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Looking both ways

He’d picked up the last clean cup from the kitchen cupboard in the office and made some tea, before realising the shape of the handle meant it was designed for right handed people. This would make drinking the murky cup of Earl Grey interesting.

Brian had worked as a technology consultant over the last 20 years and over time what had been purely keyboard-based activities had developed into more complex projects, where the process and the needs of the people using the technology had become the focus. Gone were the days were you could hide in the server room and keep your head down, happily focusing on installing software, writing scripts and submitting bugs. Increasingly he find himself in more and more meetings, discussing how the products would be used and what the customer would need to change or adapt in their way of working in order to be successful. Starting off with assessing their maturity, he would then look to encourage people and teams of develop processes and ways of working to ensure they could use the technology he would be installing.

The company Brian worked for had built a reputation for innovation and has successfully disrupted the IT market, becoming a leader in its main operating system area. As well as it’s products, it was now selling it’s brand and way of working, as well as its open organisation as something that it’s customers should emulate as part of digital transformation. It wasn’t just about the technology anymore.

This change wasn’t easy for customers and as such they looked for help in making organisational and cultural changes which would be needed to ensure their own businesses would be successful. Technology was only a small part of the jigsaw and whilst the problems were now increasingly complex, they weren’t insurmountable if approached the right way and with the right engagement.

This past few weeks had been typical of the type of organisation he was working with and Brian saw himself as much as consultant of people than he was of the technology he’d install. Some of the things he was seeing weren’t unique and all provided challenges that needed to be overcome.

  • The main software system used by the business had been migrated to over the last 12 months, with considerable effort and manual data migration. The person in charge of the transformation to the new system was no longer with the company, having taken the fall for the failures which had significant business impact. It was working but was still not providing the level of service the old system did.
  • Despite this, the main Director of the organisation was dynamic and had successfully grown the business across a number of regions; he knew that he needed to change both the technology and organisation to ensure this growth continued. He’d recently proposed a new org structure, which he’d presented to his leadership team once he’d put it together. Whilst there been some tweaks, it was his changes that were to be implemented, but the lack of detail in plan was impacting some of the key workers, who were now not clear of their role and responsibility
  • Whilst the leadership team worked together, the level of shared responsibility they had for the overall success of the business was low. Initially there had been a lot of discussion on the need to become more agile and flexible in tackling problems, but relatively quickly this had broken down into hierarchical structures with people owning resources, budgets and not cooperating
  • The central team provide systems and services to a number of Regions. These Regions had become increasingly independent and less accountable. Focused on targets there’s was an increasing diversification in products and offerings around the technology and whilst they were successful they could do things there own way. However it was becoming evident that this was beginning to be a problem with one of the largest regions failing to meet targets. These were specific to the Region and as such harder to fix by the central team
  • There are plenty of cases where individuals were propping up bad projects through hard work. These weren’t being addressed by management and people were simply left there until they went sick or the project finally crashed.
  • They’d brought in new people to help scale the systems and business as they grew, but it had infact led to significant clashes in culture. There was an increased aversion to risk, being accountable and stepping up to take on tasks. Management to individual contributor rations had gone from 10:1 to 3:1 with a significant loss in revenue.
  • A few years ago, they’d set-up and funded a small team to try out new ways of working and take on new business. It had had a measure of success and taken on new projects and won new customers, but it now saw itself as its own business rather than being part of the larger organisation. One of the main problems is that was itself looking to prevent innovation in other parts of the business, preferring to be the sole place where new ideas and technology would come from.

All of these things were typical of the challenges facing organisations who were having to transform as technology itself became fundamental for the business. As technology took centre stage, the need for effective processes and organisations become more important, not less.

Brian continued to look at the assessment and write the report he was working on. He would normally be bolstered in the knowledge that he was, as a visitor to the organisation, able take a more abstract, third party view and provide lots of useful insights to the management in his report.

However, this wasn’t the case with this report. Rather than being on customer site, Brian was benched and the organisation he was writing about was his own.

What had been the innovator and the disruptor was now struggling to find its way, with its culture eroded through expansion and the need itself to meet targets. Being on the inside and within the hierarchy now made it virtually impossible for Brian to be heard or understood. Rather than objective observation people saw personal criticism and confrontation. The more you told someone, the more they avoided you and sought out people who agreed with them and confirmed what they wanted to here.

Brian closed the laptop, looked up and out of the office window to see the snow falling gently in the car park and realised that he’d come to the office on his motorbike. Getting home was going to be a challenge with some risk, but he was up for that.

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