Thursday, 29th May 2008
Tim Buckley Owen
‘In a target-based world, if people are rewarded for the number of decisions they make, they make as many as they can, so it follows that a lot of those decisions will be daft.’ Not the words of a management guru, but of comedian Jeremy Hardy – and no less wise for that.
Equally wise is the FT’s agony aunt Lucy Kellaway, writing in the BBC news web magazine http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7417359.stm. ‘No jobs that involve managing or leading are crafts, which is one of the things that makes it so particularly hard for managers to find meaning in what they do,’ she suggests.
It’s certainly hard to find meaning – or logic – behind the practice of employing substantial numbers of staff for the sole purpose of monitoring outgoing communications for possible security or compliance breaches. Yet, according to a survey from email security and data loss prevention specialist Proofpoint http://www.proofpoint.com/id/outbound/index.php (registration required) that’s what plenty of organizations do – fifteen percent of US companies with over 1,000 staff, and 13% of UK ones, in fact.
A job that involves picking through the fruits of other people’s craft merely to stop them doing it has to be right at the bottom of the heap where meaning is concerned.
Corporate information professionals certainly practise a craft, with meaning in terms of benefit to their company. Kellaway quotes London School of Economics sociology professor Richard Sennett’s new book The Craftsman as saying that a software programmer can be every bit as much of a craftsman as someone who makes beautiful inlaid cabinets or chisels stone – and it’s not a million miles from programmer to infopro.
A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report, Closing the IT-Business Gap http://www.eiu.com/sponsor/bmc/italignment finds a growing proportion of executives saying that IT leaders’ grasp of broader business issues has improved over the past three years. The sting in the tail, though, is that although they remain accountable for their success, they rarely have the final say over major IT investment decisions.
That say, of course, goes to the decision-makers, a proportion of whose decisions will (naturally) be ‘daft’. That would account for the recent finding by ISACA, a US-based association of IT governance professionals http://digbig.com/4wymm that nearly half of responding organisations had recently ‘killed’ an IT-related project before it was fully implemented – frequently because management failed to constantly assess projects to ensure they generated appropriate value and benefits.
As the downturn in financial services bites, and people understandably worry about their jobs, there could be some lessons to be learned here. First, obviously, identify and align yourself to business objectives.
And second, perhaps, emphasise your craft rather than your management aspirations. Downsizing organisations frequently strip out tiers of management – rarely tiers of craftspeople.
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