The Communication Divide Continues

 

Effective communication is critically important in any relationship, be it with your significant other, or your business partners.  This is ever so important in the IT Business relationship.  After all, if we want to improve alignment, we need to make sure we understand each other.  Despite all the efforts, the issues continue to present themselves.  A couple of examples from the past few weeks:

In a meeting with IT & operations leaders, a business unit VP was discussing how they needed to better understand the ‘workflow’ and be able to improve it.  He asked IT to help.  Since the organization had Microsoft SharePoint deployed, the IT team went back and looked at the ‘Workflow’ engine in SharePoint.  Unfortunately, the ‘workflow’ he was talking about was the process the people were using to complete their tasks.  Same word, different meanings.

A hospital scheduling organization allowed physician offices to fax orders into the system.  The orders were converted to PDF files using “Fax-o-matic” (name changed).  Indexers then labeled the orders into the email system, and linked it to the order in the scheduling system (I know, a mess, but no $$$ to change).  Hospital leadership would constantly hear of issues with the “Fax-o-matic” system.  When they approached IT, IT would say it was working fine.  To IT, “Fax-o-matic” was the creation of the PDF file from the fax.  To Hospital leadership, “Fax-o-matic” was the entire process from faxing the order to linking it to the scheduling system, as well as finding it as necessary.

Much time and effort could have been saved (as well as some nasty meetings in the case of the second example) if both parties had taken the time to understand exactly what the other was saying,  what it meant to them, and explaining what they were going to do.  If the IT group had said what it was going to look at when the meeting ended, the VP would have realized they were not on the same page.

When communicating, it is not only important that you understand what the other person is saying, but that you are sure they understand what you are saying.

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn Whitfield

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Business Books and Organizational Success

Much has been written lately about how to achieve the secret of business success books.  A recent article in The Boston Globe by Drake Bennett  has renewed much debate about the merits of the secrets these books espouse.  I  have read plenty of these books over the last 20 years as a way to continue my education and try to help myself improve, and often times I have found myself in the same boat of questioning these “experts” as they try to explain the secrets of business success.  I will say that after reading The Halo Effect  by Phil Rosenzweig, it only reinforced my opinions.

I suppose part of my doubts come from my training as an engineer and Black Belt that really cause me to question the approach many of these books take.  The backward looking approach of looking at the results of organizations and then asking the ones who were successful, then writing about it as though it was the only way seems a bit disingenuous to me.

Imagine this scenario: call it “The Coin Flip Challenge.”  Take 100 people and tell them that you will want them to flip a coin in a few days.  After a few days, have them flip the coin 100 times and record the result.  Have them turn in their results.  Anyone who flipped 25 heads in a row is declared successful.  Wait a week or so, then go talk to them about what it was they did to be successful (get 25 heads in a row).  People will talk about how they held the coin on their index finger and flicked their thumb “just so.”   There will probably be one who will say that every time they caught it, they flipped it over on the back of their hand – that’s how they were successful!  So-called coin flipping experts will write about the new secrets of coin flipping.  People will try to duplicate these efforts for years.

Sure this may be a daft example, but it helps make a point.

According to Oliver Compte and Andrew Postlewaite in their article “Confidence Enhanced Performance” published in American Economic Review , “There is also ample evidence that individuals have a distorted recollection of past events and distorted attributions of the causes of success or failure….Successes tend to be attributed to intrinsic aptitudes or effort.”  This casts some doubt on the research methods used by many of these secret to business success books. 
But who’s really at fault here?  Is it the authors and their editors who write these fabulous stories?  Is it the publishers, who, after all, are just trying to sell a book?  Is it the journalists who review the books and recommend?  Or is it the readers themselves?  In reality, it is probably a shared responsibility between all parties.

When the author sat down to research and write the book, did they start with the thought, “I’m going to write a book that finally solves the secret to business success,” or did they start with the thought of, “I’m going to write a book that tells others how these particular companies were successful.”  Tom Peters, in his response to Drake Bennett’s piece, stated, “In Search of Excellence was what it was, and wasn’t what it wasn’t.”

The Publishers are just trying to sell books, and if calling the book the new “bible” for business success sells more books, then more power to them, especially if they can get an “expert” to agree.  Journalists are looking for something to write about, and if a book presents a good story, and if they were looking for that secret to business success book, then they will write positive reviews.  That leads us to the readers.  The readers are thirsty for knowledge and a way to make themselves or their business better.  They are so thirsty, they drink, or should I say gulp it down without thought.  We follow it blindly, like lemmings off a cliff.  And that is a problem. 

In our zest for that one solution, that one secret to success, we fail to stop and think about what the author is presenting.  Instead of thinking about how the concept that is being presented and how it can or cannot be applied in our organization, we want to follow it like a playbook – step by step.  This repeats itself until the next great secret to business success book comes out.  Doing this, do things generally improve? Sometimes.  But, do they take us to that next level of performance?  Typically not.

Am I saying these books are a waste of time?  Absolutely not.  There are many great concepts, ideas, and stories that can be applied to all organizations as they seek to improve and find their own secret to business success.  But, it is important to remember, each of the case studies presented in these books was for a particular organization at a particular time, under a particular set of circumstances (economic, technological, political, etc.) that may or may not still exist.   This brings us to the impact of luck or chance.

How does luck or chance factor into success?  We tend to accept this in sporting events, when a player or team “made a lucky shot,” or “caught a lucky break.”  Even though both teams involved trained rigorously and executed game plans to perfection, one team happened to catch a break that the other didn’t, so they won (success).  Why, then, don’t we accept this in business?   Perhaps we discount the impact of luck, subscribing to the viewpoint “there’s no such thing as luck,” or “you make your own luck.”  Richard Wiseman has done research in this area with the Luck Project.  So maybe we discount luck because, according to Wiseman, we can position ourselves for success by following these four principles: Maximize Chance Opportunities, Listen to Your Lucky Hunches, Expect Good Fortune, and Turn Bad Luck to Good. 

But can we discount chance?  Random events which seemingly occur from nowhere.  I believe that despite all the proper preparation, attempted to foresee every conceivable contingency, there is always the possibility of a chance event disrupting the best laid plans.  When we look back, we always see the signs, and tell ourselves we should have known better (after all, hindsight is 20/20).  What we sometimes forget was would it had been reasonable and rational to act on the discovery of those signs prior to them happening?  Anyone who was “warning” us of the event was probably written off as irrational, or just plain crazy. 

To read more about this, John Hafer and George Gresham’s excellent paper “Luck’s Role in Business Success: Why It’s Too Important To Leave To Chance” offers a great introduction to the relationship between luck and professional success.

To what degree, if any, you believe chance may play in an organization’s success, when reading these books, the important thing to remember is to think for yourself.  Approach these secret to business success books as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base, and take each one, including those that debunk the ‘traditional’ books, with a thoughtful approach.  What concept is the author putting forth?  What’s good about it, what’s bad about it? Can I apply it to my situation?  If I can’t apply it, can I tweak it so that I can apply it? 

It’s a little bit of effort, but well worth it!

Let me know your thoughts.

Glenn Whitfield

Want IT Business Alignment? Change Your Approach and Create a Dependence

 

What’s wrong with your approach to IT Business Alignment is your approach to IT Business Alignment. For over 30 years, organizations have been wrestling with the IT Business Alignment issue, and according to the annual Society of Information Management survey it remains a top issue today. 

Why is this so difficult to get our arms around?  I’ve written previously about how defining IT Business Alignment has been an ongoing issue, and how our organizational structures make it very challenging (here).  We have spent so much time struggling to figure out the right approach that perhaps we have lost our way.

Part of this struggle is due to the definition itself.  ITIL v3 defines Business/IT Alignment as:

An approach to the delivery of IT Services that tries to align the Activities of the IT Service provider with the needs of the Business.

The problem with this definition is it defines Business/IT Alignment as an approach. Other definitions call it an “ongoing process” (Wikipedia).  While there may be a process to achieve it, Business/IT Alignment is not an approach or process, it is an outcome.

It is the outcome of many different approaches and processes which will vary by organization and will involve varying levels of technology.  Defining it as an outcome:

IT Business Alignment is the delivery of IT Services that does align the IT activities to the needs of the business.

Now looking at it as an outcome, how do you know when you’ve achieved it?  Well, it’s just like in the movie Goldfinger, when James Bond is asked, “What do you know about gold 007?”  His response was, “I know it when I see it.”  IT Business Alignment is like this in many ways because there is no “one size fits all” solution; each organization is unique, and alignment will look different in each.  This is what makes it so challenging.  An attempt by Company B to replicate the alignment results at Company A will likely be disappointing, because Company B is different than Company A.

However, to achieve this outcome, there must be some fundamental pieces in place in order to drive the approaches to meet the outcome of IT Business Alignment.  Fundamentally, IT and Business must be dependent on each other for success, and this dependence must be mutually recognized and acted upon.

Creating this dependence starts with creating a relationship and establishing common metrics.  Many will say this already exists in their organization.  Before you do, ask if the actions back it up?  Remember, not only does the dependence need to be recognized, but it must be acted upon.

 One way to act is to take the initiative to engage with the business in helping improve their operation.  This is where taking a process based focus to the operation can provide real benefit.  Using techniques like Business Process Management, or the one we’ve developed like the IT2x FrameworkSM, can help IT and Business create the necessary dependence and become aligned.

Once aligned, continue to move IT and the business closer.  Whether you call this Synchronization, Convergence, or Fusion, doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the continuous process of moving toward these goals. 

Change your approach to IT Business Alignment.  Stop treating it as an approach, and start looking at it as an outcome.  Then act toward achieving this outcome, by creating a dependence on each other through relationships, common metrics, and a process centric approach to improving operations. 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn Whitfield

 

 

 

 

When thinking isn’t an option – tell a story

 

The presentation to fellow senior leaders was filled with colorful charts, graphs, facts and figures.  The presenter went through these facts in painstaking detail to make sure that everyone understood the numbers and would be able to analyze the data in a methodical way.  To lighten things up, a few jokes were interjected along the way during the hour long presentation.  At the end, the presented asked if there were any questions.  Silence.

 Such is life in the world today.  We are presented with countless facts and figures about an issue that, after a while, all seem to mesh together as they are placed in front of us.  Why is this?  It is surely not because the people in the room are not intelligent; most have advanced degrees from some of the best regarded universities in the world.  Why then do people – smart people – ‘glaze’ over when sitting in presentations like this?

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, probably because it has been occurring so subtly, but somewhere along the way, we have lost our desire to think critically.  Perhaps it has happened as the management pundits and psychologists have told us to be more focused on the “soft skills” in management and education, teaching us (implicitly or explicitly) to stop “thinking” and start “feeling”.  Or is it that today we are presented with more data than ever before that we just don’t want to think?

I don’t believe that we’ve lost our ability to think, it’s that we’ve lost our desire to think.  Thinking about an issue, and formulating your own opinion about it is hard, and takes time & effort.  You may need to gather more information, talk to more people, think even harder before you reach a conclusion that is yours and you are satisfied with.  Not easy.  And not done very often.

For many people whose world revolves around numbers and logic (engineers, programmers, accountants, scientists, etc.), who believe thinking about an issue and reaching your own conclusions is critical to truly understanding the issue, this is extremely frustrating.  We see the issue, we get the problem, we understand how to solve it, why don’t they?  Well, perhaps it not that they don’t understand the issue, but that they can’t relate to the issue.  So how do you get your point across when people don’t want to think?

Just tell a story.  For thousands of years, human beings have learned many life lessons from stories or fables (remember Aesop’s Fables).  So why not use them to get your point across?  In just a few paragraphs, you can tell someone about a problem (the issue), provide a plausible explanation (impact of the issue), and teach a lesson (the solution to the issue).  Nice and neat, and everyone is satisfied. By using the facts and information you have and molding it into a story that the audience can relate to, you will have their attention, and you can make your point effectively.  Yes, you will have to really think about how to put your facts into a story your audience can relate to, but remember, you want to make sure that your issue is clearly understood.

As much as we may want to get people to think more, when it’s clear your audience is not up for it, telling a story is a very effective way to get your point across and get what you want.  Remember, we all like a good story.

 

Glenn Whitfield