Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 50 – bridging the individual to organizational gap 3

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 26, 2020

This is my 50th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-49.)

I have primarily been focusing on issues of business process and of personnel policy and practice as they would relate to that, throughout most of this series. Then I began to shift directions in this, in Part 48, where I began to address some of the key issues at least touched upon up to there, but from a more individual employee perspective. And to bring this connecting note up to date, and to put what will follow here into clearer perspective, I concluded Part 49 by posing a possible personnel policy and employee relations conundrum that a business might face:

• Businesses have to have, and they have to actually follow consistent personnel policies, with standardized systems as to terms of employment: salary and compensation ranges definitely included there.
• But at the same time, they have to be able to make special exceptions when seeking out and competing for special skills employees who their competitors want and need too. They need to be able to offer what it takes, to bring in people who could very individually contribute to their capability for being competitively effective and profitably so.
• Simple supply and demand dictates can easily lead to these particularly sought after new hires being able to command larger overall compensation packages than their ostensibly same-level but more routine new hire counterparts can expect. And those same pressures can only be expected to continue at an employee retention level, where competing businesses might seek to hire these special hands-on and managerial employees away from their current employers by offering them deals that they cannot refuse.
• But to complicate this even further, as noted in Part 49, “special” and “extraordinary” in special and extraordinary skills and experience, are defined in the eyes and minds of the beholder. So while an employer and an involved hiring manager might see need to offer special terms of employment to a particular individual in order to meet their ongoing needs, others who work there might not see matters the same way – and certainly if they do not have to directly deal with the issues that such special and extraordinary hire new employees would help to resolve.

I wrote an earlier series to this blog that I titled: Macroeconomics and the Fallacy of a Pure Meritocracy System (see Macroeconomics and Business, postings 108 and following for its Parts 1-7.) And a great deal of that dealt with the way nepotism and other forms of favoritism arise in what might begin as more purely merit-based systems, where merit would at least officially be based entirely upon skills, experience and ability. Think of this line of discussion as representing a counterpart to that, where business needs can equally skew and challenge any attempted “pure egalitarian,” standardized rules based hiring and compensation system too.

• In principle, both of those extremes can work; in practice, “pure” never does and certainly not long-term and as an exception-free system.

Favorites and favoritism happen; a need to be able to hire and retain under special more favorable terms happens too and certainly situationally. How can a business best thread their way between these possibilities, and certainly where perception can mean everything and where other employees at a business are not likely to be able to tell which of those two possibilities they are seeing, when special terms of employment for some become known?

• If an employer in effect puts a special terms of employment employee on a pedestal, in order to justify what might seem to be preferential treatment towards them,
• That might not satisfy others who feel left out and who can claim longer term commitment to serving the needs of that business, and certainly if they have worked longer hours and made other sacrifices to help that business grow.
• It might in fact only serve to strengthen the hand of such a special consideration employee as they negotiate any employee retention agreements faced – widening any gaps between what they are offered and what more routine employees get.

There are many reasons why most all businesses actively seek to retain all compensation agreements, and all by-title approved salary ranges as closely guarded secrets – and even as that has become all but impossible and even where permitted. (Note: as an exception there, publically traded companies are generally required by law to reveal senior executive level employee compensation information and certainly for those holding Chief Executive Officer and similar high profile titles, but that is an exception to a more general rule, at least as far as legally mandated disclosures are concerned.)

All of this noted, how at least as a matter of generally stated best practices, can and should a business deal with this complex tangle of issues? There are enough actively followed and used online resources for sharing information about what it is like to work at specific businesses, and with compensation details included there, and for a seeming myriad of businesses in all industries and business sectors, so that any employer has to expect that they cannot keep any of their once secret information about any of this secret any longer. And that is just as true if new hires all have to sign legally binding nondisclosure agreements regarding this information as a requisite for being hired, that would allow for automatic dismissal if such an agreement were to be broken.

How can and should a business deal with this complex tangle of issues? I would argue that any effective answer to that question: “best practice” or not, has to be grounded in the perhaps imposed and even unwanted transparency implicit in the above paragraph.

• If a business has to face and accept a measure of transparency as far as workplace conditions are concerned, and as far as compensation is structured and scaled and for whom in particular there, then embrace transparency and make it a defining virtue of the business, developing it to include what will come out anyway, along with other information and insight that shows how the business gets this right as far as actively supporting their people and throughout their organization.
• And as a key part of that, develop and use transparency to both show that all are being treated fairly, and to help make that an ongoing reality.
• Then this becomes a matter of both defining and justifying what “fairly” means there and in ways that can be widely accepted as reasonable, at least in general.

This does not necessarily mean sharing individualized terms of employment information, such as specific compensation package details of any particular individual employees. And such disclosures should not in fact include that type of detail, and to meet legally mandated confidentially requirements if for no other reasons. But anonymized demographic level information, and general all-employees information can and should be included there, along with special recognition where that can be shared, as for example, for long-term service and for special work performance accomplishments. And if a “best of …” distinction as designated on a department by department basis, at the end of the year, is always accompanied by some set special bonus (e.g. an extra week of paid vacation time the next year, or comparable), that can be announced and even advertised throughout the organization and beyond too.

Yes, there will always be “why did she get that, when I …” types of responses to any special treatment of anyone and regardless of what that is, or how it is publically justified. There is no such thing as perfect in the real world. The goal here is to find a working best, and one that can be changed and evolved over time as needs and opportunities change and evolve.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will at least begin to discuss what exceptional employees do, and how the value of their contributions to a business might be benchmarked. And in anticipation of that, I add here that the fact that these employees who would receive special consideration, do not in general do the types of more routine work that would be easier to benchmark per se, so standard and routine and its compensation can only serve as a starting point for this type of discussion to come.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 49 – bridging the individual to organizational gap 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 21, 2020

This is my 49th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-48.)

I have, as noted in Part 48, primarily been focusing on issues of business process and of personnel policy and practice as they would relate to that, as a basic underlying source of consideration throughout most of this series. I have pursued that approach here, at least up through Part 47. My goal in that posting progression was to at least somewhat systematically present an actionable, strategically justified rationale for bringing in, supporting and encouraging, and retaining people for their creative drive and potential, and as a thoroughly considered face to a business’ overall personnel and related policies and practices. And I pursued that goal at least primarily from the perspective of the hiring and employing organization and in terms of in-house employees, regardless of their position or title on a table of organization.

With that narrative in place, I then used Part 48 to at least begin to shift focus and direction, and with a goal of more specifically addressing at least the key issues already at least touched upon in this series, but from a more individual employee perspective. And I began doing so, both with regard to innovators and their colleagues, and for how they would all variously work together in the shared context of the organization that they work for, with its varying table of organization-specified, and its less formal but nonetheless important functional levels and groupings in place. And to quote briefly from that posting:

• “On an individual-by-individual level, this means rethinking and reframing annual performance reviews among other personnel and direct-management issues, and the importance of looking at and seeing who you already have on your overall team with fresh eyes – exactly as you should do when hiring from the outside. On a team and larger, organizational level this means shifting orientation and thinking and developing the business and its functional areas in new ways, with that including a reframing of risk and benefits and how they would best be thought of and managed, as well as including goals-oriented performance considerations.”

I have been discussing those issues in this series, but primarily from an organizational perspective, with the business and its systems as the central defining source of perspective. My goal here is to at least begin to address what are essentially those same issues from the perspective of the employee and with a spotlight trained upon them now too. Part 48 was a transitional posting and I begin considering innovators and their workplace context from this next-step perspective here, with this series installment. And I begin doing so by reconsidering the above quoted text as repeated from Part 48, and its first half in particular.

I did not make note of this in Part 48 but depending on how it is done, following that statement’s basic recommendations can easily create conflicts and significant ones, from how that might pit employees and groups of them against each other – unless it is adroitly thought through and implemented. And I begin addressing the basic issues of this series from a more individual employee and interpersonal perspective, with that challenge as it can arise when only considering personnel and related policy from an overall organizational perspective. Let me at least briefly explain:

• Businesses need to have and they need to actually follow standardized processes and in accordance with standardized understandings of what has to be done and where and how and when and with what priorities and by whom. This is essential if all of the people working there are to have any assurance or confidence that the work that they do can and will constructively fit into and support the work done by others there, and in a way that collectively supports the business as a whole, and if they are to feel any confidence that others will support the work that they do too, and them for doing it. From a personnel perspective, this is vital if that organization is to avoid or at least limit risk of discrimination or undue favoritism, and with a possibility of their facing legal action or public censor if they fail at that. Social media driven public censor, I have to add, can be even more impactful and costly than direct court action these days and certainly in a social media connected marketplace context where even a business that wins in judicial court can lose where it really counts for them long-term – in the court of public opinion and with guilty voted there measured in lost business.
• But at the same time, those same businesses need to have the best people onboard and both as hands-on and managerial employees if they are to remain competitive and if they are to profitably succeed, and certainly long-term. That can definitely include a need for special skills employees and managers who would be difficult and expensive at best to replace if lost to them. And this means addressing all of this from the individual employee perspective too and with active acknowledgment of at least situational need to be able to make special case, individualized exceptions to the more cookie cutter seeming standardized processes in place, with their individual employee facing salary and benefits limitations.

I stated that in more absolute terms than I usually do, but the contrasts and the conflicts that can and do arise in the context that I am addressing there can be both very real and very significant in impact, and certainly if a business simultaneously proclaims to take a consistent approach in its hiring and benefits decisions and in the options available there, depending at least on hiring and employment category involved – but also shows real inconsistency there in practice, and in ways that they cannot explain if those discrepancies come to light. As an example, consider how given job titles and work positions are often pegged to specific salary ranges, where a salary raise beyond the top end of a work position’s allowed pay range would automatically require a promotion, and where non-salary benefits that would add to the overall compensation received is presented to employees as being equally standardized too. Now what happens if this supposedly fair minded egalitarian business is found to be offering more and even significantly more to a select some, and to employees who do not necessarily have special skills or abilities that would arguably, clearly demand that? And what would or at least should be expected by a business’ leaders and owners if the basic sentiment felt and expressed by their rank and file employees were to sour, because too many of them saw special exceptions being made for how select favored employees were being compensated: fellow employees who were arguably only doing the same or at least similar types and levels of work as their standard compensation counterparts and with no explanations for that discrepancy visible or offered?

• The corporate culture says egalitarian and with an emphasis on inclusivity and equality in hiring and retention and in opportunity and compensation; corporate practice, however is found to be sharing a very different message.

Businesses try to keep individual compensation agreements confidential and often try to enforce that in writing as a contractually binding part of their hiring agreements. But that secrecy has long since lost its reliability, and certainly as more and more personal employee experience: their individual and work category compensation details included, are posted online.

• Remember here, that “special” and “extraordinary” in special and extraordinary skills and experience, are defined in the eyes and minds of the beholder. So while an employer and an involved hiring manager might see need to offer special terms of employment to a particular individual in order to meet their ongoing needs, others who work there might not see matters the same way – and certainly if they do not have to directly deal with the issues that those special and extraordinary hire new employees would help to resolve.

My goal here has been to lay out and present the basic conundrum that bringing in and retaining special value employees can create for a business, and certainly if it is not build around a “pure meritocracy” corporate culture, or if it cannot live up to that standard if it tries to follow it. I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to consider what those employees do, and what their more “regular hire” counterparts do too, and how these two general categories relate and compare.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 48 – bridging the individual to organizational gap 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 18, 2020

This is my 48th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-47.)

I have been focusing on issues of business process, and of personnel policy and practice as a basic underlying source of consideration of that, throughout this series. And a great deal of that unfolding narrative has been risk and benefits management oriented, as I have argued a case for bringing in, supporting and encouraging, and retaining people for their creative drive and potential. Ultimately, this can become a business’ best long-term strategic and operational approach and certainly when it faces the challenges of change with its uncertainties.

• And while that might seem fairly obvious for businesses that seek to function and thrive in overtly competitive, fast paced industries and business sectors, and when facing change and New-demanding markets,
• It is just as true for businesses that at least ostensibly function in more mature production and sales backwaters too – where they face the dual risks of the competitive novel and new that could render them unwanted and obsolete and in a short timeframe,
• Or where time alone might lead to that happening.

Businesses that simply drift along, pursuing what they see as their already known and secure, should expect to see only one possible outcome from that: the inevitability of some new and unknown arriving anyway and in ways that can only prove their presumed safe and secure to be anything but that.

I have quite arguably left gaps in this evolving narrative as I have developed and offered this series, and I have also at least somewhat intentionally gone over same sets of issues several times in it. As a mea culpa there, or rather as a somewhat defense thereof, I would point out that this blog as a whole does fit together, so at least some of those gaps in this series are explicitly addressed elsewhere in it; my overall intention is that this blog actually connect together as an at least somewhat organize whole. And as for my repeating myself in this series, or at least covering the same basic ground in it more than once – that can serve a purpose too, and particularly for linchpin concepts and their analysis and presentation.

That said, I turn back to a set of issues that I initially addressed much earlier in this series but that might arguably merit further consideration here, in light of subsequent discussion.

Businesses are endeavors that by their very nature are larger and more far-reaching in their scale and complexity than can be sustained by any one individual and certainly effectively. This principle might break down where a business is simply a legally protective face of a lone professional who, for example incorporates as a limited liability corporation. But it holds as soon as employees are brought in and headcount takes on a nontrivial meaning there. It certainly holds true when the people behind that headcount collectively hold a wider range of expertise and professional experience than any one of them could hold in themselves – and even if they had the time and energy to actually carry out all of the work that is necessary to make that business function. And the only way that this can work, and cost-effectively and in a reasonably risk-managed manner, and certainly long-term, is if it is all organized according to predictable standards and processes, so everyone there can do their work knowing how it can and will productively fit into the systems that they support there.

True innovators are mavericks. They see what could be and what can and should be, where most of their colleagues around them, mostly focus on what is in their here-and-now and in their more readily anticipatable near future. Essentially everything that I have delved into and offered here, and certainly in this series, has been developed and directed towards reconciling and aligning those two visions. And that definitely applies to the risk management scale approaches that I have been offering here, and very explicitly so, since Part 39.

My goal for this installment is to in effect, think out loud about some of the implications of that, and at an individual level as well as at larger team and overall organizational levels. On an individual-by-individual level, this means rethinking and reframing annual performance reviews among other personnel and direct-management issues, and the importance of looking at and seeing who you already have on your overall team with fresh eyes – exactly as you should do when hiring from the outside. On a team and larger, organizational level this means shifting orientation and thinking and developing the business and its functional areas in new ways, with that including a reframing of risk and benefits and how they would best be thought of and managed, as well as including goals-oriented performance considerations. I have pursued both of these tracks here in this series: that of the individual and that of the group and organization. So my goal here is to at least offer a few ideas as to how those differently framed and understood perspectives fit together, as they must if either of them is to actually offer any real value.

This fitting together has, in fact been foundational to essentially everything that I have written in this blog concerning innovation, and both as that would arise in a market-facing product and service context and as it would inform and improve a business and its in-house operations. I cite here, with that fact in mind and as a particularly pertinent example, a series that I first offered in this blog in 2012, that has if anything become more timely since then: Keeping Innovation Fresh (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 as postings 241 and following, for its parts 1-16.) I cite here in particular, its transition committee approach for supporting innovation and bringing its fruits into a business with its more standardized systems, and in ways that are designed to protect and support both that basic business and its innovators.

I wrote that series in structural, organizational terms. In keeping with this series and its narrative, I turn here to reconsider this same set of issues but from a goals-oriented, work process-oriented perspective. And I will at least begin to delve into some of the complexities of that in my next series installment to this. And in anticipation of that narrative to come, this will mean reconsidering what a business does and what it would need to do if it is to stay competitively relevant and effective, and in the face of ongoing change and its possibilities. Change, in that, is the one and only constant that we can always rely upon as being there for us.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 47 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 14

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 14, 2019

This is my 47th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-46.)

As noted at the beginning of Part 46, I have been focusing on issues of business process and personnel policy and practice. And I have been pursuing that approach and those general topics for much of this series; and as part of that effort, I have been specifically addressing two more focused topics points that I will continue to address here:

1. Offer an at least brief analysis of the risk management-based information access-determination process, or rather flow of such processes, as would arise and play out in a mid-range risk level context, where I sketched out and used a simplified risk management scale system in Part 39 for didactic purposes, that I will continue to make use of here and in what follows.
2. Then continue on from there to discuss how that type of system of analytical processes (or rather a more complete and functionally effective alternative to it as developed around a more nuanced and complete risk assessment metric than I pursue here), can and in fact must be dynamically maintained for how the business would address both their normative and predictably expected, and their more novel potential information sharing contexts as they might arise too. I note here in anticipation of that, that when innovation is involved and particularly when disruptively novel innovation is, novel information sharing contexts have to be considered the norm in that. And that significantly shapes how all of the issues encompassed in these two numbered points would be understood and addressed.

And to round out this connecting text, I have primarily been discussing the first of those two more generally stated topics points up to here, and both in the abstract and in terms of a real-world case study business process example: software development that is organized and pursued for development of products that would be reserved for in-house use by a business (see Part 45 and Part 46 for a detailed outline of that case study itself, as augmented with four risk management assessed example scenarios as might arise and play out in such a context.)

My goal for this posting is to continue developing and analyzing that basic software development case study as a whole, and then move on to reconsider the four scenarios that I have added to it. And I begin that by cycling back to the basic, overall point of focus of this series as a whole with its goal of discussing innovators and not just their specific innovations or the framing ideas that would underlie them.

A business would not take on the costs or responsibilities of developing their own proprietary-only software in-house, except when facing some very specific types and levels of perceived need: some very specific perceived operational and strategic pressures. And that point of observation cuts to the core of innovative development per se, where the needs and pressures perceived can mean accepting greater anticipatable risks in order to gain what could become overwhelmingly larger benefits. Or they might do this in order to avert or at least limit significantly scaled adversity too. In a highly competitive, business versus business context, both sides to that dynamic are likely to apply.

• Bringing in, developing and supporting and encouraging, and retaining highly innovative people, and ones who can help translate initial insight into realized products or services, can make all the difference as to whether the bets taken there, pay off.
• And there is always a level of gamble involved in all of this when the disruptively novel is a possibility.

Why would a business that was following the dictates of the case study example that I pose here, pursue that course? A generation and more ago, third party software development providers were rare. Just consider online software development and maintenance such as website and web-based app development. Most businesses that decided to pursue online opportunities, developed for that in-house and as a basic standard in the 1990’s.

When alternatives to in-house for that were rarer, more costly, less capable and less reliable for anything that was not strictly off-the-shelf and standard, many businesses and even most of them that decided to do business online, had their own in-house programmers and software developers, their own database technicians and more. Now, such in-house development has to be considered the exception. And this brings me to a fundamental point: context and its changes, and how that combined force shapes both the possible and the necessary, and the costs and benefits and risks that enter into this too.

I initially started discussing the above repeated Point 1 and its issues as if essentially any and all test case examples and circumstances that might arise from it were essentially cookie-cutter standardizable in nature and stable in time. Then I added in the uncertainties of the unpredictably new and novel to that. And now, I add in the flexibility that even predictable and known contextual change can bring to this. And with that included I turn to consider the above-repeated topics Point 2 and the prospect of developing and using a “more complete and functionally effective alternative to it (n.b. the risk assessment scale of Point 1) as developed around a more nuanced and complete risk assessment metric.” And I begin doing so by posing a very basic question:

• What does that even mean?

The output of such an assessment tool should fall along essentially the exact same scale as offered in Part 39 and as cited in Point 1, from essential zero and low risk on up to massively significant and even business survival threatening risk. And that should hold true regardless of how any given “customized” assessment tool would be framed so as to better meet the needs of specific businesses with their business models, their operational systems and their strategic visions and approaches. So what would carry over from the stereotypic base line tool of Part 39, to a more nuanced and business-specific one? What would in fact be customized in point-by-point detail and in how its parts are assembled and used, so as to create a useful more business-specific tool here?

• What specific factors that are business-type specific or even single-business specific, would have to be included in making a risk and benefits assessment there?
• How would they be weighted as to their levels of impact and significance, on a business type by business type basis?
• And how would contextual issues, and both from within a business and from its larger outside circumstances (e.g. its competitive environment, its marketplace and any regulatory oversight that it has to function within), affect all of this, and certainly over time?

I have already cited a working example of these points of consideration, when raising the historical shift that has taken place for businesses of all types, and certainly for larger corporations, when it comes to any in-house versus outsourced web and other software development initiatives. And to add one more point of fact to that, I have been writing here of software that cannot simply be found as off-the-shelf offerings, where customized individuality and novelty would hold greater value. When Windows 95 first went live to the world and the World Wide Web started to become an information-gathering (and marketing) staple, all web sites and all related software were new and novel and disruptively so. Now, the novel and disruptive of that can be found in off-the-shelf and with customization tweaks to that, as are routinely offered by third party provider developer businesses and for a vast and still growing range of online options and resources. Put slightly differently, but only slightly so: in the mid and late 1990’s the web was disruptively new and it was still in what amounted to an embryonic stage of development at that; now it represents a complex of systematically interconnected mature technologies and even mature industries. And this contextual change, reshapes and redefines everything that would go into essentially any risk and benefits assessments of a type that I pose with my software development example here.

And with that added to this line of discussion, I turn back to consider individual innovations and the people who initiate and develop them: the innovative ideas that these people create and bring to fruition and how they are, or are not supported in doing this. I will turn to that complex of issues in the next posting in this series, doing so in terms of this and preceding installments.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Hands-off management, micromanagement and in-between – some thoughts on what they mean in practice 3

This is my third posting to an occasional series on better management practices, to address the issues of how and when to actively step in and how and when to step back. See Part 1 and Part 2.

I briefly sketched out the basic issues that I would address here, in those first two installments, citing some specific workplace situations in the process in order to help take this discussion at least somewhat out of the abstract. And then I concluded Part 2 of this by raising two admittedly overly terse topics points that related to the consequences of how you actually make specific case- in-point decisions, as to whether you should step in and even take over on a task, or step back and let a subordinate figure things out on their own: learning curve delays and mistakes and all. I begin this posting here by expanding those initially-offered two points into three as follows:

• You have to expect that any decisions that you make of this general categorical type, will have repercussions and ripple effects that could at least potentially run throughout the business, and certainly where the work that you manage has wide ranging impact there. And you have to expect that everyone there who you actually have to work with will come to know about that as a part of how they think about you: more senior managers who you report to included – and certainly if management-level problems arise on your part. And if the people who you work with only hear about that second hand and as rumor, they will only hear versions of it that are negative and worse and certainly if you really do make problematical decisions.
• This type of reputation shaping can affect your own work and your own career at that business, and the options and opportunities that you would face there, and certainly if you come across as being ineffective as a manager because of this.
• And a key part of actually addressing that type of management challenge is one of understanding, conveying and managing expectations.

People tend to set high expectations as to the skills and ability of the people who they report to and depend upon for leading them, and high expectations as to the skills and ability of those who hold managerial authority where they work in general. And they talk and listen, and if they do not have all of the facts, they can and will fill in the gaps in what they hear of this, with their own hopes and fears.

On the negative side this can mean talk of micromanaging, and of leaving employees hanging from their being held responsible for the mistakes that they make but without their having the support that they would need if they were to prevent, or at least limit those challenges. And on the positive side this can mean a shared message of managers who are supportive, and effectively so, knowing when and how and where to step in and when and how and where not to. There is still a positive side to all of this, even if I have focused more on the negative side up to here in this posting.

And this brings me to that now-third point of my above-expanded to-address topics list, and both for how a manager: more junior or more senior can better navigate this. I focused in the above-repeated to-address points, on office gossip. And I add here that with time the stories that it creates and conveys can become the foundation material that an entire corporate culture can be based upon, and certainly where similar and related stories concerning managers and hands-on employees in general, come together as an overall narrative as to how things are done at that business.

• Consider in that regard, Business A, where managers are neither trained nor mentored for how to manage effectively, and hands-on employees and lower level and even middle managers can routinely be left without support: holding responsibility but hobbled by how they are worked with and led in their efforts.
• Now consider Business B, where training and mentoring are explicitly built into both business practice and the corporate culture, and where people there are given opportunities to learn and to prove themselves that are realistic and positive.

But I would step back from that broader picture perspective here and return to addressing this topic from the perspective of a more individualized narrative, and from the initial point of impact where specific actively-manage or step-back decisions are actually made, and where the actual events realized from that lead to wider conversations. I turn back here to further consider this from the perspective of the individual manager.

• That posting, as such, is a discussion of social contracts, and I cite that type of interpersonal agreement rather than business contracts, for a reason.

Business contracts for the most part at least, serve to codify and standardize specific areas of action and responsibility and on more of a task-by-task, or performance goal-by-goal basis, and with breach of contract consequences so specified as well, as deemed appropriate. And the key detail that I would focus on from that here, is that they specify specific transactions and their fulfillment, but without similarly codifying how participants would relate to each other in the process of that work being carried out – except perhaps to indicate who would be involved in it and usually at least, to the levels of job titles and positions of responsibility held.

Social contracts are by contrast interpersonal and about how people interact with and relate to each other. This is important here; the issues and sometimes challenges of knowing how actively to engage and manage, do not generally begin and end with any one single actively-manage or not decision and its follow-through. I am writing here of patterns of behavior and their consequences, and not of what might more be considered exceptions or special cases.

That noted, the one exception to that here-stated principle that I would hold out as important to this narrative, would arise when a manger is dealing with a subordinate who reports them at least situationally, for a first time where a less than effective approach taken here can convey the long lasting impact of a first impression. First impressions can become lasting impressions and certainly if they arise problematically.

From a word of mouth and yes, from an office gossip perspective, who would want to be on the talked and rumored-about end of a “you won’t believe what that new manager, X just did, and to one of the best people on our team!”

And on that note, I turn here to consider new beginnings and the challenges of getting off to a good start, and both as a new manager at a business and for when a more experienced manager there has to work with new employees, or at least with ones who they have never directly worked with before, and as their supervisor. I am going to at least begin to address that area of discussion in my next installment to this series.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Page 4 to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, with this put into its addendum section (and also see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.) And you can also find this at Social Networking and Business 2 (and also see its Page 1), and at HR and Personnel – 2 (and see its Page 1.)

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 46 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 13

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 6, 2019

This is my 46th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-45.)

And this series is about people and enabling them in a workplace, and to the benefit of both the businesses that they work for and the benefit of those hands-on and managerial employees too. But a great deal of what I have been writing of and addressing here, has focused on what these people do and how, and as viewed from due diligence and risk remediation and management perspectives. And as part of that ongoing narrative I have been discussing two specific topics points, since Part 44, so far primarily focusing on the first of them:

1. Offer an at least brief analysis of the risk management-based information access-determination process, or rather flow of such processes, as would arise and play out in a mid-range risk level context, where I sketched out and used a simplified risk management scale system in Part 39 for didactic purposes, that I will continue to make use of here and in what follows.
2. Then continue on from there to discuss how that type of system of analytical processes (or rather a more complete and functionally effective alternative to it as developed around a more nuanced and complete risk assessment metric than I pursue here), can and in fact must be dynamically maintained for how the business would address both their normative and predictably expected, and their more novel potential information sharing contexts as they might arise too. I note here in anticipation of that, that when innovation is involved and particularly when disruptively novel innovation is, novel information sharing contexts have to be considered the norm in that. And that significantly shapes how all of the issues encompassed in these two numbered points would be understood and addressed.

More specifically, I began discussing the first of those points in at least some detail in Part 44, then digressed from my initially planned, more abstractly framed line of discussion of them to develop and begin to consider a more specific case study-oriented example of how the issues that I would raise here would play out. And developing that for subsequent use is what I primarily focused upon in Part 45, where I briefly outlined a business software development process as might take place within an organization for its own use, and with specific low, medium and high-risk scenarios offered as possible elaborations to it, all based on how this basic development process might be followed – or short circuited in the case of my more fully high-risk scenario.

My goal for this posting is to complete my discussion of the above Point 1, bringing that more out of the abstract by considering how its issues take shape in the type of real-world contexts that I raise with my software development example. And after that I will continue on to specifically address Point 2 and its issues as well.

I began addressing the issues of Point 1 in Part 44, by focusing on how risk is in fact determined on a potential-event by potential-event basis. And as part of that, I briefly outlined how risk management assessments can be made for known unknown possible events: adverse event types that are understood in principle and that are even statistically predicable for their likelihood of occurring, through application of an actuarial process, but that are unknown in detail and in advance of when they would occur. And I went beyond that to at least note the impact on risk management systems and their actionable implementation, by considering unknown unknowns too: here, adverse events that would arise as disruptively novel so it would be unlikely that anyone facing them could predict their likelihood of occurrence even if they do think that they know at least a minimal level of impact that they would have, if they were to occur.

• In simplest form at least, known unknown event risk calculations would be arrived at on an event-type by event-type basis, as a mathematical product of the probability of an adverse occurrence actually happening, and the level of adverse impact that would arise if it did. So for example, if a specific adverse event might have a 5% likelihood of occurring in the course of ten years of business operations, and it could be expected to cost the business a net amount of $100,000 per occurrence if it did, minimum, then its risk assessed cost (as would be added into an overall risk assessment model) would be at least $2,500 per business quarter and with that calculation entering into a determination of the minimum liquid reserves that should be maintained in the event of problems arising. (Note that to simplify this, I assume binary occurrence possibilities with an event type either happening once and just once, or not at all. Real world calculations would be more complex, allowing for a variety of deviations from that and other simplified assumptions that I make here.)
• And realistically, given an inevitable lack of complete knowledge, both of those measures: event likelihood and cost of occurring, would be calculated as range values, or as minimum ones and with that alternative offering a specific minimum risk per event type calculation that could then be used in planning and in business development and execution.
• Unknown unknown adverse events serve as true wild cards in this as it is impossible to calculate the actuarial table requiring, mathematical products that a more a priori knowable risk assessment of the type just discussed here, would require in its known unknown setting.

My abstract discussion goal for this posting is to expand upon and discuss a point of detail that I just added to this narrative in the above explanatory bullet points: “… with that calculation entering into a determination of the minimum liquid reserves that should be maintained in the event of problems arising” – where overall determination of the level of funds to be held in such reserves, and decisions reached as related business-wide decisions would be based on the coordinate determination and evaluation of suites of possible events that might arise: positive, negative and mixed in value there, as their risk and benefits implications are considered.

Yes, there are definitely circumstances where individual event types need to be separately considered and evaluated, as for example when their apparent likelihood of happening or their likely outcome if they do happen, appear to be changing. And these changes can visibly arise for any of a wide number of reasons. A need to make individual event type evaluations can also arise if a once assuredly known unknown suddenly starts to look more disruptively unexpected, or if a previously disruptive possibility as discussed here, has become more predictably familiar. But ultimately risk management looks at larger contexts and at overall risk and opportunity assessments, and at how different event and outcome types can and do interact and even fundamentally shape each other. And it is in the context of this very abstractly stated risk management understanding that I finally turn to consider my software development example.

Think of my Part 44 discussion as expanded upon here, as laying a foundation for more fully considering the above Point 1 by outlining, at least for purposes of this series discussion, what “risk” actually means there. And my continuation of that here, at least briefly scales up this set of issues to “business size” and the consideration of what at least ideally would be relatively comprehensive suites of potential risks faced and certainly for the more predictable among them. Now I would at least briefly and selectively set out to apply all of that in a specific case-in-point example setting. And for that, I turn back to Part 45 and to the low, medium and high risk scenario examples that I explicitly raised there. (I recommend that you at least briefly review that posting and those case in point example scenarios as I will refer to them here in what follows without repeating what would amount to a significant portion of that posting.)

First of all, as a matter of overall comment on the four scenarios offered there, all of them hinge for their significance on the use or potential use of personally identifiable customer data as would be provided to a business as it carries out sales and related transactions.

• For my low-risk example scenario, this means customer data-like information: fake customer data that is not based on the information provided by any specific real people, that would not and could not compromise anyone as an individual if it were to be more publically released. And my higher risk scenarios all involve access to, and use of real customer data.
• Such data is explicitly legally protected with specific regulatory guidelines as to how this information should be safeguarded, at least as far as specifying minimally required information security outcomes for it. And this in-detail overall framework and the correspondingly specified set of publically visible legal consequences for allowing breaches to this mandated information security, make collecting, processing, storing, accessing and using this data a source of definitively known unknown risks as I use that term here.
• In principle then, it should be possible to risk manage this type of event, and the types of business activities that might lead to such a breach as I have been discussing this set of issues here, and certainly for known unknowns. But specific real-world examples always add caveats and unexpecteds to any in-principle, abstractly stated considerations. And this example and source of them is no exception there.
• To illustrate that point of observation, and in a way that historic records can only serve to verify, one of the most important sources of hacking risk that businesses face and certainly large ones with large employee headcounts, comes from data misdirection and even outright data theft from the inside. This can mean intentional, malicious theft of and use of confidential information as for example when a disgruntled employee seeks to take and sell it. But exactly as impactfully and certainly on an incident by incident basis this can mean loss of control over such information, where for example an employee who has even large amounts of sensitive information on their work laptop computer – that they probably have been told not to keep there, takes this computer off-site and looses it. And this type of unintentional breach can happen entirely in-house in a business too, if an employee who has legitimate access to such data, shares it with others who do not.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will explicitly consider the four example scenarios themselves from Part 45, as the issues that I have just raised here would apply to them. Then, as promised above, I will continue on to discuss the above repeated topics Point 2. And after completing that, at least for purposes of this series, I will tie this back to the basic issues of information access and its more open and its more restrictive imperatives, as arise in a general business context, and in an innovative business context.

In anticipation of discussion to come, I will at least briefly discuss risk sharing and the role of insurance and third party indemnification there, and the impact of ripple effects in all of this, where for example hiring policy, employee benefits and corporate culture as it impacts upon and shapes the employee experience can significantly shape information security risk.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Hands-off management, micromanagement and in-between – some thoughts on what they mean in practice 2

I offered a thought piece on better management practices just over a month ago, as a Part 1 to what I expect to develop into a short series. And my goal there was to at least briefly broach and start to outline a discussion of a basic challenge that essentially any manager can fall into: knowing when to step-back and allow for learning curve inefficiencies and related performance issues on the part of people who report to them, and when to step-in and even if that means actively intervening and seeming to at least situationally take over.

There is no simple, one size fits all answer to this type of question, and understanding the possibilities and the possible consequences there, and on a specific context by specific context basis is a core lesson that goes into becoming an effective, experienced manager and leader.

I tried to keep my initial Part 1 discussion of this in clearer focus, by building some basic assumptions into the range of contexts that I made note of, where the types of step-in or step-back decisions that I write of here, would be made. And my goal here in this continuation posting is to expand that initial line of discussion for its range of acknowledged applicability by adding in some basic complications to its narrative. More specifically, I start out here by acknowledging that:

• Sometimes hands-on employees and lower level managers who a more senior supervisor manages, can perform certain types of tasks but not others, at least with sufficient speed and effectiveness to meet ongoing business needs. And this is not always something that more training or more learning curve time can correct. What should a supervising manager do in this type of situation? If the tasks and potential tasks involved are central to that person’s job description and their expected areas of responsibilities there, that is very different than would be the case if these performance issues just involve new work that would expand the job and job description of an employee in question. And even then, are the performance problems that are now observed, problems in addressing work responsibilities that of necessity have to become part of that employee’s job description as the business and its needs change and evolve, or has this arisen essentially entirely in the context of add-on tasks that it would be nice if this employee could fulfill, but where those tasks are still separate from what this person would more routinely be expected to do?
• But what of training and offering opportunity to learn new skills? I just dismissed that as a possible solution to this problem in the above bullet point, but sometimes offering training opportunities, or time and opportunity to pursue them to an employee can make all the difference and to the good for all involved. Does this business allow for employee training or related improvement as an employee benefit, or support employees who would seek out such opportunities and who actively strive to become better, more valuable employees there? Does it support and encourage employees who would be willing to put in the time and effort to achieve that?
• But this brings me back to problem employees who cannot in fact sufficiently carry out their assigned and expected work assignments, and on time and correctly, for them to be seen as fully doing their jobs. Any step-in or step-back question always carries within it, a retain-as-is, or reassign or let go question too.

Context and effective communications are crucial here; the questions and issues that I raise here, in fact cut to the heart of what it means to be a manager and supervisor, and a leader in general. And with that noted, I take this line of discussion out of the abstract by offering and at least briefly considering a specific case in point example of how this works. And in anticipation of offering it, I add that my above-offered three point list of alternative context details, was drafted with this example in mind.

You are a mid-level or senior executive at a business that is actively striving to get out from under a history and reputation of being legacy-only, and for what traditionally has been its brand-defining, key production and product line for the business as a whole. And that area of the business is in fact your area of responsibility there now. Some of the people who have been doing this work, and both hands-on and as production line managers are approaching retirement and are deeply set in their ways, and would be good candidates for early retirement with incentives offered to leave now. Pursuing this approach for dealing with them would show a very positive message to all who remain and to any new hires that might be brought in, that this is a great place to work, where employees and their loyalty are rewarded. And it would create openings for bringing in new people with new skills and workplace experience too. But some of the people who have in effect become pigeonholed for the type of legacy work that you have to move the business beyond now, are younger and a lot earlier in their careers, and would in fact like to start working on more current and even cutting edge products and their development and manufacture too. They are not legacy-only, like their more senior peers. And it is these employees who I write of here, and the issues of dealing with them where they cannot simply move into New as a matter of course and immediately be up to speed on their now-expected tasks.

I assume here that it would be better long-term to retain and support these people, instead of simply taking a “simplest resolution” downsizing approach for anyone and everyone who has worked in this key and even defining area of the business, and in effect starting over as if from scratch there.

People who work in legacy areas of a business are all too often automatically typecast as only being able to do that, and essentially as an axiomatic assumption. But I am writing here of employees who in fact do not fit that stereotype and who could in fact move on to become valuable assets for an employer that seeks to retain and benefit from its people, and that can see real potential from achieving that.

How should a manager address this possibility, so as to retain and develop and not discourage and thwart and either by being too hands-on or too hands-off? How should a more senior manager or mid-level executive work with more junior line managers who work under their supervision who actively, day-to-day manage and supervise these people? Once again, simply laying them off, or alternatively frustrating them so much that they look elsewhere and leave, would create a shared message that everyone working there has to be expected to hear of. And downsizings are never exactly supportive of good morale, to put it mildly.

This is a situation where training and even the development of a business updating-oriented training program, probably organized and run by a third party service provider with relevant experience, can offer real value. And the issues of stepping-back or stepping-in and of knowing best when and how to do this, become crucially important during the transition period that attempting this type of change is certain to create for this business.

I end this posting by noting two further details that I will delve into in my next installment to this series:

• You have to expect that any decision you make here will have repercussions and ripple effects that run throughout the business, and that everyone there will come to know about. And if they only hear about this second hand and as rumor, they will only hear versions of it that are negative and worse.
• And with both that and my above example in mind, a key part of actually addressing this type of management challenge is one of understanding, conveying and managing expectations.

You can find this and related postings and series at Page 4 to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, with this put into its addendum section (and also see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.) And you can also find this at Social Networking and Business 2 (and also see its Page 1), and at HR and Personnel – 2 (and see its Page 1.)

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 45 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 12

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 29, 2019

This is my 45th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-44.)

I began explicitly discussing the first of two topics points in Part 44 of this series, after developing a foundation for that starting with Part 39. And with this orienting background material noted, I begin this posting’s line of discussion by repeating both of those points here for smoother continuity of narrative as I continue addressing them:

1. Offer an at least brief analysis of the risk management-based information access-determination process, or rather flow of such processes, as would arise and play out in a mid-range risk level context, where I sketched out and used a simplified risk management scale system in Part 39 for didactic purposes, that I will continue to make use of here and in what follows.
2. Then continue on from there to discuss how that type of system of analytical processes (or rather a more complete and functionally effective alternative to it as developed around a more nuanced and complete risk assessment metric than I pursue here), can and in fact must be dynamically maintained for how the business would address both their normative and predictably expected, and their more novel potential information sharing contexts as they might arise too. I note here in anticipation of that, that when innovation is involved and particularly when disruptively novel innovation is, novel information sharing contexts have to be considered the norm in that. And that significantly shapes how all of the issues encompassed in these two numbered points would be understood and addressed.

My initial goal moving forward here, was to continue and for purposes of this series, and complete my above-repeated Point 1 discussion and then at least begin to delve into Point 2 and its issues too, in this posting. And as noted at the end of Part 44, completing my Point 1 discussion as intended here, means that I will specifically turn to consider information sharing and the innovative context, as considered from the perspective of an organizing model of risk determination that I developed in Part 44 as an eight point, bullet pointed list of factual and observational detail (as can be found towards the end of that installment.) And as a key part of that, I said that I will more fully explain and clarify the last bullet point of that list regarding mid-level risk events and their possibility too (doing so in an information sharing context):

• Lowest and highest risk possibilities are in most cases going to remain the same whether or not known unknowns are added to the mix, given the low likelihood of their creating unpredictably disruptive new risk increases. But when you add the possibility or even a significantly concerning likelihood of unknown unknowns into this, they add a level of impact to any overall risk determination, and a maximized level of overall risk increase for any possible events that would fit into a mid-range risk category in particular. And they specifically add whole new layers of uncertainty as to what is likely to arise as an adverse event or outcome of that categorical level too.

And to further complicate matters here, I have also planned on continuing and completing my Point 1 discussion here, in terms of a real-world at-least categorical-level example, to take this narrative at least somewhat out of the abstract. But with the added complexities that involves, addressing all of this would mean my continuing consideration of Point 1 alone, beyond the end of this installment and into a next, and before I can even begin to consider Point 2 and its issues. So I change my posting development schedule here, as tentatively offered at the end of Part 44, accordingly.

All of this noted, and to begin this posting’s main line of discussion, let’s consider some real-world information sharing situations, as can and do arise when a new piece of in-house developed software is being developed, tested and refined for use in business systems that would make use of customer data. And I cite this as being realistic because I have been directly involved in this type of in-house information technology project and as lead for its quality assurance testing, where risk management as well as functionality challenges would emerge and have to be addressed.

First some briefly stated background as to how this type of work is devised and organized, and carried out:

• New software, and particularly new impactful software that would be used for managing important tasks, and that might impact with other business systems, is never added into the active, live, working information technology system at a business unless and until it has been developed and tested and refined to a point where it can be considered reliably safe for inclusion there, as a risk management consideration. Development work of this type is essentially always carried out on separate server computers, even if virtual servers as set up on hardware that is also – and very separately used for more routine business use, with virtual drive partitioning set up to ensure necessary isolation.
• And the first step here, as used for initial software development and as a proof of principle and a first software coding and testing stage, is usually carried out on what is fairly commonly called a sandbox server. These are often stand-alone devices and if they are “network connected” beyond a minimum number of software developers as might be required depending on the precise nature of the project and its intended productive goal, that is going to mean firewall limited connections to specific tester computers and their users only.
• Software that has reached a stage of development that would call for more advanced and realistic testing, gets moved to an alpha server. And this is where at least somewhat larger numbers of testers try to use (and try to break) this new software. And the “try to break” half of that can be more important than the try to use half, as real-world users do not always use the software on their computers at work, as expected by the programmers who developed it, and real-world usage software has to be robust enough to keep running even if unexpected commands are attempted in it. The goal of alpha testing, as is done on this type of server-based system, is to identify and fix any and all places where actual expected user-entered commands would break something and make the program crash. And on top of that, its goal is to identify places where users might, or overtly and reliably would try doing things differently than the programmers had intended, so they can be accommodated too (and once again in ways that do not lead to the program crashing.) I note in this regard that “software written by programmers and for programmers (only)” is something of a pejorative, as it refers to software that is so fragile and limited that if anything is attempted outside of the programmer’s initial intent and understanding, the program will go down and fail – and even if that initial intent and understanding was grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding as to what this software would actually be used for, by real-world end-user stakeholders.
• This is also carried out on separate servers but with larger networks and wider ranging tester access required, and with that including participation of at least some select real-world users from the functional areas of the business that would actually use this new tool and even day-to-day once it is ready for that.
• Beta testing comes next, and that is where progressively less likely problems are searched out and addressed. And beta testing in fact should continue, at least as a system for reporting problems to the Information Technology help desk, on an ongoing basis and even after this software has gone into general use.
• Rarer event problems can only be expected to emerge when and as more and more people spend more and more time using that software. So really rare ones for likelihood of showing, are most probably only going to emerge after everyone at the business who would use it, is using it.
• And this is where software patches and other updates enter this narrative, as emergingly uncovered problems are reported and addressed, and as new features are added and older ones are made easier to use and both individually and in combination.
• There is obviously more to this, in real-world practice than is covered here. Larger, more functionally wide-ranging software is, for example, usually at least early beta tested on a functionally coherent section by section basis, with everything coming together as those larger pieces are found ready for that. And early beta test software can be brought back to the sandbox server if wider, though presumably still early testing proves that necessary, with a return to the blackboard to try another approach. This is an incomplete and glossed-over account of a more complex and nuanced process and system of them, but it should suffice for what is to follow here.

For my low risk example, where that would be determined according to the simple risk management scale system of the above Point 1, consider sandbox and alpha test stage customer relations management software (CRM) tool that is being developed and tested using completely made-up, imaginary customer data at those early develop and test stages. Here, it would in most cases not matter if this data were to become public knowledge, except perhaps insofar as it might be problematical to a business for it to reveal more openly that it is in fact developing its own new in-house CRM system, or at least some functionally significant part to such an overall system at all. And some of this made-up data testing might take place in at least early beta testing too, with this data taken from what amounts to a dedicated sandbox database and its server.

For my mid-level risk example, consider at least somewhat later beta testing than would take place in my low risk example, where real testing is called for using real data. Eventually that has to happen, and real-world testing starts in beta testing and often relatively early on in it and before this new software is deemed fully ready for general use. This represents a more mid-level risk because everyone carrying out this testing is going to be drawn from a pool of hands-on professionals for this type of tool and this type of data usage, who are already vetted as being reliable for using the here-CRM software already in place, and on actual ongoing business-to-consumer transactions, and with data drawn from essentially the same pool of customers.

For a higher risk example, even if hopefully only a somewhat higher risk one than just offered, (and certainly if properly managed), consider a CRM-including software package as a development goal, and one that connects into and supports a wider range of business functionalities and needs than more usual standard, third party provided CRM solutions could, and in ways that specifically fit into and support the developing business’ operations and strategies and its particular business model (which might very well be why this is being developed in-house in the first place.) This now means bringing new stakeholder groups into this software development and testing effort with new categories of software testers and potential users involved, and with many of them only seeing specific customer data there for a first time. That means a potentially much wider data exposure, and that increases overall risk to the business as a whole and for possibility of an adverse event occurrence even if without changing the adverse-consequence impact if such a data breech were to occur. And this is an example of how the disruptively new and novel and addressing its needs can increase risk faced over what might be expected from a more routine evolutionary change, in a here-more routine CRM software package or significant functional component there-of, context.

For a (preferably avoidable but nevertheless very real) high risk example, consider the impact of impatience on this software development and testing process flow, where pressures to move this new and even disruptively new software from initial development into live, real-world use as fast as possible are great – and even if that means moving this along faster than the people who are hands-on managing this project would see as being prudent.

• In the real-world, complex and wide-ranging software and certainly such software where it accesses and uses confidential or sensitive data, carries information systems security risks with it. I cited human usage and risk of their inappropriately sharing data and by intent or accident (from for example, how they store data used on their own work computers and as they are networked in.) Here, I add more strictly information technology level risks too, with wider access meaning wider vulnerability to malware and other challenges too.

And with that, I conclude the now extended background preparation that I have decided to add in here, as necessary foundation material for actually addressing the topics and issues that I initially intended to delve into here. My now one posting displaced goal for the next installment to this series is to address the above repeated Point 1 and its issues, as outlined for discussion towards the start of this posting, and centering that narrative around the software development example and its low to high risk scenarios as offered here. Then, I will turn to and consider Point 2 and its issues, as a real-world elaboration of and continuation of my Point 1 discussion.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Hands-off management, micromanagement and in-between – some thoughts on what they mean in practice 1

One of the most difficult issues that managers face – essentially all managers and regardless of their industry or their titles or scope of responsibility, can be found in simply knowing when to actively supervise and manage, and when to step back. Most managers spend essentially their entire careers and work lives, working in the context of their own specific areas of hands-on experience and training, whether that means working in technical and related areas such as Information Technology or Finance, or in soft people-skills areas such as Marketing and Communications or Personnel. They, as such, have training and experience that would at least offer a foundation for addressing challenges and opportunities in the functional areas that they are responsible for, and even when facing what to them personally are the new and unexpected. The challenges and the at least potential opportunities that I write of here are, however, essentially pure management in nature. And they are of a type that is not generally addressed all that effectively in standard MBA and related programs with their all but laser-focused subject area orientations and specializations. These issues do not, after all, clearly fit into any particular arena of business-defined functional area expertise or responsibility.

• When should a manager step back and even knowingly allow at least more minor mistakes, delays and related learning curve inefficiencies?
• And when should they step in and more directly intervene, and even if that means they’re in-effect taking over from a hands-on employee or a lower level manager who reports to them? When does this become micromanagement?
• When does hands-off mean giving others a chance to make mistakes and learn and grow professionally from them, and when does it mean leaving them hanging and without the support that they actually need, and that they might even actively want?
• When does more actively hands-on mean actively helping and when does it more primarily become an otherwise avoidable challenge to those so “helped,” and of a form that undercuts those subordinates and limits their ability to do better on their own the next time?

I have in effect already at least partly addressed those questions from how I phrased them, when I raised the possibility of at least more minor mistakes, delays and related learning curve inefficiencies, and by implication the possibility of more impactfully significant challenges that would require more immediate and effective response and resolution too.

• If a new, more junior manager is slower than might be desired at first, when using a new-to-them administrative tool and its online screens, and when they are still figuring out where everything is in it on their own, it can be better to wait for them to ask questions if they hit a wall in that, instead of automatically, in effect taking over. They might take a little longer at first, in effectively completing the tasks that they would use this tool for. But you’re making the investment as a more senior manager, of letting them learn this new tool as a matter of ingrained hands-on experience, and at their own pace can really pay off for you and for your business later on, and certainly if this means they’re learning their next new software tool that much faster, and if they learn it more effectively and fully from how they learned how to use it by actually using it, too.
• If, on the other hand, that new more junior manager is on the brink of making a mistake that would create serious problems for a major business client, that would probably call for a more immediate and direct intervention.

But that, at least categorical level context in which a step-in or step-back decision would be made, only represents one of several possible arenas where the questions that I raise here, as to how to better manage, actually arise. What are the work performance issues involved that a step-in or step-back decision would be made about? But just as importantly, who are the people involved in this and what are the most productive ways for working with them, and certainly when everything is not moving ahead like clockwork for them?

• And it is important to note in this context, that addressing the who side of that, can and generally does call for more individualized management approaches and more flexible ones at that, than a focus on business tasks and goals would call for, and certainly as a general rule.
• Business tasks and goals, and certainly as organized and called for from a big picture perspective, are laid out in business plans in place, or at least in effectively drafted ones. They are formally understood for what they would accomplish and how, at least for an organized and efficient business and for its ongoing business systems.
• But few if any businesses have anything like formal guidelines in place for working more effectively with others, depending on their personalities and on what specific ways of completing tasks work best for them. Few if any businesses have anything like formal guidelines in place for working more effectively with others in addressing how they would work when facing special-to-them needs: short term and time-limited or ongoing, and with only a few special exception circumstances such as parental need guidelines, and disabilities accommodations standing out as exceptions there.

Actually addressing the issues raised here as a senior manager, means thinking through the tasks and goals involved and the priorities that they carry, while also thinking and acting with a matching awareness of the other people involved in carrying them out – as well as maintaining an active awareness of other involved parties, including third party stakeholders who need to have the tasks involved, completed correctly and on time. And at least as importantly, this also means better understanding ourselves as the senior managers in charge in this too.

• Management is about organizing and coordinating what has to be done, to get it done and as smoothly and effectively, and cost-effectively as possible. But it is also about working with and enabling the people involved in carrying this work out. Managers are people, who work with, and in this context supervise other people.

Personality and management style, as shaped by it, enter this narrative here, and a need to be able and willing to work with others in ways that they can be positively receptive to, and in ways that can help bring out their best. This means finding the right balance between challenge to perform, and the opportunity for professional growth that the right types and amounts of such challenge can foster, while giving others both the opportunity and the tools needed to get their work done, even as they learn from trying and doing.

I have seen way too many managers who do not allow for any error or delay (from others). And that lack of flexibility and yes – lack of adaptability, makes it all the easier to fall into one or the other of the two chasms of problematical management that I have been discussing here: hands-off that can and will leave subordinates twisting in the wind, or its overly involved counterpart of longer-term performance-thwarting micromanagement. And this brings me to the final point that I would raise here in this brief note: the final point of challenge that not finding the right balance between hands-off and hands-on can bring.

• Whether a senior manager steps back and remains uninvolved as their default and automatic response to work performance problems in their team (taking a sink or swim approach),
• Or whether they make the mistake of stepping in too often and on problems and issues that do not genuinely call for their direct intervention, leaving no room for errors or delays and even when a subordinate is learning, or when they are trying to navigate the unexpected or unusual,
• They make the path that they themselves would follow as a more senior manager in charge, that much more difficult too. The more they just automatically default to either of these two approaches and certainly if they vacillate between them, the poorer their own work performance is likely to be from their failure to focus on and expend effort, and time and other resources where their effort is really needed, and where it would have been expected in their own performance reviews.

And the types of problems that I write of here can radiate down the lines of a table of organization from more senior managers on down. At its worst, poor managerial decision making of the type that I write of here, can come to shape and damage entire corporate cultures, and businesses as a whole, undermining morale at a business as a whole in the process.

I offer this posting with a goal of explicitly raising and outlining a type of management problem. And I will return to this topic area in future postings, with a goal of offering some thoughts on how to better address it.

In anticipation of my next posting on this, I note here that I have made a number of assumptions in this one that are true for many involved participants and across a range of real-world scenarios, but without their being universally true, or even close to that. As an example of that, I have assumed that all of the people involved in the scenarios that I have touched upon here, are good employees who can do their jobs effectively or even exceptionally well, even if they do face at least occasional learning curve slow-downs in that. And I have assumed that such learning would be more autodidactic in nature. But not all employees are as effective as others and not all show the same levels of potential for developing into the good or even great there. And some need and really benefit from more formal training and particularly on more complex training issues.

The devil, it is said, is in the details and that definitely applies for the issues and at least potential problems that I write of here. And the detail-of-necessity nature of the issues that I raise here, explains at least in part why this is not necessarily a topic area that is addressed as effectively as might be needed in at least most MBA and related degree programs. The details that arise here are all experience based, if they are to be fully learned and understood. My goal here is to offer tools that might help to shorten this type of learning curve. And I will continue this effort in a next installment to what will become a short series.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Page 4 to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, with this put into its addendum section (and also see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.) And you can also find this at Social Networking and Business 2 (and also see its Page 1), and at HR and Personnel – 2 (and see its Page 1.)

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 44 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 11

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 24, 2019

This is my 44th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-43.)

I have been at least relatively systematically working my way through a series of background issues since Part 39, with a goal of using that foundation-forming narrative as a basis for addressing two topics points and their issues, that I have held forth as organizing goals for this overall narrative. And my primary goal for this installment is to at least begin discussing those topic points directly now. That means I will at least begin to:

1. Offer an at least brief analysis of the risk management-based information access-determination process, or rather flow of such processes, as would arise and play out in a mid-range risk level context, where I sketched out and used a simplified risk management scale system in Part 39 for didactic purposes, that I will continue to make use of here and in what follows.
2. Then continue on from there to discuss how this type of system (or rather a more complete and functionally effective alternative to it as developed around a more nuanced and complete risk assessment metric than I pursue here), can and in fact must be dynamically maintained for how the business would address both their normative and predictably expected, and their more novel potential information sharing contexts as they might arise too. I note here in anticipation of that, that when innovation is involved and particularly when disruptively novel innovation is, novel information sharing contexts have to be considered the norm in that. And that significantly shapes how all of the issues encompassed in these two numbered points would be understood and addressed.

I concluded Part 43 of this series with some general comments regarding new employee selection, and working with people already on-staff at a business, so as to bring in the right creatively innovative people and support them for what they can bring to the business. Then after (presumably) finishing that discussion thread, at least for purposes of that posting, I said that I would turn to discuss the above-repeated topics points and essentially from the start of this one. But I have decided since writing that, to at least selectively expand upon the complex of personnel related issues that I was addressing in Part 43 first, to further complete the foundation that I will begin addressing the above Point 1 from. This, I add, is particularly important and relevant here given the overall thrust of this series as a while, with its personnel-oriented focus.

I begin this posting-starting digression by explicitly noting that when I refer to creative hands-on and managerial staff and the innovation that they can bring to a business, I am not just referring to innovation as it can arise in marketable products or services; I am writing of innovation in general as it can more widely hold potential for enriching a business, with that including business process innovation, innovation in how a business reaches out to and connects with its markets, or with possible supply chain partners or other business-to-business collaborators, or in any other context where such creativity might arise – or be thwarted. And I am writing of innovation as a product of individual effort, and even when it requires coordinated effort of several or even many to bring an innovative insight to meaningful fruition.

If you are a business owner or a more senior executive there, or a lower or midlevel manager there for that matter, who finds yourself having to hire a new employee and at whatever level in the organization, what should you look for that would go beyond your already current and ongoing routine and normal? And what should you do to identify, support and encourage such potential in the people who you already have working with you on payroll? Going beyond that, and in acknowledgement of the constraints that businesses both face and create for themselves from bringing in people part-time and short-term, and as part of a gig economy approach to hiring, where and how should you look for innovative potential and other sources of value that would make it more worthwhile for all involved, to actively bring people onboard as full time in-house employees, who prove themselves as good candidates for that from their performance in more transient positions there?

Some qualities and habits come immediately to mind that would offer worth from essentially anyone who a business would seek to bring in and keep, and actively support for their abilities to create new sources of value for an employing business. And this would just start with recognition of a driving curiosity that would bring an employee or a prospective employee to look beyond their own particular day-to-day routine to see at least something of what might be possible beyond that. And it would also include a willingness and ability to connect the dots, seeing how what might at first seem to be unrelated needs and resources might be brought together in unexpected ways. Communications skills enter in here too, as do what might perhaps best be considered marketing skills, for sharing and arguing the case for possible innovative insights that have been realized.

There are, of course, a number of other traits that could be added to that list as offering at least supportive value to what I have just outlined here. But for purposes of this posting and the above-repeated Point 1 that I will at least begin addressing here, these are the key characteristics and qualifications that I would start the main line of discussion of this posting from, here.

At the risk of repeating myself on some key points that I have already discussed in this blog, and even at least touched upon in this series too, I offer the following as context in which possible innovation and possible innovators might be addressed:

• The more standardized and the more routine a business process, or a product and its manufacturing are, or any other area of business activity that might be considered here, the less new information is actually going to be required to carry it out. And I even include operational possibilities here such as customized manufacturing, where customization per se is usually still tightly constrained and where options are in most cases routinized with customers selecting from suites of already-prepared-for options.
• The more standardized and the more routine here, the less new information, and at least as importantly the fewer the number of types of information have to be explicitly shared in order to carry it out. And the second half of that bullet point even holds true when considering big-data intensive operations, such as Customer Fulfillment Center operations where employees have to be able to access large amounts of data concerning the specific customers they are dealing with, in order to set up and complete sales or other transactions with them. They might see a diversity of specific data through this, but it is essentially certain that they will primarily if not exclusively see this coming up through specifically formatted and populated database tables that they have specific vetted access too, and with the same data fields tapped into for this every time and without exceptions. So even there, they are only seeing and working with a limited set of types of data for this.

Innovation, and looking beyond the standard and routine, calls for wider vision and understanding if it is to bring relevant value to a business or to the people who work there as they carry out their workplace responsibilities. So when I initially wrote and offered the above Point 1, I was setting up what can become a fundamental conflict that can play out in a business. And it is one in which the default decision making option is one of simply pursuing standard and routine, and the cost of that can easily become a loss of creative opportunity – and of overall opportunity that in the long run might have proven essential to the business as a whole for its ongoing success.

I explicitly framed Point 1 in terms of a simplified risk management tool that I have offered in recent installments to this series in a few progressively more refined iterations, for use as a didactic tool. And I continue this discussion from that point where I will focus on mid-range risk scenarios as discussed in the context of that tool.

Why mid-range risk issues and scenarios? I have already touched upon that question and its answers when initially offering the above cited risk management tool that would be used for managing this area of consideration, or at least for organizing its management. But I will address that complex of issues again here, this time expanding on what I have already offered on this topic, embedding my earlier response to it in what follows:

• Risk management is all about limiting the possible negative impact of uncertainty and the unexpected.
• In a standard business-as-usual context, and when standard and routine processes and flows of them are carried out in the performance of required tasks, this uncertainty fits essentially entirely into the category of known unknowns. You might not know when an adverse event will specifically arise but most of the time, and with only rare exceptions, you will start out knowing basically what types of such events can and with time will occur.
• Under these circumstances, the primary difference between low risk, mid-range risk and high risk events would be that progressively higher overall risk here, can be represented as a calculated mathematical product of progressively higher likelihood of an adverse event occurring, and a progressively higher negative consequence if one does, or some other overall higher value combination of these factors.
• In practice, in mathematical terms this is going to actually mean a calculated product that is weighted towards progressively more adverse outcomes, per incident as the risk assessed increases. And it is a key outcomes consequence of risk management, that efforts be made to reduce the calculated risk values as determined here, moving forward. Quite simply, a business process that fails too often is going to be replaced. A marketable product that does so is going to be recalled and the business will stop producing or selling it, at least until it can be redesigned or until its production line quality control can be improved.
• But even rare events can call for such change if their negative consequences rise to a sufficiently high level. Consider the recall of playpens and other items for infants and toddlers when a child dies as a result of a product failure.
• The key here, summarizing across the preceding bullet points is that when risk is essentially entirely driven by known and familiar unknowns, it becomes possible to in effect establish actuarial table approaches to dealing with it. And it becomes possible to comparatively set up tables of low risk to high risk activities and their outputs that can be supported or avoided too, as a matter of business routine. And the mid-range risks and the activities that they arise from, that I cited in Point 1, do not hold any particular significance beyond that of how they fit into larger, overall business-wide risk determination schemes.
• Now add in the additional uncertainties of innovation and of the disruptively novel and new. This is when unknown unknowns enter this narrative. And bottom line, that makes this source of uncertainty and the actual uncertainty that arise from it fundamentally qualitatively different from the known unknowns and their risks that I have just been writing of here.
• Lowest and highest risk possibilities are in most cases going to remain the same whether or not known unknowns are added to the mix, given the low likelihood of their creating unpredictably disruptive new risk increases. But when you add the possibility or even a significantly concerning likelihood of unknown unknowns into this, they add a level of impact to any overall risk determination, and a maximized level of overall risk increase for any possible events that would fit into a mid-range risk category in particular. And they specifically add whole new layers of uncertainty as to what is likely to arise as an adverse event or outcome of that categorical level too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will specifically turn to consider information sharing, and the innovative context, as the underlying logic of the above set of bullet points plays out. And as a key part of that, I will explain the immediately preceding bullet point as just offered here regarding mid-level risk events and their possibility too. Then I will turn to consider Point 2, in light of this still ongoing discussion. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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