Just truth, justice and the American way, according to a moderately succesful, self proclaimed colorful, outspoken progressive pain in the ass!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

On his blog http://www.babsonknowledge.org/ Professor Tom Davenport posits a question about why more organizations aren't doing anything to enhance knowledge worker performance. Good question. I'll add my two cents to the discussion:

As you know, this is a question that I’m actively trying to answer. I’m a little convinced (not a lot…) part of the reason is that there’s not enough empirical evidence about how knowledge worker productivity interventions contribute to bottom line performance. Anecdotal evidence is easy to dismiss. (“My situation is different”). Without a body of evidence that can tie these interventions to specific percentage increases in revenue and profit, most executives in most big companies simply don’t have the foresight to imagine the gains that await them. Oh, and “waiting” is a problem too. The time and space between the types of interventions we’ve discussed before and many that you allude to in Thinking and the benefits thereof is generally longer than one quarter! If we (educators, consultants, etc.) could begin to develop a repository of knowledge worker interventions and the resultant performance improvements, I think that would go a long way to moving the issue.

I think this work is hard because examining the issues of KW productivity requires real, expansive thought on the part of CxO’s. In my world, we ask executives to think about technology, physical space and corporate culture not as three separate parts of the equation of a business model but as a single “thing” (the Organizational Ecology) that enables and inspires behaviors. The proper behaviors will lead to increased productivity and success. In my opinion this is an idea that very few people in corporate America really grasp. The idea that building a new office building is inextricably tied to the success of perhaps every HR process in the organization; or that performance plans can be undone by technology implementations. Not because the systems didn’t work as they were planned, but because the design or implementation process was philosophically in opposition to the pay for performance plan (for example). These are hard concepts for executives to grasp. Without strong evidence of the efficacy of these interventions the needs are hard to define and the risks seem great.

All that said I think there’s hope on the horizon. Executive’s penchant for short term rewards spawned Enron, Healthsouth and the likes. More and more enlightened CEO’s are beginning to see that chasing analyst’s quarterly favor can lead to unethical and unproductive behavior in even the best of companies. I think we’ll soon begin to see an emerging understanding that investing time, energy, resources and thought in the near term, though sometimes painful in terms of next quarters’ earnings, is essential for long-term sustainable and ethical growth. Once that begins to set in, it would seem to me that the logic of improving knowledge worker productivity will be much harder to dismiss.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I find this amazing. I've been having the exact same problem with my COMCAST cable for about a year. Every time I call, they ask me the same stupid questions about my phone number, where do I live and what's the problem. This is why technology services companies continue to make money I think. Am I supposed to believe that a company like COMCAST really doesn't have a Customer Relationship Management system? If so, why can't they get my name and account number and simply see...who I spoke to last and the nature of my problem? Maybe if they had that kind of information it would be too embarrassing for them to really see that I have had the same problem for a year. A seemingly simple problem, my national channels don't work. But maybe, just maybe, they could use this information to become a better company. Imagine if someone was in charge (forbid!) of looking at that information for customers who have on-going problems and doing something PROACTIVELY about it? Wouldn't that do something for customer loyalty? If I didn't have to call back if the problem wasn't solved? Someone would actually call me to do something about it? The funny thing is there are companies out there that do that sort of thing. In some ways I guess I should be happy that there are only a few because as an investor it's real easy to predict what companies will be successful in the future and since there are so few of them they tend to get lost in the mix. My friends David Wolfe and Raj Sisodia call these companies "Firms of Endearment." These companies have discovered that you can take care of all of your stakeholders, hold them all in equal reverence and not only be successful, but actually consistently outperform their competition in every sense, including and most notably financially. I don't have a lot of time today so I'll end it here but stay tuned for more info about the FoE's (Firms of Endearment.) Or, drop me a line if you want to know more.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

When you fail to plan…

The popular opinion that the federal government, including the Pentagon, was wholly unprepared for hurricane Katrina is simply not true. The talent vacuum at the head of FEMA was indeed a severe oversight but I believe the “wrong person – wrong place – wrong time” argument represents a symptom of a larger problem and not the cause. In addition, more of the blame for the early missteps in the relief and recovery operation has been put at the feet of Louisiana Governor Blanco for not making the early and legally mandated call to the White House for help. Many have hypothesized that this was not a federal government failure to respond, but rather the result of a slow moving state government hampered by laws to protect the rights of states. While there is plenty of blame to go around, the federal government deserves to be saddled with the bulk of it. Not because of a lack of preparedness on the part of FEMA, The Pentagon and National Guard, but because of a lack of cabinet level leadership around the idea of creating a national system for responding to major crises.

State boundaries are imaginary and provide no physical protection whatsoever. They might mean a lot to those of us who live within those boundaries, but they mean nothing to hurricanes or terrorists. We hear a lot about New Orleans, but Katrina has devastated 90,000 square miles of the entire region. At the very least, a regional response to this event was called for, but the magnitude of this devastation also required an effective national response mechanism.

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) was supposedly designed to ensure regional and national preparedness. But this is mostly an illusion. The problem is that NIMS offers broad guidelines, but does not lay out specific protocols to execute a response on a regional or national level. The NIMS guidelines leave too much room for each jurisdiction to come up with their own means of compliance. State plans get delegated to counties or cities which results in a patchwork system that does not provide a Common Operational Picture (COP), a predetermined chain of command, or cross-jurisdictional multi-modal interoperable communications, all of which are critical for effectively responding to a large, regional crisis. In some cases local jurisdictions need only self certify that they have complied with NIMS to start the money flowing to the states. These funds are then used to meet the needs of individual first response departments, such as a new police helicopter or fire truck. While such needs might be real, this process does not create a “system” that can be relied upon to bring effective regional or national response on the wake of an incident. The result of this design is that the Country has no real mechanism to mobilize our significant resources to respond to this type of disaster. Absent this, Herculean efforts are required of strong and experienced leaders who have the technical and political skills to create such a response on the fly. Talent is important. FEMA Director Michael Brown was the wrong person – in the wrong place – at the wrong time – with the wrong skills. But he is also a scapegoat who we must look past in order to solve the underlying problem.

The responsibility to respond to disasters and attacks has been correctly delegated to those who can presumably get there the fastest. These “first responders” (police, fire and EMS units) are full of dedicated, hard working, and often under-equipped and under-funded public servants who now have the added burden of preparing for the era of the terrorist. In many ways, Katrina was a deadly test of how well we might respond to a terrorist WMD attack. Unfortunately, we fell short. This is not however something that states can fix individually. Regional and national rules and mechanisms need to be in place to avoid this fiasco again. The fact that we have the wherewithal to enable an effective response is evident by what is happening in the region now. It simply took too long to mobilize because a National Incident Management System is really not in place.

The federal government needs to make NIMS a national operating strategy instead of a concept that is subject to interpretation by individual jurisdictions. At the least, this will provide a statewide Common Operational Picture, but the best-case scenario of a regional and national COP should be the real aim. It will also provide a predetermined chain of command that fits the magnitude of the disaster along with predetermined protocols for mobilizing assets. Commanders on the ground, in the air, or at a remote location should have the ability to locate, track, communicate with and direct all their “first response” assets, be they state, local or federal in the event of a large scale regional emergency. This is technologically possible today. Shortsighted planning on the part of politicians remains an obstacle.

Finally, no organization in the history of the world can mobilize assets quite like the U.S. military. Including the military in the NIMS operational plan would provide a wealth of capabilities that are desperately needed and simply don’t reside at the local first response level.

So we need a more forceful implementation of the National Incident Management System. But we also need to guard against stripping experienced people of their ability to take a course of action that might require deviation from established procedures. Government at all levels rarely proves capable in managing the tension that arises between adherence to process or protocol and the inevitable need for flexibility in a crisis situation. The main reason is that the culture of government fosters a belief that as long as one follows procedure, no blame can be expected regardless of the outcome. This created situations such as doctors being unable to get the medicine they needed to treat Katrina victims because they had no way to submit the required forms to the proper authorities. A perfect example of when following procedure became far more politically correct than useful.

NIMS will never be perfect because it is impossible to anticipate every variable people will be up against. The overriding goal for NIMS should be to create an integrated operating system for regional and National emergency response and to create what the military calls “jointness;” which loosely means involving more than one component of your operating “forces” during an engagement, thereby increasing effectiveness through synergy and unified command. This plan would allow all of the components of our national response mechanism, civil and military, to mobilize quickly and seamlessly in the event of the next Katrina sized disaster. Without it we will continue to fall short in achieving the ultimate aim of saving lives.

Friday, August 12, 2005

I'm going to post this blog and link it to our website. It's another way for me to get some ideas out in a non-formal, unstructured way, and possible generate some additional thought, conversation and maybe even some action on a few things.

I started this today because of some news of the last two days that really has me at my wits end.

Ok, so I really am at my wits end (did I say that already?) about how to get the powers that be (Police, fire, Public Safety Directors, State Homeland Security folks!) to respond to some things we all already know is true. This morning I heard on the news that the FBI has told some police departments that terrorists may want to use fuel trucks as bombs in some major cities.

California has been attempting to pass a bill that would require all trucks carrying hazardous material to be monitored and possess the ability to be controlled remotely. Of course the trucking industry in CA is fighting this because they think it will cost them too much.

Along with our strategic Partner S3 we can make the use of fuel trucks as weapons practically impossible, for an initial cost of about $5,000 and $600 per year, per truck.

Recently: I filled up my truck from about empty, that cost me $70!; The oil companies announced earnings for the quarter, ExxonMobil made $7.6 BILLION for the quarter. The best 2nd quarter ever by the company. BP's stock price has jumped by more 10% in just 3 months. I don't know how many trucks ExxonMobil has but lets just say 5000 for arguments sake. The cost of protecting every citizen in the US from getting blown up by one of those trucks would be $25 Million in initial costs and then $3 Million per year...Those are rounding errors on the ExxonMobil financial statements.

And we've been told that the trucking industry won't do anything until something catastrophic happens! Does anyone else think this is a little insane?