August 2014

Avoid Organisational Information Hoarding

A stack of foldersIn small enterprises, job roles can be very blurry. Since there are few people working for the company, the boundary of each job role tends to flex in order to meet demand.  Over time, and as organisations grow, it is likely that this will change and each individual’s role will become more tightly defined.  How tightly defined each role becomes depends on a number of factors including structure, culture and leadership style. However, in midsize and larger companies it’s likely that there will be less flex in each role, with each individual having a clearly defined role.

 

Clearer role boundaries certainly have significant advantages, yet over time a hidden problem can emerge.  Sometimes individuals in organisations start to ‘hoard’ information, knowledge and data that is relevant for their specific role.  Perhaps they are the only person in the organisation who has access to the data that is needed to create a particular sales report.  Or perhaps they are the only worker who knows how to operate a certain system or process.  There are various reasons why an individual might hoard information in this way – for some it might be completely unintentional.  In some cases it might be down to circumstance, with not enough staff available to support them.  However, in other cases an individual might subscribe to the view that ‘knowledge is power’, and therefore continue to intentionally find ways of absorbing more and more data, information and knowledge.

 

When silos of this type emerge, for whatever reason, there are real organisational risks attached.  However efficient and effective a particular individual within an organisation is, it is incredibly problematic when they are the only person able to execute a particular process or tap into a particular data source.  This creates a key-person dependency and a potential bottleneck. If that person goes on an extended vacation, for example, the organisation may suffer as a result.

Interview: Change Alchemy, Changing Mindsets & Organisational Diseases with with John Hackett

John Hackett of Franklin-Hackett (Organisational Change Alchemists)In today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with John Hackett of Franklin-Hackett. I first met John at a business analysis conference a year or so ago, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing about his innovative approaches and reading his blog.  I recently caught up with John for a ‘virtual’ chat, and John shared some really interesting insight:


 

So, John, you engage in a rather intriguing discipline that you describe as “Organisational Change Alchemy”.   Can you tell us a bit more about what this involves?

 

Well firstly, thanks for inviting me to contribute to your fantastic blog, Adrian!

 

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to talk about how change in organisations has been carried out historically.

 

Organisations tend to think of change in a very structured way, which means they usually try to implement it in the form of a time-limited, specific and managed approach. Hence why we have “change projects”. It’s an attempt to implement change in a controlled way.

 

This situation exists because the dominant mindset within organisations states that change is a short term phenomenon that has to be planned and structured in order to avoid disruption and reduce “risk”. It treats change as something that comes in, does stuff and then goes away again.

 

So traditional change methodologies accommodate this mindset by being heavily structured and focusing purely on specific areas such as business processes or purely on IT.

 

The problem is that in reality, change is actually a constant and emergent phenomenon. It is also complex, in that there are multiple elements that work together to create a situation, all of which have to be considered when implementing change. The structured approach of traditional change interventions is at odds with the emergent nature of change. The tendency towards a narrow focus when implementing change means that many traditional change interventions fail to address all elements and result in poorly embedded outcomes.

Worker struggling to hold a number of folders

The worrying truth: The business world runs on spreadsheets

Worker struggling to hold a number of foldersI recently came across an interesting discussion on LinkedIn that highlighted the dangers of relying on spreadsheets.  The discussion made reference to an article on Fortune.com, which showed how a range of large and powerful organisations allegedly made significant analytical errors. These errors allegedly included the way they valued acquisitions and calculated risk, amongst other things.  One common cause that the article cites is simple: The organisations relied on spreadsheets for complex analytical calculations and data manipulation, and once errors had permeated into the spreadsheets, they went unnoticed until disaster struck.

 

The article reminded me of how many times I’ve seen and heard of spreadsheets being used in extremely important situations.  It never ceases to amaze me how many midsize and even multinational organisations use spreadsheets for very complex tasks, and I guess that everyone reading this will have seen at least one example where a spreadsheet is being used where a different tool would be better.  I remember once being told about a team relying on an extremely complex spreadsheet (with macros) that had been built by someone who had subsequently left, and nobody had any idea how the spreadsheet worked.  If the spreadsheet were ever to break, they would be in a very difficult situation indeed.

 

Of course, spreadsheets have their uses.  A spreadsheet’s beauty is in its flexibility, but there also lies a pitfall. It’s very easy to just start ‘building’.  If this pattern continues, then before long you are left with a plethora of separate spreadsheets maintained by disparate teams.  It can soon become someone’s full-time job to copy and paste data between the various sheets and interpret the results.  And with a veritable mixture of manual intervention and manipulation of data, there’s a real danger of errors creeping in, just as the case study above Illustrates.  These risks and these hidden costs can grow and can cause real organisational pain.  This growth in unofficial and unacknowledged spreadsheet-based applications often happens entirely under the radar, meaning that nobody really knows what it costs the organisation.

 

There has to be a better way