Who needs world class?
JUN 30, 2008I always liked the mantra that InterContinental Hotels adopted a few years back when it was looking to outsource its HR and payroll. It wanted a service that met its needs, but that didn't either under- or over-deliver. The philosophy it adopted was “Good Enough”.
Its approach reflects the curious position HR and Payroll software vendors often find themselves in when it comes to meeting customer expectations. On the one hand, they’re castigated if they don’t have ‘mainstream’ functionality people need – mainstream being a somewhat subjective concept – and find themselves working through a perpetual user wish list. While these requirements are sometimes cosmetic, in areas such as multi-country payroll, where no single supplier actually covers every territory, they're pretty fundamental.
On the other hand, some of the capability already provided by IT suppliers runs years ahead of user adoption. That’s long been the case with personal productivity applications such as spreadsheets, where users typically take advantage of just a small subset of functionality and often aren’t even aware just how much they’re missing out on. And the same’s true of some HR software. Workforce planning software, for example, has been available for the best part of a decade, but take-up remains relatively low, even as other forms of workforce business intelligence generate increasing levels of interest.
This isn't necessarily a criticism of the software industry - more a reflection of HR priorities, resource constraints and the limitations of corporate planning strategies. But if you bear in mind that the software industry as a whole has a long history of pre-announcing, hyping and promising things it can’t quite deliver, you can see why under- and over-delivery are such sensitive issues.
Adopting a ‘Good Enough’ philosophy is a useful way to confront some of these issues because it forces organizations to focus on what they can realistically achieve. It’s easy to get seduced by the lure of software: it’s much harder to take a deep breath and admit to yourself that while it would be great to implement a full-blown people and payroll management suite, complete with the latest generation of bells and top-of-the-range whistles, some of the more ambitious stuff just isn’t going to happen any time soon. So it if isn’t going to happen, something less snazzy is going to be Good Enough.
In practice, the bigger the project you’re undertaking, the easier it is to make this kind of call. If you’re trying to implement a centralized HR or payroll system across two dozen countries, for example, pragmatism will already be built into your DNA.
Where a Good Enough philosophy gets really interesting, of course, is when you apply it to your business objectives as well as your operational capability. If you’re setting out to build payroll processing capability, for example, are you looking to achieve world-class performance in terms of timeliness, accuracy and customer service – or will industry standard be Good Enough? It’s a big question to ask and a complicated one to answer - but given the cost differential, it’s not something you can afford to skirt round.
Enterprise 2.0 and email
JUN 15, 2008What exactly does the ‘e’ in email stand for? Is it ‘evidence’, as one renowned US attorney argues, pointing to the growing prominence of emails in lawsuits? Or is it ‘exhaustion’, which is what most of us feel about wading through a constant deluge of messages?
Both explanations matter, because the way you deal with corporate email can have a direct impact on your bottom line – and could have a bearing on the way you handle blogs, wikis, social networks and the other paraphernalia of the Enterprise 2.0 world.
If we've been slow to understand the full implications of the way we manage – or rather mismanage – electronic communications, then the legal profession may actually have done us a favor. The growing number of employment and other contractual disputes that feature email evidence demonstrates that comments casually made in an electronic message can be far more incriminating than anything you actually say, largely because the evidence is there in black and white. Just as bad, the process of discovery in litigation, which obliges you to hand over documentation related to a case, can cost you a small fortune if you haven’t set up effective email management procedures to help you track down relevant messages.
The exhaustion factor hasn't yet reached the courts, meanwhile, but it's pretty transparent to anyone employing knowledge workers. Email might be billed as an office productivity tool, but people who deal with hundreds of emails a day know that diving in and out of your inbox disrupts thought patterns, distracts you from completing tasks and has a nasty habit of reprioritizing your workloads, particularly when you feel obliged to respond urgently to your boss or a prime customer. One research firm, Basex, estimates that the US economy loses $650bn in productivity and innovation through “unnecessary interruptions” from emails, texts, instant messages, mobile calls and other digital distractions. Thats why companies such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel and others got together last week to set up a not-for-profit group with a mission to research the impact of information overload and devise ways to help people cope.
As always, there are some basic steps you can take to mitigate the problem. First off, everyone in your organization needs to know that emails (and many instant messages) may constitute a legal record and can often be recovered by tech experts even after you think you’ve deleted them. So it’s important to pause before writing anything disparaging about a colleague or spilling the beans on something that you'd rather the outside world didn't hear about. If you do insist on cheating your customers or plotting a coup to oust a rival colleague, you’re better off doing it verbally.
At a corporate level, you also need a policy that ensures your company stores certain type of emails indefinitely, rather than deleting everything on your servers after a specific time. After all, you should be keeping important records on the basis of their content, not their age.
And from a volume point of view, it’s worth seeing whether you can cut the email deluge by using different ways to communicate. If your senior managers regularly fill up employees' inboxes with their philosophical ramblings, why not get them to set up an internal blog with an RSS feed that alerts employees each time new content is posted? And if your employees tend to get caught up in tediously long email chains, why not shift the discussion onto a wiki, a private website where invited guests can contribute content? That way, they can drop onto the site at a time that suits them, and they’ll find it easier to get their hands on information.
Reluctant as I am to propose throwing a new generation of technologies at the problems created by a previous generation, it does appear that some Web 2.0 tools really do offer a more effective way to collaborate.
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© Webster Buchanan Research 2013