Plugged In: Virtually efficient — Don’t reinvent the wheel

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed why it’s critical to productivity to adapt your office or business to new technologies, rather than simply doing the same old thing but using faster, more expensive computers.

Constantly spending money on technology is usually wasteful unless you already have good management and a clear, consistently implemented plan in place before making your purchases.

So this week, we’ll take a look at some nontechnical technology management issues.

Managing effective change

Rapid technological change has some potentially serious drawbacks, most of which can be avoided by careful management and good advance planning and research.

Although it seems obvious, too many businesses and organizations keep throwing expensive technology at antiquated and unproductive organizational processes and then wonder why they’re less efficient, rather than more so. Before spending your money, be sure that you’ve clearly aligned your organizational goals and processes in order to make the best use of the technology that you already have in place and to take advantage of the opportunities that become feasible with newer technology.

Avoid the temptation to assume that whatever you’re already doing is the best attainable outcome and the best way to reach that goal. Research what other, similar organizations and businesses are doing around the country with comparable technologies and what they’ve done to become more effective and efficient.

Just because we haven’t yet heard about a better approach might only mean that we’re behind the power curve, but don’t realize this until we fail to clear those trees at the end of the runway.

Aside from your direct purchase costs, implementing new technology absorbs a lot of an organization’s time and resources. New technology is usually disruptive and can cause organizational problems without good leadership and advance planning. Implement only what you need to accomplish a worthwhile goal in the most effective and efficient manner. Technology can’t substitute for good judgment and foresight.

Many employees tend to be entrenched in doing what they’ve always done, in the way that they’ve always done it, even if there’s no evidence that their traditional practices work or are more effective. Not uncommonly, without good leadership and a clear, consistent path forward, such users refuse to change and may even try to subtly sabotage a business or an organization and its new technologies.

Technology should supplement and enhance hands-on management, rather than replacing it. Although electronic communications are useful and efficient for routine communications, electronic communications also tend to isolate employees and management from each other, too often causing unnecessary misunderstandings and frayed relationships.

Don’t substitute e-mail and other electronic communications for tried and true “management by walking around.” Direct contact is still the best way to develop a true understanding of a situation and personal contact and brainstorming remains the best way to develop creative ideas, consensus and organizational energy.

Recent neuropsychological research suggests what many have suspected for some time — excessive electronic interaction can have definite negative consequences for heavy computer users. The New York Times has recently run an excellent series of articles, “Your Brain on Computers,” examining this problem and suggesting some easy fixes. It’s worth connecting to http://www.nytimes.com and searching for the series.

Hiring, training and interacting

Established organizations and businesses traditionally placed great emphasis upon grooming promising employees for the long haul, training staff and gradually giving them more authority as they gained experience and ability. After all, they were the future of the business.

However, as remote electronic communication increasingly substitutes for direct personal observation and interaction, quality control and the training and supervision of employees become more important but more difficult. Remote interaction reduces our ability to informally and efficiently review intermediate work and brainstorm with employees who are not physically located.

These are underappreciated problems arising during the transition to a higher level of technology and electronic communications. And, that’s our future, whether we prefer it or not.

Unfortunately, resistance is futile. Just look at students and younger employees in their teens and 20s. They’re texting and e-mailing people who are only 20 or 30 feet away. Hopefully, they’re not driving or operating machinery at the same time.

Training and retaining competent employees may be adversely affected as we transition to the inevitable future where the organizations will undergo continuous changes in their structure, personnel and technology. Users in remote locations will need to develop stronger technology skills and the ability to exercise a greater degree of good judgment under tight time frames. Managers need to learn how to motivate such employees and get the best from them.

We’ll need to hire and retain better-trained, more technically adept staff, particularly paraprofessionals with the ability to learn new technologies as well as a deeper level of substantive knowledge.

Such employees must have knowledge and skills that many managers currently comprehend only with difficulty but will need to learn sooner rather than later.

In good economic times and bad, technologically savvy employees are in high demand and very mobile. Rather than directing such employees in detail, we need to lead them, using their knowledge and goodwill. We’ll need to adapt our management style to a more collegial, democratic approach that better suits an increasingly professional support staff rather than an autocratic top-down style. The military learned the value of this approach many years ago and now teaches effective leadership and consensus-building as basic skills.

Employees who have deep, substantive knowledge and who readily learn new technology, techniques and processes are the future of any organization. Even if you, as a manager, don’t really understand what your most knowledgeable and experienced employees are saying, deepen your own knowledge rather than pulling back in discomfort. You’ll be better off, as will your business or organization. As any military veteran knows, the most effective officers lead by example and broad knowledge.

Because advanced technology requires advanced skills, we’ll have to invest a substantial amount of time and money in training employees to a mix of constantly evolving skills. Losing such employees is not only expensive in terms of hiring and training replacements, but also very debilitating to long-term effectiveness and productivity.

A technologically based organization has some real staffing advantages. Although there is a premium on highly knowledgeable professional and paraprofessional employees, routine clerical chores become simpler, less tedious and require less knowledge. That allows an organization to become less dependent upon a mass of clerical employees for routine chores.

Virtual restructuring

Both the economic recession and the Internet are forcing organizations to restructure their operations and become more efficient. Businesses and organizations are becoming more “virtual” in structure, allowing a greater degree of flexibility that can be tailored to each customer and situation.

Effective businesses and organizations “re-engineer” their operations, emphasizing excellent internal communications and fast, precision delivery of data by a small, often ad-hoc team. Information has always been power, but now that information must be more clearly focused than ever.

Why are an organization’s structure and internal communications becoming so important? In the paper-and-pencil era, we used the brute force of many employees to manually collect, process and act upon information.

Imparting information to our customers required a great deal of direct personal interaction in order to work. Those sorts of approaches are expensive, counterproductive anachronisms in an era where a fast Internet connection makes data and employees on the other side of the continent almost as accessible as if down the hall.

An Internet-based virtual organization can leverage the effectiveness of a few highly experienced staffers, regardless of where they live. In this era of web-hosted, document-imaging files, we don’t even need to be overly concerned about where the paper files, if any, are located.

Like it or not, technology changes at a constantly accelerating rate. Our businesses and organizations must learn how to evolve and manage change at least as effectively as our competitors or we’ll doom ourselves to irrelevance and mediocrity while waiting for that asteroid to strike.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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One response to “Plugged In: Virtually efficient — Don’t reinvent the wheel

  1. Pingback: Pattern | jameshuddleston

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