I will not discuss the fact that by being sure to find any information through a search engine, one does not try to remember anything, one does not learn anything and, more importantly, one loses all critical sense, one no longer qualifies one’s sources and one swallows any fake news. This is a subject that deserves its own development, even if we should not get the debate wrong: there is no point in blaming technology for the dissemination of poor quality information, but rather in asking ourselves what made the critical sense disappear among its users.
In short, here again it is not possible to replicate the fluidity of the outside world within the company. Organizational complication is one cause, but not the only one. Problems in the management and circulation of information which are sometimes the consequence but which also have other causes is one of them.
Information is to the business what the ball is to football.
Before going any further, let me explain why information sharing and flow are so important. No matter what a company produces, it’s all about getting the flows moving as quickly as possible.
When one produces tangible goods, it’s quite obvious: the faster a production line moves, the better.
But it is also true when one makes intangible things. Here we’re not talking about physical flows but about flows of information, of knowledge.
And even when one produces manufactured goods, there are logics of decision making, monitoring and, above all, design that are based solely on information flows.
And in all cases there are of course the support functions (HR, finance…) and even (especially?) the management functions that cannot function without information.
Sports commentators often say that “the ball will always go faster than the players”, i.e. it is more effective to get the ball moving well (and quickly) than to make the players run. Well it’s the same in business. The less information circulates well and quickly, the slower the business goes, the slower it adapts.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE said that “when the speed of change outside the organization exceeds the speed of change inside, the end is near“. But change requires information to flow, and in any case, when information flows faster outside than inside, it is a harbinger of a bleak future.
So yes, it is a problem of performance and competitiveness for the company, but basically, if we start from the principle that an efficient organization is an organization designed around those who produce, in the same way that a good sales process is built around the customer, then it is a problem of employee experience at the base. The rest is a sometimes serious consequence for the company, but the root cause is never addressed because we never start from the operational people.
Not having the right information, or not at the right time, before it even becomes a concern for the company is a problem for the employee who does not have the means to do his job (well), is stuck on a task or even has to waste crazy energy trying to get the information in question. As often the warning signals of a bad employee experience are the warning signs of more serious problems for the company in terms of decision making and execution.
In an economy of knowledge, of services, in a complex world, your worst enemy is not your competitor: it is speed.
Knowledge is power, an old myth that’s still alive and kicking.
Let’s start with an age-old problem: information retention. Indeed, it is still too often considered that “knowledge is power”.
Having information and not giving it is indeed almost a statutory symbol. “I know and you don’t.” It’s also an expression of the power one has over the other: “if you don’t know you can’t do your job so give me a reason to help you”. It is finally, logically, the possession of a power of nuisance because one can quietly send one’s colleagues to failure for lack of the necessary information.
In fact it is not a myth: knowledge is power. But when the success of a company is conditioned by the speed at which it circulates, shares, mixes and confronts information, it is above all the power to lead everyone to failure, including oneself.
Somewhat similar to the previous point is the fact that the rights of access to information are decided based on the person who issues it and not on the people who need it and therefore access is managed according to hierarchical status and not on operational need.
Of course not everything has to be shared, far from it. But sometimes this rule is applied blindly and we see, for example, people working on a project looking for vital information, for example in budgetary, contractual or commercial terms, which is only available at the top of the organisation chart to the person who drew it up while they need it to make a decision.
How often is information developed at top management level not available to the managers who have to implement it? Or not immediately without their express request.
Most often it’s not a willingness to do harm, to grab information or the idea that these are things that others shouldn’t know! It’s just an oversight. One forgets to put a document in the right directory or to give the right rights because one thinks as an issuer and not according to usage.
Nothing serious, it’s just a click away. But to get that click, you have to chase after an unavailable person, and hope that they read your request right away and process it…it can take hours, days, or even several callbacks. For the record, I already found myself in the role of the “guilty party” because I had not thought about the use that should be made of a document and since the requests for access from the people concerned fell into the “notifications” folder of my mailbox, the one where hundreds of useless things fall every day, I had only myself to blame when after 3 days I was surprised that nothing was moving forward.
Wasted time, frustration, feelings of not being taken into account or even not being trusted. But in the meantime things are not moving forward.
Collaboration: a vital practice
Logically, the answer to information retention is collaboration, again a subject as old as the world, from which companies find it hardest to extricate themselves.
Collaborative tools are everywhere in the workplace and have never been so easy to use, but collaboration is often missing missing. The tool is worth nothing without the use and the will. It is not a tool that will prevent the retention of information. And even when one uses it, one has to use it well.
Too much information sharing leads to infobesity and attention deficit. Each tool is adapted to a specific form of sharing and collaboration, using the wrong tool for the wrong purpose is, to use the image of football, making a pass that no one will receive.
IT systems that are too siloed
Independently of the uses, it also raises questions related to the information system itself. Information can end up in the wrong place due to bad practices, but it can also be in the wrong place for good reasons.
The principle of 1 tool = 1 use disperses information between a multitude of tools but for the right cause. Depending on the form and nature of the information, it will be better valued in one tool than in another. It can even exist in several tools: a cold tool (DMS) for its capitalization and a warm tool (company social network or chat) to set it in motion and share it at a given time.
Independently of the uses, it also raises questions related to the information system itself. Information can end up in the wrong place due to bad practices, but it can also be in the wrong place for the right reasons.
The principle of 1 tool = 1 use disperses information between a multitude of tools but for the right cause. Depending on the form and nature of the information, it will be better valued in one tool than in another. It can even exist in several tools: a cold tool ( DMS) for its capitalization and a warm tool (company social network or chat) to set it in motion and share it at a given time.
This plurality of tools is not a problem if we have learnt the lessons of the past when we saw that tools that were capable of doing everything were ultimately good for nothing. It is even a good thing in the end if it promotes the use, good practices and a good valorisation/use of information.
The real problem is that we use collaboration (and therefore other people’s time) for the wrong reasons. A typical use of collaboration is “I’m looking for information, I ask others for it”. This is somehow logical: the employee faced with a multitude of tools often knows that information exists but doesn’t know where to look, so he finds it more practical and logical to ask if someone knows before wasting his time looking for it.
Collaboration is being used as a palliative to the lack of unified search engines! This is the main lesson to learn from the “Google reflex”. Google’s strength is to index almost everything regardless of where it is located (and of course provided that the content is public). I remember a project to redesign the intranet of a large company where it was decided to implement a whole set of collaborative and sharing tools according to the uses but with a unified search as a prerequisite. Great success with employees who never complained about the multiplication of tools, unlike other companies that followed the same path…without the search engine.
So, yes, we see such approaches, but most often they are limited to already integrated suites. Within Office 365 or Google Suite for example. But it would be necessary to go further by integrating (subject to access rights of course) CRM, project management tools, HR tools etc.
Again in terms of experience giving time to the other is not a problem, to do so to share information already available elsewhere is and is deeply annoying. And in the end, we once again go beyond the scope of the employee’s experience in the strict sense of the term to fall back on individual efficiency issues.
The need for information is not a matter of location or device.
Another case of discrimination in access to information is that based on the place or device used.
Let’s start with the device. In 2020 there are still tools and therefore information that are only accessible on a computer and not on a tablet or mobile. Too bad in a world of hypermobility that has become “mobile first”. But this does not only concern employees on the move: it sometimes prevents information from reaching people in the field who are not equipped with a desktop computer and other blue collar workers.
And then there’s the location. There are things that you can access from the office but not from outside, not from home in teleworking for example. The causes? They range from an undersized VPN to a lack of trust that leads one to think that the employee will be more inclined to “steal” information from home than from the office.
In both cases there is no need to explain once again the impact on productivity, frustration, loss of trust and ultimately the impact on the operation of the business.
No, not everything is shareable… but not everything is a project…
So of course not everything can be shared and a huge amount of information must remain highly confidential or be shared only with a restricted group of people. But when you’re at the level where you’re dealing with a lot of confidential things, you tend to think that everything has to be confidential.
The life of a business, from an operational point of view, is made up of projects, whether for clients or for the company itself. In the context of a project, on the contrary, the opposite reasoning must be applied: everything is by default the property not of an individual but of the team, except in exceptional cases.
A poor circulation/availability of information is a real cause of frustration for employees, experienced as a waste of time, a useless effort, a lack of trust. But behind it is the whole business that slows down when a person does not have the information they need.