June 13, 2010 at 9:27am
Organizational change usually comes from people at the top. Employees often find it hard to create change in the organization because they aren't heard. This story shows how one organization got it the other way around.
A few years ago I consulted for the business process outsourcing company whose name I can't mention for contractual reasons (I signed an NDA stating so). This organization had about 200 people. One of their weaknesses was their inability to hire the right people in put them in right positions. As a result, they had lots of employees who shouldn't have been there.
The company had reasonably competent operations people at the top but very incompetent junior managers. These junior managers didn't know much about operations, quality, and goals. They didn't care about their jobs. They came from rank-and-file employee ranks and didn't know anything about management. Performance level and quality level were low. To make things worse, these junior managers weren't honest about their performance and constantly covered up their screw ups or their unwillingness to work.
Key Innovations & Timeline
Employees in the IT (information technology) organization were well aware of the issue. They first brought up the issue to top management, hoping to make a change, but top management didn't listen. The message came across to them as that of the top management not being able to hire the right people and not knowing what's going on in their organization. Top management didn't believe the facts presented and refused to accept the problem.
The IT organization then found a solution. They independently defined and collected performance metrics of the poor performing organizations. They then created a real-time dashboard showing target and actual performance numbers. This dashboard showed the performance level promised to customers, the actual numbers achieved, and the source of the problem. Every metric that was inline with expectations was labeled in green color. Those that weren't were red with a big bold flashing ALERT sign next to them.
IT then installed a huge monitor displaying this real time dashboard in the hallway every employee walked through a dozen times a day. This dashboard was visible to everyone. No one could say they missed it. In addition, an end-of-day status dashboard was e-mailed to all top managers and junior managers who previously didn't care.
IT justified this project as a part of the effort to manage quality in the organization, so it was well accepted. Once these dashboards became available, IT didn't have to say a word anymore. These dashboards became a self-governing, unspoken way to communicate the problem. Top managers started investigating red ALERTs. Shortly thereafter, junior managers either fixed their processes or were fired. Top managers liked these dashboards so much that they now required every manager to them it as a bible. The dashboard software was installed on every manager's computer, so everyone could see every potential issue in real time.
Once the problem was solved and every line item on the dashboard turned green, IT used this strategy to solve other problems in the organization. For every problem discovered, it would create a dashboard and show red alerts. These dashboards were so trusted that they became the de facto standard for things that needed to be done. No one questioned them anymore. If managers saw red alerts, they did something about it.
IT essentially became the department running the whole company. Most decisions now originated from IT. In order to create democracy of information, IT solicited feedback from other departments. Any new ideas were evaluated by business process analysts. If they made sense, they made it into dashboards. Top management was no longer in control. The firm was now controlled by those who had the right information at their fingertips.
Challenges & Solutions
There were some challenges at first. Junior managers dismissed these dashboards as those mis-stating the facts. To solve this problem, IT told top management it will work with junior managers to redesign dashboards to show the right information. Junior managers were then asked by IT for justification for any changes. These managers had to demonstrate any flaws in the system. Thankfully, this operation was driven by hard numbers (e.g. how many widgets can a worker make in an hour?) and there was no space for excuses or misunderstanding. At the end of the day, junior managers had to agree that the initial approach taken by IT was right.
Benefits & Metrics
IT was now able to communicate ideas to top management in a more effective way. They were now heard.
People deny problems unless they are obvious and are visible to everyone else. When that happens, their natures dictates them to go and fix these problems.
I came up with this idea and led its implementation.