Monday, 10 December 2018

A Double Standard Is No Standard At All!

If there's one thing guaranteed to make me mad in the workplace it's the failure of people to follow internal standards or guidelines for internal projects. In the IT world, this appears to be the normal state of affairs. I've lost count of the number of internal initiatives that I've been involved with which have no requirements (documented or not), no clear objectives, no stated business benefit, no plan, and no effective management per se.

These companies often have highly developed processes and procedures covering just about every aspect of their business, and yet internal projects (and programmes) are kicked off on a regular basis without even so much as the back of a fag packet plan.

How many times have you been tasked with creating a tool to monitor some aspect of your organisation without any of the prerequisites demanded by management for a customer-facing tool? You must have had the conversation that goes...

Manager: "Knock me up a spreadsheet to track our widget usage across the organisation. Nothing fancy, but I'll need it for the leadership team meeting first thing in the morning".

You: "You can use the corporate widget monitoring tool for that"

Manager: "I don't need the full monty, just a snapshot - it'll only take you a few minutes. You can do it during your lunch break"

You: "OK, then. I'll have it ready for you early by 14:00" 

Back at your desk, you start banging your head against the wood because you know what's going to happen next. The quick and dirty spreadsheet 'project' is soon going to morph into something monstrous and you'll never get an opportunity to eat lunch again. Soon, everyone will be wanting additional features, customisations and modifications (not one of which will be written down).

I've written and spoken about the dangers of the end-user cottage industry of dashboards in the past but the truth is that major corporations run vast tracts of their business affairs using unregulated and un-auditable spreadsheets. Far more complex initiatives are undertaken in exactly the same way and the outcomes are always the same. And they are not good...for anyone!

Organisational change is still one of the most difficult undertakings for a business, and yet many of them still believe they can perform it without any understanding, planning or proper management. The metaphor of building the aeroplane while it is in-flight is entirely appropriate. You’ll be familiar with the executive who is parachuted into your department and immediately starts to take control by issuing edicts about how things need to be done, despite having no previous experience in anything to do with what your department does.

You might think you’ve got lucky when the exec announces he is setting up an internal working party. And then you find that the working party includes all his management cronies and a token member of your department - the one person in the team who is guaranteed to not rock the boat. A few days later you get the memo about the changes and after shaking your head in disbelief you start plotting with the other reliable members of your team as to how to block the change and undermine the new manager. And businesses wonder why change fails.

Maverick workers may be a pain in the backside, but they often operate for the good of their colleagues. Maverick managers, on the other hand, are often only in it to further their own careers. These kind of parachute appointments are very often temporary, and any damage that is done can often be put right before too long, once the exec has been assigned to another department!

But if organisations really want their employees to react positively to change, senior executives must keep an eye out for double standards, where managers expect others to behave a certain way, but fail to do so themselves. If managers can’t follow internal processes then their leaders should be asking why not. If the processes are wrong, then fix them. If managers won’t follow internal processes, then either re-educate them or get rid of them.

A double standard is no standard at all.

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