Bob Dylan and What’s Wrong with IT Today – Busy Being Born: Self-Assessment – Part II

The first article reviewed the self-assessment in an organization-wide viewpoint and evaluate the key components in the company IT is part of. The approach on this one is going to be more of an internal retrospective about the IT understanding, affecting our biggest assets and partners: Users.

While during the first assessment, we could take an opinion of what we perceive from the organization with the chance of not being part of certain characteristics, in this case it’s going to be mainly about how well IT has been doing their due diligence to provide effectiveness in the execution. There’s no success in service delivery if you don’t understand your users.

Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it’s not poison
Bob Dylan – Tombstone Blues (1965)

 

Let’s take a closer look about this IT self-assessment around users understanding with some simple questions.

2. Users Understanding Self-Assessment

2.1 Does your company have definitions around Personas and User Journeys?

  • No one in the company can define what’s the purpose around Personas and/or user journeys.
  • There are user profile definitions in some of our tools but mainly to define their company role and responsibilities.
  • The user profiles definitions are inconsistent among different departments and tools available.

  • There are personas definitions in technology but only to define what type of device the user receives.
  • HR conducts user surveys to understand more about user preferences, behaviors, etc. but no clear action items come out of it.
  • There was a personas definition completed in the past, but there were no implementations, processes in place or updates about these definitions.

  • There is a consistent personas definition and user journeys across different areas, including IT, HR, security, etc. which serve to provide personalized experiences.
  • The personas and user journeys definitions consider technology components, HR and overall user sentiment / user experience.
  • There are tools in place to automatically measure the end user experience and personas adoption, which can be used to update definitions.

I’m going to dedicate an entire article to talk around personas and user journeys, so we’ll go over these themes in high level for now. Personas is a topic that is well-known in several organizations, but not very consistently. In some cases, they use that term just to define a VDI profile or an attribute to what type of device you’ll get. User journeys are not that common just yet, since it has been associated with an HR function for climate surveys in a company or how developers perceive the user interaction with their UX.

Personas is a critical aspect in any organization, a solid persona definition should include the technical side (computing and digital requirements; alignment with IT services; collaboration and productivity tools required; etc.) as well as the human side (user sentiment and user experience, which can include current issues, challenges, etc.). With the human side feeding input into the technology definitions, critical aspect to gain true technology enablement.

User/Employees journeys represents a timeline showing the details of how the user feels, managing different interactions and performing their normal activities. Understanding this allows you to perceive several important factors that shape the overall impression and perspective employees have. Valuing their motivations and challenges will help you to create an engaging and better user experience.

Example of a user journey definition in a sales rep persona

If your company is looking to improve end-user experience, provide truly personalized experiences in the workplace and enrich the overall IT perception, personas and user journeys are decisive topics. If all the action items to keep employees happy have been just buying new laptops and smartphones without these definitions, you should stop right now and re-assess your strategy.

 

2.2 Do people collaborate easily across the organization? Do they feel encouraged to share talent and ideas?

  • Organization is divided by clear siloes, collaboration is minimum.
  • Allocating time and effort to collaborate with other areas is very challenging since the company does not encourage this behavior.
  • Little is known between different departments activities and planning to understand when collaboration will be valuable.

  • Collaboration is based on situation basis, only when is required.
  • Collaboration is accomplished mainly because of personal relationships.
  • Managers might encourage collaboration if other departments have required skills.

  • Corporate goals and objectives determine the collaboration channels.
  • Cross-functional teams are rewarded for driving business value.
  • Projects require documenting delivery methods for future teams to reference.

It is very challenging to measure collaboration and therefore also encouraging it if it’s not developed organically, this usually relates to more into a cultural aspect in organizations. You cannot force collaboration, that’s just a fact. We, as technology enablers, need to ensure that the proper tools and technology are in place for a natural integration.

There are some important aspects an organization needs to have for collaboration to occur naturally, one being as mentioned in my previous article about inclusion and diversity. You will have a hard time having people working and expanding in a healthy manner if the company is having challenges on these areas.

Before setting this topic aside and blame it on cultural aspects of the company, it is our responsibility in IT to understand users’ challenges, limitations and needs that go beyond what an organizational role is telling us. Enter personas and user journeys. Do the research and the assessments so your IT area can act as a true facilitator and enabler.

There are several platforms available in the enterprise that are indeed technology enablers for collaboration, having these in place will make easier to solve some of the cultural problems. The two that seem are going to be the leaders enterprise-wide are Slack and Microsoft Teams. They have similar components and functionalities (Teams being newer in the market), same as several other tools available. No matter the platform you decide on, the main modules present that you should look for are:

  • Channels: Single place for teams to share messages, tools and files. One of the main aspects is that are organized by threads, to maintain an organized view about these conversations. Usually structured by teams or projects within an organization. Channels can be public or private.
  • Messaging and conferencing: Features to allow 1:1 or 1:N instant messaging, audio and/or video conferencing within the app.
  • Content management and collaboration: Centralized repository to share files and content between users. Besides sharing them within channels and messages, versioning is key feature required for content in these platforms.
  • 3rd party integration: Having a solution that is locked to only use features offered by the tool itself should be the first sign of a platform you shouldn’t be using. Most of the solid platforms today have thousands of integrations possible with 3rd parties to encourage collaboration, for example: Dropbox, Box, Office 365, G Suite, Azure, AWS, Zoom, WebEx, etc.
  • Mobile availability: Do we even need to say this is a requirement? If the platform is no mobile friendly, it should be discarded right away.
  • Other features to consider (some of these are available with 3rd party integrations): Wikis; polls creation and management; high quality video generation and streaming; creating and using bots (AI and automation key aspects); project management features; etc.

2.3 Are there clear content management policies, processes and tools in place?

  • There are no formal policies, processes or tools. Each person / group handles it differently.
  • Because of lack of policies, shadow IT is common. Areas or projects use preferred platforms to manage content and/or sharing.
  • The content management is highly restricted and very limited possibilities available.

  • There are guidelines for content management with some tools in place.
  • Content sharing is possible inside and outside the organization with some limitations provided within the tools.
  • Guidelines in place, but the governance process is inexistent.

  • Clear processes and tools defined for content management and collaboration. Users can access these policies easily as well as getting the tools they need.
  • Flexible model in place to support content and collaboration with other companies and different platforms if needed.
  • There are AI and automation processes that provide analytics around content identification to optimize collaboration and end-user experience.

Content management tends to be chaotic in most organizations. You need to be flexible by providing different tools and ways for people to manage content and collaborate; and at the same time you need a balance to maintain simplicity, governance and a compliant environment.

A content services strategy will be required, assessing your current environment and the content use cases associated to business requirements. Do your research and follow the successes obtained in the past or current about tools and/or processes around content to build your strategy, you would want to build something that the users can feel relatable.

For example, if a considerable group (doesn’t have to be big, but representative and/or able to influence on others) has a good experience with certain platform for content (i.e. OneDrive, Box, SharePoint, etc.) and the platform suits the requirements you have based on the research, start enabling these functionalities in a planned manner.

Consider about the company’s culture to make the adoption simpler, aligning as well with IT and the business strategy. Market the tools in a proper way, generate buzz, build campaigns, interact with other departments to make sure you can be successful in this deployment. After all, we must remember in IT you are always building and maintaining a brand.  

If you are offering new technology and better ways to collaborate, don’t be afraid to challenge some content management practices.

2.4 Do employees feel encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions?

  • Organization culture is adverse on providing feedback.
  • Employees only provide feedback about improvements to their managers in annual reviews, and most of the suggestions never go anywhere else.
  • People take credit for another people’s work.

  • The company has a process and website for submitting ideas
  • C-level executives are talking about driving enterprise-wide behaviors.
  • New ideas are mainly around implementing new technologies.

  • Structures, channels, tools and processes are in place to support feedback and suggestions.
  • Processes to provide and obtain feedback are done timely and in an effective manner.
  • Leadership recognizes that technology is a key innovation enabler and empowers IT to pursue initiatives to that end.

Providing and receiving meaningful feedback and suggestions is a powerful asset in most organizations. “Meaningful” being the keyword, which it’s not only tied to the employee providing constructive suggestions, but also in the way a leader or areas are requesting this feedback.

We need to avoid consider these as bureaucratic processes. If you are providing annual climate surveys with endless and non-engaging questions, and you are complaining that employees are not using properly that chance to be constructive, then you probably need to revisit your strategy.

Obtaining suggestions and feedback should also not be an exclusive HR activity, within IT there are several ways we are engaging people, we should be able to get their opinion in an effective manner to improve our work and services.

This is also another great chance to shape your culture in a positive way, having these channels in place are going to encourage people to communicate and work together. What’s the collaboration you can expect if the company prefers only for employees to provide feedback to their manager once a year?

Some of the aspects that you should take into consideration when you are designing the feedback and suggestions processes:

  • Timing is everything. Obtaining feedback at the right time for IT is crucial, getting it closer to a significant event (for example, new collaboration tool deployed) will make the responders have the feedback fresh in their minds.
    There are several platforms built for this purpose, like Nexthink, which among other things can bring a non-intrusive feedback integration that can trigger simple questions after an event.

New web portal deployed, question asked, and the popup disappears after that

 

  • Easy access. Providing feedback should be simple and fast, like the platform mentioned above. If the user needs to struggle to find a link somewhere, no one will feel encouraged to provide feedback proactively. The same happens if your feedback and suggestions process is just a mailbox waiting for emails, don’t expect any eloquent interactions.
  • Encourage direct feedback but respect anonymous preferences. Direct feedback requires an evolution of culture for most companies, not as simple to implement and have good results. Starting this habit in people, developing a positive process for providing direct feedback will provide transparency and encourage constructive opinions.
    If people feel that anonymous feedback is the only possibility, while you need to respect that, it could be a sign that there are some issues in the company’s culture.
  • Good feedback and suggestions practices start from the top. Managers and leaders need to have a good habit of providing feedback, which in this case needs to be direct.
  • Link suggestions to action items, results and compensation. Any culture change you may try to introduce can be disregarded easily if the people can’t perceive that the feedback they are providing cannot be linked to direct results.

2.5 Does IT attract and retain good talent when needed?

  • There have been 3 or more CIOs in the past 5 years.
  • Constant organizational changes in IT, considerable IT attrition.
  • The company is not considered an attractive employer.

  • IT and business planning have revealed the need for new skills.
  • Budget available for increasing IT staff when necessary.

  • Digital initiatives required to hire and promote technology delivery roles.
  • Company rewards new ideas and promotes people who constantly deliver.
  • Company receives applications for young and a recently graduated workforce, as well as consolidated talent in the industry.

Retention is a very consistent challenge most companies have, and in IT that is highly noticeable. A recent study by LinkedIn indicated that technology companies have the highest rate of turnover: 13.2%.

There are several aspects to name regarding this attrition trend in IT, an interesting analysis can be found in this LinkedIn report about the reasons people leaving their jobs. The #1 motive being lack of advancement opportunities, followed by: unsatisfied of senior management; unsatisfied with company culture; seeking more challenging work; compensation; and lack of recognition.

The strategy recommendations to reduce turnover are many, but I’m going to focus briefly on attracting talent and how technology is a key aspect in this pursue. The reason for that is simple: Gen Z employees (born between 1995 and 2015) represents 74 million people in the US right now. Of course, not all are old enough to be employees in a company, but they are going to be ones shaping business requirements, culture and user needs for the years to come.

Here are some important facts about the Gen Z to consider and how it relates to technology:

  • 80% want to work with cutting edge technology and more than one-third are interested in IT careers.
  • 91% say that technology offered by an employer would be a factor in choosing among similar job offers.
  • 80% believe technology and automation will create a more equitable work environment.

If you were wondering about Millennials / Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1994), one key statistic to consider is that 44% of this population think their workspace isn’t smart enough and 42% state that would quit a job with poor technology.

Technology industry trends generate an impact on people, same as in IT. Outdated technologies do not appeal to young talent, this is one of the biggest factors these workers would define and share with peers that a company is not attractive.

2.6 What is employees’ perception regarding the workplace environment?

  • The company maintains an old design and layout for the offices, without considering any budget on improving the workplace
  • Layout is focusing on cubicles and closed offices, interaction is minimum.

Did you know that the cubicle was designed in a way to mitigate the efficiencies inserted within the Taylorism?

Frederick Winslow Taylor designed (from a scientific paper in 1917) a series of desks rows to optimize space and workflow. In 1930s workers complained about this layout reduced them into numbers and the workplace seemed more suited for machinery than people. The labor laws those days were not very beneficial to the normal employee.

Workers went to strike asking for pensions, increased salaries and a better treatment in general by companies. Demands to companies arise to treat workers with care about their psychology and not as machines.

Some of the changes introduced in the following years were new designs in the office layouts, which included the cubicle in the 60s as way to squeeze more people into less space for as little money as possible by giving them a “personal space”, which at the end of the day encouraged isolation and little communication. Eventually being contradictory for the original request of a more humane treatment.

  • Company is investing money on decorating interiors and exteriors
  • Cubicle layout is being reduced for more open spaces

  • Company has a defined and modern aesthetic in the workplace
  • The workplace is designed with the work habits in mind. Open spaces approach and plenty of meeting rooms
  • Company offers recreation and fitness facilities

There are different aspects to consider about a good workplace environment regarding facilities. One of the big problems for how most companies manages this aspect: The total cost of occupancy is typically the second largest expense, with the caveat of the actual utilization rates being 50% or less.

With the cubicle style there’s also the emotional aspect of employees that don’t perceive collaboration is encouraged, therefore they also don’t feel valued. People connections are low, same as pride and desirability to work in the physical workspace.

The open space approach is the common layout for companies looking to transform. Which should not be considered as an “open office” itself, since worker segmentation is required and a variety of different types of spaces. Technology, again, needs to be an enabler for these types of facilities.

Within IT we must not be outsiders in this conversation. We are enablers and facilitators, we -should- understand user needs, motivations, challenges and collaboration requirements. If your IT area has no saying on the facilities discussions, speak up; demonstrate the valuable information from personas and user journeys and how the workplace should adapt.

Regarding facilities and common best practices, are aligned with WELL initiatives and certification. Here are some of the key characteristics needed for workplace from this perspective:

  • Town hall: Public common space. Food and large screen projection.
  • Neighborhood: Group areas for similar work. Monitors, docking stations and mobile devices available.
  • Workbench: Similar than meeting rooms, temporary workspaces for collaborative work. Whiteboards included.
  • Learning lab: Areas for education and knowledge sharing. Usually with workstations.
  • Library: Communal spaces for ad-hoc work requiring solitude. Quite area.
  • Alcove: Individual spaces for work or relaxation.
  • Wellness room: Multipurpose area for recreation and/or fitness.

The third article for the self-assessment guide will also be related about IT’s involvement on understanding the business and other areas in the company. Integrating with the business and leadership are key aspects for every IT leader, this is also something that several of us struggle with.

We’ll discuss about operational planning and how reactive IT has truly become, acting as a detriment on making IT a business key stakeholder.

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