Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 38 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 5

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 25, 2018

This is my 38th 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 1-37.)

I concluded Part 37 of this with a bullet pointed assertion that I had built up to in the course of writing that installment. And I will at least begin to more systematically explore and discuss it here:

• Ultimately investing in people with ideas and not just in specific ideas, depends on how effectively a business can in fact institute an effective back-channel if you will, unstructured, or at least less-structured communications system that can address the novel information flow needs that innovation, and disruptive innovation in particular require, while still maintaining effective risk management oversight of genuinely sensitive and confidential information.

And I begin addressing that by repeating the anticipatory note that I appended to it in Part 37, as a foretaste as to how I would discuss and analyze it here:

• As an orienting point of observation, this means going beyond tacitly assuming that any information not directly needed in one’s more routine work and in carrying it out, should be tightly restricted and even entirely blocked for its accessibility or use. Ultimately, that approach when blindly – and routinely followed rather than being challenged and managed for its consequences, is probably the most significant single operational level reason in a business why they would fail at being more innovative than they are. (Returning briefly to the parenthetical nota bene comment that I offered in Part 37 towards its start, this is where I will reconsider the issues of what “sensitive or confidential” mean in this context, as promised there.)

But to begin at the beginning for this posting’s narrative: carrying through upon an initial spark of insight and of potential innovation and actually developing realized value from it, calls for a progressively wider range of resource commitment that effective communications per se can only partly address. But arriving at the initial innovative insight that would lead to all of that new value creation, is directly driven by and largely dependent upon communications and information availability and sharing. Initial innovative insight grows at least to a significant degree, out of an at least initial-jumble of puzzle pieces of raw data and knowledge and understanding, that can be derived from and that collectively describes a business’ current here-and-now. And such innovative insight is achieved from assembling an understanding of a possible new and next out of all of this and in novel and unexpected ways. That is where an awareness of gaps in what is being done now emerge, and it is where a matching awareness of possible new opportunities in what could be developed that would address those gaps, emerge.

This line of discussion up to here addresses my above repeated to-discuss bullet point from an overall goals and incentives perspective. But the core of that point as stated is more operational in nature, and certainly when viewed in light of my accompanying anticipatory, and explanatory note regarding it. And operationalizing all of this is my primary topic of this posting and of what is to follow, or at least:

• Offering an organizing framework for finding, developing and implementing an overall communications and information sharing policy
• That would enable both information security and innovative opportunity and potential,
• And in what at least ideally would be a dynamically updatable manner as needs and opportunities change.

And I begin addressing that by finally turning to and discussing “the issues of what ‘sensitive or confidential’ mean in this context.”

I am intentionally simplifying a complex set of issues here, but at least to start, let’s assume that an effort has been made and in some way implemented, to remove “apples and oranges” comparison incompatibilities in computing the relative overall risks that would be associated with possible disclosures across the diversity of information types that might in principle be held to be securely confidential, or that might in principle be more openly shared. So the perhaps complex risk factor considerations that would enter into evaluating any given class or category of information type there, or by extension any specific data that would fall into one such categorical grouping, would be assigned an aggregate uniformly and consistently scaled risk score that would fit on a simple numerical scale that ranges from 0 through 10. A score of zero there would indicate a presumed zero risk from disclosure and sharing, and a score of 10 would indicate a presumption of automatic adverse consequences whose negative value impact would be certain to overwhelm any conceivable positive value outcomes from sharing that information outside of its already vetted and approved circle of recipients and information users.

Data and more processed knowledge that is derived from it, that would readily and unequivocally receive one of those two extreme scores is easier to both quantify and agree to for that, and easier to risk manage too and certainly when determining its range of accessibility for possible use. Consider two extreme point examples there, to take that assertion out of the abstract, and one middle ground example as well.

For my essentially automatically presumable zero risk example, consider new marketing campaign material that has been finalized and approved for release, and that this business is all prepared to see go live to the outside world. I assume here, to flesh out this example a bit, that early release of this to the public, or even just to competitors for that matter would no longer compromise the new product launch, or whatever other event that this business has been preparing for, as everything going into that campaign is all prepared for and in place. And focusing on product releases in that for the moment as a more specific source of examples for this, I am assuming a zero probability of this business having to make a sudden and unexpected pull back from this marketing campaign and from carrying it out now, as for example might arise due to a sudden last minute discovery of a significant flaw in the offering to be released and marketed, and in either its basic design or in its first market-facing production run; this new product is not going to prove to be burdened with design or usability challenges or with flawed parts in a supposedly final product or any other such last minute problems.

My qualifying conditions there would indicate, if accepted as valid, that a risk score of zero might be generally agreed to as an overall aggregate conclusion given due diligence reviews and considerations. And that would make sense, to pick up on my low probability complication example of above, if a reasonable sample of the first run product there were quality control tested as part of the basic pre-campaign preparation to effectively eliminate concern from that type of possible risk complication – as would be carried out there as part of this business’ basic production line due diligence. But those qualifiers and other possible ones like them, each perhaps individually small but collectively summable in creating an overall aggregated risk number might in principle collectively reset the final score arrived at from a presumed zero too.

What is my basic point here? I actually have several, but will focus on one of them for now. This risk score that I write of here is scaled in integers that range from 0 to 10. And I intentionally picked an at least seemingly simple and straightforward example to illustrate the low risk end of that scale, with in this case a possible early release of new marketing material and a new marketing campaign. But there can still be functional area-specific, and data type-specific factors that would have to be rolled into even that more standardized and simplified risk assessment score, and even for what would reasonably seem to be overall aggregate score of zero examples. Risk management is, after all, based on assessments of possible low probability but high impact events too, and not just what is more nominally and routinely expected.

Now let’s consider my score of 10 example. And for that I turn to consider personally identifiable, individual customer-based data and consumer protective regulatory laws that dictate specific types and levels of access-firewalling for it. I added a low level risk complication into my score of zero example that I went on to set aside for a specific instance under direct consideration here. And I add in a possible complication for this example too that might not be as easy to set aside, with the possibility of change in the regulatory law governing safe and allowable access and use that would force a change in due diligence evaluations as to who could access this information and how and when and under what circumstances. More specifically here, I am referring in this example to case law change and how a law in place might be “reinterpreted” and functionally changed as such, and in ways that might have severe retroactive consequences and even in jurisdictions that constitutionally protect against the imposition of ex post facto laws per se, as holds in countries such as the United States.

Even a seemingly clear-cut extreme zero or 10 example with a seemingly clear-cut determination in place as to permissible guidelines for information access and usage, might have novel and unexpected risk considerations buried within it, or low probability but high risk ones that might easily be overlooked. All of this type of added risk-factor consideration becomes much more complicated with more mid-range information management risk scores. And that is where the type of unstructured, or at least less-structured communications and information sharing issues that I write of here in an innovation context, become both more important for innovation and more nuanced and challenging for their risk management considerations. Genuinely zero risk information sharing does not enter into any access decision making considerations here, and risk of 10 information is in most cases going to be off the table for that and out of consideration too. It is middle ground risk evaluation level data where this becomes important, and at least potentially challenging.

I will discuss that set of issues in my next series installment, starting with the middle-level risk score example that I promised above. And after delving into that and with that scoring system analysis in place, I will further discuss the more general to-address topics point that I repeated at the start of this posting. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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Intentional management 48: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 9

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 15, 2018

This is my 48th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-47.)

I offered a to-address list of topics points towards the end of Part 47 that I repeat here for purposes of smoother continuity of narrative. And my goal for this posting is to at least begin to delve into their issues, at least insofar as I would address them for purposes of this series. And to further clarify and expand upon what I will be doing here, and in following postings to this series, I offered these topics points as part of a discussion two distinct categories of business processes and recurring tasks that represent instances of their being carried out: more fixed and stable, consistently viewed and performed ones, and more flexibly mutable ones, and how these two categorical types coexist within single organizations:

1. What happens to standardized processes and procedures in all of this?
2. And who gets to decide, and particularly on a specific-context by specific-context basis, what should be and in fact is standardized for this?
3. The issues raised in that question become both more pressing and more complex as a business becomes more complex and widely geographically spread out.
4. Now, and with that in mind, how can a business and its senior leadership maintain overall organizational consistency while allowing for necessary flexibility and opportunity to at least locally prototype test out new alternatives to what might be more standard and routine?
5. And this brings me to the next to-address point that I acknowledged as coming up in this series towards the top of Part 46: ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences.

And I begin doing all of this by noting that I have at least selectively discussed all of the items on this list in earlier postings and series, and as many as multiple times for all of them. That noted, I also add that they all raise issues and significant details that I have yet to touch upon in this blog so they come up again here too.

I stated in Part 47 that I would make note of specific numbered topics points as I discuss them, but that I would also discuss these issues collectively and for how they fit together here too. And I will do that. I tend to take a more detail by detail analytical perspective in this blog, examining and discussing individual puzzle pieces that I bring into a narrative, as such. And I have primarily done that for these issues. My goal here, in contrast is to consider the overall puzzle that they fit into and that they collectively create too.

I said that I would primarily focus on the first four of those points here in this posting and I begin doing so by noting a detail that should be obvious but that is easy to overlook and certainly in businesses that are not overtly being challenged and reshaped by change, and from within and from their outside – and with this as a core, overtly stated part of their basic business model.

• All of this takes place in time and even over extensive periods of it. And effective responses to all of those first four points and the questions that they raise are of necessity mutable as needs and circumstances change. All four of those points come together, to collectively address a single dynamic process and in fact a system of them that is time-dependent and that is shaped by the change that time and timing bring.

This can be obvious to people who work at a readily change-driven business that functions in a highly competitive industry, and that faces and seeks to effective engage with a change and New demanding marketplace and customer base: a context that I have addressed repeatedly in this blog and particularly when discussing innovation and its drivers. But even there, newer employees who have not gone through change and disruptive change in particular there, can easily come to tacitly assume that the work flow and the business dynamics and the context that they happen to have seen there are different. I write here of employees and managers who have carried out back-end and other within-business activities that do not seem to be directly affected by product or market demand change and who have not seen significant change during their tenure there. And I write here of how these hands-on employees and managers with their day-to-day focus can easily at least tacitly come to presume that what they do there has always been the effective norm there.

Even these businesses that live or die on the basis of change and on how they respond to it, and in how effectively they can proactively lead in it, have people who can take stable and even constant for granted, and certainly when considering the details that they have not seen changed – and even if they acknowledge overall change as a more abstracted generalization and as a consideration for other parts of their business. What they do and how they do it in their own day-to-day work there, must be more stable and consistent and certainly insofar as they work on and are professionally immersed in within-business supportive services, processes and tasks and not with the flow of new products and services offered per se, where ongoing change would be more overtly obvious.

Some of the back-end and within-business work flow that I just noted in the above paragraphs would of necessity in fact remain largely stable and fixed. And I cite ongoing accounting and related business process infrastructure as a quintessential example there, with its need for adherence to standardized and stable generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and related operational forms, with their stable and consistent calculations and reporting requirements. But apparent consistency and stability can disappear and even suddenly in most any area of a business, and not just in their immediately market-facing functions, as that enterprise faces need for flexibility and agility as a basic risk management consideration.

The presumption of ongoing and even open ended constancy and stability as addressed above, becomes a lot more overt and wide-spread in a business when it functions in a stable, and even perhaps seemingly moribund industry and when its products or services are consistently stable and established as such – with them appealing to a widely defined market audience regardless of their acceptance of or resistance to the new and innovative for other types of purchasing decisions. But change and even a need for disruptively and fundamental change can happen even then, and with all of the potential challenges inherent in the first four points of the above list coming to the fore for those businesses too. See my earlier series: Leveraging Information Technology to Revitalize Mature Industries and Marketplaces (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 467 and following) for a brief discussion of how this need can arise and be addressed.

• Think of Points 1 and 3 of the above topics list as raising and identifying a complex mix of emerging challenges and opportunities, at least categorically, and with Points 2 and 4 directed towards how they would be responded to, or proactively addressed where that can become possible.

And this brings me to Point 5 of the above list:

• Ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences

I have touched upon this complex of issues a number of times in this blog and will return to it again in the next installment of this series. And in anticipation of what is to come there, I will discuss this point in terms of the framework offered by Points 1-4. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 37 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 4

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 18, 2018

This is my 37th 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 1-36.)

I began Part 36 of this series by repeating two to-address points that I would at least begin to address there, which I went on to restate if not reframe as:

• Reconsidering the developmental timeline of how a business grows and evolves from startup on, and
• At least starting a discussion of the issues of who is brought in and retained in a business over the emerging course of that.

Then I went on from there to offer a selectively brief recounting of how both organizations as a whole, and their communications systems that drive them take form and develop as a business grows and in both complexity of work done in it and in its overall staffing and managerial headcount.

To clarify “communications” there, I repeat a categorical distinction here that I have found useful in understanding and explaining business work flows and how they do and do not succeed, that I cited there. Most if not all businesses of any significant scale and complexity of organizational structure, come to develop two essentially inevitable but at-times uneasily coexisting types of communications systems:

• Structured and even formally structured communications channels, that collectively represent the basic system of who can communicate specific types of sensitive or confidential information with whom in a business, and according to their titles and positions there, and on the basis of specific need to know determinations. (N.B. I will have more to say later on in this as to what “sensitive or confidential” mean in this context.)
• And unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it, that by their very nature cut across the system of communications that more structured systems would formally allow and expect.

Then towards the end of that posting and its narrative, I raised a briefly stated laundry list of issues that come into prominence here in this type of context, which I repeat now as a starting point for this posting and for what is to follow from it:

• Finding the right balance there, depends on how innovative a business needs to be if it is to thrive in its competitive context and in meeting the needs of its marketplace.
• And this depends on the levels and types of innovation that might be possible for it, in its industry and business sector, given any outside regulatory requirements it has to meet among other factors.
• Should it be openly and widely innovative and everywhere in its organization, and if so how?
• Should it develop and support innovation centers in its overall systems and organizational structure, and if so where and how?
• And how can it more effectively bring the best of its people for this, into these innovation opportunity settings?
• And how can it best support them there too?

Anyone who has in any way followed my ongoing progression of postings and series on innovation in this blog, and particularly on more effectively encouraging and developing it in a business should find this list to be quite familiar. I have in fact addressed all of these points of observation and all of the questions raised in them in the contexts of other postings here, and even as central areas of discussion for entire series. But I have primarily done so from an organizational perspective, and certainly in series such as:

• Keeping Innovation Fresh (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, as postings 241 and following for its Parts 1-16) and
• Innovators, Innovation Teams and the Innovation Process (as can be found at that same directory page, as postings 366 and following for its Parts 1-13, and at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 as postings 402 and following for Parts 14-19.)

That has meant discussion of a business’ organizational structures and of how innovators would be supported and encouraged in them, as valued members of their overall teams. My goal here in this series and in this part of it is to switch directions from that to at least briefly make note of these same issues from a communications systems approach, in keeping with the dichotomy repeated towards the top of this posting of dividing communications channels into structured and unstructured forms – and at least at times into parallel structured and unstructured systems.

My goal for the still ongoing succession of series on business innovation that I have been offering here, has been to pose and argue a case for what I have found to be better and even best practices in making a business effectively and competitively more innovative. My goal here is to step back from that level of analysis and discussion to examine one of the essential underpinnings that would have to go into making any of that work, and from an individual participant and an interpersonal relationship perspective, as ultimately it is individuals who perceive and develop the New and who innovate in making it a possible reality. And it is individuals who communicate in making that happen.

• Working together effectively, and by essentially any meaningful measure, requires communicating effectively together, with channels available for sharing information that could contribute to work done, and in ways that could facilitate both next-step action and review of what has already been done up to now.
• And it also requires effectively unencumbered access to raw and already processed information to share, so as to enable its use in practical directions, and its further development and augmentation and refinement for those next-step process completions too.

Stepping back from the flow of discussion that I have been developing here in this series, and with Part 36 and this installment up to here in mind:

• Ultimately investing in people with ideas and not just in specific ideas, depends on how effectively a business can in fact institute an effective back-channel if you will, unstructured, or at least less-structured communications system that can address the novel information flow needs that innovation, and disruptive innovation in particular require, while still maintaining effective risk management oversight of genuinely sensitive and confidential information.

I am going to at least begin to address that complex tangle of issues in my next series installment, but in anticipation of doing so note as an orienting point of observation that this means going beyond tacitly assuming that any information not directly needed in one’s more routine work and in carrying it out, should be tightly restricted and even entirely blocked for its accessibility or use. Ultimately, that approach when blindly – and routinely followed rather than being challenged and managed for its consequences, is probably the most significant single operational level reason in a business why they would fail at being more innovative than they are. (Returning briefly to my above offered parenthetical nota bene comment, that is where I will reconsider the issues of what “sensitive or confidential” mean in this context.)

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

Intentional management 47: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 8

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 8, 2018

This is my 47th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-46.)

I initially raised what can be viewed as a fundamental question in Part 45 towards its end that I repeat here, when I raised the possibility of:

• How managers at essentially any level or position in an organization can facilitate value creating and value supportive processes and systems of them for their business, from their inclusion in the conversations that help shape them and keep them effectively focused.

Note that this does not mean blindingly following fixed and immutable business rules and procedures, or keeping managers oriented towards always automatically doing so; this addresses the issues and challenges of more actively supporting these professionals – and perhaps particularly in the face of change or of need for it, while still encouraging them to address that from a more stable core perspective of established and more widely held processes and procedures. And when that type of capability for at least structured independence is allowed for and even assumed, effective communications as addressed here becomes all the more important, and I add all the more complex and detailed in need too.

Then after raising this question, I began developing a foundation for addressing its here-stated bullet point and its issues in Part 46, ending that installment with a short list of next to consider questions and points of observation that all revolve around the sometimes conundrum of knowing what operational processes should be fixed and consistent, and what should more properly be allowed flexibility and a capacity to change.

I assume here that there are at least some areas of a business that would support and even actively need such adaptability and flexibility, even as large parts of their operational systems would best remain stable and consistently so. But with that stated,

1. What happens to standardized processes and procedures in all of this?
2. And who gets to decide, and particularly on a specific-context by specific-context basis, what should be and in fact is standardized for this?
3. The issues raised in that question become both more pressing and more complex as a business becomes more complex and widely geographically spread out.
4. Now, and with that in mind, how can a business and its senior leadership maintain overall organizational consistency while allowing for necessary flexibility and opportunity to at least locally prototype test out new alternatives to what might be more standard and routine?
5. And this brings me to the next to-address point that I acknowledged as coming up in this series towards the top of Part 46: ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences.

My more usual approach for addressing this type of topics list in this blog, is to more systematically discuss each of them in order, and with any cross-over between them in how I discuss them identified as such. But while I will cite specific points on that list by their identifying numbers in what follows, I will primarily address them as a whole this time, and certainly for Points 1-4. And I begin doing so by making note of a type of categorical distinction that I have been discussing at length recently in this blog, and by then noting a second one that while related, has been much less visible here.

I have found myself writing repeatedly about core business processes and systems of them that directly enable and enact the business as it carries out its value defining mission: business activities and functionalities that when followed create the products and/or services that that business brings to market, and in ways that would give it competitive strength and profitability. These functionalities and their business processes in effect operationalize the mission and vision of a business as laid out in its basic business plan and in its overall business strategy and strategic vision. And I have also discussed supportive but non-core business functions and services and the processes that comprise them, some of which might best be maintained in-house as necessary cost centers, some of which might more effectively and cost-effectively be outsourced to specialty providers, and some of which might best be dispensed with as no longer needed.

That is my first of two sets of categorical distinctions that I would raise and consider here. And the second of them that I raise now cuts across it, adding in an imperative of change and of adaptation, and both reactive where that is needed and proactive where that is possible and where it would be beneficial:

• Assume that a business under consideration faces need for change. This might be a business that has more traditionally been more staid and stable in what it does that suddenly finds itself facing unexpected disruptive pressures from competitors or from change in what its market demands. Or it might be a business that operates in a very competitive industry and that caters to the needs of an always change-demanding market audience where the change pressures under consideration are anything but unexpected and novel to them. And I add that it does not matter from the perspective of this line of discussion whether the pressure to change comes from outside of this business or whether it arrives from within, as for example from the emergence of an unexpected disruptively valuable insight or innovation coming out of the work of members of their own staff. Generically, I am setting up a business scenario in which pressures to change arise and from whatever source and of whatever form, and in ways and to degrees that cannot be ignored.
• And I only assume that this is a change imperative that would demand business process change. I am not for example, writing here of minor cosmetic changes in products or services offered to a marketplace, which would not raise to the level of significance or of impact as to qualify here as meeting the terms of the above bullet point. So if this change starts with a new product possibility, it is one that would offer real value to the business and its customers and market, and it is disruptively new and different enough when compared to what this business has offered before, so as to require change in their production systems and in marketing, and change in business processes that support them that would radiate out from there if this enterprise were to gain all possible value from this breakthrough.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment, focusing at least to start on Points 1-4 of the above list. And in anticipation of that, and with the boundaries between core and peripheral strongly in mind for business processes and functionalities, I will explicitly consider the pressures and needs for change when addressing more gradual evolutionary change, versus the disruptively novel. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Human Resources and the challenge of divided loyalties: some thoughts on remediating a fundamental imbalance

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on February 8, 2018

There is a biblical admonition against seeking to serve two masters that I find myself thinking of as I set out to write this posting. And it begins:

• No man can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. (See Matthew 6:24.)

I cite this here, because Human Resources and its professionals are in effect required to do that and serve two masters, and as part of their basic job descriptions, and certainly if they are to behave fairly and ethically towards both their employers and to the employees who they work with.

This does not become an issue and in fact it does not become overtly apparent either, in the course of day-to-day routines or when carrying out normal business processes. But this does become both very apparent and very real as a challenge of conflict when any of a wide range of possible disruptive problems arises. Workplace discrimination and harassment come immediately to mind there. And I add that I write this note at a point in time when the #MeToo movement has very justifiably really taken off, with large numbers of women speaking out about the sexual harassment that they have faced on the job, and with threats of retaliation thrown at them if they say anything of that to anyone. But as big and painful a problem as that is, #MeToo and its issues only touch upon part of a still larger problem with racial, ethnic, religiously based, age based, gender and gender identity based and other forms of discrimination and harassment all still occurring too, and still way too prevalent and with all of that still so under-reported.

Some managers and bosses are ineffectual and bumbling and that can and does create stress and friction in the workplace. But the general professional incompetence that leads to that behavior is not usually directed towards anyone in particular – usually, if that is all that is happening. The deeper and more pressing problem that I write of here is that some managers and bosses are sadists, and some are bigots and some are viciously discriminatory, and very manipulative in that … and yes that some are sexual predators who see those working for them and under their authority as fair game. And this leads me to the issues of Human Resources and the challenge of those two masters.

The senior manager or boss who is reported to Human Resources by an employee seeking help, is probably in a strong position, at the very least to control the continued employment of the HR personnel who are reached out to. But at the same time, those same HR personnel have a moral and an ethical, and in many cases even a legal responsibility to protect employees from abuse at the place of employment that they all work at and regardless of who might be acting abusively there.

This, and certainly in the United States, means a legally mandated right that all employees hold, to be offered access to an employee rights advocate who would be provided to them through Personnel or Human Resources and at no cost to themselves. But I have seen a same HR executive give a new employee orientation presentation that covers this right, along with other “must know” issues, then turn around and adamantly argue against an actual individual employee having any such a right when the matter stops being hypothetical and when an actual and even ongoing harassment has been brought to their attention.

• A harassed or abused or threatened employee needs protection and the right to exercise their rights there. Just notifying them of those rights as part of a generic employee orientation talk cannot suffice if they cannot actually be available and freely so and without challenge or impediment.
• But just as importantly, Human Resources employees, and from entry level on through service chiefs and department heads, need protections too so any threat or challenge faced out of a claim would not simply move to their shoulders if they seek to do their jobs there.

I write this note to add to my blog, as I read of and hear of new allegations of sexual harassment, and seemingly every single day now as the dam has burst on that issue and with so many stepping forth now, seeking redress for harm faced and pain endured. I also write this, thinking back to my own career and to the good and bad that I have seen transpire at a wide range of places of work. And I wonder how many of those who I have worked with, were carrying even the pain and shame of having been sexually harassed too, and I did not know of that because part of the harm inflicted on these victims is in fact a sense of shame – however undeserved on their part. And part of it is the enforced silence that threats of retribution impose too.

It is not enough to go after and prosecute specific offenders and even particularly egregious ones, or to have a process in place for doing so – if that is only there in principle. A more robust and stable system has to be in place for both reporting abuse and for protecting its victims and its potential victims and preferably proactively and before such harm can be done to them. But none of this can work for these direct employee victims if it does not work for the people in their places of employment who they would have to report these offenses to, and without that creating fear based ambivalence on the part of those gatekeepers in services such as Human Resources who could at least potentially facilitate or block a positive resolution to this type of problem.

And as a basic part of their training, everyone working in Human Resources, or in Personnel if this service goes by that name, should be taught in detail that they do work for and serve two masters. And both of them need to be cared for and held to, to at least paraphrase the wording of Mathew 6:24. HR personnel may work for their employers who pay them, and they may owe them a measure of loyalty in what they do there. But they work for the employees there too and owe them matching loyalty too. And ultimately, they cannot serve the needs of their employers if they do not serve both masters there too. And if that message is not deeply instilled in these professionals as part of their basic sense and understanding of their jobs and what they should do in fulfilling them, when everything is routine and normal and trouble free: if this only comes up when real problems and challenges arise, that is too late to make a real difference and for the employees under duress, for the business they work at as a whole, or for Human Resources and its professionals there as they find themselves caught in a bind, in the middle.

I am going to conclude this note here by explicitly stating that I am not just writing about full time employees of significant tenure on the job here. When I write of employees here and of harassment and abuse, I of necessity also include new hires who are still in their probationary period, and part time and temporary workers and contract workers. I add that I include unpaid interns here too. If someone is working at a business they need to be covered there for these issues. And for any reader who might question that, consider the following scenario:

• Assume that you are the HR director in a business and you get a phone call from a reporter from the largest newspaper or the most widely watched television news program in your area. And they are calling to ask for a response from you about harassment or abuse allegations that they are just about to go public on with a prominent news piece. And they are planning on citing you by name in that piece as well as the name of your business that you work for. If the employee, or employees who are claiming this mistreatment are not working there full time as fully vetted in-house members of your company’s staff: if they fall into one of those “less protected” categories of being new hires or temporary hires or the like, would that give you a sense of relief?

I have at least touched upon this topic in at least some earlier postings to this blog. See, for example my series: Confronting Workplace Discrimination, as can be found at HR and Personnel as postings 57-60. And unfortunately I am certain to return to it in future postings too, as the issues that I write of here will not simply go away. No single #MeToo effort at achieving visibility and redress for these issues, can resolve their challenge long term and for all possible victims. So I will return to this topic and make note of it on an ongoing, recurring basis.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 36 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 3

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 4, 2018

This is my 36th 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 1-35.)

I have been discussing two fundamentally distinct and consequential patterns that business communications flows can follow in this series, since its Part 33:

• Structured and even formally structured communications channels, that collectively represent the basic system of who can communicate specific types of sensitive or confidential information with whom in a business, and according to their titles and positions there, and on the basis of specific need to know determinations.
• And unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it, that by their very nature cut across the system of communications that more structured systems would formally allow and expect.

And as a part of that narrative, I began a discussion in Part 35 of how unstructured communications can be necessary and even essential, for the development of innovative potential into sources of marketable value in a business, and certainly where disruptively new and novel innovation is involved.

• This is because innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, arise from the emergence of new information and new types of it, that would of necessity be developed and used in new ways, and with that almost always requiring new and unplanned for sets of expertise and experience
• And certainly when the complete process flow from initial conceptualization through the production of completed new products is considered.

Then at end of Part 35, and in anticipation of this posting, I said that I would continue from there by at least starting to address the following:

• A reconsideration of innovation and the capacity to innovate as value creating processes, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business and does or does not develop itself in ways that would readily make that possible.
• And once again, the issue of who is brought in and retained in a business, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come. I will discuss a few other shaping considerations for all of this, there as well.

I begin here with the first of those two bullet pointed to-address discussions, and as indicated in it I will start with startups. And I begin that by noting the obvious: a startup as a new and still embryonic venture, begins with what at least should be a basic business plan that is centered around what it would do in developing a competitively effective value proposition that it can thrive and grow from. This includes a basic description of what that new business would come to offer as marketable and profitably sellable products, services or both, and certainly as it starts out, and a matching description of who it would market and sell too with an at least starter analysis of a possible marketplace and its demographics and their wants and needs.

But startups begin very small. Essentially every single one of them that I have had any dealings with professionally, started out with a small enough head count to fit around a kitchen or dining room table in a founder’s home. And they often met, at least when initially starting to plan and organize, in venues like that. This means everyone could be in the conversation and at least in principle, on everything discussed. That type of communications openness definitely includes open and free ranging discussion of the products and services that would be realized as these ventures take off, and I offer that as a point of observation that should at least apply to essentially any startup business venture. Early barriers to communications among its initial founders bode ill for what can follow from their intended venture, and for essentially any newly forming business.

Then as these businesses develop and grow, their overall workload becomes too large and complex for any small founding team to address, so more and more people have to be brought on board, and certainly for businesses that would design, produce and sell innovative new products as at least a significant part of their defining value proposition. Work becomes divided into functionally organized groups and into specialized teams within the growing organization, and a table of organization develops to coordinate everything there in terms of a settled organizational structure. I am grossly oversimplifying a complex developmental process here, but for purposes of this narrative, a briefly sketched summary of a more complex reality should suffice, so I will limit this phase of this discussion to that, at least for now.

The crucially important detail that I would raise here from this admittedly simplified cartoon representation is that distinct patterns of communications arise in these systems, that are organized and that become vetted with a goal of carrying out an increasingly complex array of specialized tasks and functions. Structured communications channels arise to manage the information flow that this emerging division of labor requires, and due diligence systems emerge that both codify and enforce all of this too. Risk remediation systems arise too and particularly as sensitive and confidential information enters this developing narrative. And with time, that becomes the norm and for essentially all business communications, as specialists share information with fellow specialists in their functional area, and primarily in their own work teams as well, and with same level peers in those teams and up and down the table of organization – generally going one step up or down for that, at least most of the time.

And this is where the issues of my second set of bullet points in this posting can take on the appearance of offering a conundrum:

• How can the founders and architects of a new business simultaneously build for robust and of-necessity stable consistency where that is needed, and with the robust structured communications systems that that entails, and certainly where confidential and business-sensitive information is concerned,
• And still both allow and encourage the type of communications openness that innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, require?

I would argue that this means retaining, or if lost recapturing something of the communications openness of the founding team of a business from when everything going on there was at least somewhat new and innovative and for all concerned. But this openness has to be arrived at and maintained as part of a balancing act that also allows for and supports structured communications, and necessary controls over the flow of sensitive and confidential information too. And there is no simple, one size fits all solution to that.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment, and in anticipation of that I add here that finding the right balance there, depends on how innovative a business needs to be if it is to thrive in its competitive context and in meeting the needs of its marketplace. And this depends on the levels and types of innovation that might be possible for it, in its industry and business sector, given any outside regulatory requirements it has to meet among other factors. Should it be openly and widely innovative and everywhere in its organization and if so how? Should it develop and support innovation centers in its overall systems and organizational structure and if so where and how, and how can it more effectively bring the best of its people for this, into these innovation opportunity settings? How can it best support them there too?

This all means reconsidering the developmental timeline of how a business grows and evolves from startup on: the basic topic of the first of two to-address topics points that I repeated at the top of this posting to help orient what was to follow here. And this also means at least starting a discussion of the second of those points too: the issues of who is brought in and retained in a business. And with that I update my to-address list for moving forward in this series.

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

Intentional management 46: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 7

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 27, 2018

This is my 46th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-45.)

I used Part 45 of this series to develop and offer a foundation point for this next installment, discussing cost and profit centers, and how functional groups and services within a business connect outward from themselves, and both within the business itself as a whole and outside of the enterprise too, and in multiple possible ways for both.

Then at the end of Part 45, I added that I would turn here to consider:

• How managers at essentially any level or position in an organization can facilitate these processes and systems of them for their business, from their inclusion in the conversations that help shape them and keep them effectively focused.

And as a part of that I added that I will further discuss how complexities and constraints in business systems can and do arise for managers throughout a business, and certainly when dealing with the types of issues that I have been raising in recent installments of this series. Then after addressing that, I will reconsider, yet again, ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences. But I begin all of this with the above restated, here bullet point-formatted issue of how to more effectively include and enable managers and at all levels of an organization, in these value creating and utilizing transactions.

There are a number of approaches that could be pursued in addressing that goal and how best to achieve it. And more effectively involving and including managers from throughout an organization here, really is a challenge for a great many businesses so this is an important set of issues to consider.

I could cite top-down authoritarianism here as an example of how this can be systematically stymied. But instead, I cite a phenomenon that can hinder such open and inclusive involvement and even when effort is made from the executive suite to be more inclusively involving here. And it reflects a scenario that I have seen play out too many times from my own consulting practice, that I make note of here as a real world alternative to the type of open involvement and participation under consideration here. Consider businesses that over time develop at least selectively impervious silo walls around key functional areas or other categorically important domains within their overall organization, where their local leaderships in effect create and maintain their own fiefdoms there, within that organization.

I have discussed that phenomenon a number of times in this blog, and how that scenario can arise as a defensive and even self-protective measure in businesses that are in trouble. And the barriers that I make note of here can sometimes arise more easily from that, than they would from having managers in a business who simply seek to consolidate power and authority around themselves for their own personal gain and for the benefit of their own egos.

But my focus here is on inclusion and involvement and on building a business to be a cohesively interconnected whole, and without such barriers. And I begin addressing that, at what might be the most important starting point that could be considered for this: a business’ corporate culture.

• I stress here that bringing managers more widely and fully into these conversations does not necessarily mean reaching out to limit their autonomy or independence, or working to encourage rigid conformity among them. I am not writing here, of one way conversations or of promoting that approach.
• This is about reaching out to listen as well as talk, and in genuine dialogs. And it means enabling managers by building a framework of acceptance among them, and even of open and overt support for calculated risk taking where a manager would follow the basic systems and approaches in place, but with an awareness of the positive value of new and of change too and of their being allowed a measure of flexibility there.
• And just as importantly, this means allowing and encouraging wide ranging conversations and ones that can and do lead to the shaping and refinement of policy and practice, that both encourages and allows wider stakeholder participation in what is done and how.

This highlights a potential assumption that can all too easily enter into reading and I add following the approach laid out in my first bullet pointed topic of discussion for this posting, as appears at its beginning. I do not assume what can become automatic and even blind pursuit of some single rigidly interpreted and adhered to, business-wide set of processes and understandings. I also allow here for flexibility and change, and the capacity and the opportunity to plan for and carry it out, and with all necessary transparency among involved stakeholders as would be called for in order to make that work.

Why do I start with the corporate culture here, for this? That is where expectations and opportunities would arise if they do at all, for making this possible, with managers trusting and having reason to trust that they are empowered to communicate and participate in the decision making processes that affect and even shape their work. That is where the people working at a business in general are encourage to, or discouraged from thinking about new possibilities too.

This leads me to some basic and probably inevitable questions, given the tenor of this posting. First of all, what happens to standardized processes and procedures in all of this? And who gets to decide, and particularly on a specific-context by specific-context basis, what should be and in fact is standardized for this? The issues raised in that question become both more pressing and more complex as a business becomes more complex and widely geographically spread out. Now, and with that in mind, how can a business and its senior leadership maintain overall organizational consistency while allowing for necessary flexibility and opportunity to at least locally prototype test out new alternatives to what might be more standard and routine? And this brings me to the next to-address point that I acknowledged as coming up in this series, towards the top of this posting:

• Ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences.

I will discuss these questions and this point in my next series installment, and as these types of business practice alternatives can and do arise in the context of at least nominally expected standard and routine processes and practices. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 35 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 26, 2017

This is my 35th 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 1-34.)

I have, since Part 33 of this, been discussing two fundamentally distinct and consequential patterns that business communications flows can follow:

• Structured and even formally structured communications, as arise for example in the context of annual performance reviews with their pre-vetted review forms and protocols (to couch this in a specific case in point example of possible Personnel and Human Resources terms.) This represents the basic system of planned out and formally designated and allowed-for communications channels that would specify who can communicate specific types of sensitive or confidential information with whom in a business, and according to their titles and positions there, and on the basis of specific need to know determinations.
• And unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it, that by their very nature cut across the system of communications that more structured systems would formally allow and expect.

And I have at least briefly made note of how both of these approaches arise, and how they can create both combinations of positive value, and of cost and challenge for the businesses that they arise in depending on circumstance and context. And then at the end of Part 34, and in anticipation of this next series installment, I said that I would further discuss the issues and ramifications of unstructured communications here. I will focus in this on how these communications flows fit into and shape and even fundamentally enable innovation in a business, and particularly disruptive innovation. And I begin doing so by repeating a crucial point of detail from Part 34, in order to orient this topic for all that will follow here:

• Innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, call for creative and novel communications patterns, bringing together what for a business would be non-standard combinations of stakeholders with their particular areas of knowledge and expertise, and of authority to provide resources and approvals to use them in non-standard ways.
• This is because innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, arise from the emergence of new information and new types of it, that would of necessity be developed and used in new ways, and with that almost always requiring new and unplanned for sets of expertise and experience
• And certainly when the complete process flow from initial conceptualization through the production of completed new products is considered.

My basic goal for this posting is to discuss the possibilities of positive value-creating disruptive change from within a business, as a communications-driven process. And as a part of addressing that set of issues I will more fully consider the issues of risks and profitable benefits and how their evaluation, as variously considered, shapes both communications within a business and its capability to either innovate for itself, or respond to innovation taking place around it. And then I will step back from that narrative at least somewhat to reconsider innovation and the capacity to innovate, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business: and does or does not develop itself in ways that would make that readily possible. The issues of who is brought in and retained in a business, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come.

And I begin all of this with a more detailed discussion of innovation as a source of realized value for a business, and at least the communications side of how that can and does take place, and certainly if new sources of value are to be achieved quickly enough so that an innovative business would not see what should be its creativity arrived at and marketed first, by a competitor.

I begin this with the absolute fundamentals, and by citing an old and at-first trivial and unrelated seeming question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? (It makes a noise, which is an empirical physical phenomenon comprised of pressure waves traveling through the air from the site of the tree fall, and attenuating down to disappearance over distance and time, but it might arguably not make a sound where that is the product of a subjective experiencing of noise.) My perhaps more germane question for the context of this posting at least, that I found myself thinking through with that older question in mind, is:

• If an individual thinks through and arrives at a potential product or service innovation on their own, but they cannot develop this themselves and on their own into any realized product or service, and they never effectively communicate word of this to anyone else, has a true innovation actually taken place?

I would argue that something has happened, as a life experience and learning process step for the would-be innovator involved. But no true innovation will have taken place, and certainly insofar as innovation is societally facing and a new value and new type of value-creating endeavor. No actual value outside of the mind of the innovator actually comes from this.

• A successful and stably effective business and its collective pool of personnel and at all levels in its table of organization, comprises a community,
• And one that fits into and serves some value defining set of needs for at least one circumscribed outside demographic that belongs to a larger society (that includes that business within it too) and that serves as its marketplace and its at least potential customer base.
• And unless a possible innovation is realized in actualized product and/or service form, for use by others in that society, it is not an actual realized innovation. It can at most be a self-limited and ephemeral thought.

This is in fact crucially important here, and that is why I belabor it so much. Realized value-creating innovation may begin in the creative mind of one individual and it usually does, but if it just stays there, none of this matters. Realized innovation is essentially always a group effort and certainly in any business that would seek to develop innovative potential into new marketable and sellable products or services. This means people in a business that seeks to be innovative, working with and really listening to those who offer new and novel ideas among them, and even when those are ideas that at first seem to be contrarian and at variance to established tried-and-true with all of its ongoing momentum. (Remember the word “disruptive” in the term disruptive innovation there.)

I have written in this series and certainly in its most recent two installments of the need for more open and inclusive communications, and I add more open and inclusive collaborative effort that this would enable in any innovative effort. Resistance to that and to allowing it and ultimately, resistance to allowing and actually supporting innovation in a business can in effect be codified in officially designated form through insistence on following standard structured communications paths, and the structured table of organization-specified lines of authority and of work organization that generally shape them.

Let’s consider this in more detail. I have set this entire line of discussion up in terms of business planning and business model-supportive risk management, where allowing unauthorized use and distribution of what might be sensitive company-held information might offer innovative value, but it might primarily just create risk too. Think of that as taking a logically framed, prudent business-centric approach to this set of issues, and that in fact represents the officially stated justification for challenging any perceived unstructured communications and the information sharing that this might entail, and even when other more interpersonal, and personal-agenda based reasons might actually predominate for their levels of deciding value here.

I could have, alternatively, posited all of this discussion thread in terms of individual managers in the table of organization protecting their own teams and themselves, and I could have posited and presented it in terms of interpersonal and personal agenda-supportive pressures, and both to conform to official structured communications channels and to sidestep them in unstructured, or at least “less structured” ways. I conclude this posting and its line of discussion by simply noting that businesses are comprised of individuals: individuals who at the very least tend to adhere to and follow official systems and processes in place: in accordance with their own understandings of what those officially supported systems entail and certainly in specific instances faced and as they would have to be interpreted there. And they do so in terms of the filters of their own ongoing experience, and as shaped by the pressures and priorities that they individually face in meeting their own performance goals, and both for the business and with respect to their own needs and their own career paths.

Structured and unstructured communications and their information and insight sharing flows arise and are adhered to or not, and supported or not as consequences of more complex underlying decisions and processes: individual as well as business in nature. And it is those processes with all of their potential for alignment and conflict in how they play out that determine how structured and unstructured arise and how they do or do not succeed. And this brings me to the next in line set of issues to discuss here in this series, as briefly noted above:

• A reconsideration of innovation and the capacity to innovate, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business and does or does not develop itself in ways that would make that readily possible.
• And once again, the issue of who is brought in and retained in a business, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come. I will discuss a few other shaping considerations for all of this, there as well.

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

Intentional management 45: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 6

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 16, 2017

This is my 45th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-44.)

I focused in Part 44 of this on the issues of authority and responsibility in management, and for lower and middle management and the people who hold those positions, and for senior managers and executives. And I did so with particular attention paid to how these professionals have to coordinately address and support the members of their own teams in their areas of the overall table of organization, while simultaneously supporting the business as a whole, and even when that means giving other functional areas and other areas of the business priority access to resources that their own people would need too.

I wrote this for the most part in terms of managers supporting specific functional areas that they are responsible for, and the tasks and processes that fall into their areas of direct concern there, or supporting what might be viewed as competing groups in their business: others competing with them for access to any limited, bottleneck resources that both sides of that might need and at the same time. But while this vision of how a business works is basically valid, it is also limited. And it is also a bit misleading and certainly if it is not fit into a larger and more nuanced context. My goal for this posting is to at least begin to put that narrative into this larger perspective, beginning in-house and then moving outward from there. And that is where consideration of a wider range of stakeholders enters into this.

I begin addressing this set of issues by highlighting a point of fact that is both obvious when explicitly stated, and easy to overlook – and precisely because it can so easily be taken for granted:

• A great deal of, and even the majority of the work that is carried out in essentially any business with a large enough headcount so as to be divided into distinct functional areas, consists of task performance that is carried out in one functional area there that serves the needs of other parts of that same business.
• And most of the rest of it is organized and carried out in support of stakeholders who can be found outside of the business itself, in its marketplace and customer base, and in any supply chain or other business-to-business collaborations that it enters into.

Yes, every functional area of a business also performs at least a measure of work that is directed essentially entirely in terms of supporting its own systems, processes and staff, and internal to itself. But ultimately, the defining value creating measure of such a group within a business is in how it can and does create value outside of itself and for others, both within and outside of the business.

Focusing on inside of a business per se, and outside of that business as a whole for the moment:

• When the (usually financial) value created by a team or other-organized goals-directed group within a business is less than or at most break-even with the value it provides to that organization in return, at least on average, that part of the organization is usually deemed to be a cost center.
• And when that part of the business is seen as offering greater value and particularly outside of the business itself, than it does strictly within itself and for what might be considered its more self-maintenance purposes, then it is considered to be a profit center.
• There, effective value created that reaches outside of the business, drives the revenue flow back into it and creates overall profitability and competitive success for it.

This is, or at least should be obvious to any reader; embedded in it is acknowledgement of what can in fact be a vast and varied network of stakeholders who would be found outside of any given functional area, team or group of any sort that might work together, serving wider ranging needs than just their own. And any business that seeks to function effectively, strives to organize itself so that every such grouping within it does that: provide real and defining value outside of itself and regardless of whether it would conventionally be viewed as a profit or cost center there.

Let’s consider these more abstract points in the context of some real world examples. And I at least somewhat arbitrarily chose two functional areas that can be found in essentially any business of any significant size and scale of complexity here for this purpose: Information Technology, and Finance. Both of these functional arms of a business offer services that reach out in essentially all directions: simultaneously supporting their own teams and their own needs, and all other areas within their own business, and external stakeholders to that business too. And I picked these functional areas of a business and the large and diverse teams that carry out their work as my initial examples here, because they so clearly fit the picture offered in this posting and its discussion.

An Information Technology department help desk, or its server computer and network technology team provide supporting services throughout their business, and both within their own department and beyond. And they at the very least directly support and facilitate processes that connect with and support business transactions that reach outside of the business and to outside stakeholders too. To highlight that, IT help desks might be thought of as only offering support within a business and to its own staff. But they have to be able to help resolve questions, issues and problems that arise in outwardly facing contexts too. Consider all of the information sharing processes that collectively enable business-to-business collaborations between supply chain partners, which for their volume and complexity need to be automated through computer and network based systems and certainly for basic data sharing and related tasks. The people who work in an inwardly facing and supporting help desk are also the people who have the expertise and experience needed for resolving questions and issues that might arise in these larger contexts too. And resolving them has to coordinate with in-house activity too: information systems security and due diligence included. So as soon as a business begins to enter into supply chain systems, and certainly under circumstances where significant volumes of information have to be shared between partner businesses in them, pressure begins to mount to develop those businesses help desks into active participants in them, and supporters of these externally connecting relationships too.

For the Finance department, consider Accounting and Bookkeeping. Every area of a business that such a department functions in, has cash flows to manage. Yes, managers within and throughout the organization have and manage their own budgets. And profit center areas of a business may serve to create revenue streams for the business that would among other things pay their personnel expenses and their functional expenses with more left over for the business as a whole. But their business’ Finance department Accounting and Bookkeeping services support and I add monitor all of this, in accordance with outside standardized generally accepted accounting practice (GAAP) with its standardized accounting and auditing, and just as thoroughly as they do for cost centers there. Cash flows within a business, and those going into and out of it all go through Finance. And Accounting and Bookkeeping also, of course manage client and customer accounts and accounts with wholesales and with retailers and suppliers, and other supply chain partners directly dealt with: all external stakeholders in those systems too.

As a third example that might not be as obvious to some, I would cite the Marketing department, or Marketing and Communications as it is sometimes more broadly labeled. Yes, this type of service reaches out to and seeks to positively connect with the marketplace and its demographics, and increasingly interactively as well as through more traditional central broadcasting means though use of online social media and the interactive online experience. But it is usually one of the core areas of responsibility of this department, to develop a clear and consistent message that all others within their business would use when in any way reaching outside of the business, for that enterprise’s basic branding and related messaging. Marketing manages how all other areas of their business stay on message and consistently so as far as representing that enterprise as a whole. Here, even the most senior executives there tend to follow Marketing lead where their business’ branding is concerned.

So even the services that might not seem at first to follow the pattern laid out here, usually actually do, and certainly in a well run business. When you find a business with functional areas that do not, that indicates severe strategic and operational disconnects and both business inefficiency and vulnerability.

I end this portion of this larger overall line of discussion by noting that it is one of the hallmark shifts of the 21st century business context that more and more of any given enterprise has to be able to more and more effectively connect with and work with a progressively wider and wider range of both internal and external stakeholders and on more and more of a real-time basis and on more and more issues, and with all of this coordinated throughout the business in accordance with what of necessity become more complex and nuanced due diligence and risk remediation standards.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin delving into how managers at essentially any level or position in an organization can facilitate these processes and systems of them for their business. As a part of that I will further discuss how complexities and constraints can and do arise for managers throughout a business when dealing with the issues that I have been raising here. Then after that, I will reconsider, yet again, ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences.

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

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 34 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 12, 2017

This is my 34th 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 1-33.)

I have been writing about bringing in and retaining creative excellence in a business, and on securing and maintaining a best possible assembly of skilled, experienced and innovative hands-on employees and managers there, throughout this series. And at the end of Part 33 of that narrative progression, I cited two approaches to business communications, as can be carried out in-house and among hands-on employees and managers, that I have previously invoked when discussing business operations per se: two basic categorical patterns of communications that shape the employee and manager experience, and what they are allowed to do, and what they are required to do at work:

Structured and even formally structured communications, as arise for example in the context of annual performance reviews with their pre-vetted review forms and protocols (to couch this in a specific case in point example of possible Personnel and Human Resources terms), and
Unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it.

And I added that I would delve into the issues and implications of those two modes of communications here, and use those selectively stated points of definition as a starting point for discussing best practices in identifying and cultivating innovative potential in a business.

Let’s begin this by at least briefly reconsidering these modes and patterns of communications in general, and for what they bring with them that would shape how we would think about and understand businesses that employ them in general.

Structured communications systems and the communications channels that they allow and support, are crucial to the day-to-day functioning of a business and certainly for standard and standardized processes and practices as collectively comprise routine business operations in place. There, a same basic flow of work is carried out and tracked and reported on, and by essentially the same people and on a routine basis. Exceptions to that, as arise when employees join a business and enter into these communications flows, or leave it and move on, do occur. And they arise when key participants in these conversations are out on vacation or on sick leave or maternity leave too, to add in three other possibilities here. But however these disruptions arise, they represent types of exception that at least should be prepared for, at least in general terms, and even if specific instances of them can create special challenges – and even for what would nominally seem to be more routine positions.

The term single point of failure enters in there, when for example a business suddenly discovers that some specific manager or hands-on employee was the only one there, who can actually carry out some specific and here-crucial task, at least in a timely manner – and suddenly they are out sick or away and out of touch on vacation, or they have just left the business for a new work opportunity elsewhere. But let’s set aside that range of possible contingencies at least for now, in order to keep this discussion more focused and free of possible digressions from the core topic under consideration here. Structured communications form the information sharing framework for routine business as usual, and certainly insofar as real effort is made to develop and adhere to standard business as usual practice and avoid ad hoc exception making.

And to add in one perhaps complicating detail to that, which in fact always has to be taken into account, this is also essential for maintaining standardized and routine-enabled security control over sensitive information held by the business too. I have only skimmed the surface of this area of discussion here, noting that there is a lot more to it even if this should suffice for purposes of this series and its narrative.

Unstructured communications arise when the more structured approach that I have just made note of, break down and for whatever reason. And I raise this entire line of communications patterns discussion here, to separate out some of the possibilities that can easily become conflated and blurred for their separate types and significance – and to the determent of a business that faces that.

Unstructured communications become necessary, and certainly in the eyes of the people who resort to them, when the systems and processes that they rely upon that should be more routine and standardized, significantly break down and in ways that block their being able to carry out their essential duties to successful completion. This can mean carrying out tasks that they would in fact complete themselves and for use within their own work team, and with little if any direct follow-through consequences for any others if they cannot do so. But more importantly, and I add much more commonly, this can arise in contexts of task completion dependency where a more distant individual or another other work team in the business, here identified B cannot complete, or at times even effectively begin to work on one or more essential tasks that they are responsible for until A has completed some task that they are responsible for, and until it has handed off the results of that work to B and at least indirectly to C and D and others who are waiting further down some task completion dependency track.

If standard and routine break down and others and perhaps many others are depending on work affected being completed, the pressure becomes enormous to find work-arounds to accomplish that. And when this means having to bring in non-standard resources and the stakeholders who would provide or at least control them, that means entering into less or entirely unstructured communications flows too, as roughly defined above.

Here, unstructured reflects a more “shoot from the hip” crisis mode response to the unexpected and unplanned for, and a response to what is now suddenly challenging for that. Compare that with the second basic scenario that I would raise here, for how this type of communications mode can arise, at least as described in general terms:

• The emergence of need for creative and novel communications patterns, bringing together what for that business would be non-standard combinations of stakeholders with their particular areas of knowledge and expertise, and of authority to provide resources and approvals to use them,
• That can become essential when pursuing disruptively novel sources of potential value for the business: possible disruptive innovation opportunity.

What binds these two communications contexts together: one negatively framed and the other positively framed here, and in ways that can make them difficult at times to distinguish between and certainly when attempting to do so without the benefit of hindsight? A succinct starting point to answer that can be found in how different stakeholders and involved gatekeepers can and do see and understand risk, and the relative levels of benefit and risk that might be expected.

I am going to further flesh out my second scenario as started above: the possibilities of positive value creating disruptive change from within a business, in my next series installment. And after that, and building from this posting and that continuation of it, I will more fully consider the issues of risks and profitable benefits and how their evaluation, as variously considered, shapes both communications within a business and its capability to either innovate for itself, or respond to innovation taking place around it.

Then I will step back from that narrative at least somewhat to reconsider innovation and the capacity to innovate, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business: and does or does not develop itself in ways that would make that readily possible. Who is brought in and retained, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come.

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

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