Employee participation

A great example to demonstrate the benefits of the firm as a collaborative community. Creating an internal stock market to suggest and invest in ideas to improve the business beyond the imagination of the leadership team

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When will IM come of age?

Instant messaging (IM) has been a popular consumer tool for several years now but has yet to become accepted within the business world. Fear of misuse seems to be a key argument against adoption, with comments such as “people will just waste time chatting” being one of the common excuses. There are two key reasons why I believe organisations simply cannot ignore the potential of IM:

1. The shift towards real-time business

The connected world we now live in is increasing the pace of business, and the successful organisations will be those who are able to react in real-time to changes in their markets. Instant messaging is just that – instant. In a real-time environment, instant communication is a good thing.

2. “Generation Tech

The generation coming through college has grown up with the Internet. They don’t understand the issue us ‘oldies’ have with information overload. They crave information or, rather, they crave instant answers and are used to getting them. Will they want to work for dinosaur relics who make it difficult to get stuff done?

Let’s return to that common excuse, ‘people will just waste time chatting’. Why is this a good reason for not using IM? If people want to gossip, they’ll gossip. Be it on the telephone, by the coffee machine, outside in the smoker’s area… where ever. Risk of people taking too much is a poor reason for not adopting technology. Talking gets business done.

(For an explanation of the following diagrams, please review ‘causal loop diagrams‘. The short version: an arrow is used to denote a relationship between two entities. An ‘S’ means that an increase in one leads to an increase in the other. An ‘O’ means an increase in one leads to a decrease in the other.)

According to Gartner (“The Knowledge Worker Investment Paradox”, July 2002), employees get 50 – 75% of their information directly from other people. So, the easier it is to contact someone, the more likely you are to receive the answer to a question, and answers (should) lead to satisfied customers:

Also according to Gartner, 7 out of 10 phone calls go direct to voicemail. This one isn’t difficult: the more likely you go direct to voice mail, the less likely you are able to contact someone, the less likely you will receive an answer, and customer satisfaction goes down:

The Guardian quantified this issue in an article published April 2005: “Telephone tag costs British companies £20 billion per year.” Surely any system that makes it easier for people to talk to each other will improve productivity? Sooooo, what can be done to reduce the likelihood of being sent direct to voicemail?

By being able to see someone’s presence as online, you have an immediate indication that the person is available to answer a question. Presence information increases the ability to contact someone and reduces the likelihood you will be sent directly to voicemail. The better able you are to contact someone, the more likely you are to get the answer you seek and customer satisfaction goes up.

So what’s the deal with not adopting IM?

There are corporate versions of IM designed for business use. These versions typically support standard protocols (making it easier to integrate with other applications) and include additional features such as encryption and auditing for improved security and compliance requirements. Surely it’s better to give this technology a try than come up with untested excuses for not reducing your telephone tag bill…

Related posts:

Practice versus Process

Ross Mayfield recently wrote a blog entry’ The End of Process’ that created a bit of a stir. (Nicholas Carr posted a lengthy response in ‘Process Matters‘.) Here are a couple of snippets:

If a knowledge worker has the organization’s information in a social context at their finger tips, and the organization is sufficiently connected to tap experts and form groups instantly to resolve exceptions — is there a role for business process as we know it?

UPDATE: Euan Semple nails it: “Process is the sort of word that grown ups in suits use to throw their weight around and to convince others that they know what is going on and that it makes sense.”

For once I disagree with Euan and Ross (and I think they both write good stuff normally). It’s easy to be dismissive of process when you are experienced, but knowledge workers and experts are made not born. There’s a popular saying – first learn all the rules then break them. Process is invaluable when you are inexperienced and learning something new. Once you understand the process, you start to test it, break it, change it, ignore it… that’s when practice and instinct take over.

In my mind, process is something that can be documented, usually as a workflow with well defined boundaries. Follow the process and you will get a predictable output. Practice is about gaining the experience to know when (and when not) to break the rules. It’s not just about managing exceptions, it’s about intuitively knowing that changing or ignoring the process is the right thing to do in a given context. Process is about dealing with information. Practice is about applying knowledge. (See related entry: From data to knowledge and beyond). If the same practice starts to replace the ‘official’ process on a regular basis regardless of context, then it’s time the process was updated – process and practice should be interdependent and regularly reviewed.

If you think process is just something people use to pull rank over others, you need to step out of your comfort zone and remember what it’s like to have absolutely no idea what you are doing. Making the assumption that you can always rely on experts risks not learning for yourself, and one day it might be you that others need to tap into. I’ve used the following quote once already (in Dashboard Dangers) but it is also relevant here. From the book ‘The Elephant and the Flea’ by Charles Handy:

…My first independent command was running Shell’s marketing company in Sarawak. There was no telephone line to the regional head office and my bosses in Singapore. We managed because we had to. And maybe it was better, because there was no real way they could judge me other than by results. Things had to be pretty worrying for anyone to spend two days coming to visit me in what was not the most luxurious of places… If I made a mistake I at least had the chance to correct it before anyone noticed. That might not be possible today without a lot of self-discipline by superiors. Fewer mistakes, maybe, but less learning, less responsibility.

That’s not to say that people don’t sometimes get over zealous in focusing on process (the point I think the article was really trying to make). In Seven Productivity Tips, #6 described automating business practice instead of business process. A documented process is the theory of doing business. Before you automate it, make sure: a) it is actually used (don’t just trust the manual, witness the real ‘as is’ process in action), and b) you understand, and don’t inhibit, the practice that surrounds it when designing the new ‘to be’ automated process.

References:

What does Web 2.0 mean…

Web 2.0 is creating lots of buzz at the moment, both positive and negative, and the inevitable ‘dotcom’ bubble comparisons have begun as the main players go into acquisition mode. I think it is too soon to be defining what is, and what isn’t, Web 2.0. But I do think it’s important to consider what it means and why it matters.  Read More