January 12, 2014

I Was So Wrong-My Review Of "The Plugged-In Manager"

by Cary J. Calderone, Esq.

It is difficult for anybody to admit they were wrong.  Perhaps even more so for an attorney skilled at arguing to the contrary, but I have to admit it now because the more I learn, the more I realize just how wrong I was.  Flash back to the year 2000, when I was becoming friends with author Dr. Terri L. Griffith.  She explained that the focus of her work was around "Organizational Behavior" and "Virtual Teams."   She even described it as arguably the most critical part of the MBA curriculum.  Are you rolling your eyes?  I know I sure did.  She went on to say that while in school, MBA students believe Finance and other core subjects are the most important.  However, once they graduate and have been out in the workforce for a few years, their opinions change.  Then, OB and VT courses have the highest priority and are the first they take when they return for Executive Education.  Apparently, the MBA students were initially wrong too.  As I read her book, I could not help but reflect on my past seven years of record and information management counseling and just how much more my "organizational behavior" skills and knowledge  outweighed my legal skills when it came to getting results.  

The Plugged-In Manager is ideal for RIM practitioners, non-believers, and perhaps, even exceptional managers who want a refresher course in how to get things done.  But I think it will be especially helpful to in-house attorneys.  Dr. Griffith analyzes and outlines many examples of business success and failure and how "plugged-in" managers consistently outperform those who do not plug in.  In short, "plugged in" means that you "stop, look, and listen" to co-workers and employees and you understand what has worked, and can work, at your company.   It is not just about technology.  It is not just about rules.  It is not just about organizational issues. It is about all of those taken in the context of your people and customers.  There are even some handy self-assessment forms and, tips and methods to help you get others to plug in.

While there are many excellent examples, I found two of them nicely illustrated the opposite ends of the spectrum.  On the one hand, there was Amazon's unilateral decision to start deleting e-books off of the Kindle reading machines, after it was determined that these copies were in breach of copyright law.  It was not so much that users wanted to break the law.  It was just that the solution from Amazon was too invasive. It was as if Amazon never understood how their customers might feel violated and lose trust in the company and the product.

On the other end of the spectrum.  Dr. Griffith describes how Southwest Airlines totally revised its check-in and boarding routines.  This was no small feat.  Everything had to change.  From the technology that reserved your spot on the plane, to the way people lined up before boarding the planes.  And, in spite of all these complexities, the changes happened, with hardly any customer complaints or backlash.  This was not by accident.  Plugged-In management recognized and planned for policies, procedures, and training, to bring the new system online.  They succeeded because they had considered the people, the processes, and, the technology.    

I really wish I could locate the specific academic study Dr. Griffith shared with me back in 2000, but the numbers were staggering and started me on the path to enlightenment.  For any given software implementation, when users were polled beforehand, (part of "negotiated implementation" and the "plugged in" process)  the adoption and use of new software after implementation exceeded 70%.  When users were not polled, and just received new software selected for them by the organization, the adoption rate was closer to 20%.  This represents a substantial justification for anybody who wants to improve RIM, e-discovery, security, privacy, or any other enterprise-wide or cross-functional technology.

Having spent the last seven years helping organizations review and update their information systems and legal policies, I believe polling the users versus not polling means the difference between success and failure.  It might just be as simple as giving your employees the feeling of being "engaged" in the process versus being the "victims" of the wrath of a dis-engaged management.

Moreover, Plugged-In provides a useful explanation for why project management alone is not sufficient to succeed.  Sure, there are substantial benefits to having a taskmaster push a project along.  But, when projects take a long period of time, as they often do, without the commitment of an engaged user base, project management will not save you.  I think the secret is that the Plugged-In approach helps you to both, set a better initial goal and, then to make appropriate changes and adjustments along the way.  Of course, this means you will have to continue to stop, look, and listen, until the project is completed.

The only downside to Dr. Griffith's approach is that the concepts seem very simple.  As you read, you will have a tendency to believe that you already know this stuff.  Simple truths always seem oh, so obvious, especially after you read them in a good book.  But I challenge you to look at an organization you know well, and review past technology upgrade successes and failures through the prism of the Plugged-In framework.  It's likely you'll be rewarded with solid explanations for both the successes and failures.

In my counseling experience, I learned the first question to ask a client was about their last attempt to update their records or information systems, and how that went.  Most times I have heard about the attempt(s), and the reasons it/they failed.  These Plugged-In techniques won't guarantee you'll succeed, but I am convinced they will significantly improve your odds.  They have certainly helped me to help my customers. 

1 comment:

Terri Griffith said...

I've talked about Plugged-In Management with agribusiness execs, user-experience designers, high school kids, and love seeing the extension to the legal community.

Thanks, too, for reminding me how powerful it is to ask people how their last attempt went. I made me remember a Navy officer who was implementing a large enterprise healthcare system with a diverse set of people. I offered up what I call the "mixing" practice in the book. No interest at all until I asked how the prior attempts had gone.

Apparently not well -- to the tune of a million and a couple million dollars in the 1990s. Never heard how his next attempt went, but I know it couldn't have been worse.

Plugged-In Management is a discipline that will pay off. Thank you for sharing with your audience.