Doing work is harder than it should be – but what’s the problem?

It strikes me that every day across the world’s organisations, numerous documents, thoughts and ideas are generated, collaborated-on and then lost, only transiently visible to the limited number of people that the originator knew at the time.

As an example, recently I was talking with a senior geologist at an Oil & Gas organisation, he shared a great story with me – it turned out that it was only because of chance meeting over a coffee with a colleague from another part of the business that it became apparent that a report was about to be commissioned that he had commissioned himself two years previously. As it turned out he had kept a copy on his computer and had sent it over to his colleague. In that moment  that chance meeting saved his organisation just short of a million dollars.

So with often thousands of people across an organisation, staff can only know the interests and expertise of the people that they’ve come into contact with, or have been recommended by others, sadly this is the dis-economies of scale in so many of the world’s finest organisations.

In a similar way, it is only possible for a person to collaborate on ideas and efforts that they are aware of.  So we have, at the same time both duplication of efforts and ideas being developed in ignorance of each other and gaps in our knowledge base created by the person who has the knowledge not knowing that it is needed somewhere else.

In summary, despite the claims made by many organisations, a person’s network is much smaller than the whole of the company – if pushed to step outside our networks, finding the right person is for many, difficult, frustrating and time consuming. But despite it being difficult, most people within organisation’s always seem to have a clear sense of the need to be able to tap into their company’s network, either from their own team or from across the company’s geographies, to find out who is doing what, knows about or is connected to as well as building their own internal professional network.

So what’s the problem with this? Shouldn’t  everyone should be able to have the same experience as the geologist I mentioned earlier?

Of course they should! Furthermore if companies are going to try to recruit the best people and develop them to build relationships and to work collaboratively, utilising the full potential reach of all of their employees to deliver to their customers, but also to bring home every dollar, then it stands to reason that organisation’s should give their people the most appropriate training, encouragement and technology tools to do this.

Focusing on the technology, in many company’s there have been a number of pilots around this area and often there appears to be strong support for the concept of social technology but it seems that very few companies have actually documented their requirements – sadly it appears all too often that technology departments have invested heavily in off the shelf technology (or custom built their own technology) and are now looking around for a business problem that it could solve, or in some cases actually redefining the problem to suit the limitation of the technology they have – amazing!

So without any order, biases or elegance – it seems to me that the following seem to a fairly typical set of observations on doing work within many of the world’s organisation’s and companies could do worse than explore using the following as a set of ‘as is’ assessment requirements:

  1. Information overload is just what happens for some many employees, being inundated with irrelevant information (particularly email) is what we do.
  2. Employees seem to accept that email is the wrong medium for majority of interactions, but as there is no alternative people use it as a one-size-fits-all communications medium resulting in others drowning in a sort of “occupational spam”.
  3. Finding materials and information is hard. Searching for materials in the current applications doesn’t return results that are useful – often returning completely irrelevant results, which is as much related to the quality of content as the technology itself.
  4. The organisation’s internal systems do not match up to expectations, particularly the knowledge sharing tools and mobile applications infrastructure. Although it’s not just the technology, the content is what lets it down.
  5. There is no incentive to share or participate, or indeed a requirement/leadership expectation to do so.
  6. Employees keep year’s of work on their local hardrives and create their own personal file storage systems in their email box using complex folder structures.
  7. Many conversations and interactions which happen in private could benefit from being made more public.
  8. The organisation’s culture is very e-mail centric, although for quick conversations, instant messaging and the instant nature of its use are well liked.
  9. There is a heavy reliance on people’s personal’s networks to find the right people and content, but the company has a strong and healthy “will help” culture – if you ask someone for help (even from outside your team) then people will help you, but the problem is finding the right person to ask.

Would be interested to know what others think, does this sound familiar in your organisation – have I got it about right?


3 thoughts on “Doing work is harder than it should be – but what’s the problem?

  1. Fear of change… Having had experience with Luddite CIO’s and CEO’s it can be difficult for some corporations to embrace change be it the use of mobile devices, social collaboration, cloud, etc… We as technologists and practitioners of specific disciplines must be able to effectively convey and show the benefits of newer technologies.

    Corporations that are fixated on the cost of such technologies represent an additional hurdle as the benefits are not always calculable to hard dollars but in order to progress the organization a story must unfold that paints in the benefit of:

    *** In no particular order
    1.) Shared storage (Box, Dropbox, Drive, etc.) – Improves the ability to share, store and link to a common store.

    2.) Enterprise Search – Search must be integrated in everything. The implementation must align and create a common language for the company (Taxonomy, Folksonomy, etc.)

    3.) Social tools – Improve sharing, transparency and retention of information.

    4.) Access anywhere – Its not just your Work laptop (the slow beast) which must be allowed to access information from anywhere at any time.

    5.) Single sign on – Not partial not this or that feature but SSO for all. (Huge user benefit)

    6.) Integration with familiar tools (Browser, Office, Email)

    7.) Competition – Badges, recognition and rewards are a part of the puzzle the corporation needs to set achievable milestones to obtain the desired results e.g. 25% reduction in email use over the next year.

    8.) Culture – The culture must change and in doing so embrace a new way of working with it. If this does not occur then portions of the user base will continue to operate out of band with the rest of the organization.

    9.) HRIS as a talent bank linked into your professional profile fields. A common language must be used which defines a persons roles, responsibilities, talents, reporting stucture etc. within their profile. The HRIS system functions as a system of record and provides corporate specific info for the user while still allowing the user to maintain other fields

    1. Thanks Jeremy, some more really good reasons why doing work in most organisations is just harder than it needs to be. As you say, it’s often hard to qualify the benefits. Pinning the implementation on some current business process, or by measuring something that is already measured (like time from order to customer) usually works, but I think we have more to do to provide businesses with the ROI. Although, it’s interesting, I bet when the telephone or email were first introduced CFO’s everywhere were demanding to know what the business value would be…

  2. Every day I see a greater digital divide within companies. I recently worked on a collaboration project that involved both groups of apprentices / graduates and those that are more used to faxes than Facebook. It made me realise we are making the same mistakes with collaboration tools (open, social, transparent working etc.) as we did with email and Knowledge Management tools of the 1990s.

    Apprentices and graduates ‘just get it’ in terms of understanding how to use technology to connect them to people and content, regardless of interface. Forget about corporate emails – they just don’t want to bother about desktops or email clients. But reach out to them on mobile day or night and they will respond. They see the value of making connections online and how to use the open and social tools to network within organisations. They expect good technology and connectivity and if the company can’t provide it they will use their own. If they can’t be provided with spaces to connect and network they will develop their own.

    Other groups within the company needed far greater training, floor walking and hand holding to understand the potential and possibilities of the value of connecting and collaborating. With good content strategies, knowledge and people management, stewardship and governance many of these issues are overcome but what struck me was the change in approach needed by those responsible for implementation and success of collaborative working.

    I’m old enough to remember the only ‘IT’ training you received was how to use the fax machine, the photocopy and the phone handset. When email arrived it was similar with one approach to training and ‘after school’ extra training for those that were slow on the uptake. The training provided showed us how to use the new tool. When you asked the trainer what to use it for that was a very different matter.

    As we move towards more open, transparent and social ways of working within organisations I do fear we are making the same mistakes we made with email and Knowledge Management. We can introduce the tools and technology, show them how to use it but not guide people on what to share.

    Too many times I have seen organisations deploy the technology, train people how to use it but give them no further guidance on how to work more transparently, open and socially. Hence we get the situation that the tools are not used, or maybe worst they are used to create additional noise but no value. If we think email and various KM document coffins are bad enough imagine a screen full of irrelevant activity streams, notifications, thousands of 2 people communities (if you can have a community of 2) and invites to connect and follow with thousands of people you have never heard of and frankly don’t need to connect to every within your organisation.

    To bridge this digital divide within organisations we need to ensure that these collaborative, open, social tools have sufficient strategy, governance and stewardship around them, aligned with a good content or knowledge strategy for the user groups so they have an understanding of what will provide value to themselves, their communities and their company. Once this is in place we can then worry about the floor walking and handholding from a technology level.

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