Fall 2000

 

Visit some of Jones’ favorite sites

Visit the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC)

Harvard Business School Portal for the Business Community: HBS Working Knowledge

Fast Company Magazine

Business 2.0 Magazine

Digital Trends Magazine

 

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Throughout my professional career, working in IT infrastructure departments, I’ve been exposed to many projects designed to increase productivity. In both publicly and privately held corporations, I had the opportunity to work on assignments that provided new and massive changes in technology, radically affecting productivity. Whether working in training, knowledge management, technical support, or process design, focus shifted regularly. There was shifts to word processing, elearning, and customer relationship management (CRM)... I could go on. The needs were different each week but the goal the same. Become more productive! Through these experiences, I learned that the technology does not improve the individual or department. Rather the marriage of the device to the technique creates productivity.

During a conversation with a senior level human resources (HR) executive about elearning, we discussed the core issues: technology and productivity. This should be no surprise since many consider technology a conduit of productivity¾THE medium to improve the way we operate and do business, the vehicle of efficiency. This is why (in many cases) we upgrade technology. However, something isn't right with this assumption.

Technology is a tool. Productivity does not come from having more tools. It comes from knowing how to manipulate a tool to produce results. Involved in designing knowledge, training, and implementing technology, I realized that I needed to identify what productivity means to the organization or department prior to rolling out a technical solution. When the tool is designed to facilitate learning or knowledge, defining what productivity means becomes even trickier, but the base concern remains true.

This article is my way of thanking those who helped me learn how to identify the means of translating technology into productivity vehicles, educated me on identifying accurate solutions, and lent a helping hand in validating the results. This article may also be a way for you to identify solutions and implement learning in your own organization.

Translating the Language: Technology to Productivity

Between 1996 and 1998, while working for an international organization, I was placed on an IT infrastructure project team responsible for the global implementation of a new email system and a complete upgrade of computer desktop technology for over 20,000 employees across several business units. This was change in action!

We were about to significantly alter two major mediums of communication and work practices for a group equivalent to the size of a small country. This was a big event and to top that, the business wanted little, if any, down time. It was like rebuilding a house without disturbing or interrupting the occupants.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you have productive employees working a task or job. You change a key variable in their environment and productivity goes out the window. Whether the change is technical (new software) or procedural (new departmental guidelines), the dilemma is how to get them back to being productive and hopefully increase productivity. If you don’t give employees a way to create pro-active change, change will probably take too long.

Reflecting on my discussion with the previously mentioned HR executive, I remember him saying, “Beth, don’t tell me you are giving me a new tool and then show me how to do my job the same way. You should be giving me a new tool and then showing me how to use it to do my job more productively!”

He saw the value of productivity over technology. He also saw that IT departments usually turn to automation as the way to increase efficiency without taking into account how people work and absorb change. The implementation of technology must consider employees’ needs. It takes more than training to make the technology work. The following steps will help you design an effective program.

Step 1: Identifying Productivity

According to the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC),The factors that influence productivity are both human and organizational.” Before an organization implements technological changes, they must define what productivity means for each department and how that translates into support of the technology being launched.

Before I assumed the responsibility of developing a system to train all technical support staff, we had to determine two things, (1) what information they needed to become productive, and (2) the best medium in which to deliver the information. We had to analyze each job and function, understand the informal learning communities, and research industry best practice around the delivery of information to support centers. By the time we were ready to implement the technology, we knew exactly what type of impact the change would have. This enabled us to proactively communicate the change to senior management and deliver training for the exact need. Pro-active Change means the development of an implementation schedule that includes: analysis of the department being affected, the effect of change on the department, and marcomm (marketing and communication) or training strategies that address the upcoming transformation.

In this approach, you work with each department of an organization defining productivity for that team or persons. At the core, being productive is not the same for everyone or for every department. Be flexible enough to adjust your marcomm or training materials to address various needs.

Before you begin, identify what productivity looks like for each department.

1. Begin with the function and job. If you understand how a person operates in the function, you will have a clearer vision of how the person will need to master the new tool or technology in order to remain productive.

2. Compare the technology’s features and benefits to the needs of the department. For example, in launching a new spreadsheet application, your engineering department will have different demands of the application than will the administrative teams or the finance teams. Know how those differences translate into diverse implementation and training needs.

3. Be prepared to break from the typical training content. It amazes me, when I review training content provided in software rollouts, that the focus of the material centers more on the features of the application than on helping a person become efficient with the tool. Efficiency comes by mastering the features, not from just being aware of them. If the training does not meet your organization’s needs, change it. You will create a more thankful and efficient organization.

Step 2: Implementing Custom Solutions

Once you complete the background work, partner with the marcomm manager and training manager to ensure that all objectives map to your identified states of productivity. If you don’t accurately map objectives, you run the risk of launching the technology (maybe successfully on the technical platform) with users unable to work.

When we launched new computer desktops in 1998, we made short cuts in the delivery of training content to save time. In the end, however, the employees were not productive, and we didn’t achieve as much cost savings as originally forecast because calls to the support center skyrocketed. We should have done our homework, better calculated the impact of change on employees, and then embedded that information into transitional training.

When launching a technical solution linked to improving company efficiency, never define all your success metrics in terms of an IT focus. It is good to track the number of desktops deployed and the implementation schedule, but what you should measure is the number of hours people were down or could not work after the technology was implemented. Gather the metrics from your support center and run root cause analysis. If your users are down due to the technology not working, that is one factor. However, if your users can’t work because they do not understand the technology, the rollout was unsuccessful. It inhibited productivity.

In most technology projects (where technical implementation disrupts work life), employees are often the last to be considered. No one truly addresses training, poor communication, or the core needs of the employees’ work environment. Technology teams push through the change and wonder why the user screams in pain. Without intervention, people’s needs are lost; down time is inevitably long and true cost savings are not really achieved.

If you are responsible for implementing technology (or any other program) that has the potential of being linked to productivity, define success by the user’s ability to remain efficiently working.

Step 3: Being Productive Validates Your Technology

Validate your custom solutions by clearly defining metrics:

Track how users manage the new tool (for example, capture "How To" calls at your support center).

Look at how users effectively integrate the tool into their work environment (such as, "I used to do this and now I can't" type help calls).

Record how users command the technology without long periods of down time (for instance, "I can' t work" issues that come into your support center).

In early 1999, when we created a new on-line learning interface for our support environment, I designed several productivity checkpoints in the program. Aligning the solution to business objectives inevitably validated whether or not we were achieving return on investment (ROI). Additional metrics included client polls and user focus groups to ensure that the change allowed employees to remain productive or increased productivity. In any project, additional metrics or methods of measuring users’ pulse of the implementation provide this information. Running surveys and focus groups during and after the introduction of a new tool may be the best way to adjust your implementation method, ensuring your users remain productive.

Demand for productivity in the New Economy will not be any different than in years past; what will be different is how quickly we assess whether the tools provide efficiency. As technology providers, we have to take this to heart. Users do not have the time to toil over mastering a tool to gain competitive edge. Therefore, when you launch a project, please don’t fall into the same traps I’ve visited. Put your people first. Look at how they work and never take your eye off them. If they can’t keep working, something is wrong. It’s your job to help make it right.

Beth-Anne Jones has worked for Sara Lee Corporation/L’eggs Division, Lipton, Unilever Home and Personal Care-NA, and is currently providing knowledge and process design to Information Services International, a division of Mars Inc. She recently helped establish a think-tank dedicated to identifying and implementing knowledge and training solutions that increase productivity. You can reach her at Hbajones1@aol.com

 

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