Compromise on needs to not meet them

When faced with customer needs, we only have two options – to meet them or not.  A simple choice, however, turns into a source of tremendous dissatisfaction.

If we choose to meet the need, it is always with some judgment, or stipulation, which always results in some sort of a change.  Whether due to budgetary constraints, or requirement analysis of multiple interested parties, or lack of technological/human ability, we’ll inevitably deliver something that isn’t quite right.

Customer: I need a purple widget 2 inches wide, 3 inches high, and 1 inch deep.

We: Sure, we can do that.

Three months go by.

We: After talking to all of the stakeholders, we determined that it’d be cost effective for us to produce a blue widget 3 inches wide, 2 inches high, and 1 inch deep.  It saves us a lot of money and allows more people to use the widget.

Customer: Yay!  Widgets! Efficiency! Cost savings!

Few days go by.

Customer: Umm .. I still wish I had that widget

If we choose to not meet the need, it may be for a variety of reasons – because we cannot meet it, would not meet it, or even choose to ridicule the user for even considering THAT to be “a need.”

Sometime ago, I heard a quote somewhere that a compromise is something neither party wanted.  I think that since personal and organizational needs are typically put through a compromise machine, they are typically unmet, forcing users to settle for a widget that isn’t right for what they need.  Obviously, this results in all sorts of negativity and dissatisfaction, from all sides.

The reason for this divide is that the base upon which these solutions are delivered is too rigid and inflexible.  Technology must have these constraints; budgets must have others, regulations yet others, and so on.

Wouldn’t it be something to build a frame, which can support not only any number of scenarios, but support those varying scenarios simultaneously?  A goal worth striving for as its achievement can have significant implications.

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Ajax, Odysseus, and philosophical approaches to fair compensation

This week I was lucky enough to wiggle my way into a lunch and learn with Dr. Paul Woodruff, among many things, the author of The Ajax Dilemma: Justice, Fairness, and Rewards.

The lunch and learn was on the topic of fairness, and Dr. Woodruff went over the story of Ajax, Odysseus, and Achilles’ armor.  He used the story as a way to talk about the fairness of compensation, what should be compensated more – loyalty or performance, and why newly brought superstars are compensated much higher based on their potential contribution vs. a hard-working employee that’s been contributing steadily for a very long time.

I basically see a number of problems with using that example.

First, I believe that the reward in question for Ajax was too far outside of the normal rewards which are sought after in today’s corporate culture.  Dr. Woodruff’s argument is that Ajax both did not understand the value of Odysseus to the Greek Army, and felt like he was taken for granted.  Both are interesting assumptions and fun to ponder, but as we bring the example into today’s era, we have to deal with reality.  And it is such that if what’s at stake is a reward far outside of the norm, say 100 years worth of someone’s salary, all sensitivities be damned – virtually everyone’s going all out for it, and no amount of understanding or appreciation can adequately substitute for the reward.  That is not a typical scenario in a corporate environment.

What people are typically after is something smaller, much more attainable, far more tangible.  Employees typically feel unappreciated, underpaid, overworked, without purpose.  I do not believe that example of Ajax applies here.

Which brings me to the second problem I see with this scenario – intrinsic motivation vs. taking money off the table.  I have to keep referring to Daniel Pink’s Drive and as I previously pointed out, one of the lesser appreciate points of his book – before people can be intrinsically motivated, they have to be paid enough to take money off the table.  The reason why I think this is in play here, is because too often, companies are trying to design recognition and rewards programs around this misunderstanding and trying to substitute gratitude for this “taking money off the table.”  It can’t be done. You can say “thank you” all you want, but if the employee worries about paying bills, or not being able to afford a vacation, no amount of thank yous will help the employee feel appreciated, or properly compensated.

So I don’t agree with Dr. Woodruff’s conclusions in the case where the reward is so large that almost everyone will just go for it.  And I don’t agree with him in the case where monetary compensation is still very much on the table and the employee has to worry about anything else but the job at hand.

The question, to me, is whether Dr. Woodruff’s conclusions apply in the case of an employee for whom the compensation is enough to be off the table, and the reward is relatively small.  In that instance, I think Pink has it right and antiquity in Dr. Woodruff’s interpretation supports it – it’s not about the money, or the armor itself, it’s about recognition, respect, honor, satisfaction, gratitude.

Granted, this does open up a host of other issues that have to be resolved – like what is proper and sufficient compensation, and how does one offer it, and is it really enough, etc.  These questions might be tough to answer, but in the long run, they are worth researching because building a successful organization depends on it.  The alternative, I feel, is to simply run around in circles, wondering why nothing works and morale plummets.

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Culture as you leave is not as important as culture as you stay

Or try and get some things done.

Read a great post by a former colleague, Ron Thomas, on culture and its importance to employee morale.  

I agree with virtually everything Ron says, but as I read the article, what was going through my head was that culture is responsible for success or failure of virtually any corporate initiative.  It’s not that culture is some ubiquitous thing that’s out there, it’s something that impacts what we do day in and day out.  And it is the accumulation of these daily interactions that cause someone to become disenchanted. 

As we undertake any new project, or participate in any new initiative, or attempt to implement a change, the biggest obstacle is not money, or timeline, or lack of executive support, it’s culture.  At each point, we have to overcome some aspect of the entrenched culture, and the greater the divide between what’s attempted and what’s entrenched, the more effort has to be expanded to overcome just the sheer resistance.  All of that on top of the regular challenges associated with implementation of anything new.

Because of this constant resistance and run in with the culture, projects either get abandoned, or have to be re-shaped, burring them under a mound of change requests, eventually spinning out of control.

When that happens, that’s when we, as IT professionals, get frustrated and lose interest, thereby becoming part of the entrenched culture and the problem it presents.  Either that, or we leave with a strong desire to publish an op-ed in the New York Times like the one Greg Smith did.

At various points in the day, I find it to be a conscious effort to constantly check in and figure out if what I’m doing is in line with the culture I want to have on my team, or falling into the line of thinking and working as my predecessors did.  It is a daily struggle, but I also find that it is definitely possible to resist the overall pressure of the external culture, and create the atmosphere I’m proud, even if it’s just within my team.  The hope is that at some point, it will rob off on others around us.

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A Bore

A bore is someone who persists in holding his own views after we have enlightened him with ours.


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Conscious vs. Conscience

Conscious is when you are aware of something, and conscience is when you wish you weren’t.


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Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners.


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Missing the boat on cloud computing

It pains me to hear that cloud computing is the “game changer”, the “hottest thing”. It’s what organizations need to focus on, and IT departments need to stand up.

To focus on cloud computing is to miss the boat entirely.  In fact, it is to miss the entire river and jump into the lake all the while being well-intentioned.  It is also pretty typical.  Because IT always has been about the what, not the why. 

All of the developments over the last few years have been about collaboration and availability.  How do I make my stuff available where I need it, when I need it, and to whom I need it.  Cloud computing simply provides the best vehicle for this approach.

So why do I say that to focus on cloud computing is to miss the boat?  Because it is possible to stand up a cloud solution that will fail miserably at this very concept.  And if you do not keep the reason why you’re standing up a cloud solution in mind, you will end up wondering how come nobody uses it.

Find out how your users want to use their data, whom do they want to work with, when and what type of data will they create, continuously focus on that.  Then on cloud computing.  Seems self explanatory, but oh so uncommon…

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Example of Mark Twain

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.

Mark Twain

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Universe as it relates to Humans

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.

Albert Einstein

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Creative Problem Solving

Everyone is really good at creative problem solving.  The question is where and when do they apply it most, or best.  

An unmotivated employee might be creatively problem solving his next vacation plans for half a day.  An underpaid employee might be creatively problem solving how to start a business using his work time.  A burnt out employee might be creatively problem solving how to pass off some work to someone else.  An unsecure employee might be creatively problem solving how to find a more secure job.  

All the while, the manager is wondering why the projects are not getting done.  Or if the manager is unmotivated, underpaid, and burnt out, he might not even care anymore.

The question is, what problems are your employees motivated to solve – their own, or ones you’d like for them work solve.  Everyone problem solves…

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