Volume 2, No. 2
Manage Change Through Intranets... Dr. D. Keith Denton and Dr. Peter Richardson
Effective Interviewing... Robert Fertig
Money Sense: Year-End Tax Planning.. Vince Tarduogno
Instilling Innovation and Creativity... James Feldman
Smart Risk Taking... Brian Tracy
Manage Change Through Intranets
Dr. D. Keith Denton, Dr. Peter Richardson
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Tracking changes is essential to managing change because knowing what got you where you are at is less important to your future success than knowing where you are in relation to where you need to be. Knowing something about your history provides information about where you started, but it does not help you deal with what needs to be done to survive today. Work groups cannot be effective unless there is a system in place to both measure and evaluate progress and provide continual feedback on those changes. There are systems available today that can graphically track important changes and show them on a desktop screen so organizational members can understand what is really going on and where they really are headed. Such information makes it easy for everyone to see what changes are needed.
The power of the Intranet is that it can be used as a real-time tool for managing change and showing evolving changes within the organization. Intranets can be used to track these changes right before your eyes and can give people a clearer sense of purpose. Desktop computer screens and the Intranet can be designed to track and graphically display an organization's processes including decision making, attitudes, efforts, and capabilities to meet strategic concerns. Tracking and displaying these processes allows you the chance to manage them rather than simply react. The Intranet can also give management a chance to intervene before bad service, effort, or capability becomes an after-the-fact statistic.
Intranets Emerging Uses
Internet and Intranets have been traditionally helpful to change management for disseminating information such as e-mails to those being affected so they can receive timely information and invite feedback. These e-mails can also be customized so critical information can be directly targeted to those most affected. Software has also been used to ensure that everyone receives the necessary training and information relevant to the change.
Historically, Intranets have also occasionally been used as forums for debate on the proposed change. It is easy to create a checklist to ensure that everyone accesses and reads the information delivered to them. Software has also been used in conjunction with the Intranet to test a new system.
New Intranet applications today make it easy to do what all good feedback systems should do, and that is to provide continuous feedback about what is going on inside and outside the organization. Such information, if it can be displayed so it is easy to understand, can show members if they are really functioning as a team. These Intranet feedback systems can help team members see if their actions and efforts are related to results. Important changes can be cross-referenced to key outcomes or be used to track and display key changes. These changes can then be compared to changes in other important outcomes.
Human resources (HR) managers and chief executive officers are not normally aware of the sentiments of their employees and how they are affected by management directives and decisions. It is true that some companies, and particularly human resources departments, have used employee feedback and surveys for years to design and refine programs, but its potential has not been fully realized. The capability today exists to build surveying into a powerful enterprise tool using the power of the Intranet. The possibility exists to craft policy and programs on the fly and, as never before, deal with fast-changing business conditions.
At MindSpring Enterprises Inc., an Atlanta-based Internet service provider, the 1,900-employee company used to conduct surveys manually by tabulating responses and importing them into a spreadsheet. It was a costly and time-consuming process, says Cindy Buell, director of leadership and organization development. The HR department began using software to gain feedback about core values. After drafting the questions, the software converted the survey into HTML, and it was placed on the firm's Intranet. "The software has renovated the entire survey process. It has allowed us to do the job faster, cheaper, and better," Buell explains (Greengard, 1999).
This whole process of converting manual surveys to Intranet ones has also helped the company to conduct 360-degree assessments and design more effective packages and more quickly understand what their workers want. They have also found that by tracking answers to survey questions over time they are able to measure organizational change.
Middlesex Health System Inc. needed a way to share real-time patient information, improve care, and stay competitive. So Middlesex, which was a stand-alone hospital four years ago, built an Intranet-based repository that houses 4.3 million clinical results, including real-time lab work and radiology test results, as well as care summaries and medication listings for 200,000 patients. Cardiologist Dr. Arthur McDowell. "It's revolutionized the way we take care of patients," McDowell said. "Everyone I take care of has another doctor, like a primary care physician. Before, we used to spend hours finding patient records. Now when I walk in to see a new patient, I head straight to my computer and see what doctors they've been seeing, what tests have been done, what the results are, and what medications they're on." Dr. Michael Saxe, chairman of the emergency department, said the system helps him treat patients faster. He said, "I don't have time to wait for someone to run up to records at 2 a.m. and find someone's history. On an average day, I go into the system every five to fifteen minutes. If I have to wait even six seconds, that's too much time for me” (Gaudin, 1998).
Employee Benefit News reported in their March issue that Intranets are being used to make meaningful changes in company benefits programs. "It’s a very efficient data collection tool," said Bill Rau, director of compensation and benefits at Xantera Parks and Resorts, in Aurora, Colorado. The company employs 2,500 and uses their Intranet to improve their performance. Rau said, "We're a hospitality company, and a lot of employees don't have access to computers, so we have to make arrangements to get employees to computers if we want them to take a survey."
Even under these conditions they believe providing computer access is much easier than attempting to distribute and then collect paper forms with data that must be manually entered. Rau emphasized, "You know how things are going in real-time. In less than 30 seconds, I can go onto the Web and find out how many people have responded and what the responses are. I can give feedback on a survey to managers in 30 minutes."
The company took advantage of the findings of this first-ever survey to make meaningful changes to benefits programs, including an expansion of the company health care benefits for employees in rural areas.
KeyCorp is another organization using the Intranet to improve their survey process. The corporation is a Cleveland-based bank with some 22,000 employees located throughout the U.S. They routinely survey new-hires after their orientation and 45 days after hire to make sure they understand benefits and HR policies. "We spend a lot of time on the front end designing the questions so that the managers get the data they're looking for," notes Catherine Bucher, a senior market research analyst for the company. Ann Hornsby, KeyCorp's manager of health management and wellness, took advantage of their Intranet survey tools to conduct a series of six surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of her program's communications campaign and gather information from program participants.
Software alone will not be able to deliver the goods. Rynette Raper, strategic consultant with IT solutions constancy Armature, explains, "Recently I've seen an increase in the number of proponents of the philosophy that IT can initiate and steer change, transformation and re-engineering, the idea being that the implementation of a new IT system will foster change within the organization. Unless this philosophy is executed as a strategic, visionary, planned initiative supported by executive management and implemented as such, this approach will deliver limited success" (Gurton, 1999).
Intranet-supporting software makes it easier to implement strategy. Such software, when combined with good objective setting, data collection, and the Intranet's ability to provide real-time feedback, makes it far easier to manage the change process. Employees, using their own personal desktop, can be greeted every day with visual feedback about what is important, where they are headed, and how they are doing. This type of feedback makes it far easier to implement changes critical to the organization. It can be used to better focus effort around critical concerns and issues, and can give employees a direct connection between what they do and overall corporate needs. Intranets when used this way can maximize the process of management.
Today, Intranets are mostly an electronic library designed to share information, but their potential extends far beyond that. They can be the agent of change creating a more effective and connected workplace. We have always known the powerful effects of rapid, relevant, and specific feedback. The Intranet can be that tool.
D. Keith Denton, Ph.D., received his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University in 1981. He is President and CEO of CIVID3™. He has authored 14 books and over 150 articles, and has written extensively about improving process inefficiencies and decision-making in both the service and manufacturing sectors. He is published in over six languages and is a frequent international consultant and seminar leader. He conducts numerous workforce management workshops and seminars in employee involvement and empowerment, team building, managing change, and customer service. Most of his training efforts involve one, two, or three day workshops as well as one-on-one consulting. Among his honors are inclusion in recent editions of “Who’s Who in America.” Before consulting, he previously worked in a number of positions for Union Carbide-Nuclear Division and Maryland Casualty Company, among others.
Dr. Peter Richardson is a principal consultant for CIVID3. He is a licensed Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. He has published numerous articles, presented dozens of workshops and seminars and been a consultant on conflict resolution, team building, leadership, performance appraisal and organizational change. He is also on the faculty at Southwest Missouri State University teaching in the Organizational Behavior and Human Resources areas.
Creative ideas are what turn ordinary companies into market leaders. These companies see the end result first and then build a path to achieve those results.
Unfortunately, in most companies today, neither creativity nor innovation exists. The corporate environment fails to foster creative or innovative ideas, which results in lost profits and opportunities every day. However, creativity and innovation are key elements that propel businesses to the top. Without either, your company comes in second at best, and no one remembers number two. While being number one certainly doesn't guarantee continued success, it is definitely better than being forgotten.
Answer these quick questions to learn if your company lacks creativity and innovation.
Are your profits stagnant or slowly rising at best?
Are your customers satisfied, but not very loyal?
Do your employees lack the enthusiasm to think of new ideas?
Are you selling the same products and services as you were five years ago?
Any answer of "yes" indicates that your business may not be around for the long-term. To revitalize your organization and keep it from extinction, follow the guidelines below.
1. Foster a Business Climate That's Open to Innovation and Creativity
Innovation is the ability to come up with ideas and solutions to pressing problems. It is the process of producing something that 1) has value, and 2) did not exist before. Creativity is the ability to take that new idea and make it valuable in your customers' eyes. Realize that every problem has a solution, although the solution may not be in plain sight. To make the solution more apparent, remove "standard operating procedures" whenever possible and inspire creative thinking throughout the organization. Use novel approaches, strive for dramatic results, and reach for the highest goal possible. Reward business associates for finding the "innovative solution" and for "thinking creatively."
As you encourage your people to display innovation and creativity, be prepared for mistakes. Acknowledge the mistakes, learn from them, and then try again. When people know that mistakes are part of the process, they'll be more open to take risks and think in new directions. Remember, failure and innovation are related. Success only comes when you learn from failure.
2. Become Number One With Your Clients
The more satisfied your clients are, the more business you'll have in the future. Realize that the only commodity your clients know is you. Since you are the catalyst providing the solution to their problem, you are accountable for fulfilling their needs. As a result, you need to invest time in keeping the channels of communication open When communicating, be sure to listen more than you talk. Ask questions that solicit more than a "yes" or "no" response, and then truly listen to clients' responses. Understand their needs, and then provide a solution that works. Also, thank your clients for their business on a regular basis. A simple "Thank you. Are you happy with the products or service?" works wonders. The ability to communicate effectively could be the greatest innovation you have in your organization, as it's something few people have mastered.
3. Create a Partnership with Clients
All business transactions are based on someone delivering a promise to fulfill a specific desire or need. Companies that spend millions of dollars promoting their products or services only to make the client wait on hold or have to redial numerous times to lodge complaints erode the partnership.
To create a true partnership with clients, become a problem solver. Clients like when the companies they work with function as thinkers. Become your clients' best solution and they'll stay with you for the long-term. Show your clients how they will look better, feel better, do their job better, or enjoy life better. Show them how you can save them money or time. Make the experience one in which clients realize their lives would be better with your product or service.
4. Create a Partnership with Employees
Asking people to be creative and then shooting down their ideas creates a rift in your organization. Instead, show people that bringing their imagination on the journey is welcome. Information wealth flows directly from innovation, not optimization. Wealth, of any kind, is not gained by perfecting the known, but by seizing the unknown. Therefore, we must all become successive producers of ideas, concepts, and innovations. We must try them out to see if they work; if not, we will lose out to our competitors.
Remember that the more offbeat, the more diverse, the more eccentric, and the more unusual, the better we learn and the more we retain.
So allow so-called "mavericks" and their ideas into your organization, as they will likely offer a new perspective to the same old routine. Partner with these people, as we all need to stretch ourselves and innovate in everything we do. As you examine their dramatic and new approaches, remove constraints, limitations, and regimens. Listen to your employees as you would your clients. Their insights will likely make your company better at what it does.
Implement Next-Generation Approaches
Doing any form of business is a form of innovation. The quest for knowledge opens the door to opportunity and helps us understand each other and provide what is best for each of us, personally and professionally. To succeed at this level, your company must support innovation and creativity.
Doing so will free your employees from the "we always did it this way" syndrome.
Constantly redesign your company's rules to be flexible and to show that you, as a company, value worthy ideas, no matter what the source. Only then will you increase your profit potential and become a memorable market leader that delivers results.
James Feldman is the president of an international business consulting firm providing services in marketing, corporate motivation, and innovative problem solving. Since 1966, JFA has been a marketing agency for some of the biggest organizations in the world, including Toyota, Del Monte, Disney, NBC, and many more. He can be reached at 312-527-9111 or www.shifthappens.com.
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Smart Risk Taking
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All of life is a risk of some kind. Whenever you engage in any action where the outcome is uncertain, for any reason, you are taking a risk. You take a small risk when you drive to work or walk across the street. You take a larger risk when you start a business or invest a sum of money. You take a risk whenever you venture into the unknown, where your possibilities and probabilities cannot be determined to an exact degree. From the time you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night, and even when you are sleeping, you are facing risk to some degree.
The issue, then, is not whether or not you take risks. The issue is how skillful you are and, therefore, how confident you are in taking the right risks for the right reasons in pursuit of the right goals or objectives.
There are basically five types of risk for you to consider.
The first type is the simplest. It is the risk that is not yours to take. It is the decision that you do not have to make or the gamble that you do not have to engage in.
The second type of risk is the risk that is unnecessary. You engage in an unnecessary risk when you act without sufficient information or without taking time to think it through carefully in advance.
The third type of risk is the risk that you can afford to take. Calling on a new prospect, following up on a lead, and exploring a new opportunity all are risks that you can afford to take. In these cases, the cost of failure is very low, while the rewards of success can be very great.
The fourth type of risk is the risk that you cannot afford to take. The consequences of making a mistake would be too enormous. You cannot afford to bet your whole company or your whole bankroll on a single speculation.
The fifth type of risk is the risk that you can't afford not to take. The down side may be costly, but the up side is so exciting that it is very much worth taking a chance to go after it.
Men and women who have achieved a high level of success are intensely realistic. They do not put their trust in luck. They carefully calculate every possible risk, and then think about what they would do should it occur. They always have a backup plan in case things do not go as they wish them to. They have a "Plan B" and options to that plan that take all kinds of variables into consideration.
Successful individuals engage in strategic thinking. They minimize risk by continually questioning their assumptions and asking themselves what they would do in the case of unanticipated delays, cost overruns or unexpected actions by their competitors. They are seldom caught unprepared because they have thought through the kind of uncertainties that create unacceptable risks-risks they cannot afford to take.
One of the best of all exercises, in every situation involving uncertainty, is to assess and evaluate the worst possible outcome. Ask yourself, "What could possibly go wrong in this situation?"
Remember Murphy's Law: "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong." There are several secondary laws to Murphy's Law, such as "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time" and "Of all the things that can go wrong, the most expensive thing will go wrong at the worst possible time."
Another sub law is "Everything takes longer than your best calculation." In advising businesspeople, I suggest that they take their very best estimate of break-even for any business venture and then triple it to arrive at a more realistic number. Whenever businesspeople follow this advice, they are amazed to find that, in spite of their best initial calculations, it indeed takes about three times longer than they thought it would to start making money.
Once you have identified the worst possible things that could go wrong, make a list of everything that you could do to offset these negative factors.
Engage in what is called "crisis anticipation." Look down the road, into the future, and imagine every possible crisis that could arise as the result of changing external circumstances.
One of the very best ways to develop your ability to take intelligent risks is to consciously and deliberately do the things you fear, one step at a time. You don't have to leap out of an airplane without a parachute. That is not risk taking. That is simply being foolish. What you do have to do is to resist your natural tendency to slip into a comfort zone of complacency and low performance.
Many of our fears of taking risks turn out to be unfounded. They have no basis in reality. When you test them, you find that they don't even exist.
A very good way to overcome the fear of risk taking is to set clear, written, measurable goals for yourself, and then to review those goals regularly.
When you have clear goals and plans, and you continually work on them and evaluate your progress each day, you will see what you're doing right and how you could improve your performance. You'll feel more competent and capable and better about yourself. You'll become more thoughtful and reflective and willing to take on even greater challenges. You'll feel like the "master of your fate and the captain of your soul." And your fears of taking risks will become smaller and smaller.
You learn how to take intelligent risks without fear by taking intelligent risks, and then by analyzing what happened. When you have clearly identified the risk involved, you can plan and prepare to maximize your opportunities while minimizing those risks. The more positive you feel about yourself, the more effective you will be in everything you undertake. Your ability to confidently take calculated risks in the direction of your goals will ultimately lead you toward success.
Brian Tracy is a legendary in the fields of management, leadership, and sales. He has produced more than 300 audio/video programs and has written 28 books, including his just-released books "Create Your Own Future" and "Goals!" He can be reached at (858) 481-2977 or http://briantracy.com.
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Innovation: What Matters Now
Dr. Katalin Eibel-Spanyi
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While it is generally accepted that innovation is a key requirement for economic success, global economic conditions during the past few years have been such that many companies have been forced to focus more on survival than on innovation.
Now that business conditions are improving and there are signs of economic recovery in both North America and Europe, many organizations are refocusing their efforts in stimulating product, process and service innovations.
The following set of observations on what really matters now in fostering innovation are based on interviews with leaders in both North America and Europe across both manufacturing and service organizations.
Tightly Integrate Innovation and Business Strategy. Companies which have stressed cost containment and consolidation for the past few years need to make a conscious effort to explicitly shape their position on innovation such that it is front and center in people’s minds. This requires that the firm’s aspirations in product, process or service innovations be clearly stated as part of the firm’s strategy, with clarity around desired outcomes, timing and the benefits to customers and shareholders.
Create a corporate culture where innovation is prized and failure is not lethal. In the words of Edward DeBono, ‘It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.’ New idea generation will only truly thrive if it is understood that the consequences of failure are not career threatening. Further, to optimize internal idea generation it’s important to tear down walls which may have been built up between departments and nurture a corporate climate in which there is co-operation and collaboration across levels and divisions.
Encourage early involvement of customers and suppliers. During a period of retrenchment, management mindset often reverts to a ‘batten down the hatches’ mentality. While that approach may be useful in adopting a defensive posture, it has no place in the pursuit of innovation. On the contrary, conscious effort needs to be taken to assure the early and ongoing involvement of customers and suppliers in the quest for innovative ideas and business practices.
Be disciplined in managing the new product or service development process. Take advantage of the most current thinking in new product or service development and commercialization. Invest in relevant training to refresh the understanding and application of the relevant tools and techniques, recalling the old maxim ‘what you don’t use, you lose.’
Pursue alliances and investigate public programs. Sometimes examining what similar businesses practice in far flung geographies can yield exciting opportunities. Similarly, taking advantage of new networks of information and funding available through public programs can help shift traditional thinking. In the US, two of the available public programs are SBIR and STTR as defined by the Small Business Research and Development Enhancement Act of 1992, and the Small Business Innovation Research Program Reauthorization Act of 2000. See http://www.sba.gov/sbir/indexsbir-sttr.html
One key insight from the observations outlined above is that leadership’s attitude, openness to change, and conscious effort to stimulate innovation may be just as important as the create process itself in producing desired results. So, if you are working in an organization that’s making a transition from survival to growth, then you may wish to ask and answer the following set of questions to assess the extent to which your company is dedicated to fostering innovation.
Is their an explicit definition of how innovation will contribute to growth as part of the overall business strategy?
Are there clear, observable goals defined for product, process, or service innovations?
Is cross-departmental collaboration noticeably encouraged in the pursuit of innovation?
Is there an ongoing effort to involve customers in validating the direction and objectives of key programs?
Is there early and ongoing involvement of suppliers to assure seamless transition from design to implementation?
Are current best practices broadly disseminated?
Is there a commitment to membership in associations such as the Product Development & Management Association [PDMA] and ongoing training and certification activity?
Is there dedicated effort to seek out alliances with firms in different geographies to create new knowledge networks?
Is there dedicated effort to seek out relationships with firms in different industries to create new perspectives?
Is there a dedicated individual or group to seek out the potential benefits of participating in public programs?
If you answered seven (7) or more of the above questions with a resounding ‘yes’, then you are likely on the right track. If not, then there’s little time to lose - the competitive landscape has already begun to change.
Andrew Spanyi is the Managing Director of Spanyi International Inc., a consulting and training company that operates in the field of organization and process design. He is the author of ‘Business Process Management is a Team Sport, Play It to Win!’ You can also reach Andrew at www.spanyi.com or email@example.com or (905) 302-4061.
Dr. Katalin Eibel-Spanyi is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Eastern Connecticut State University [ECSU]. Previously, she taught marketing courses at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and was an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Budapest University of Economics. She is a member of the American Marketing Association. She was a former Director of the Toronto Chapter of the American Marketing Association and a former board member of the Hungarian Association of Economics and Marketing. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Year-End Tax-Planning Opportunities
Director of Financial
Planning, Merrill Lynch
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Thanks to the second major tax cut enacted in the last three years, your tax burden promises to be substantially smaller this year. Whether your objectives include saving for retirement, funding a college education, or purchasing vehicles or capital equipment for your business, there’s a lot to like about this new tax cut.
To make the most of the new tax law this year and in the future, you should review the changes and explore your options for capitalizing on the opportunities before the end of the year.
More Money for You
On May 28, President Bush signed into law the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA), accelerating reductions in personal income tax rates called for in the 2001 tax cut—and adding several key elements of tax relief for investors and business owners. The following are a few of the highlights:
· Long-term capital gains are taxed at 15% (down from 20%).
· Qualified stock dividends are also taxed at 15%, instead of at your marginal tax rate.
· Top personal income tax rates in 2002 of 38.6%, 35%, 30% and 27% are cut to 35%, 33%, 28% and 25%, respectively.
· Small businesses may deduct up to $100,000 of investments in new equipment (up from $25,000) put into service this year.
From the cuts in personal income tax rates alone, higher income taxpayers will realize substantial savings. For example, couples who file joint returns with $400,000 in taxable income will pay $9,495 less than in 2002. The savings on dividends may be even more dramatic. Taxpayers in the highest bracket will pay 61% less tax on their dividend income than they would have in the 2002 tax year.
This is great news if you are saving for retirement or education expenses. The decreased tax liability means more funds will be available for you to invest in tax-advantaged plans, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). You can take advantage of the lower withholding from your paycheck by making a maximum annual contribution of $12,000 ($14,000 if you’re over 50) to your workplace savings plans such as a 401(k) or 403(b). If you are a business owner, you should continue to defer as much income as you can (up to $40,000) in profit-sharing plans and Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) programs.
If you are eligible, you can also use the extra savings to contribute up to the annual maximum of $3,000 ($3,500 if you’re over 50) to an IRA before next April. While you won’t receive a tax deduction for contributions to Roth IRAs and Coverdell ESAs, funds in these accounts grow tax-deferred and qualified distributions from these accounts are generally tax-free. Section 529 college savings plans allow for much larger contributions than the $2,000 annual maximum contribution for Coverdell ESAs, and you may receive a deduction on your state income taxes.
If you have children or grandchildren who will be attending college in the next few years, the new tax law makes outright gifts of appreciated securities particularly attractive. Capital gains and qualified dividend taxes for taxpayers in the lowest brackets (most minors) are 5% until 2008—when they fall to 0%. Married couples may make gifts totaling $22,000 annually to whomever they please without any gift tax consequences.
Breaks for Small Businesses
Entrepreneurs stand to reap significant benefits from the new tax law. Effective for property placed in service from 2003 through 2005, small businesses may immediately expense up to $100,000 in capital equipment purchases – including off-the-shelf computer software, as well as light vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds. If you purchase a new SUV and use it for business purposes at least half the time, you may be permitted to immediately deduct the purchase price from your business income. You can write off up to $10,710 in the first year for lighter-weight trucks and cars used more than 50% for business.
Business owners can depreciate 50% of the value of purchases made after May 5, 2003 and before January 1, 2005. In 2002, only 30% of the value of such purchases could be depreciated. If you have been waiting to make new investments in your business, the tax environment makes now a good time to do so.
Despite the multitude of benefits in the new tax package, many individuals are still subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT is a flat tax of 26% to 28% that applies to taxpayers who claim significant deductions relative to their income. Affected deductions include state and local taxes, medical expenses, interest expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions. Check with your tax professional to determine if you’re likely to be subject to the AMT this year.
The tax-code changes offer many benefits to individual investors and small-business owners. Taking time to understand the changes – and positioning yourself to benefit from them – can help you meet your long-term financial goals.
© 2003, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated
 The 0% tax rate will only be in effect in 2008.
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People, The Ultimate Technology
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The essential technology for the new millennium is the most complex technology ever conceived. It is not Windows or Unix, or the Internet, or a programming language, or some type of artificial intelligence. It is people.
If you are a technology junkie, you may laugh, but consult anyone involved in the robotics industry and they will assure you that the cost and complexity of emulating just 10 percent of the capabilities of the human finger are astronomical and that such emulation may be physically impossible. And thus the questions beg to be asked: Are we futilely attempting to replace human beings with an inferior technology? Can a creator imbue greater capability into a creation than he possesses himself?
I propose that our primary role as managers is not to recreate or replace the human being, however challenging that task may be, but to offer tools that optimize this already marvelous creation. I propose, perhaps contemptibly, that man must not become the slave of his own creation.
While business is transacted with a user interface, business is conducted with a human interface. Business is conducted between two people or two organizations of people because you have a relationship with that other person or organization. You cannot conduct business with a computer, because a computer is not a legal entity nor is it a living entity. The computer may assist you in transacting business, but it cannot conduct business unto itself. The classic and enduring sign of business being conducted successfully is the handshake, not an email or a fax. The transactions that follow the handshake can take any form required, but you need the human interaction first.
It is ironic that the primary reason that the Internet has exploded has not been e'commerce or the ability to buy or sell anything on the Internet, but rather that people can communicate by sending email or chatting online. As I recall, Hollywood made a movie named You’ve Got Mail, not Your Order Has Shipped. Technology has not changed or reduced the need to communicate; it has simply provided alternative methods to do so.
Businesses that succeed in the new millennium will be those that avoid technology backlash and employ their human resources in the most cost effective and customer interactive manner That means always using the talent and creativity of the human person whenever applicable and using technology to optimize the human person not to supersede them.
Let me provide a classic example of misused technology. Some people called it the “automated attendant”, others call it “voice jail”, and others call it something far more crass. The automated attendant is the feature of a phone system that picks up the phone and attempts to direct the call. It is a nice idea, but a very poor use of technology. Here is the reason why. When you choose to use a telephone, you have chosen to communicate directly to another person. Had you preferred to write or send an email or send a fax, you would have done that. But you did not. Thus, when the phone is answered, you do not expect it to be answered by a machine in the most impersonal manner possible? No, you could have sent an email if that is what you wanted. The automated attendant is a bad use of technology and people calling in hate automated attendants. It may save the price of a receptionist, but what is the message that is being sent? Is the company too cheap to provide a real person? Are prospects, customers, partners, and business associates too trivial to provide a real person?
Any company can throw technology at a business problem. However, successful companies will provide a combined technological/human interfaced solution that treats the customer as a person and not as a number. Let me put is more plainly. The company with the best human interface wins. If you can make the human interface better with technology, do it. Otherwise, your technology is failing.
To close, I would like to add a final thought. The creative reality for a technology company is not often the rush it is proposed to be. The reality of the chip manufacturer is a stale clean room with nearly total sensory deprivation. The reality of the programmer is life in front of a phosphorescent piece of glass, plastic keys, and an artificial mouse. The reality of the cell phone manufacturer is an endless rack of circuit boards to be assembled into an endless line of plastic cases. Ironically, in the ultimate form of creation, where human begets human (the pinnacle of technology), we have pleasure, not with sensory deprivation, but with sensory exhilaration. I ask again, Can a creator imbue greater capability into a creation than he possesses himself?
Mr. Witschger has 23 years experience in software development with a variety of firms and over 15 years in human resources software development, sales and marketing. Mr. Witschger is CEO and Co-founder of Technical Difference, Inc., a privately held corporation and publishers of People-Trak; a PC based Human Resource Information System for organizations with 10 to 10,000 employees. He has published multiple articles regarding the practical aspects of HR management. For more information seewww.people-trak.com or call 1-800-809-5731.
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