Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Tiger Teams – A Potential Solution to VA Issues: An Open Letter to Secretary Wilkie

I-CareTo the Honorable Secretary Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

For almost a decade, I have read and studied the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from the position of patient, employee, concerned citizen, and now as an organizational psychologist.  During this time, I have read many Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigation reports, and yearned to be of fundamental assistance in improving the VA.  I have an idea with potential for your consideration, “Tiger Teams.”

In the US Navy, we used “Tiger Teams” as “flying squads” of people, dedicated to a specific task, and able to complete work quickly.  The teams included parts people, technicians, specialists, and carried the authority of competence and dedication to quickly fixing whatever had gone wrong during an evolution, an inspection, or even in regular operation.  It is my belief that if your office employed a “Tiger Team” approach for speedy response, your job in fixing core problems the VA is experiencing would be easier.  Please allow me to explain.

Tiger TeamThe VA-OIG recently released a report regarding deficiencies in nursing care and management in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Coatesville VA Medical Center, Pennsylvania.  The inspection team validated some complaints and were unable to validate all complaints because of poor complainant documentation.  Having a Tiger Team able to dispatch from your office, carrying your authority, would provide expert guidance in rectifying the situation, monitoring the CLC, and updating you with knowledge needed to answer the legislator’s questions regarding what is happening.  The VA-OIG found other issues in their investigation that were not covered under the scope of the investigation, leaving the VA-OIG in a difficult position.  Hence, another reason for a Tiger Team being created, to back stop and support the VA-OIG in correcting issues found outside their investigatory scope.

Fishbone DiagramFor a decade now, I have been reading how the VA-OIG makes recommendations, but where is the follow-up from the VA-OIG to determine if those recommendations are being followed and applied?  Too often there is no return and report feature built into the VA-OIG investigation, as these investigators just do not have the time.  Again, this is what a Tiger Team can be doing.  Taking action, training leaders, building a better VA, monitoring and reporting, building holistic solutions, and being an extension of your office on the front lines.  Essentially using the tools from your office to improve the operations locally, which builds trust between the patients and the care providers, building trust between the families and the VA, and delivering upon the Congressional mandate and VA Mission.

Another recent VA-OIG report also supports the need for a fast response Tiger Team.  Coordination of care and employee satisfaction concerns at the Community Living Center (CLC), Loch Raven VA Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In geographic terms, this incident is in your backyard.  While the VA-OIG inspection was rather inconclusive, and recommendations were made, it appears some things are working in this CLC and other things are not working as well as they should.  By using a Tiger Team as a flying squad, intermittent and unannounced inspections by the Tiger Team can aid in discovering more than the VA-OIG could investigate, monitoring the situation, and reporting on progress made in improving performance.

As an employee, too often the director of HAS would claim, “That problem is too hard to fix because it requires too many people to come together and agree on the solution.”  Or, “The solution is feasible, but not worth the effort to implement because it would require coordination.”  Getting the doctors and nurses talking to and working with administration is a leadership role, providing support to leaders is one of the best tools a Tiger Team possesses one authority is delegated.  The Tiger Team presents the data, presents different potential solutions, and the aids the leadership locally in implementation.  As an employee I never found a problem in the VA that could not be resolved with a little attention, getting people to work together, and opening lines of communication.  Thus, I know the VA can be fixed.

Root Cause AnalysisThe Tiger Teams need to be led by an organizational psychologist possessing a Ph.D. and a personal stake in seeing the VA improve.  The organizational psychologist can build a team of like-minded people to be on the flying squad, and these team members should be subject matter experts in VA policies, procedures, and methods of operation, and should change from time to time.  I have met many people from the VA who not only possess the passion, but are endowed with the knowledge of how to help the VA, and I would see the VA succeed.  Yet, I am concerned that the VA is not changing, not growing, and not developing the processes and procedures needed to survive, and this is damaging the VA, which leads to wasted money and dead veterans.

Why not have a flying squad for each VISN, who can meet to benchmark, compare notes, and best practices.  Who work from home and visit the local offices in the VISN, reporting directly to your office with a copy to the VISN leadership.  Whose job is to build the Tiger teams needed to oversee, provide expert support, and practical analysis.  The idea is to help you gather real time data, improve implementation of VA-OIG recommendations, and meet the demands of Congress.  If a Tiger Team, with the functioning Flying Squad, can save one VA-OIG inspection in each VISN, by improving that VISN, medical center, CLC, etc. before it becomes a major problem on the sSix O’clock News, then the Tiger Teams have paid for themselves.

All veterans know of the Phoenix VA Medical Center debacle, where veterans died while waiting for appointments.  I fully believe that had the VA Secretary had a Tiger Team in place, the root causes of that incident would have triggered the necessary flags to save lives and avoid or mitigate the catastrophe.  Flying squads are the Tiger Team in action, and action should be the keyword for every member of the team.  The mission of the Tiger Team should be to find and fix root causes, repair trust, and implement change needed to improve VA operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemeteries.

The VBA is especially vulnerable, and in need of outside resources to support change.  Recently the VBA was involved in another scandal involving improper processing of claims for veterans in hospital over 21-days, resulting in millions of dollars either overpaid or underpaid to the veterans.  Training, managerial oversight, and proper performance of tasks was reportedly the excuse the VBA used, again, to shirk responsibility.  Tiger Teams can provide the support needed to monitor for, and encourage the adoption of, rectifying measures and VA-OIG recommendations, not just at the VBA, but across the full VA spectrum of operations.

Please, consider implementing Tiger Teams, from your office, assigned to a specific VISN, possessing the authority delegated to run the needed analysis, build support in local offices, and iron out the inefficiencies that keep killing veterans, wasting money, and creating problems.  I firmly believe the VA can be saved and improved, built to become more flexible, while at the same time delivering on the promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

I-CareThank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Salisbury
Veteran/Organizational Psychologist

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Chapter 3 – Shifting the Department of Veteran Affairs Paradigm – A Letter to our Elected Officials

Admiral Jackson, I am sorry to see you go! I feel you would have been a good VA Secretary and can understand the reasons behind removing your name for consideration for this post. Thank you for trying.  I am sincerely sorry for how your nomination was hijacked, slandered, and the stress and frustration that came from being attacked. Mr. Wilkie, I am looking forward to your leadership at the VA and hope to see leadership improve the engrained intransigent culture into a flexible and growing organization, cognizant of the trust of the American voter and veteran alike. I wish you the best of luck.

President Trump, you are doing a GREAT job, and I thank you, your family, and your staff, for doing hard and difficult work in an atmosphere of negativity thicker and more detestable than London Fog, Haggis, or Blood Pudding. I remain absolutely astounded at the pressures unnecessarily applied to you and your family and am grateful for your efforts, successes, and failures!

Senator McCain, I am utterly ashamed of your conduct, your staff, and your record. Every time I see you speak, it repents me for ever having voted for you. After dealing with your staff, it repented me, after your failed bid for the Presidency, it repented me, but the latest small-minded, bitter, diatribes, I have repented again. What an abysmal disgrace you have turned into, and I regret, with my entire soul, for having once voted for you.

I cannot understand, except through seeing daily the likes of Senator McCain, how the Department of Veteran Affairs could slide so far into the depths of bureaucracy. Since my last open letter to our Elected Federal Officials, the following examples have crossed my desk through email from Inspector General reports of investigations and through news feeds. Please note, this list is not conclusive as too many cross my desk daily to list here, even briefly.

13 May 2018 – News reports of a double-amputee being turned away from the VA Medical Facility in Atlanta without receiving assistance with a prescription. From personal experience and having spoken to hundreds of veterans traveling and needing medications, I know exactly what the veteran went through, and the VA should be ashamed of their behavior. “Joey” Jones is correct, veterans are told by their Primary Care Providers and the “Ask a Nurse” phone line if you need help go to the ER. What is not told is the time required to wait in the ER, the doctors being able to not risk anything and tell a veteran they will not receive help or the fact that while waiting for help in the ER you run the risk of getting worse. To be perfectly clear, the problem uncovered by “Joey” is nationwide and is not an abnormality but an established practice in place at every VA Medical Center I have visited for treatment.

07 May 2018 – An OIG report covers the results of an audit of a program specifically designed to aid in helping cover the cost of transportation to a VA Medical Facility. The results of the audit showed grand malfeasance and extreme misfeasance with the projected loss to the American Taxpayer of $173.8 Million through December 31, 2020. With all the technology we have, why can’t the veteran needing services, arrive at their local hospital and have the treatment completed instead of having to travel to receive treatment at a VA Medical Center or VA Clinic? I understand needing to use various supportive modes of transportation for some patients, and a contract for those fees should be handled carefully, succinctly, and at the local level, not at the national level. Using the numbers from the OIG Report, for the one-year period 11,900 beneficiaries received 5.034 payments each, where the total payments amounted to $23 million inappropriately made or problematic payments making each payment average merely $383, 973 each. Of the $23 million spent, $11 million could have been saved, per the IG’s reckoning. After reading the variables the OIG reported, I firmly believe more than $11 million could have been saved by putting local VA Medical Centers in charge of transportation costs, contracts, and reimbursements.

As a side question, why is the use of contracted services so disconnected from reality? Having used the external services, records do not get logged properly (received and connected to the veteran’s medical records), contracts seem to always lag beyond 120-days before remittance, and veterans and those contracted are left in perpetual confusion at the mercy of VA bureaucrats. I personally spent three days tracking down records from contract services, walked the records to the receiving center, and still, the records were missing when my Primary Care Provider (PCP) went looking for them to discuss moving forward in a treatment plan. Why have you, the Federal Elected Officials, allowed these diseases of bureaucracy to exist?

03 May 2018 – We find an OIG report “Appropriation Irregularities” to the tune of $11.7 million dollars of unauthorized services obtained and paid for from wrong accounts. In my home, an appropriation irregularity is when I spend money on a candy bar or soda without telling my wife who budgets our money. How are 11.7 million dollars an “irregularity?” More importantly, where are the consequences? I get it, the funds were then taken out of the proper accounts, training was held, and the received OIG promises to never do it again. This accounting irregularity was discovered only because of a hotline tip; how many more offices in the VA and across the Federal Government are creating “appropriation irregularities” and no one is saying or seeing anything wrong?

What is the solution to the continued failures in the VA?  I propose the following:

1.     Sunlight! It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I propose OIG reports begin containing names, so these workers creating problems receive public embarrassment as an encouragement to improve performance. It is past time for those causing problems to be brought into the light of day and public scrutiny. I also propose civil penalties for the malfeasance and misfeasance done in government employment; you have the public’s trust, and when that trust is violated, the public should be able to know all the details.

2.    Let’s call things what they are. In the case of the “appropriation irregularities,” it should have been called a failure to know and follow established regulations either with or without intent to defraud. If a citizen cannot use ignorance of the law before a judge, the government employee cannot use ignorance of regulations and policies in the administration of their duties. What happened to the veteran in Atlanta is malpractice and nothing less; if the VAMC in Atlanta cannot police their own in this issue, it is past time for the OIG to step in, bring appropriate charges, and civil penalties on behalf of the veteran harmed and the nationwide policy reviewed post-haste to halt further abuse of veterans.

3.    In business, to protect the bottom-line and to affect customer service decision making, power is placed on the lowest level of the hierarchy to do the most good. This principle of business needs to be the cornerstone of every VA policy, procedure, and process to conduct work. Stop the madness of central command in DC and put the decisions for local veteran care on the local level. While even this might not fix all the problems, having decisions made locally means that the community knows who is making decisions and who to hold responsible for malfeasance and misfeasance occurring in government.

4.    Common knowledge in America is the following:

“Red tape – the complex procedures and rules that bureaucrats follow in completing their tasks.

Conflict – when the goals of various bureaucratic agencies just do not match up, and they end up working at cross purposes.

Duplication – when agencies seem to be doing the very same thing.”

The VA is infected with all the diseases of bureaucracy and you, the Federal Elected Officials, are charged with using the tools at your disposal to enact change, support the new VA Secretary, and honor the commitment to veterans in improving the tools the veterans have been provided by you the Federal Elected Officials. Get technology useful, use technology at every level of improving veteran care, and demand more technology tools to push the power to make decisions as low as effectively possible to aid the most veterans.

5.    The VA has a LEAN program, and has had the program since at least 2015, when will the leaders employ the LEAN program to improve the VA processes and procedures? Through the total quality management (TQM) philosophies provided through LEAN programs, there should have been tangible and visible change to the VA by now.

I cannot describe how incredibly futile the customer service surveys being demanded after every encounter in the VA truly represents. The disease of bureaucrats is too expensive to veterans, to American Taxpayers, and to American Communities who need the wasted funds at the VA to be employed in infrastructure improvements, housing, utility protection, and so many other areas. You, the Federal Elected Officials, are in charge, will you please stand up, exert your power, and fix the government?

© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Any images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to any images displayed.

The Johari Window: A Tool of Incredible Proportion – Understanding a Key Psychology Tool in Call Center Relations

The Interest GridTo understand a principle takes time; to apply that principle involves experience; but to indeed change a person, the principle must be absorbed into the very fiber or essence of an individual, reaching comprehension through mental, physical, and spiritual understanding, some might even say the soul of the individual.  Freedom is one such principle; the tool for remaining free is the ability to choose, or agency.  When applied to organizations, the same path to success must be tread, but with many individuals onboarding the principles is a challenge.  Many people believing the same way is often described as a culture (Greenwald, 2008, p 192-195), or society, and when belief turns into dedicated and repetitive action, a paradigm is created (Kuhn, 1996), also called business processes and procedures.

Agency theory is a tool for understanding how organizational cultures become cultures.  Individuals apply agency, and when many make the same choices, the creation of an organizational culture occurs.  Emirbayer & Mische (1998) expand the term agency that gives reason why Tosi (2009) and Ekanayake (2004) both classify agency theory as an “economic theory” and how agency theory “… shapes social action [p 963].”  If Emirbayer and Mische (1998) are correct, placing more emphasis upon individual agency opens doors into re-shaping controls, control mechanisms, and affects the entire organization.  The power of agency to change people, organizations, and societies is immense.  Recognizing that people will always exercise agency, guiding that agency exercise is not so much a discussion of control, but of harnessing energy and momentum to develop individuals into a cohesive whole.

Johari WindowThe Johari Window is a tool for quickly assessing a situation before making a choice.  Consider the job of a call center agent; they must be technically savvy, adept at handling multiple tasks while engaging in productive conversation, and must be able to keep a caller enthusiastically engaged in reaching a solution quickly so that the agent ay meet business set metrics and production goals.  The Johari Window is suggested as a desktop guide in promoting self-knowledge in the call center agent to improve performance.  Having personally employed the Johari Window as part of logical thinking, I explicitly recommend, that before handing an agent this tool, training must be accomplished to help allow for clearer thinking that often leads to more speedy action.  The first Johari Window represented links to a .pdf that contains additional specific information for improving training in the Johari Window principles.

Open Area

Of all the locations in the window, the open area position is where the majority of people want to stay; wherein everybody and everything knows and is known. The unknown is frightening, and change in this location comes the slowest, if at all.  Each call center agent wants to, and needs to, feel confident in what is known and where they go when they do not know; hence, training as a continual process remains the catchword in this location, even though it might not be well received.

While the location is desirable, rarely will customers call in because they already know something.  Agents in a call center should leave new hire and continual employment training and start every working day from this location where they are known and know.  The open area could also be referred to as the preparation location.

Hidden Area

The hidden area is where business in a call center will occur most effectively.  The customer knows what they want, and the call center agent knows how to deliver what is wanted and through reflective communication mutual understanding is achieved to make the hidden area become known.  Imperative to understanding in this area is the power of choice, agency, to choose to reveal only pieces of what is wanted.  If the customer chooses not to disclose what is wanted, it is not poor service when the customer’s wants are not fulfilled. This point is especially important in understanding the voice of the customer (VOC) survey results and quality call review.  The only time the agent is in the wrong, in this location, is when the agent cannot choose and thereby communicates less effectively to the customer, delivering a poor performance in need of remediation.  Both the agent and the customer have something hidden and something known.  The importance of clear communication remains pre-eminent in this location.

For instance, two top call center agents were continally competing with each other for first place evaluation. The agent who routinely came in second asked why. The answer to improving performance is found in the hidden area, opportunities that guided the agent to drop AHT/ACW and increase VOC into productive communication towards a solution.  There is power in the hidden area to capture and employ. Train agents to be alert for hidden areas to gain improved performance, not through active listening, but through reflective listening where mutual understanding between the customer and the agent is reached.

Blind Area

Of all the locations in the Johari Window, the blind area is the most dangerous for call center agents.  When the customer has information the agent does not know, the result is lost resources, productivity, and customers.  Of course, the reverse is also true.  When the agent has information about the customer and does not voluntarily devolve the information, the customer is surprised upon becoming aware and is lost because of this blind area.  Then organizational reputation damage is complete.

For example, I was working in a credit card call center and regularly saw agents not bother to bring up account issues to save AHT/VOC and other metrics.  Hence, the customer upon learning of the negative actions would call back because opportunity in the blind area was sacrificed for potential short-term gains.  Operating blind means the agent and the customer are in danger.

Unknown Area

Chinese CrisisOf all the locations in the Johari Window, the unknown area possesses the most opportunity for delivering upon a service commitment.  Consider the Chinese character for a crisis that includes danger and opportunity as equals.  The unknown always combines danger and opportunity.  Danger is risk, risk of losing a customer, risk of saying the wrong thing and insulting, etc.  Opportunity lies in making the unknown known.  In the Johari Window, when the unknown becomes known, the unknown quadrant shrinks and the known quadrant grows.  The unknown quadrant could be considered the crisis quadrant.  Good skills in mastering the unknown to thwart a crisis, eliminate danger, and win the opportunity to create a powerful customer interaction.  The unknown area is where confidence in training overlaps with the customer’s crisis to maximize opportunities for service excellence.  If there is a single shred of doubt communicated to the customer in crisis, the opportunity is lost forever because the danger was not ameliorated. The unknown has many hidden dangers to be wary, but fear is not one of them because of excellence in training.

Working as an agent in customer retention was very lucrative.  When we could probe, dig, and investigate, generally we could save a customer and generate new business.  While the company spoke about, preached around, and dictated the use of active listening, the retention department was using reflective listening to glean details and save customers through reaching mutual understanding. In the unknown area, both parties struggle with not knowing and being unknown. Therein lies the opportunity for increasing business by becoming known and learning knowledge that is not currently possessed.

While the current Johari Window reflects proportional space for each location, reality rarely allows for such clarity.  Many times, an agent’s Johari Window will look like any one of the following, none of the following, or a mixture of all:

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The key for call center leaders is to train the call center representatives to first understand themselves and then to visualize who they are in the Johari Window in each call.  The more familiar the agent is with data gleaned from knowing themselves and the business, the more power each agent will have to handle the calls more effectively and efficiently.  In teaching the Johari Window, one of the many lessons I have learned is that people do not understand and second guess their limitations.  If a person has, or considers having, a small blind area, do they know their equally important unknown or open areas.  More than likely the answer is no; why, because of the need to invest time and other resources into improving themselves and their approach to others.

When discussing the agents understanding themselves, the call center trainer, first line supervisor, and managers will employ the eleven principles of change as discussed by Luft.  The agent will need to understand the energy lost in hiding, deceiving themselves, and the problems this causes them.  Cause and effect play a significant role in visually attuning the Johari Window to daily work activities.  The call center trainer, first line supervisors, and managers will need to be able to answer clearly and effectively “why” based questions about processes and procedures, while exemplifying the Johari Window principles.  Luft’s Point No. 5point number five is critical in this process, “Interpersonal learning means a change [is taking] place so that Quadrant 1 is larger, and one or more of the other quadrants has grown smaller.”  Do we understand what this means; as leaders, we exemplify making Quadrant 1 (Open Area) larger by learning.  Leaders are teachers, teachers are leaders, but both teachers and leaders must remain loyal to learning.

Consider Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter.  Gilderoy Lockhart considered himself highly capable, gifted, and talented, but reality proved his ineffectiveness and limitations.  His example opens a second issue when using the Johari Window tool in a call center:  personal perception versus reality.  Gilderoy Lockhart would see his Johari Window as thus:

Johari Window - GL 1

Reality would suggest the following might be truer:

Johari Window - GL 2

The disparity between a person’s perceived understanding and reality causes significant problems in interactions in all types of societies.  In the call center, the agent will interact with various kinds of personalities; hence, the need to train agents in this tool and to understand themselves, including their likes, dislikes, triggers, emotional hooks, and talents brought to each call.  For the best opportunities for your agents to interact successfully, training them in understanding themselves is just as important as training the agent in organizational policies, business products, services, and sales techniques.

Ongoing, regular training remains a key component to highly effective call centers and capable workforces.  Without refresher training, regular training for new products, and annual training, the capable employee gets into a rut, the rut becomes a paradigm, and the employee becomes lost to attrition and slower productivity; but most especially, lost customer interactions hamper all levels of business performance.  One employee working slow can ruin a business, and the first indicator something is wrong is the higher cost of doing business.  Win the employee through training and then treat them respectfully to reduce operational costs and increase sales through training.

In conclusion, never stop asking why, encourage learning, and never fear using the answer, “At this time, I do not know, but I will find out and report back.”  When the discovery loop is closed with the individual, everyone learns, Quadrant 1 grows, and other quadrants reduce perceptibly.  Proving once again the veracity of the axiom, “Train people well enough to leave; treat people well enough to stay; and grow together as an act of personal commitment to the team.”

References

Ekanayake, S. (2004). Agency theory, national culture, and management control systems. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 4(1), 49-54. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/222857814?accountid=35812

Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? The American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2782934

Greenwald, H. P. (2008). Organizations: Management without control. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions. (Third ed., Vol. VIII). Chicago, ILL: The University of Chicago Press.

Tosi, H. L. (2009), Theories of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein, obtained from the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Leading the Call Center: Flavor of the Month Philosophies

Chinese CrisisHaving just completed a project that saw me leading a team in a call center, I want to make something clear; quick fixes and flavor of the month philosophies do not work.  I cannot stress this enough; yet, the practice continues to the detriment of call center employees and the organizations served by call centers.  Flavor of the month philosophies is the latest bestseller to fix the problems in business.  We have all seen these programs including, FISH, WAIT, Strengths Quest, and so much more.  These ideas are good ideas, and they possess value, but when changed monthly, these programs, never do more than briefly mark the surface intellect of the call center.  I am not disparaging these ideas in the least; let me elaborate as to why the flavor of the month idea fails.

The project previously mentioned when concluded saw the call center director very much converted to a program of definite value in and using one’s strengths entitled Strengths Quest as presented by Clifton, Anderson, and Schreiner (2006).  The culture of strength promotes unity, and by extension, organizational power, when combined intellectually, becomes the corporate culture.  Integration in business, especially in call center operations, remains crucial to bottom-line health.  The call center director invested a lot of organizational resources to capture everyone’s strengths, publish these advantages, and use this information to measure the call center.  The problem was the staff has no idea why they are investing company time in completing the “Clifton Strength’s FinderÒ (CSF),” and many completed this assignment while taking calls and distracted.  How verifiable is the data if the attention of the person completing the task is diverted?

My assignment, as a call center supervisor, included gauging the employees in the call center about their strengths.  Of the 10-employees in the call center, two had forgotten and blatantly said they do not care.  Three expressed a desire to retake the CSF to more fully focus on the task instead of completing it between calls.  Four employees asked why and what is the purpose of taking the CSF.  Finally, all the employees, when asked how they use the CSF data in their daily actions, expressed the same answer, I do not know.

Let’s be clear; there is nothing wrong with the latest flavor of the month programs to improve an organization, provided the leaders understand change, embrace change, train and teach “the what” and “the why,” and then remain committed long after the excitement over the bright new object fades.  I had the misfortune of working in a call center where the entire corporate culture was expected to change with every fresh flavor of leadership, and the organization is a mental mess.  What is a leader to do when each new flavor-of-the-month is presented as a potential fix for organizational dilemmas?  I suggest the following as a launching point for corporate discovery and leadership support.

  • If the organization is going to invest resources in a particular program, do not change for a set period, which includes pre- and post- measurement and evaluation. If the organization does not know where they start, they can never know what happened or where to go in the future.blue-money-burning
  • Organizational change must be more than surface polish or potential money (Blue Money) is lost, never to be recovered. Organizational change needs to fundamentally affect the organization and be allowed to produce measured results.  Does this mean that if something is not working, we keep at it?  No!  It means to provide sufficient time and measurement to gauge the application and the organizational change.  Many times beta-testing the proposed change can identify the processes, procedures, and other trouble points to be mindful of, or correct in beta-testing, to ensure full organizational change may occur with a higher chance for success.
  • Get everyone involved, enthused, and a willing advocate for the change. Getting everyone involved is not producing marketing materials and desk references.  Getting everyone involved requires explaining why and detailing what in the organizational change.  Getting everyone involved means there will be feedback, pushback, and rebellion.  Expect pushback, but never allow pushback to derail reform.  Pushback is a healthy activity that provides essential opportunities for the leader to explore solutions, answer questions, and evaluate the results.
  • Teach and train; train and teach. Learning should be a constant and desirable outcome of organizational change.  Teaching is not training, training is not teaching; but, both are critical skills needed for leaders and learners.  Teaching is helping someone else acquire knowledge.  Training is teaching a behavior or ability.  Teaching is usually one-way communication using measurement tools, e.g., tests to gauge knowledge learned and retained.  Training should be two-directional communication, is completed through experience in closely monitored environments, and includes 360-degree feedback to improve the training environment.  Never allow teaching and training to become the same confused term; while the words are closely related, they are not the same action.
  • When was the last time you discussed what you are reading with front-line employees? When was the last time you engaged a front-line worker about what they are reading, thinking, and ask for suggestions to improve?  When was the last time you asked to be trained on a process, procedure, or organizational action by those who do it all day?  If recently, did you ask why, a lot?  I promise you will be surprised when you have these conversations, especially since they open up opportunities to explain and expound, learn, change, adapt, and engage with those you lead.
  • Organizational change requires enthusiasm from all parties to begin to engage and deepen the shift from surface polish to fundamental culture adaptation. Enthusiasm takes many shapes, sizes, and colors, including the loyal opposition of followers, opinions, and feedback.  The leader must exemplify and honor, or support, the enthusiasm around them as a tool for succeeding in changing the organization.
  • Clarify intentions. Clarify processes.  Clarify procedures.  Clarify by asking follow-up questions and reflectively listen to obtain mutual understanding.  Clarification remains one of the most critical tasks in organizational change.  When confusion rears its ugly head, respond with explanation and follow-up, as detailed in two-directional communication.  When the comprehension is doubted, ask for feedback as an opportunity to increase clarification.  Clarification is both a tool and an opportunity; do not waste this opportunity and tool by neglecting those needing clarification.
  • Organizational change needs a mechanism for gathering data from many sources, including the employees affected, the vendors, the suppliers, and the customers. Open the valve for data to flow back.  One of the most horrific organizational changes it has been my displeasure to witness was increased because the leaders operated in a vacuum and never allowed data flow that was contradictory to the previously agreed upon results.  The leaders in this organization worked hard to refuse hard data, which contradicted their bias, and this ruined the business, the employees, and the customers.

I cannot guarantee following all these points will make organizational change succeed, roses bloom, bottom lines inflate, rainbows dance, and all of life fall into organized lines leading ever upward.  I can guarantee that without these points, organizational change that promotes an environment of learning will never be more than polish.  Consider the axiom, “Lipstick on a pig.”  The lipstick is not bad, the pig is not bad, but placing lipstick on a pig is out of place and does nothing to improve the pig.  Flavor-of-the-month changes are lipstick on a pig, not bad, but out of place until the entire organization is on board and enthusiastically supporting the move, and proper measurements are in place to gauge, measure, and report the change.

Business theorist Chris Argyris put forth a model, later discussed by Senge (1994) explaining our thinking process as we interact with the world.  This seven-step method is called the Ladder of Inference; according to this model, as we move up the ladder our beliefs affect what we infer about what we observe and therefore become part of how we experience our interaction with other people.  Organizational change can be plotted along the same model or ladder of inference.

Leadership LadderOrganizational change begins with information output; then collect data, preferably through listening and observation while doing the work; interpreting the data includes obtaining data, evaluating meaning, deciphering intent, and understanding value.  Please note, the assumptions should not be made in a vacuum and could be wrong; thus, always return to the data producers and ask questions to ensure mutual understanding.  Once conclusions are mutually understood, they become beliefs; but, don’t stop until beliefs become actions.

If a model is needed, please benchmark Quicken Loans and Southwest Airlines, both organizations are doing a tremendous job with the ladder steps, especially moving organizational beliefs into motivated organizational action.  Remember, one does not climb a ladder to view the horizon and scenery, they climb a ladder to begin working, carrying the tools needed to perform the work, and possessing certain knowledge that the work can be accomplished.  Climb the ladder of success with the intent to work, achieve, and move forward.

References

Clifton, D. O., Anderson “Chip,” E., & Schreiner, L. A. (2016). Strengths quest: Discover and develop your strengths in academics, career, and beyond (2nd ed.).

Senge. P. M. (1994). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Fundamentals of Customer Interaction: A Leadership Primer

Gitomer (1998) was very specific about why customer satisfaction is worthless and provided keen insights into how to build loyalty.  While many businesses value and find the “voice of the customer” desirable to the organization, the focus is on satisfying the customer and not interacting with the customer.  Sinek (2009) adds the variable needed, why, as in why are businesses still trying to satisfy when loyalty is needeAre we in trouble?  We didn't do it!!!d?  Why are customers still being taken advantage of when logic claims the long-term relationship is more critical than short-term gains; thus, making the need for loyalty that much more valuable in dollars to the business.  Why serve the customer when the customer needs more than simple “service?”

Customer service is simply geared to expeditiously interacting with the customer in a mass environment.  For example, a recent call to a cell phone provider remains an excellent illustration of mass service hysteria.  During this call, a simple question was asked, why is my statement so high?  The representative placed the caller on hold four separate times, never answered the customer’s question, and because the customer changed their plan, the call was considered a success.  The customer then went online, spent an additional hour in Instant Message (IM) with a second customer service rep, and finally was given less of an answer before quitting in exasperation.  Foolishly, the call center sends an automatic survey to the customer asking for his or her opinion.  The customer is going to express his or her dissatisfaction in the “customer satisfaction survey.  Why was it sent?  Why place the financial future of a low-paid customer service rep in jeopardy simply because the customer remains upset, and the managers deem that information valuable?

The customer call center remains the epitome of the carrot and stick approach to customers with the customer and the front-line customer-facing representatives squeezed into numbered boxes, small cubicles, and an individuality draining environment making the customer and the customer representative soulless zombies held captive in an endless cycle of frustration.  Offer a carrot to a customer to go away, threaten the customer representative with a stick if they do not fit squarely into the business environment and achieve all the key-performance indicators (KPI’s) demanded by the business, although the KPI is in direct opposition to serving the customer.  The above incident is a perfect example of KPI’s being anti-customer.  The representative needs to make a quota for call plan changes and sales, the customer needs serviced, but to actually answer the question means that the time the representative spent on the phone would have surpassed a KPI.  The carrot and stick approach is to offer the customer bill credits to go away quickly so the representative can move onto the next call, a KPI mindset causing frustration for the representative and the customer.

Let’s use one more recent example as a comparison.  The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has been in the news a great deal recently.  Veterans remain the forced customer trapped in an endless cycle of bureaucratic red tape.  The result is that veterans are now being called for a customer service survey to determine how veterans feel they were served.  Why would this information be valuable with all the customer hostility in the veteran population?  Why waste taxpayer dollars to obtain veteran “customer” insight when the bureaucracy has not changed, the red tape remains stifling, and the officers enforcing the bureaucracy continue to kill and harm veterans as the captive customer?  Veterans are reporting that after every interaction with the various VA bureaucrats a customer satisfaction survey is thrust upon them and sold to them as an improvement tool.   Doubt remains as to the value to the veteran, and to the VA as a whole, and provides more KPI’s harming the customer, eliminating service to the customer, and destroying any hope of correcting the actual problems; but the VA is gathering a ton of additional information for office clerks to sort through and make reports upon.

With these thoughts in mind, what do we do and where do we go from here?  Better yet, why are these the preferred actions when logic relates there is a better path forward?  Finally, since KPI’s are needed, how should KPI’s be adjusted to provide more actionable data personalized to the individual employee while remaining valuable to the entire business?

On the subject of KPI’s, when was the last time that each KPI was evaluated and the questions “Why” and “What” were asked to justify that specific item on a list of measurable actions in a KPI process review?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 18-months, there is a significant problem with the KPI’s reporting obsolete data and doing more harm than good.  As a consultant in a call center, I walked item-by-item through the KPI matrix my first day on the job and successfully concluded a project shortly thereafter by simply moving the KPI matrix back into providing actionable and non-obsolete data.  If each piece of data cannot be explained and justified by the newest member on the floor receiving scores on performance, the KPI matrix is obsolete, confusing, and ineffective in driving actions that actually benefit the employee and those the employee contacts.  Ask the managers to define what the KPI’s are, what is being measured, and detail specific actions an employee should be coached in to improve a specific indicator.  If the answers are not clear and easy to understand, the KPI is ineffective and doing more harm than good.

Juran’s rule that the KPI is expected to form a pathway to progression as a business process remains powerful.  When problems arise in KPI data and employee adherence, the problem is 90% of the time not the employee, but the KPI in question.  Is Juran’s rule being applied consistently, effectively, and powerfully to drive understanding and communication in the organization or is the answer to “blame the employee?”  Dandira (2009) remains powerfully applied here: ineffective KPI’s can be, and many times are, a dynamic source of organizational cancer because of employee confusion about what to do to improve, resulting in employee morale problems.

Moving forward, the way remains clear:

  1. Never allow a business process or procedure to be older than 12-months without a full and comprehensive review justifying that process and every step in that process.

I was called in to discuss a customer influencing process.  The process had more than 30 steps involved and 12 separate employees to accomplish the task.  The process could not be described in 30 minutes, and customers were upset from experiencing this process, adding to the already upset nature of the involved customers and the frustration in the front-line employees assisting them.  Technology improved this process by a third, but the company could not determine how to improve the process.  I asked why on each step and employee involved.  Four hours of discussion resulted in cutting 8 of the involved employees from the process.  Asking “what” resulted in further steps cut in the process.  At the conclusion of the contract, the complicated process was described in a single elevator ride, which simplified the results for the customer and set the business on the road to continuous improvement of business processes.  Pick a process, look at the age, and ask in an elevator ride for the process to be described.  Keep riding the elevator until the entire process from beginning to end is detailed.  How many elevator trips were needed?  Never create a process or a measurement that cannot be explained in a single elevator ride.

  1. Who is catching the blame on recorded calls: technology, the customer, or the customer service rep? The problem is not with any of these parties, and properly naming the problem remains the first step in solving the problem.

For example, on a contract for a manufacturing company, a problem existed that could not be explained causing issues in quality control and proper billing to customers.  The problem observed was not the problem; the process and actionable data capture were the problems.  Until the company could properly identify and act on the real problem, they continued to blame the employee and burned through several highly talented employees in the process.  The action taken began with identification of the real problem and the underlying processes.  Then, we began working out the actual solution.  The first and second actions projected and beta-tested were abject failures.  Once the full measure of the problem was identified in a series of continuous events, the third proposed solution worked, not great, but worked.  The fourth and fifth solutions worked better.  Finally the sixth review fixed the problem.  Identify the problem, and then make the resolution an intuitive process of learning and developing.  Failure is okay provided the current failure is moving the problem forward towards solutions and new thinking.

  1. Who is the customer? Are we wasting time on separating internal and external customers when that time would be better spent treating them both equally?  Rarely should the internal customer be treated better than an external customer, but many times resources are limited and external customers must come first.  Do internal customers know why this decision is being made and when the experience is projected to end?

During a merger, I was contracted as a W-2 employee on start of contract.  At the conclusion of the merger, employees were told external customer resources were being moved back to support internal customers, and benefits and resources would flow back to the employees.  Upon the successful completion of the merger, this policy was not honored, and the mass of employees leaving the company was monumental, as employees felt betrayed.  Knowing the “why” and the “what” behind organizational decisions by all customers is important.  If this company had been more forthcoming about the “why” and the “what,” the loss of so many employees would not have been so great.  More to the point, the loss of employees created post-merger problems resulting in “right-sizing efforts,” “down-sizing,” and finally “post-merger consolidation of facilities,” all of which are euphemisms hiding the real problem, failure to treat all customers with respect and valuing the customers.

  1. The “Why” and the “What.” While the “Why” is critical, both remain powerful, and communicating these simply, effectively, and persuasively remains the role of leadership.  Ask yourself, can employees define “what” we do?  Can employees define “why” we do the things we do?  Do employees know “why” we compete in our marketplace the way we do?  What are the answers and why are the answers coming in with the trends?  Can you answer this, and what is the action to move forward?

I had the pleasure of working as a W-2 employee for a company that did this right.  On the first day of training, the employee learned the “Why” and the “What.”  Then, everyday the employee learned how each process, procedure, and daily task fed into the “What” and the “Why.”  This promoted the employee to understanding and becoming an agent for action in the business.  This pattern is replicable, but employees must know the “why” and the “what” and business leaders must know the “Why” and the “What” and disclose this information to the full organization?

  1. Stop only “serving” the customer. “Serving” the customer is useless, wasteful, and ruins the power of customer interactions reducing these opportunities to filling needs, not building relationships.  If your customer-facing employees are only providing “service,” the business has settled for failure and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is not a subject of semantics, word plasticity, and mind games.  This is a fundamental mindset of the power possessed by loyal customers acting as marketing tools to drive profitability.  If the customer only receives “service,” the customer is not satisfied, the customer-facing employee is not satisfied, and precious resources are wasted on fruitless gimmicks and useless action.  Worse, the ROI is zero at best, but usually negative.  If internal and external customers are simply treated as customers, how can a business leader expect to build customer and employee loyalty or experience bottom-line growth?  Make time to build customer-reaffirming experiences and the bottom-line will grow.  Stop serving the customers, stop blaming the employees, stop looking for solutions in technology without knowing the business and identifying the problems.  If not, Dandira’s (2012) counsel will be the reward, organizational cancer, and organizational death.

References

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved

The Call Center Leader Part 5 – Tacit Knowledge Combined with the Power of 4-C’s Produces Competitive Advantage

Tacit Knowledge, as a competitive advantage, remains a highly misunderstood topic in business due primarily to the difficulty in spotting, acknowledging, and then measuring this form of knowledge.  Because managers, who preempt application, see tacit knowledge as a threat, leadership is required to implement its benefits.  Tacit knowledge relies upon people implementing daily processes and procedures.  Tacit knowledge as a competitive advantage requires freedom to improve those processes and procedures of daily work to understand how to improve.  The principles of tacit knowledge are discussed and enhanced by Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) providing excellent discussion material for leaders to contemplate.

In detailing an operational definition of tacit knowledge, Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) designed a definitive definition for tacit knowledge as “context specific, … [generally] acquired on the job or in particular situations.”  Proceeding further, Nonaka (1991) reiterated that tacit knowledge is “… deeply rooted in [both] an individual’s action and commitment [to] a profession, product, market, work group, or team.”  Tacit knowledge contains elements of “practical knowledge” and remains “difficult to describe” unless the knowledge is described as a “process” to perform work.  Taken together, tacit knowledge is a person’s commitment and knowledge gained in experience to understand processes and improve the same.

Let’s use an analogy to drive this point home.  John works for call center A; Mark works for call center B.  The leadership in call center B is very demanding, but rewards those who meet the challenges and provides freedom for front-line personnel to meet customer needs.  Call center A does not demand much from front-line personnel except to perform their jobs as dictated, and managers are in place to ensure the job is done and nothing more.  Both call centers have high employee churn numbers, both call centers are matrix driven, and performance is measured in seconds; both call centers compete with each other for the same customer base.

Because Mark has freedom and call center B is willing to reward, Mark has been focused upon improving daily operations and customer support.  Mark sends several ideas to his manager and onto senior call center leadership.  Several of Mark’s ideas find their way into organizational change and are implemented.

John has a personal desire to see call center A succeed and develops ideas to improve customer support while decreasing organizational inertia.  John’s manager sees these ideas, discovers the ideas are good, and decides to take them as their own.  John is pressured to leave call center A over the next 8-10 months; by this time, the ideas are practically worthless and cannot be implemented due to shifts in business conditions.

Tacit knowledge was at play in both scenarios.  Call center B employed tacit knowledge to compete.  Call center A employed tacit knowledge to thwart and denigrate.  Herein also lies the leadership challenge and the need to understand and implement the principles of combining competition, collaboration, compromise, and cooperation, also referred to as the “Principle of 4-C’s” (4-C’s).  Thomas (1992) extols the virtues of combining competition, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise as a tool to achieve success in conflict resolution, organizational improvement, and people development.

The continued application of all four principles, cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and competition, provides fertile ground for resolving problems and advancing organizational objectives.  These 4-C’s must work together with no single principle more important than the other.  Like the four-legged stool my grandmother used to reach high cupboards, the stability of the stool depended upon all four legs to ensure strength and flexibility to work exactly.  Compromise and competition do not work without collaboration and cooperation.  They are all interconnected, and the business leader, wanting to lead well, would remember this relationship.

Collaboration is strengthened by cooperation, compromise, and competition.  Competition must end in collaboration, cooperation, and compromise; in fact, competition will breed collaboration and cooperation to reach a compromise, before those being competed against provide collaboration, cooperation, and compromise, and remain attached and honored as successful means to reach the desired win-win agreement.  The fires of competition are crucial to purifying those collaborating, compromising, and cooperating into a single honed unit that can more effectively work together.  Cooperation can do nothing without the shared responsibilities of collaboration and compromise; when competition is added, the cooperation is strengthened.  Compromise without cooperation or collaboration is ineffective, and competition is an added value to ensuring stronger compromise.  None of these can stand alone without elements of the others to support, edify, and multiply; along with the stated relationship comes the knowledge that if the agreement is not win-win the agreement is a straight lose scenario.

The inherent discussion above is condensed from Thomas (1992), who advocated this combined approach to organizational design as a masterstroke to getting people working together.  The same basic philosophy can be seen in the writings of Goldratt and Cox (2004), Lencioni (2002), Lundin, Paul, and Christensen (2000), Boynton and Fischer (2005), and Boylan (1995), among many others.  Notably, these principles have been understood throughout time.  Jucius (1963), in speaking of the broader issues in personnel management, understood the combined power of collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and competition and wrote extensively about how to use these effectively in the organization.  Cruickshank and Davis (1958) understood these principles to be a combined and more effective tool than separate strategies of the same general direction and strove to ensure business leaders understood the practical application and inherent need for the organization to adhere to these principles as a combined effort of all organizational members.  McNichols (1963) endeavored to keep these items combined in the minds of executives; thus, empowering them to discover solutions employing all the strengths in the consolidated collective use of competition, collaboration, compromise, and competition.  The empowerment felt combining these tools elevates the individual focus into a collected focus, and the solutions for an organization are improved dynamically.

Examples of the combined efforts of collaboration, competition, compromise, and cooperation are found in the writings and research of Collins (2001 & 2006), Collins and Hansen 2011), and Collins and Porras (1994).  These books contain many organizational examples of companies employing the combined strategy as outlined and collectively harnessing the power in cooperation, compromise, collaboration, and competition to make the long-lasting change from “Good to Great” organizations.  Collins (2001) discusses Walgreen’s transformation and employs the combined power into the new highly successful Walgreen’s store model.  Mitchell (2003) discusses the same principles as CEO of Mitchells/Richards Clothing Stores.  By embracing the combined power contained, this CEO has kept the family business growing.  Both organizations, Walgreen’s and Mitchells/Richards, embraced the energy of collaboration properly supported by compromise and collaboration and invested in internal and external competition to drive the needed organizational changes.  What Collins proves is that the collective power is not particular and rare, but available to all who choose to combine not separate, collect not disburse, connect and retain not divide, partition, and mutate.  Leadership demands higher practical performance than management (Robinson, 1999; Punia, 2004; and Mintzberg, 1980).

The ability to rise higher must include all the attributes, strengths, and collective power found in collaboration, competition, cooperation, and most especially compromise.  Having standards does not mean compromising personal or organizational standards for collaboration.  Having standards is the discovery of common ground in collaborating for a common goal, enhanced in the fires of competition.

How does a leader begin to take tacit knowledge and combine it with the power of cooperation, competition, collaboration, and compromise, to achieve positive results; the answers are quite simple.

  1. Allow and encourage idea submission. As a small business consultant, I am continually amazed at how many ideas are already in the minds of current employees to improve the organization.  Open lines of communication in the organizational hierarchy for ideas to percolate.  Train the employees to use these lines of communication.  I cannot count how many times I have heard frustrated employees say, “I do not know who to submit my ideas to.”
  2. Train people to think and improve. Quality control is not just for the quality group to monitor.  Quality assurance is a minute-by-minute process every employee should be engaged upon to help the company improve.  Train this principle from day one with new employees and revisit this idea at least quarterly and every time idea submission drops.
  3. Competition is for external forces, but the 4-C’s principle is for everyone internally. Why have customer service teams competing against each other creating division and chaos inside the company?  While sometimes healthy, many times petty in-house competition does nothing but destroy, denigrate, and deride already stressed and harried people.  Stop tearing the company down in the front-line; cease the petty competitions between teams.
  4. Rewards and awards must contain value to the individual or they are meaningless. I worked with an employee who had an award from a previous employer on his desk.  The award was a horse’s rear-end in bronze, and the employee was exceedingly proud of having been part of the team that won that particular award.  The employee had not worked for that company in 20-years, but remains proud of that award and the reward that came along with it.  I was also part of a call center that handed out awards that went into the trashcan before the end of the award ceremony.  Rewards and awards must be valuable to the recipient.  To make this happen, choose to build people by showing the award and reward.  Why is the Stanley Cup in the NHL so coveted? Individual teams and players are inscribed permanently as a reminder of greatness; more importantly, everyone in the NHL sees the cup.  This is a pattern that can be and should be replicated in the call center; just do not let the competition become chaotically competitive or meaningless and petty.  Remember, many teams in the NHL have never won the Stanley Cup.
  5. Tacit knowledge has value. Cherish this knowledge as the genetic power of the company to thrive.  Ask questions, listen to the answers, and remember the person providing input.  Too often the person providing input is not recognized, and this failure to recognize contributions does tremendous harm to morale, dampening desire to contribute, and removing further access to potentially amazing results.

Finally,

5.5 Let the tacit knowledge and award/reward systems live.  Tacit knowledge has a life cycle as sure as every product, service, work process, and daily procedure.  Allow change to live, allow knowledge to live, and allow the freedom to change to meet new needs.  This is probably the most important point in this list of actions leaders can take to employ tacit knowledge as a competitive strategy.  Recognize the life cycle of ideas and stop being afraid of employee freedom and change.

References

Ambrosini, V., & Bowman, C. (2001). Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for operationalization. Journal of Management Studies, 38(6), doi: 0022-2380

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Boylan, B. (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

Boynton, A., & Fisher, B. (2005). Virtuoso teams: Lessons from teams that changed their worlds. FT Press

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Collins, J. (2006). Good to great and the social sectors: A monograph to accompany Good to great. London: Random House Business.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck: Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Collins, J., & Porras, J. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York: Collins Business Essentials – A Collins Business Book: An Imprint of Harper Collins.

Cruickshank, H., & Davis, K. (1958). Cases in management (2nd ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Goldratt, E. M., & Cox, J. (2004). The goal: A process of ongoing improvement. (Third Revised ed.). Great Barrington, Massachusetts: North River Press.

Hickman, G. (2010). Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Jucius, M. (1963). Personnel management (5th ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Lundin, S. C., Paul, H., & Christensen, J. (1996). Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. New York, New York: Hyperion.

McNichols, T. (1963). Policy making and executive action; cases on business policy (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(3), 322. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/205849936?accountid=458

Mitchell, J. (2003). Hug your customers: The proven way to personalize sales and achieve astounding results. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Punia, B. K. (2004). Employee empowerment and retention strategies in diverse corporate culture: A prognostic study. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 8(81), 81-91. doi: 10.1177/097226290400800107

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

 

Organizational Diversity: Is Your Business Diversity Commitment Only Skin Deep?

I absolutely agree diversification of people improves organizations, communities, and society. I agree that including many minds makes a better professional and personal environment, organizations can become more flexible in thought and action, and ultimately better members in a society are trained and built. Increasing diversity, improving inclusion, and inspiring multiculturalism all wrap around the same three principles, trust, agency, and freedom. Inherent to agency is the ability to choose, the freedom to choose, and the responsibility for the consequences of the choice validated or judged by societies, even when choosing wrong according to one person or another. People must be able to choose wrong and suffer the consequences demanded by society without government insistence to build diversification programs that possess intrinsic value to a business.

Having seen organizations that pride themselves on being culturally diverse and skin-tone accepting, the management more often than not tend to be very exclusive of new thinking, new ideas, and loyal opposition. I have experience with several organizations that claim inclusion, and practice exclusion at every opportunity while preaching, marketing, and advertising their diversity. Thus, the question remains, “Is your business diversity commitment only skin deep?” An example of “skin-deep diversity” is on display when reading Bruno’s (2008) article on bias covering The Chicago Tribune. Labor unions pride themselves on marketing their inclusivity and diversity; The Chicago Tribune also prides itself on being multicultural, but both organizations represent the worst kind of exclusion while promoting in word a spirit of inclusion. This is witnessed and exemplified by Bruno (2008); the claims made towards The Chicago Tribune and many Labor Unions remains justified and applicable as learning opportunities.

The first question regarding deeper diversity a company should ask is, “Why the reliance upon legal requirements to force multiculturalism and diversity if diversity and multiculturalism are so good for the organization (Greenberg, 2004)?” People, all people, regardless of age despise being told what to do; but advocating the removal of laws specifically designed to force judicial and legislative fiat in diversifying an organization encourages rejection, scorn, and disparagement towards the advocate. The two sides of the same coin are the legal demand to diversify while being told it will make your organization stronger and a refusal to diversify beyond skin pigmentation and personal lifestyle choices. A sealed and closed mind is more damaging than an undiversified organization; surface level commitment to diversity embodies a sealed and closed mind.

Legal or governmental fiat of forcing people to work together is most detrimental to the morale, confidence, and disposition of the workforce; yet, governing bodies all insist upon using force to achieve that which logic and free markets can regulate but have not been tried. Nowhere, in any country, where free market principles attempted to change the hearts and minds of companies to embrace diversity. The power of judicial action and legislated demands forced diversity as “… yet another program to add to hiring agendas for businesses forced upon business decisions.” While I believe and support the power of organizational conflict as a means to improving engagement, I also realize that good organizations must be honest and forthright in addressing concerns and eliminating conflict among stakeholders, including employees. Like rampant undirected change, conflict, has the power to overpower and destroy because of a lack of self-control. The same is true for rampant diversification programs that scratch the surface, e.g., pay lip service to diversity but never actually diversify minds and thinking.

The second question a company seeking deeper diversity should ask is, “Why are governments and judges not good at diversifying businesses?” Boler (1968) provides wise counsel on the application of individual and personal agency and the power of agency in organizational design and leadership. When people choose to embrace diversification as a personal commitment, instead of being forced to embrace diversity required by a judge or legislator, the personal investment and individual interest increases the likelihood that the change in thinking will be more than surface deep. By being more than surface deep, a diversified workforce can then unleash the powerful effects of diversification as promoted by Greenberg (2004).

Agency alone is not enough; trust becomes the next greatest factor an organization can embrace (Stawiski, Deal, and Ruderman, 2010; & Tan and Liddle, 2011). Trusting first in the self to act ethically and for reasons beyond the individual desires and personal values, Bjorn (2011) provides guidance on building the moral courage as a foundation to trust by trusting in the persons dealt with on a regular basis to do their job to the best of their ability (Bjorn, 2011). To reciprocate trust within the organization, empower people to build relationships built upon trust and drive that trust relationship into time. Finally, trust the competition to compete fairly, including honorable action, to build a better future. Agency and trust go hand in hand in this endeavor, and through agency and trust, the freedom to act does not have to be litigated, legislated, or lost for the forced acceptance of obscure principles or to honor legislated diversity programs.

Freedom to choose embodies the accountability and responsibility to act, building upon the moral fiber of the individual to be seen and doing that which society claims is “right and proper.” People, all people, regardless of culture and country, want to be seen by their peers and fellow professionals as acting appropriately. The shift from barbarism to civilized society means force is not needed to ensure compliance, and the individual being left to act will naturally act in a manner that will be recognized by free market principles and rewarded. Hence, government fiat and judicial action were not only erroneous but continue to impede diversity programs. Unleashing the power of diversity releases the individual and the organization from acting out of fear and acting for honor and respect from society; through trust, the power of agency and freedom to choose determine a prevalent and cohesive workplace environment.

Taking the prescribed action does presume people are honest and free of prejudice or are willing to release themselves of fear and prejudice out of a desire to be seen as honorable. Although that is an ideal presumption, reality proves it can be problematic from top-down mandates in organizations. Assuming the ideal, the principle of hiring only those, who are qualified by education, experience, character, and ability to work with others at any level, settles the issue whatever diversity the applicant represents. It will automatically happen from top down. Respect shown for others should be included, however, and respect must be earned from top-down with leaders engaging in exemplifying the desire to diversify thinking through action, not simply words printed on a diversity mandate.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved

References

Bjorn, K. (2011, March 03). Moral courage: Building ethical strength in the workplace. Character First: The Magazine, Retrieved from http://cfthemagazine.com/2011-03/moral-courage-building-ethical-strength-in-the-workplace/

Greenberg, J. (2004). Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges and Solutions. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://www.multiculturaladvantage.com/recruit/diversity/diversity-in-the-workplace-benefits-challenges-solutions.asp

Stawiski, S., Deal, J., & Ruderman, M. (2010, April 1). Building trust in the workplace: A key to retaining women. QuickView Leadership Series – Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

Tan, J., & Liddle, T. (2011, March 31). Board diversity the key to rebuilding trust and improving governance: Women Corporate Directors. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://www.kpmg.com/sg/en/pressroom/pages/pr20110331.aspx

 

Organizational Culture: A Leadership Opportunity and Responsibility

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been employed by both organizations mentioned. Both employment situations have ended, and I currently have no further business with either organization. I do continue to develop relationships inside these organizations and have great hope for both businesses to further succeed. It is hoped that the commentary here promotes and helps, as nothing said here should be taken as derogatory. The comments come from research of more than a decade in both organizations, long discussions with employees, vendors, stakeholders, and other customers of both organizations. If either organization would like to comment, their full and unedited commentary will be posted in following discussions.

Creating a culture follows a basic set of principles, namely the example of the leaders, including their words and actions, followed by repetition and the passage of time (Tribus, n.d.). Tribus (n.d.) specifically places the core and creation of organizational culture in the example of the leaders regardless of whether the leader is a leader or a manager by action and word. Hence, the example of the leaders and managers remains more potent to organizational culture than any other single item. As an example of this, Quicken Loans has “ISM’s” which the entire organization is expected to live creating the culture of the business. These Quicken Loans “ISM’s” are exemplified first by the leaders, supervisors, directors, managers, to front-line and new hires from the first interaction with Quicken Loans.

We need clarity here: a leader is never a manager and a manager never leads. While a leader might have duties similar in nature to a manager, the point of focus in the leader is to build others, while the manager’s focus will be to protect and defend their own patch of ego. A leader welcomes inputs, allows freedom, and generates followers. A manager throttles all organizational communication, refuses to accept responsibility or accountability, and destroys any who might be perceived as a threat. An overabundance and overreliance upon managers has been the major cause of problems in business for 40+ years. The dearth of leaders and leadership remains a core organizational cancer for many businesses, to the detriment of all societies, associations, and environments.

To create a culture specific to adaptability, several additional key components are required, namely, written instructions, freedom, and two-directional communication in the hierarchy (Aboelmaged, 2012; Bethencourt, 2012; Deci and Ryan, 2000; and Kuczmarski, 1996 & 2003). Again, the example of Quicken Loans “ISM’s” remains important and applicable. Quicken Loans has an “ISM’s” book available for free to any visitor and any office. This printed material forms a contract with the vendors, customers, visitors, etc., who desire a copy to judge the organization on each of the “ISM’s” printed. The same information is part of the Quicken Loans website. ISM’s remain subject to change to improve the entire organization. Ability to change is a key quality required for all organizations and cultures.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add another component to this discussion. As the organizational culture takes hold of an individual employee, the employee begins to embody the culture, for good or ill, in their daily interactions both personally and professionally. This hold develops into an identity adding another level of control from the organization over the employee binding them to the organization. The identity control becomes a two-edged sword, as the employee will form loyal opposition that can be misinterpreted to be intransigence, and the loss of that employee causes other employees to question their identity and the organizational culture. Or the opposite, the cultural hold is one that breeds desire to not only onboard the culture but personally invest in the organizational culture, and the employee experiences a positive feedback loop building trust in the organization.

Two examples, two separate cultures, two distinct differences in employee attitudes and behaviors are as follows. University of Phoenix has a problem with organizational culture being mentioned from the first day of training, such as employees discussing “how things used to be” and “desiring a return to previous cultures and leaders.” This attitude forms its own culture, creating distrust, and invalidating organizational change. Other attitudes and managerial expressions reinforce this negativity to the detriment of all employees, customers, vendors, and stakeholders. Regardless of the printed statements to the contrary, changes have not become embodied in the organization and the example is telling.

The second example is Quicken Loans. Talking with previous employees reveals a favorable rating of the organization. Talking with current employees on any level reveals a personal favorite “ISM” that speaks to them as a motivating influence for improving daily. The same holds true for decision-makers; many of the vendors and most of the longer-term customers all share a similar “ISM” experience. Example makes the difference!

Quicken Loans and University of Phoenix are creating a culture attuned to the kind of organization they desire, what the organizational leaders communicate, how leaders are seen exemplifying the organizational culture, and building that culture one employee at a time until that employee then begins to sponsor other employees into the organization’s culture. For good or ill, the same process of example propels the organization towards growth and development or trouble and market share loss. The organizational leader must set clear goals, define the vision, and obtain employee buy-in prior to enacting change, then exemplify that vision after the change (Deci and Ryan, 1980, 1985, & 2000). To change an organizational culture, this process must be followed.

Key to this process is Tribus’ (n.d.) [p. 3-4] “Learning Society” vs. “Knowing Society.” The distinction is crucial and the organizational culture must be learned and the process for continually learning honed and promoted to protect the culture from variables both internal and external. A “Learning Society” adapts, builds, grows, and is continually flexing in change akin to a finely crafted sword. A “Knowing Society” is overrun with bureaucracy and managers, fails to grow, cannot flex in change, and remains brittle under a polished exterior, which consequently stresses that exterior causing problems to erupt in a multitude of different areas taxing already tight resources and impacting future ability to adapt to change.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved

References

Aboelmaged, M. (2012). Harvesting organizational knowledge and innovation practices: An empirical examination of their effects on operations strategy. Business Process Management Journal, 18(5), 712-734.

Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal Of Management Studies 39(5): 619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

Bethencourt, L. A. (2012). Employee engagement and self-determination theory. (Order No. 3552273, Northern Illinois University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 121. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294580434?accountid=458. (prod.academic_MSTAR_1294580434).

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 39–80). New York: Academic Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

Kuczmarski, T. (1996). What is innovation? The art of welcoming risk. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 13(5), 7-11.

Kuczmarski, T. (2003). What is innovation? And why aren’t companies doing more of it? What Is Innovation? And Why Aren’t Companies Doing More of It?” 20(6), 536-541.

Tribus, M. (n.d.). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf

Technology Integration: An Evaluation – Understanding Technology

Please note:  The following is Part II of the conversation on technology and the workplace.  While written from an academic perspective, the author hopes to launch a conversation on integrating technology and shifting the current paradigm into a more holistic and practical approach to technology.  Please comment.  – –  Thank you!

Currently many organizations have a problem with technology integration. A new operating system, new legacy systems for employees, and new support systems for employees and customers have all been launched, but the resulting chaos needs to be addressed. Even while the legacy systems and previous technology, had problems, the new is not trusted and a culture of distrust is representing Dandira’s (2012) leadership dysfunction causing organizational cancer. The organizational leadership disconnection to the problems of both the external and internal customers reflects poor technology integration. The following evaluation aims to both highlight the problem and offer best practices to correct the problem, not from a distant point in the future, but from where the organization is now. The purpose of this document is to positively affect the technology integration, bringing forth a new culture while correcting inherent problems in the current organizational design and culture.

Problem Statement

Ropohl (1999) defines the problem advocating that all technology comes with social change. The ideal technological integration would include aspects of Ropohl (1999) to both alert organizational leaders to the change, while also supporting the new culture with leadership presence. The reality is that current front-line thinking reflects organizational leadership as never considering the problems with integration such as, the problems experienced in learning curves to learn the new technology, processes disconnected from legacy systems to the new support technology, SOP’s not current or plain wrong, and never planned for the cultural or technological shift, only the technology was important. The consequence as detailed by Dandira (2012), exasperated current problems with employee and customer frustration including more regionalism, less collaboration, higher stress, and, most disruptive, political culture growing and separating the organizational leaders more from the front-line employees and external customers. The growing feelings of disconnection are the main target of this research. Since technology disrupted an already exasperated problem, the solution can, and should, include the new technology integration. Measuring the technology integration and providing empirical evidence in where to pour resources is the aim of this document.

A Technology Integration Model

Using the core business combined with the disparate duties of each region in the business model, it remains of premier import to not ruin the business model, but restrain regionalism and political games. Thus, Wixom and Todd (2005) provide sound guidance. By focusing resources, as suggested by Wixom and Todd (2005) on both “User Satisfaction” and “Technology Acceptance” the organizational leaders may begin to gather the much needed data to empower decisions. The Wixom and Todd (2005) model is as follows:

  1. Focus early design on user interface. This includes “how work is done” and “why work processes flow the way they do.” Organizations invest many resources into the user interfaces, but the common perception is that broken processes will remain broken.  The process is how the use will interface with the technology to do the work of the organization.  Even small shifts in technology will change the processes and they will need reviewing.
  2. Practical utility. This is not a job for marketing, or a role to be onboarded by a single department or entity. The question to focus upon remains, “Will the user be able to utilize efficiently the new technology?” Other questions branch from this question, pointing to how work is accomplished, why, where, when, and a dream list of users for the new technology.
  3. Attitudes and beliefs influence behavior. Employ “object-based beliefs and attitudes” to positively affect “behavioral-based beliefs and attitudes” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 86). This simply means dispelling the beliefs that one legacy is inherently bad because of a lack of training or another employee’s personal opinion, and another piece of technology is inherently good for the same ambiguous reasons. Currently on the production floor, there are thousands of these beliefs and attitudes hampering productivity. Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) discuss the principles contained here, in-depth referring to this as technological capability (TC). TC is more than the sum total of training, experience, technology, and access to technology; TC is the inherent momentum building motivation into an organizational culture.  Note, motivation is more than desire and capturing motivation, including negative motivation requires leadership interfacing with front-line employees directly, not through command edicts and measuring adherence through statistics.

Trist (1981) employs similar methodology in coal mining as suggested by Wixom and Todd (2005), in improving technology, by focusing on end users, making the processes and procedures easier to adopt, decluttering screens, moving buttons and links to a more natural position on screens, defining terms, etc. practical usability increases and the attitudes and beliefs change dramatically. Ropohl (1999) extends this discussion in reminding organizational leaders of the social aspect to work, especially when work involves high-level technology to accomplish social interactions. Wixom and Todd (2005) quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes, must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Specificity of connections between actual instances and timely response remains one of the steps missed. For example, why three legacy systems that all customer service facing employees should be knowledgeable in; when 50% of the front-line employees have no access to one legacy system due to work design. One system is only used for a single process infrequently employed to complete work; yet all three systems are not trained, necessitating desk guides, QA controls, and more resource investment for no appreciable gain. These long-term employees, considered as subject-matter experts, receive tasking’s to train new hires, but the long-term employee spends more time passing on genetic knowledge, assumption, bias, and opinion, than actually training to a specific standard.

London and Beatty (1993) offer sound counsel for the remedy in suggesting 360-degree feedback loops tailed to the end of each tasking. These feedback loops should be end user controlled, so if additional questions, comments, and concerns arise, the problem does not sit in a manager’s workload, but becomes part of the directors tasking to complete to the satisfaction of the front-line employee, not the director. Wixom and Todd’s (2005) model specifies both a need for practical utility and employing technology to change end used behaviors and attitudes. Integrating technology requires building trust. Trist (1981) discusses this topic obliquely when discussing how employees treated researchers until trust and relationships of trust were established. The same trust issues arise in Wixom and Todd (2005) and Ertmer (1999) capitulates that end user trust is a critical building block in socio-technical systems (STS), without this element, all the specialized technology in the world cannot overcome the inherent mistrust and thus lack of usage of technological solutions.

While discussing safety in the workplace, Budworth and Cox (2005) provide sound guidance applicable to technology integration by insisting that trust involves four elements: “Commitment throughout the organisation [sic] (especially from the top); Competence at all levels of the organisation [sic], through directors, managers, advisors and employees; A structure; and A high level of involvement” (Budworth and Cox, 2005, 46). These elements form the bedrock of any relationship in an organization requiring trust and receive reference in Trist (1981) when discussing the organizational changes required when performing STS successfully.

Scoring the Integration

London and Beatty (1993) demonstrate a valuable insight by describing many “360-Degree Feedback” loops as only “270-Degree” (p. 353). Thus, the first effort in scoring technological integration is ‘360-Degree’s’ of feedback. Those initiating the technological shift, regardless of the technology or lack thereof need to understand the social implications of the change.  A simple scorecard is an effortless tracking system and should be made available to all parties involved in the change. Budworth and Cox (2005) expound upon trust, developing trust, and keeping trust, this is a day-to-day action an organizational leader initiates to followers.

Coombs and Bierly (2006) provide the next items for measurement in scoring technology and the integration process is as follows, “The following six measures of performance are used as dependent variables: return on assets, return on equity, return on sales, market value, market value added, and economic value added” (Coombs and Bierly, 2006, p. 421). Several of these ‘six measures of performance’ include human elements to which McKinnon (2003) and Ropohl (1999) both espouse as critical to technology and integrating technology into an organization. For example, a return on assets for computers purchased to interact with server and intranet technology requires end users. If the end user is unable to effectively use the tool, maximum return on assets remains unachievable, linking back to Wixom and Todd (2005) placing premier emphasis upon “Practical Utility” (p. 86). The same process remains traceable from each of the ‘six measures’ (Coombs and Bierly, 2006, p. 421) to the model espoused and delineated by Wixom and Todd (2005) mentioned above. The same pattern then expanded to each of the items on the scorecard. Leadership, inferred from Robinson (1999) and Toor and Ofori (2008), requires action, differentiation, and risk, along with active empathic listening, to build committed followers. The leader must be a follower and their actions transparent to build the committed trust advocated by London and Beatty (1993).

Suggestions from Research for Best Practices

Ropohl (1999) advocates, Trist (1981) implies, Coombs and Bierly (2006) infer, yet Omar, Takim and Nawawi (2012) emphatically state, a holistic approach to technology integration in STS remains a primary goal.

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills and the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

More simply summarized, get everyone involved, allow for suggestions from outside the core group of developers and programmers, and keep the three main principles expounded upon by Wixom and Todd (2005) to be the focal point of energy. Technology must first focus on how work is done currently and designed for how work ‘will be done’ eventually. Include the SOP’s in the design; operating procedures develop from both technology and human element exposure. By not including upgrades and revisions to operating procedures while designing and integrating critical design steps, opportunities will be missed and greater expense incurred.

Discussed extensively has been some manner of ‘360-Degree Feedback’ loop in communication. Organizational leaders need to face the fact that they do not have all the answers and feedback is valuable to building the type of trust needed in a constantly changing atmosphere. While feedback loops are part of best practices, the importance of these types of communication requires realization and action. Consider the external customer, as a valuable stakeholder, stop presuming organizational leaders know what is required in every process, procedure, and organizational action taken by every employee at every organizational level, obtain feedback and then market who suggested it e.g. the actual customer gets credit, to build trust and affection for the leadership and the organization by all outside the organization. The same principle applies to internal customers or employees; when a suggestion warrants inclusion, advertise who made the suggestion, when, and display how this is an improvement. 360-Degree Feedback loops also include policies, procedures, work processes, etc. Wixom and Todd (2005) along with Omar et al., (2012) advocate this action as initially prescribed by Toor and Ofori (2008).

Omar et al., (2012) provides the concluding and paramount best practice in technological integration into an STS model, “keep it simple.” Many times an axiom a useful to remember this principle is ‘KISS’ or ‘Keep It Supremely Simple.’ Trist (1981) exemplified this principle by keeping the pieces small, the approach simple, and allowing as much holistic growth from inside the organization as possible. Organizational leaders do not need to ‘dumb down’ the message, but simplify. The difference is vast; the approach declares the difference between ‘dumbing down’ and simplified communications. Consider a ‘dumbed down’ message originates from the position of, “I am better than you, you are too stupid to bother with, and I must talk to you in small terms for your benefit;” whereas, a simple message originates from a position of equality with a desire to be understood primarily. Dandira (2012) places the responsibility for simplicity at the feet of the CEO. When the entire organization, led by the CEO, is engaged in simplification, less political games occur, less regionalism, lowered stress, and higher productivity result. Dandira (2012) calls this approach a cure for organizational cancer, discovery of an organizational cancer cure and a best practice renders itself bench-marketable.

Conclusion

            This document has presented a STS integration model designed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as a preferred set of principles to launch STS. Many organizations are currently engaged upon a major or minor technology shift, thus some of the early design work has been done on the technology, but none of the processes control work have been revamped and new SOP’s published. This woeful lapse will continue to hamper STS until rectified and while this primarily will rest upon organizational leaders, purchasing buy-in from employees and other major stakeholders remains an advocated best practice. By calling upon other IT integration researchers, namely Omar et al., (2012), Wixom and Todd (2005), along with Ertmer (1999), other factors discussed include measurement tools and additional principles for design, implementation, and ultimately integration. The author advocates a holistic approach as supported by the research to embolden employees, value customers, and enhance the brand experience, regardless of position or role in the organization.

References

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Coombs, J. E., & Bierly, P. E. (2006). Measuring technological capability and performance. R&D Management, 36(4), 421-438. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9310.2006.00444.x

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

Wixom, B. H., & Todd, P. A. (2005). A theoretical integration of user satisfaction and technology acceptance. Information Systems Research, 16(1), 85-102. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/208159952?accountid=458

© 2014 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved