to examine the dangers in mounting false solutions, and how to expose and avoid false solutions before they’re mounted. For, false solutions not only fail to deliver, they consume resources and time such that they hold real solutions in abeyance.
We’re going to use a Human Resources department in this example. We’re not picking on HR – this is just one HR department that serves very well in highlighting the pitfalls of the false solution. Also, the general product software type in our example serves many organizations very well when properly matched to needs and expectations. It just wasn’t the appropriate solution in this case. Think about what happened in the “solution” below and apply these considerations to your own initiatives.
A mid-sized organization of several hundred people, XYZ Corporation, dreaded their annual employee appraisal and review process. They used a fairly comprehensive word processing template – a form – with an instruction set from HR on how to use the form. There were also clear expectations for the content that was required for an appropriate appraisal. And, HR made use of reminders through e-mail and staff meetings to bump the process along. Naturally there were the usual organization’s handbooks available too.
However, the HR department had a difficult time getting managers to start the process on time. This meant that draft appraisals weren’t submitted when due. Of course, submission of completed appraisals often was not made on time, and there was a further problem in that submissions failed to meet organizational standards for completeness and quality. HR’s take on the situation was that many managers “don’t know how to write,” and stated this many times. Also, HR felt that there was a lack of overall “control” surrounding the whole process.
Automation is Good – Right?
HR made a sale to the senior management team; that an “automated” software application for the management and production of employee appraisals was necessary. The software had templates for appraisals that proposed language, based on keyword input. Entire sentences and paragraphs were generated – hence HR’s “solution” for managers who “don’t know how to write.” The appraisal software generated automatic reminders that went out (through the same e-mail system as before) as ticklers for start of the process, submission of drafts to supervisors, and submission of final appraisals to HR. (The advantage of this auto-reminder capability was largely offset by a pre-existing ability to set up a schedule of reminders: This capacity existed in the organization’s native e-mail application; a suggestion to do this did not fit the “sale” and was left unexplored).
The software also had report capability to track and show status of appraisal drafts, versions, finals, and where in the production process things stood. Reports could be generated by individual, by department, by dates, etc. Hence, HR felt that they had a solution for tardy start and submission of appraisals – a means of “control.” Of course the vendor was a major player in this sales dynamic, and found that they had an audience already biased in terms of need, expectations, solution, and delivery. The vendor described a wonderful appraisal cycle whereby managers would enter a few relevant keywords, resulting in whole paragraphs and tracts spilling out, tightly matched to job specifications and individual performance. “Ticklers” would be automatically generated by the system to bump along each draft for approval as the process moved along. Ultimately, a comprehensive batch of final-form appraisals would be submitted to HR on or before the due dates, for rollup and delivery, of all completed, quality-assured appraisals to senior management.
So, what happened in the matter of employee appraisals at XYZ Corporation? Stay tuned…