Balancing user and business expectations
Should ‘Generation Y’ millennials get all their own way?
Workshop Nobody wants to go back to the early days of packaged applications when green screens were the norm and users got what they were given and had to come to IT if they wanted anything different. But should we really be going to the other extreme, as some would argue, and let users take control?
It has become quite trendy now to make the point that the iPhone-toting, Facebook-using youngsters of today are entering the workplace with much higher expectations than their forebears, and that businesses should be doing everything they can to pander to the whims of the Generation Y millennials.
For us old timers, however, the question “Whose business is it anyway?” springs to mind, and we ask ourselves when it has ever been appropriate to let the personal desires of employees, the younger ones in particular, dictate how we run our companies.
Previous generations would no doubt have liked to sit around chatting or listening to the radio all day to keep up with what’s going on in the organisation and the world in general, but they were paid to do a job and expected to get on with it. Yet allowing the latest generation of employees to fritter away time ‘networking’ through social media, or browsing the internet to keep up with events because they ‘expect to interact and be well informed’ is something we just have to accept?
The trick, of course, is to take a more balanced view. From a business perspective, developments on the internet and in home and personal computing and communications have created a level of familiarity and competency with technology that it makes sense to acknowledge and take advantage of. And the reality is that this is not just in relation to youngsters – the more mature contingent within the workforce have also become a lot more internet and technology savvy in recent times. Along the way, though, it is important to keep control from both a business and IT point of view, and make sure behaviour bleeding through from personal lives is properly harnessed.
As an example, consider that the inherent capability of humans to converse verbally can be used both productively and unproductively in the workplace. There is a big difference between employees talking through business matters in a planning meeting, and standing around chatting about football or the latest news from the soaps in the corridor.
There is a similar difference between using instant messaging or social media to collaborate on projects, and checking the latest celebrity Twitter feeds or what your mates have been up to on Facebook. Having said this, perhaps the challenge is greater today in that it’s a lot more obvious when people are engaging in idle chatter or wasting the company’s time online.
None of this is to say that employees shouldn’t be allowed to engage in social intercourse while at work; that would be unhealthy and it would be a pretty sad place if employers took things to that extreme. As we said before, it is about striking a reasonable balance, and while that would include permitting a certain amount of non-work related online activity, that’s not the same as giving Generation Y a licence to behave as they please.
But it cuts both ways and there are some areas in which employers often have inappropriate expectations too. Many, for example, have pushed responsibility for business decision making and performance achievement much lower down the organisational hierarchy.
Unlike senior managers, however, who generally have analysts and assistants preparing data and reports for them, those lower down in the pecking order often have to fend for themselves to gather and process the information they need to make decisions or manage performance effectively. Indeed, in far too many cases, some key information is just not available to them in any form.
This is clearly unfair and, in fact, quite risky from a business perspective. It’s all very well coming down on someone who has made a poor decision or missed an important target, but if this is a result of asking them to work blind or with only a partial view of the world, it’s bad for everyone.
And here’s where the two threads of our discussion can potentially come together productively, because the increasing tech savviness of the workforce means you can now much more effectively provide a broad base of employees with self-service mechanisms for accessing, analysing and presenting information to boost efficiency and effectiveness at grass roots level. And by self service, we don’t mean the old ‘download to Excel’ DIY cottage industry stuff that leads to so many problems, but reusable network based queries and access mechanisms, proper widget-based web interfaces, facilities embedded at the right points in business applications, and so on.
With all this in mind, a good overall objective would be to think in terms of empowering users to do their jobs with the right balance between freedom and flexibility on the one hand, and discipline and control on the other.
Easy to say, perhaps, but quite hard to pull off. We’d therefore be interested in your experiences in this area. Have you had issues with user expectations drifting from business needs or current capability? If so, how have you handled this in your organisation to get the balance right? We would appreciate your feedback in the discussion area below.
What company is this
"Yet allowing the latest generation of employees to fritter away time ‘networking’ through social media, or browsing the internet to keep up with events because they ‘expect to interact and be well informed’ is something we just have to accept?"
And where do I send my CV? Come on. There may be some uber hip "meeja" companys that alow this, but not most.
To be quight honest from the companys I have worked for I think the questinon "whos company is it" needs to be asked more by lower staff when asked to work overtime or make importand choices for the bosses when they want too blame someone if it all gose wrong.
As for the idea of giving people more infomation, I think alot of companys need to work better with what they have at the moment. Too many think distribution of infomation is too email it out to some people then hide it on a shared drive, along with all the other infomation from the last 10 years. Its not so much the amount or type of infomation being given out, but the way it is given.
If there is a problem with the amount of infomation given it would be cross departmental comunication, where in many companys departments guard there teratory to strongly, not sharing things they think of as there own, be that data which is not showing them in the best light, or things they have developed or paid for from there budgets which they feel others should pay for themselfs if they want it.
Two sides to this coin
Evil_Trev has a point about all the dodgy improvised Access "databases" etc, but a few years of multi-company joint projects showed me the other side of that coin: the company which had an admin assistant counting hits in a web server log file *by hand*, having assured her there was no way they could automate it, the central web administration team which took over a month to remove one stray tag from a page because they couldn't work their CMS properly...
Having worked on both sides of that particular fence, I'd have a lot more sympathy with central IT department's complaints about "inferior" home-grown setups if they were making more effort to deliver an adequate service themselves. The centrally-provided Netware server used by one of my departments is full up, and nobody has the budget - or authority - to get it upgraded - so of course all new data ends up on individual hard drives instead, then the brighter individuals submit expenses claims for Dropbox and Carbonite subscriptions to keep things nice and safe.
Looking at the costs and quality of service delivery, actually, I suspect it's the competition which really worries a lot of larger and older IT departments: I can complete a file restore job from a commercial backup service (with hourly backups and no manual intervention needed) in less time than it takes me to get the necessary budget charging codes to submit a restore request to the central IT department to pay for someone to go and load the previous week's tapes and see if the file was lucky enough to get backed up this time.
I do, they can jolly well take what they
have been given, and a little bit of gratitude wouldn't go amiss either.
Users in control, you must be on another planet, if they want control, they can stump up the cash to have it done properly and feel the pain of having it just the way they want, logical paradoxes withstanding.
You know, I would be quite happy if they didn't have computers, and only those who could build their own and install an OS themselves had them, it would be one hell of an advantage.