9 Jan 2010

Corporate Information: Process vs. Performance

The other day at my usual watering-hole, I overheard a group of obviously senior executives attribute (quite vociferously) the dismal performance of their organisation to the lack of motivation and initiative among subordinates. An all-too-familiar litany of woes followed. And I ordered another beer just to hear how they'd tackle it.

After as much deliberation as possible over one beer, they arrived at the conclusion that one of the thing that was wrong was the apparently free flow of confidential information within the organisation - which on occasions even helped wrong-doers evade detection! (Irony, meawhile was enjoying a second beer!)

The solution that presented itself was a series of processes to firstly arrest the flow of information. And secondly use that cover to strike out at errant behaviour. And it should start, they decided, right at the bottom. Not of the problem - but of the company!

I finished the beer and left.

They had a problem. Sure. But I wasn't so sure if they had a solution. To be sure, neither did I. But I did have another line-of-thought...

Earlier that evening an old acquaintance appraised me about the unfortunate goings-on at one of the most respected Advertising offices in India. Apparently, new HR processes brought in by the Management had rubbed the oldest members (and hitherto virtually family members) the wrong way. Why? Evidently, there was a lack of information on how the new processes would help the organisation - or impact employees. The effect was a drop in motivation and morale. A formidable, tightly-knit unit had begun to reveal treacherous chinks.

So here are two instances where - in one case, the abundance of unselective information was a problem; and in another, the lack of selective information caused much the same. So what does one do with information in an organisation?

Or perhaps the right question would be: HOW DOES ONE USE INFORMATION TO MOTIVATE?

Let's looks at the 'information' in the first instance. Confidential information. It has one source: The top end of the organisational heirarchy. And its casual availability points to one cause: Unaccountability. Transmitted down-the-line, it breeds inefficiency, dishonesty, hearsay and lethargy. Everyone knows exactly how much tardiness they can get away with. Welcome to The Comfort Zone (a.k.a The Rut).

In this condition, even the slightest spark of initiative is smothered as a threat to the Status Quo!

In the second instance, the 'information' that was lacking was a shared or common goal. The new HR processes unexpectedly cleaved a chasm between the decision-makers and people who (perhaps, rightly) considered themselves part of the decision-making apparatus until that very moment... It was a rude awakening to the status of an (expendable) 'human resource'!

When times are difficult, businesses would do well to demand more accountabilty up-the-line (because that's where it's supposed to originate); and promote more 'shared goals' and initiative down-the-line (because that's where it's most needed).

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