Monday, 20 August 2007

Is Your Company Overlooking the Value in New Tools?

So Facebook is The Next Big Bogeyman to business. I'm not surprised. I'm amazed at how many businesses are throwing away an opportunity, but this wouldn't be the first time they've done that would it now?

I remember dimly (I was a kid then) the furore about telephones on each employee's desk. The amount of time spent calling personal contacts was going to decimate productivity, cost the companies millions in lost time and even more on illicit phone call costs. Honest! This was when I was very very young, so in the early 60's, and I remember my parents talking about it with friends over dinner one night. That image stuck with me, of some big boss wringing their hands while all the workers gabbled incomprehensibly into thousans of phones, creating a Tower of Babel in dusty offices.

Was it ever so? Patently, no. A desk without a telephone today is such a rarity. Obviously, the telephones on people's desks are there for a good business reason, and those early knee-jerks (used as a noun here not a verb people) were wrong in their assumptions, so far wrong that they missed the first big paradigm shift in business in a century, since the typewriter.

Then it was computers. OMG OMG OMG!!! Put a computer on everyone's desk and there's no knowing where that would end! People playing Minesweeper from clock-on to knock-off, People using that word processor thingie to compose crap poetry, letters to their lovers, spouses, and mistresses! It was the end of office productivity as we knew it, the end I say!

Again. What's on every desk today? Yep, you guessed it... Business as we know it would slow to a grinding halt if there weren't any computers on desks.

The age of the office LAN (Now people are going to use the network for all sorts of terrible personal things, waste even MORE work time!) came pretty much together with the other revolution in personal communications, the cell phone. (I'm not even going to start on what those cell (in Australia == "mobile phones") phones were going to do to office productivity, O Noes! It was the tragedy to end all tragedies, that management was no longer going to be able to control their employees' slacking off on phones, without banning mobile phones from the workplace...)

I just have to say that A) offices with LANs are the norm these days, because there is simply no way more convenient to share and collaborate, and centralise documents. And B) in regard to mobile phones, how many people use their own mobile phone out of work hours to make themselves more available? And use the mobile phone at work to short-circuit long-winded procedures and produce results faster?

There's more, as they say. Internet. Business went to great lengths to "protect" their employees from the Internet so they wouldn't waste their entire working lives surfing listlessly from one porn or lolcats site to the next, wouldn't spend the whole day browsing from one news site to the next.

Oh yes - Instant Messaging. Once shunned as "the biggest waste of productive employee time ever," it's at the stage now where I do half my business online via IM, keep in touch with colleagues, share solutions, and ask tough questions. I also use it to talk to my workmates because that way their phone stays open for customer calls, and is far easier to use and costs less in terms of interruption than the phone. I ask a question, and wait. When my colleague has time, they answer my question.

Now it looks like it's Facebook's turn. Rather than realising that this way, an employee is available at home and has the same resources at their disposal at home and is thus likely to do odd work related things from home, thereby increasing their value to the company, managers have become knee-jerks again.

I think it's because they trumpet stuff like that "IM is going to ruin us all!" and then when it doesn't happen, they either pat themselves on the back and say "Gosh we sure stopped that, how did we do it again?" or else, they blame the lack of productivity on the next thing - "Sheesh, we just got things back on an even keel, and then this Facebook thing comes along..." After all, they would never lay the blame where it fairly and squarely belongs, at their own feet...

65% of workers in big (>1000 employees) companies rely on each other, not management, to solve problems...
37% ignore company policy rules because they have a better way to get things done...
- The Informal Organisation, Katzenbach Partners, July 2007


Management is clearly not up to speed, and not listening, not keeping a finger on the pulse. if they were, those employess would have no need to go elsewhere for solutions, would not have to do things differently just to get things done.

86% of workers use an unsupported tool at work to boost productivity...
- Zen and the Art of Rogue Employee Management, Yankee Group, July 2007

And that's just a tip to the iceberg, working as a System Administrator for the last 15 years I can tell you that those "unsupported tools" are what drags many a company out of the gutter and into productivity.

As long as management is allowed to do this, companies will always lag behind, always lose productivity compared to the more avant garde companies. Instead of condemming each new advance, and then playing catch-up when everyone else is using that particular tool, it is part of a manager's job to evaluate the tool, find the positives, and find a way to use it.

One other thing. As a System Administrator I've long wondered why most companies have an IT Policy at all. It is a management tool, a tool designed to prevent the 10% of employees who will always find an "alternative" for each of these tools from abusing the system. It seems to me that it's always easier to pinpoint and warn those individuals than to penalise the whole workforce.

In most organisations, there is a Policy to not steal or damage Company property. If someone has stolen items of equipment from the Company, they are sacked, and often prosecuted under Law as well. If someone has stolen IT resources such as bandwidth, computer time, and IT staff time in blocking them, what happens is that everyone is penalised, and the culprit goes on to find another way to circumvent the system.

It's why, whenever I could, I'd let people know that bypassing the IT Policy is fine with me provided it doesn't happen all the time. I've explained it in various offices I freelance in, thus:

"If you see someone wasting time and IT resources day after day, talk to them about it. If necessary, tell your next in line. Because if you don't, that's another thing I will get told to shut down for everyone, and then you lose as well as that person."

Invariably, in every place I've been allowed to enforce IT Policy my way, it has resulted in employees who are happier, who have access to more tools, and I've had to block and prevent far fewer legitimate tools and applications than at organisations run by knee-jerks.

PS:
I could not find that dubious reference to a blog post about "having better things to do at home than waste my time" so I suspect that this is a bit of a furphy. Yes, I used that big evil search engine Google to look for it, if you find this reference please let me know because I suspect that it will be a highly tongue-in-cheek article which has been misquoted.

And secondly - did you notice the VERY current dates on the research quotes above? That's because I'd spotted this slideshow on that "Evil Facebook" and remembered it - and bingo - there's support for my article! Oh yeah and I did it from my sickbed, where I could be working for my employer right now if they only embraced similar tools more....

UPDATE: And now here is the first of no doubt a few similar articles following mine which you may enjoy. Another one. And another one. Hehehe - watch out! Disaster looms! .

1 comment:

Stephen Collins said...

Thanks for the props on my presentation. It went over well at the IIM National Conference and has been pretty successful on SlideShare since.

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