Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exceptions are the new normal

“Exceptions are the shadow economies of firms today and is fertile ground for social business solutions, which thrive in an exception-driven environment…” ~John Hagel : http://www.dachisgroup.com/2011/03/reflections-on-social-business-summit-2011/
In today’s work environment, exceptions and not rote task rule. You can’t train for exceptions nor create checklists or Job Aids. Exceptions encountered are solved by people bringing not a hammer for the nail but a bagful of toolkits, problem solving skills and an open mind. And very often the expertise of their network. Exceptions are more effectively tackled when that network has diversity built into it.

Sameer Patel in the post Why Exception Handling Should be the Rule writes: “Each exception requires a different set of experts or problem owners, some known but most unknown, and often spread across a global footprint at large organizations.” (emphasis mine)

Rigid rules are the enemies of exceptions and organizations that impose rules with an iron hand are the worst off when it comes to handling exceptions. Exceptions require frontline workers to take discretionary steps. When rules limit these abilities, then we run the risk of inefficiency, unsatisfied customers and unsolved issues.

Sameer Patel in the same piece references an HBR article by Adrian Cott called Are Scorecards and Metrics Killing Employee Engagement? One of the paragraphs in the article states:
“Rules are comfort food for management. When something goes terribly wrong, the first response is to add more rules and policy. Of course, managers have good intentions: protecting the company from bad choices and creating accountability. That's what everyone learns in Management 101. Yet the net effect often shifts accountability to the wrong places. Unassailable rules and metrics shifts accountability away from management and down the chain to the front-line employee. Rules allow managers a surefire way to dodge their responsibility and protect their career.”
Metrics and policies, while necessary for the running of an organization, should not become iron casts for the employees. And in this age of complexity and never-ending change, exceptions will continue to be the new normal. Enabling and empowering front-line employees to deal with exceptions will be one of the keys to an organizations survival in today’s environments.
This requires:
1.       A culture of trust
2.       Transparent workflows
3.       Networked and connected employees
4.       An environment that supports mistakes and encourages learning from failures
5.       A culture of sharing not only learnings but also mistakes made along the way

I am deliberately staying away from over using the term social business. But to me it seems that one of the measures of success (ROI if you will) of social business in an organization should be how effectively does it enable employees to deal with exceptions


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