lundi 28 mai 2012

How to drag your users out of the Stone Age

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May 16, 2012

How to drag your users out of the Stone Age

Too many businesses try to compete using last-century work habits. Here's how IT can help shift their outlook to this-century mastery

Follow @ITCatalysts To run a 21st-century business, you need a 21st-century workforce. Unfortunately for many organizations, last-century techniques are holding employees back -- even in IT.
The employees who make up a 21st-century workforce treat information technology as a set of tools to be mastered, not as a set of applications that control their work. This is a crucial distinction, as 21st-century businesses rely more on business practices than processes, and business practices rely on the judgment, skill, and expertise of practitioners, which can't be automated but can be supported.
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This doubles IT's responsibilities in ushering in the 21st century at your company. After all, it takes more than a set of tools tailored to compete in today's business environment. It takes a willingness to facilitate mastery of those tools -- even to insist on it.
The 21st-century workforce challenge
To encourage a 21st-century workforce, we must first understand the kind of work that makes a 21st-century business hum: an emphasis on business practices over business processes wherever possible.
You might recall that business practices fall into three major categories:
  1. Single-actor practices, where one employee handles most or all of the work. Business analysis is an example.
  2. Hub-and-spoke practices, where one employee orchestrates the work, performing some of it while farming out tasks to other individuals and teams as needed to get the job done. Life-insurance claims processing generally takes this form.
  3. Team practices, where several individuals collectively take responsibility for doing the work. Just about every business project falls into this category.
Let's suppose your business benefits from hub-and-spoke practices, and you're the practitioner at the hub. You have work to assign to other individuals. You can:
  • Call each individual, explaining what you need and when it's due.
  • Leave a voicemail with each individual, following up later to make sure each assignee noticed the message.
  • Send assignments through your company's instant messaging system.
  • Send email messages detailing requests, enabling the read receipt feature for positive verification that each recipient read your message.
  • List all of the tasks on an Excel spreadsheet that includes the assignee and due date for each task on the list, then email a copy to all of the "spokes" who have assignments and tell them to please make sure they find their tasks and finish them on schedule.
  • Use Outlook's task list to assign the duties. What -- you didn't know you could do this? Yup, it's one of the features your friends probably complain about. They call it bloatware, which is defined as "features I haven't taken the time to learn to use, so they must be useless."
  • Define a workflow to parcel out assignments to all of the "spokes" for this chunk of work, using the workflow tools built into SharePoint, Notes, or whatever other workflow-enabled CMS your company has made available for this purpose.
Here's what's sad about this list: There's a near-perfect inverse relationship between the likelihood that a practitioner will choose a particular tool and that tool's effectiveness.
That is, based on the people I know, the most likely choices are telephone/voicemail, email, Excel, and instant messaging. They're also the tools that are least reliable and least useful from the perspective of making sure all work gets done right and on time.
At least, that's the case if both the practitioner and all of the assignees belong to a 21st-century workforce -- a workforce for which using these and other modern tools is second nature, and for whom (this is vitally important) the expectation of their use is baked into the company culture.
Getting to a 21st-century workforce -- a multicultural challenge
The question is how you get from here to there. The answer is the same as the answer to any culture change question: Define the culture you want, identify the changes in leader behavior needed to encourage it (starting with your own behavior), and replace any structural barriers to the change and with structural traits that encourage the change.

Did I say culture change? I meant to say three culture changes because that's what you're going to need: two changes in IT culture and a third throughout the business.
IT's two culture changes
IT first: It's time to jettison the whole whiteout-on-the-screen/didn't-realize-it-was-a-power-outage/dumb-user-har-har-har culture that permeates so many IT organizations. It's time to replace it with an at-home-they-figure-out-a-new-user-interface-for-every-online-game level of respect for the fundamental ability most employees now have to figure out new technologies if they see a reason to do so.
It's also time to jettison the assumption that the fewer tools you provide, the lower the "total cost of ownership" will be. That's a good thing. Replace that attitude with one that assumes employees have work to do and need the best tools available. As for TCO, ignore it as a pointless metric that pays attention only to cost, forgoing the benefit side of the cost/benefit equation.
How does leader behavior have to change to support these changes in IT culture?
First, don't allow dumb-user stories, and above all don't participate in them. When you hear someone in IT telling one, respond by pointing out that for every dumb user story we tell, those dumb users have at least three dumb-IT-propeller-head stories they tell about us. Point out that if employees aren't adept at using the technology we provide, shame on us for doing such a poor job of educating them about it. Make sure everyone is clear about the companywide goal of having a 21st-century workforce and what that means. When referring to employees in their use of information technology, use nothing but terms of respect for their ability to master it.
Finally, and perhaps most important, engage in storytelling -- talk about workgroups in the company that have mastered one or more of the technologies IT provides to them, to become more effective and to help the company be more competitive.
Business culture change
This one is easy. At least, it's easy to understand what's needed: Every business executive must commit to mastering at least one modern communication or collaboration-enabling technology, and use it when communicating or collaborating with the employees and business partners with whom they work. Even if it's as basic as using Microsoft Word's red-lining and commenting features, it sends a message about expectations. Using SharePoint's co-editing capabilities transmits the message more powerfully.
Collaborating through the company's Web conferencing system instead of accepting the limitations of a conference call, making use of some of its more advanced features -- this does more than simply improve executive effectiveness. It establishes that using these technologies is how we do things around here.
Relying on an administrative assistant to set it up and make it work? That sends a very different message: that the path to success is to leave learning the tools to others because important people don't do those things.
Structural barriers to 21st-century change
Business structure includes such matters as the organizational chart, facilities, and compensation system. From the perspective of achieving a 21st-century workforce, pay attention to the compensation system, and in particular whether "mastering the tools" has earned a place in the standard performance appraisal form.
If it hasn't, encourage HR to revise the form immediately and to establish a leader education program that emphasizes the importance of tool mastery to the company's success. As part of that program, HR should make sure every business leader understands the nature of culture change, that this is one, and that their behavior as business leaders is where the culture change will succeed or fail.
If they aren't clear as to the nature of culture, here's how to explain it: Culture is what everyone expects everyone else to expect. If everyone expects everyone else to expect everyone to master and use the tools, they'll use and master the tools. Otherwise, why would they bother?

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