Unfortunately, accountability in some IT organizations has become something that happens only when they are dealing with major problems. What you have is a working environment with members taking responsibility only when things go wrong. That is, when someone or some group has to own and be answerable for the consequences that impacted the business operations and later on work on reactive solutions. This kind of accountability seldom works because it is founded on the wrong principles.
Accountability in IT happens when IT team members or teams take responsibility in performing functions and work to achieve objectives. Here they take ownership of the services they provide to the business. This kind of accountability impacts both IT services delivery and ultimately, the company’s results. This kind of accountability makes things go right and far from being a punishment for failures. This kind of accountability develops the culture that produces people with the right attitude and managers that execute the right IT strategy. Highly accountable IT organizations have that commitment at all levels — from top management to IT operators that manage day-to-day functions.
IT Accountability in Operative Teams
In my current occupation, I am fortunate to lead a team of professionals with a strong sense of pride in what they do and with the goal of contributing to the organization. That sense of pride translates into a positive attitude and best practices that govern how we work to provide the best service to our internal customers. I once told my team that what I admired most about their work is their culture of shared responsibility. I like that each one has a sense of ownership of the team’s overall performance. They have the initiative to perform certain functions within the scope of their responsibility — very mindful that they are accountable for keeping business operations running efficiently. In our team, doing things above and beyond for the sake of customer service is daily routine. To me, that’s accountability in every sense of the word. The way we hold ourselves accountable defines the very nature of our working relationships, how we provide support to the business, how we work in projects, how we respond to problems and how we interact.
IT Accountability in Cost Management
Accountability in cost management practices is one of the most important areas where IT can really impact the business’ bottom-line. IT leaders need to start by responding to the following questions: What are my cost drivers? What business objective is driving spending? Is spending aligned to the business strategy? Is IT cost transparent and does business understand the value? Accountable IT confronts these tough questions together with their business counterparts. The practice of shifting the focus from IT cost to one of business value no longer works, especially during these tough economic times. It has to be a balance of both. IT needs to be accountable for the business cases that go with its project portfolio. I think that the biggest challenges in IT are those that deal with the intersection of both technology and business — how the cost of investment in certain technologies translates to business value. IT management needs to be at the forefront in taking responsibility for cost efficiency and value creation of their products and services. IT management needs to understand what drives IT cost. The basis for effective cost management is understanding cost structure and analyzing the costs flowing through that structure.
IT Accountability for Improved Service Delivery
Better accountability improves service delivery performance. But how does this work? IT accountability for improving IT services delivery is not simply a question of providing the technology needed to run its business or ensuring service availability. It is also about its service culture as well as better partnership and alignment with the business. In short, the challenge is as much about partnership and customer relationship as it is about providing the right IT business solutions. Service culture is one of the softer elements of the IT organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to have a strong sense of accountability in delivering excellent services. Essential to improving partnership with the business is a deeper understanding of the business strategy, objectives and the service levels that are required. How do we engage business leaders? What is the current and evolving business strategy of the company? How can IT be leveraged to gain competitive advantage? How do we manage ongoing innovation and process improvements? Does the business understand our capabilities to maximize our value? How do we communicate and manage perception about IT services? These are some of the difficult questions and challenges that must be addressed head on by IT leaders. There must be a structure used to allow learning from business engagement about strategies, core elements and innovations to improve service culture.
Although the concept of accountability is often reduced to ‘answerability’ or ‘enforceability’, a more complete understanding includes the actions that take place at every level and every internal customer touch points. Again, accountability does not only happen when things go wrong—accountability is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than having an end point.
Photos courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and Michal Marcol.
We’ve all heard the saying that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership. But ironically, it’s often the most overlooked. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said.
The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. The most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions. IT leaders should not limit their engagement with their employees with discussions about operation work. They should engage their subordinates in other meaningful ways so as to help them develop themselves.
The best IT teams must have a culture of continuous learning. In IT organizations, developing employees is not optional, it is a necessity. Development is necessary to acquire the skills and learn the knowledge needed to keep up with new technology and processes in order to achieve business goals. Additionally, development programs in volatile and competitive organizations like IT are important in attracting and retaining employees.
Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and most innovative area of the company. If the CIO is not forward-looking, IT will most likely neither be as competitive nor at par with competitors who are relentlessly pursuing innovation. IT leaders are fascinated about the future. They are relentless about change and impatient for progress. CIOs should always be looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, searching for new processes, tools and methodologies and experimenting how it will make sense in business in the future.
- How many types of developmental conversations occur in your organization?
- How can you create a culture of learning that goes beyond traditional classroom training?
- In what ways do your communication tools and practices help build your team’s skills for participating in conversations about goals, changes, and barriers they face?
Photo coutesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
If you are running a business, having a big set of performance measures is a good thing. But a set of measures by itself isn’t enough. Having performance measures is one side of the coin. The other side (and what counts) is the application of those measures for its fundamental purpose – that is, to improve business performance.
Technological advancements in business analytics makes it much easier to collect and report data. This causes a tendency for business users to demand excessive numbers of performance indicators— in some cases, even more than needed to monitor, control and manage their business. Performance measures are worthless and counter productive unless used for a specific purpose such as to track work and achieve better results.
When are there enough performance measures?
This question can be answered only by you as users of information. Review what you have and analyze each performance measure. You’ll never know. You might have in excess of some types of measures and lacking others. Let’s understand the different types of performance measures.
Performance measurement is the regular collection and reporting of data to track work produced and results achieved. Performance measures can be applied in any organization, regardless of size, type and structure.
To illustrate the different types of performance measures and how they are used in different levels of the organization, please refer to the figure below.
Architecture of Performance Measures
I like to use the Deming circle based on the principles of W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician who argued that supplying products or services require activities, and the quality of a service depends upon the way activities are organized. The Deming circle demonstrates a system of continuous improvement, with the appropriate levels of quality delivered by adhering to the following steps:
- PLAN: Design or revise components to improve results.
- DO: Ensure the plan is implemented
- CHECK: Determine if the activities achieved the expected results
- ACT: Adjust the plan based on results gathered during the check phase.
When you talk about performance measurement, the most important element of the Deming circle is the “check” element. That’s where you apply performance measures, “check” or measure in order to “act” and change the “plan”. Consequently, you adjust what you “do” in execution.
The nested Deming circles represent the levels of the organization and the different types of measures used at every level. The first circle denotes the corporate or strategic cycle. The performance measures in the “check” component in the strategic cycle are composed of strategic performance indicators. They are usually a high level aggregate of data consolidated in summary, graphs and dashboards. Performance measures at this level are usually a small set of key performance indicators selected by top management.
The second circle represents the business unit or tactical cycle. The measures in the “check’ component of the tactical cycle are composed of tactical performance indicators. They are usually a drill-down of the strategic measures and used to manage and control the business operations. Performance measures at this level are usually a small set of key performance indicators selected by business unit management. Tactical measures are an important link to strategic and operative measures.
The last level is made of the process indicators or operative measures. They are measures that are embedded in each of the end-to-end processes, within or across departmental boundaries. These are the lowest level measure use to track work on a daily basis to improve process efficiency and performance.
Now that you know the different types of performance measures depending on different levels of the organization, examine your existing metrics. Do you think you have the right quantity and quality of performance measures at every level?
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The senior vice president of the shared service organization that I work with is retiring after 25 years of service to the company. In a farewell gathering last week to honor his years of service and great accomplishments, 25 selected employees (old and new) took turns to share 25 business lessons learned from our retiring boss. Many of those 25 employees who stood and spoke about the 25 business lessons accompanied them with remarkable stories. They were stories that in many ways embodied the values and meaning of each of the business lessons. Being relatively new to the organization, I felt that the hour and a half of stories and messages provided me a glimpse of the organization’s founding stories, its key tenets, culture and identity. I felt a stronger sense of belongingness and understanding that I know will only help me in how I interact and collaborate with my colleagues.
Stories are powerful messages that shape the organization’s understandings of relationships and of how members deal with the mix of harmony, successes and failures that are always present in the workplace. These are past events that people talk about internally—and even externally. In some cases, leaders choose what stories to tell and immortalize. They are stories that best represent the organization’s values and culture.
Stories can also be critical experiences, major incidents, conflicts and problems that the members of the organization experienced together. The way leaders and members approached, worked through and solved critical experiences help shape the group’s dynamics. The daily actions and decisions of leaders and managers signal appropriate responses to wide-ranging issues. Because of social influence, leaders are the single most important factors and determiners of organizational culture.
Organizational culture is influenced by the leadership style. In other words, the personality, philosophy and experience of the leaders get embodied in its group’s culture. Leaders facilitate the development of organizational culture through different embedding mechanisms that align culture with the organization’s common goal and strategy.
I have long been intrigued by the series Undercover Boss (currently shown in CBS) but never got the chance to watch it— until last Sunday. I am so happy I did. I learned a lot of business insights from the one and only episode that I have watched so far. I just saw a replay of an episode that was first aired in February 2010. It’s the one where Joe DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven, goes undercover in his own company by working in different operations jobs. Among DePinto’s responsibilities were: working the night shift, making donuts, and driving a delivery truck.
DePinto tells his executive team before embarking on his temporary assignments:
“I’ll be focusing on spending time in the field, where the rubber meets the road. I’m going to see what we’re not doing well, and that’s only going to make us better in the long run.”
In the end, Joe DePinto witnessed a lot of great and inspiring things from ordinary employees of varying backgrounds and at the same time he saw some areas of opportunity. I think his undercover stint was a worthwhile learning experience for him and will only improved the way he manages 7-Eleven. Here are seven management lessons that I learned from this Undercover Boss episode:
DePinto’s first stint as undercover boss was in Shirley, NY where he worked the early morning shift at the store that sells the most coffee among all the 7-Eleven stores. He wanted to understand the secret as to why this branch was selling more coffee than other stores. Here DePinto met Dolores – 7-Eleven employee for 18 years. He saw her passion and dedication despite her sickness; she has only one kidney and has to undergo dialysis every single day. What’s amazing was how Dolores knew all the customers by name and greeted them affectionately. She showed an up-beat and positive attitude all the time. DePinto quickly realized that the reason why that store was selling 2,500 cups of coffee per day was because of Dolores and her relationship with her customers — definitely not just because of their coffee.
2. Replicate what works
By going undercover, DePinto discovered what he set out to discover. He learned and observed first hand how Dolores’ personal relationship with her customers brought them back to her store again and again. DePinto wanted to replicate the success of Dolores’ store in order to improve 7-Eleven’s business in coffee sales. Duplicating what Dolores does is not an easy task, but if 7-Eleven can develop a customer service culture patterned after how Dolores treats her customers, it could work!
3. Know your employees
DePinto’s next stint was working at 7-Eleven’s largest bakery in Baltimore, Maryland. Here he was trained by Phil, the shift supervisor and aspiring artist. DePinto was visibly impressed byPhil’s talent as he was shown a sketch pad-full of great drawings inspired by, what else, donuts. This casual encounter in the break room led DePinto to spot a talent that could be harnessed by the company’s marketing department. Just like DePinto, I think managers should seek to know more about their employees and discover their other talents and capabilities. They must be open to harness these talents if it creates mutual value for the employee and the company. Providing employees the training and opportunities to showcase their other talents is a win-win situation for the company and its people.
4. Employees can inspire management
The last day of Undercover Boss finds DePinto working with Igor on a delivery truck. Igor, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, inspired DePinto with his humble story. DePinto affirmed Igor for his hard work, can-do attitude, and passion for the job during their meeting at the company’s headquarters when he finally revealed himself as the CEO. Igor replied, “I can’t say anything, I’m just doing my job.” Igor talked passionately about his “American Dream” and how grateful he is to be living it. He told DePinto how he and his wife work only see each other during the weekends because of Igor’s night shifts. Igor’s inspiration and dedication was rewarded— he is now managing one franchise for 7 Eleven.
5. Communication is key
Remote operations and thousands of franchisees makes the communication of programs and messages challenging for companies like 7-Eleven. During the show, DePinto was surprised to find out that one store routinely trashed day-old bakery items which were supposed to go to charity. He was visibly disappointed that these items — that should have been sent to charities as per company policy — were being thrown into the trash. It showed his real concern for the homeless and hungry. However, he understood that it was a case of miscommunication and it something that can surely be improved through better coordination and communication from the head office.
6. Support your frontline
In addition, the episode showed one store that needed to replace many of its lights in the store area and in the storage area. It was one of the chain’s highest grossing stores and its lights had been out for some time. It not only negatively affected 7-Eleven’s image to its customers (the store did not seem well-maintained due) but was also a potential safety hazard for the employees. DePinto, as “Danny” the entry level employee, was actually tasked to call maintenance and request for the lights to be changed. As “Danny”, he was told that it was a low priority request and the store’s lights can only be fixed in 30 days during the monthly maintenance visit. DePinto had to call his chief operations officer to prioritize the maintenance job. How we support our frontline is important to our business. They are the people that serve our customers directly. Managers need to know the reality of what’s happening in the field in order to make more sensible decisions according to the situation in the frontline.
7. Great people make great companies
While working on the donut production line, DePinto couldn’t keep up with the speed of the conveyor belt. This was until his trainer, Phil, showed him the trick to doing it more efficiently. That’s the case with every task in business, no matter how big or small and strategic or operational. In another segment, DePinto asked Waqas – a young Pakistani who served as boss for the night — about career plans and discovered that Waqas doesn’t consider his job at 7-Eleven to be a “career.” Waqas works the night shift in order to finish his college education during the day. Despite earning a college degree, Waqas views his position in 7-Eleven as a dead-end job because there are no opportunities for him to move up in the company. DePinto was saddened to hear this. The CEO felt that an employee who has already worked four years for the company and is working for higher education should feel that they have other possibilities and opportunities within the company. DePinto went to say, “Great people make great companies; we can’t let them think their jobs are dead-end, we can’t win without our great soldiers.”
Image courtesy of 7-Eleven.
Promise, Practice, People and Performance- Four Key Components of IT Branding (Branding IT Organizations Part 4)
IT branding is the process of building and improving the IT brand identity. This identity is shared by employees and groups that control the way they interact with each other, with stakeholders and with internal customers. It is a powerful tool in transforming the IT group into people who perform calculated, yet seemingly spontaneous, service delivery in the best interests of its internal customers.
This is part four of my series on IT branding. We have covered several perspectives on IT branding in the first three articles of this series. Part 1 talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture Maturity. In part two, the concept of IT branding was defined and how it was related to IT team culture. Part three talked about high quality IT service delivery as the best brand identity.
This post will delve more into the subject of IT branding, understand its key components and examine how it shapes the IT organization. The four key components of the IT brand, the four Ps — Promise, Practice, People and Performance, will be defined. These can be seen in the diagram below:
One establishes the IT brand by building trust in a promise about what the company does, what it stands for, what its vision is, and what added business value it can provide the internal customers and stakeholders. This is represented through the established IT vision and mission statement, customer value proposition and service offers. This promise must be developed by IT top management and its sponsors through extensive analysis of internal and external environment, interviews, and research. The Promise component of the IT branding process is achieved through vital scoping, visioning and strategic planning.
After writing the organization’s promise, the next step is to build the engine that will enable service delivery. This is the IT Practice – comprised of IT operating model, mode of service delivery and various other methodologies. It ensures that IT teams achieve optimum results and performance. It will define the discipline in which IT systems, operations, projects and evolution will be managed. However, this discipline should not be constrained to a particular use of a vendor’s product; rather, it should focus on providing a framework to structure IT related activities and the interaction of IT personnel with business customers and users.
The most important element of the IT brand is the People component. Everyone in IT must be in sync. For new team members, this is achieved through an adequate on-boarding process. For existing employees, ongoing organizational development and engagement initiatives will work. Communication is critical in this aspect. Top management must fully engage employees. It starts by communicating the Promise (IT mission and vision, strategy) and Practice (IT operating model and methodologies). Each team member must know his role and value in the overall service delivery system. It is important to note that the internal perception of the IT brand are affected by the IT team members’ behavior, and that one must therefore shape the IT team culture in ways that encourage IT brand-committed actions on the part of all IT employees.
As discussed in part three of my articles on IT branding—what is central to IT branding is the relentless pursuit of quality IT services. Organizations build its IT brand by living up to its promise. IT teams strengthen its IT brand by relentlessly improving its IT brand promise. The surest way to do this is improving performance. IT managers must define key performance indicators to monitor performance against objectives. Measuring the success of IT branding initiatives is challenging; however, it is essential that every effort be made to measure results versus targets set forth.
A Final Note:
One’s perception of the IT service is often reduced to a phone conversation with a helpdesk service agent. IT branding depends on each and every individual working in the IT organization—the “People”—from the top, the CIO to middle IT managers then to the frontline helpdesk service agents. It is important that all IT personnel are in sync because the service brand is all about them. It is strengthened by the established “Promise” and “Practices” that enables IT organization to deliver with high “Performance”.
Peter Drucker (November 19, 1909–November 11, 2005) was a writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist.” The Harvard Business Review honors Drucker’s contributions with a spread in its current November edition. The issue has a lot of interesting and insightful articles about the continuing relevance of his perspectives and wisdom in today’s turbulent times.
Drucker’s Influence in Asia
I remember my professor in the Asian Institute of Management who talked passionately about Peter Drucker’s perspective in business and management. Managers in Asia have described Drucker influence as essential in making their business successful and helping countries develop. Drucker frequently travelled to Asia, particularly Japan, throughout his life. He has profound influence there, not only as a management consultant to companies such as Toyota and retail giant Masatoshi Ito but also as a consultant to governments such as Japan, South Korea and China.
Many influential and revolutionary ideas have run through Drucker’s career and writings. He preached about decentralization, simplification, impact of knowledge workers, management by objectives, customer service, corporate compensation, need for community, organizational business processes among others. I have chosen two out of Drucker’s many ideas to discuss:
1. The Purpose of a Company Is to Create a Customer
A company’s primary responsibility is to serve its customers. Profit is not the primary goal, but rather an essential condition for the company’s continued existence. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” – Peter Drucker
Profits come when customers continue to buy your products and services. That is the reason why Drucker’s perspective always pointed out the importance of putting customers first. A.G. Lafley, chairman of P&G board of directors, always sought out Drucker’s advice during his tenure as CEO of the company. He attributes their corporate principle to Drucker’s customer service principle that the consumer – not the CEO – is boss. P&G have made it their purpose to touch more consumers and improve more of each consumer’s life. By putting customers first, according to Lafley, they have nearly doubled the number served, from 2 billion to 3.8 billion; doubled sales and tripled P&G profits.
2. Essential Condition for the Company’s Continued Existence
“The need for planned abandonment – businesses have a natural human tendency to cling to “yesterday’s successes” rather than seeing when they are no longer useful.” – Peter Drucker
Many companies focus on placing as many products and services as possible in the market and reap as much profits as possible. Their center of attention lies in what they have achieved in the past and what they are maximizing in the present. According Zhang Ruimin, CEO of the Haier Group based in China, sole focus on generating profits today could not ensure his company’s survival tomorrow. Early on, Haier’s profits were dwarfed by its competitors in China while Haier focused on quality. They could not compete with companies offering the same products in the market. But when supply-demand balance changed in China, according to Ruimin, lots of companies lost customers and went bankrupt overnight while Haier strengthened its position in the market. This is one of Drucker’s key principles – the assumptions on which the organization has been built and is being run no longer fits reality. Zhang Ruimin takes this to heart as a constant warning. He wrote, “All decisions I make must be consistent with the ever-changing external environment. If they aren’t, the consequences may not emerge right away, but once the danger show up, it will be too late.”
To read more about Peter Drucker’s perspectives and find out how his wisdom can help your company navigate these turbulent times, take a hold of the current November edition of Harvard Business Review with the headline: The Drucker Centennial – What Would Peter Do?
Photo courtesy of Harvard Business Review.