Digital Relationships: An exercise in saving time or giving up control?


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Are your organizational systems defeating innovation and creativity?  Marvin Smith of Deliberate Synergy provides a framework for assessing your organizational systems to determine if they support or stifle innovation and creative thinking.

This article is reprinted with permission from the October issue of PSX: The Exchange for People Strategy, an eMagazine that brings you cutting edge views and perspectives on all things related to people strategy.

As part of an organization, individuals have and depend on relationships: both with humans and with organizational systems such as Total Rewards, People Strategy, and Compensation Programs. When these systems are compatible with the needs of the business and the needs of the individual, synergies will result and high performing individuals will emerge.

There many positive examples of these synergies:

• Driving your car requires many subsystems to cooperate to provide both functional excellence and creature comforts. Electronics are combined with mechanical and engineering components to create many distinctive types of cars that meet the diverse needs of consumers. The automobile industry is thriving and remains one of the economic drivers of our economy.
• Protocols in hospitals have raised the level of clinical effectiveness. Medical records, faster doctor-to-doctor consults, and overall sharing of critical patient information has reduced the number of harmful deaths. The ability to share technical information through remote channels has made outreach to remote areas easier and provides for greater care in rural areas.
• Online behemoths such as Amazon and Alibaba have fundamentally changed the “business to consumer” experience by enhancing consumer choice and extending business reach.

Of course not all systems are constructive and helpful. Perhaps it is the fact that I am of the baby boomer generation, but increasingly I find that some service organizations make me feel like a hostage to their structures and systems. I suppose

I could re-frame my expectations and simply accept that I must repeatedly provide my ID number, pin, or social security, etc. in a single call. Don’t these systems “talk” to one another? Further, I resent the programmed automaton’s efforts to pitch me additional products that I don’t want. Where there is no fast forward to the end-point, I simply hang up.

Critical question: In spite of all of the good that systems are delivering, are we giving up too much power and control to predetermined systems that “sound” like people but do not have the interactive capacity?marvin 2

On the one hand systems, structure and strategies are good things. On the other hand, it can stifle individual and creative thinking when systems overshadow the feelings of validation, autonomy and control.

What relationship do people within your organization have with your people strategy? How do people in your organization see the structure, systems, programs and policies? Can they talk with someone, or are they caught in an automated system that has minimal interaction and problem solving? Is the focus on maximizing the goals of the system or the productivity of the workers?

As we continue to direct our intelligence toward efficiency by eliminating people contact, are we heading for a chilly and internally focused environment where our hearts get smaller as our heads get larger?

Here’s an example:

In the 80’s Detroit made automobiles that were easy to manufacture. They had fewer options and therefore were cheaper to manufacture. The industry made cars that were easy to build but not good to buy. Consumers ended up buying Japanese cars with all kinds of bells and whistles. Japanese car manufacturers also overcame the seemingly impossible issue at the time: providing quality and performance with a low price. Once American auto makers stepped away from their internal systems to understand customer needs and redesign their cars, buyers returned.

What is the people impact on your rules, regulation and operational strategies? Do they keep people in line or are they motivating people to do their best?
• How does your organization manage and implement its people systems?
• Are these systems making a positive contribution?
• What gets most attention: the systems or the personal touch with the individuals?

Control is Key

At times, being out of control is desirable: you probably would not operate on yourself, or defend yourself in a court of law, or try to give yourself a back rub, or marry yourself for that matter. However, being involved in a prearranged customer response system where you lack control can be frustrating.

“Customer service” solutions using automated voice response approaches are closed systems. Too often with these “customer service” systems, when calling for one reason or one product, a solicitation for another product begins automatically. Closed systems need to be managed. Artificial intelligence is carefully constructed to provide benefits.

The question is who is benefiting most? In addition, closed systems using preconceived protocols greatly lessen the possibility of speaking to an actual human being who can empathize, understand, and resolve issues that do not fit preconceived solutions. At the end of some of the customer service systems you can reach a person, but only if you have the time and patience to wait that long.

marvin 1So how do your internal systems serve your customers and end users? Are your people systems proficient in how they are managed? Is the interface healthy? If the mechanisms that connect you with your employees are in disrepair, are old, or are obsolete they may be worse than ineffective, they may be counter-productive, leading to employee frustration and harming both employee satisfaction and productivity.

Conclusion Avoid the lure of low cost automated solutions that eliminate the people contact which is a critical component of a successful people strategy. Innovation and change demand human interaction. After spending countless hours creating a people strategy you can maximize the results by providing a personal service approach that is empathetic, validating, and reliable.

Ask yourself if you are continuing to provide employees with what Teresa Amabile (a Harvard Business School professor who has researched work environments) sites as fundamental including validation, reasonable autonomy, and work place satisfaction. If you are paying attention to the people impact of your systems, you will get your money’s worth from your systems efforts.

Marvin can be reached at

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