Friday, 11 December 2009

The Beginning Of Great Things

It's been a tiring week. Firstly I had to brush up on my PHP and Javasript knowledge in order to create an online dashboard for a client. I finished the task and I'm quite pleased - it captures important information about all of their KPIs on one screen. Then it was time to do the company accounts and chase payments (shudder) - no intrinsic motivation to be found there! I then had to present to a gathering of IT folk about the (neglected) people aspects of this industry. Then it was my birthday: cue late nights, imbibing, weekend breaks etc. So while the wife sleeps off the excess, I'm using the wonderful computing facilities provided by the hotel to blog. A bit cheeky really seeing as the sleeping Mrs is the one paying for the break, so if this entry ends abruptly it means that she's woken up and ordered me off the computer.

On the way up to Leeds I was musing on what it would take to make IT leaders seriously consider different approaches to the people side of their organisations. Such musings were triggered by the response to my midweek presentation. There is no doubt that people were interested; the discussion after my speech was longer than that prompted by the previous two speakers combined. However despite the interest, I'm not sure that people get what a couple of academically trained psychologists can do to help.

I think that the folk I present to want easy answers; a framework. That if they do X and Y, they will enable outcome Z. But as my erstwhile colleague Ariel Becker is fond of saying "it depends". To elucidate - and as I describe in my presentation - social psychology and (indeed any other social science, including economics) do not work to hard and fast rules. Humans are fuzzy, nebulous and difficult to predict. Much depends on the context or on factors suurounding the phenomena and outcomes of interest. IT folk seem to be arguing that because it's so complex and contingent, it can't be of any use to their enterprise. However the studies and pronouncements of economists are of great importance to any organisation concerned with money (which is nearly all). Therefore why are the studies of work psychologists of less importance to organisations concerned with people (which is nearly all)?

To finish up, one of the delegates sat looking a bit bewildered after I'd argued for the benefits of utilising the reseearch of Locke & Latham (1990), Kirkpatrick (1959) and Ryan & Deci (2000) in their organisations. I presented a slide which illustrated many of the links between the various theories. "Where do we start?" he asked. Well try this, little 3-step model of my own:
  1. You need to want to, or believe that you can improve the bottom line through people aspects of your organisation
  2. You eschew the quick fix and commission the research to understand what's really going on in people areas that affect the outcomes are important to you.
  3. You are brave enough to to implement the changes that are recommended. Be aware that it may require a significant departure from the way things are currently done.
That's it. To paraphrase the words of one of my favourite writers "Everyday of your corporate life can be the beginning of great things".

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