Monday, September 28, 2020

Stop Relying on Heroes to Get the Job Done

Source: Pixabay

Sara Brown has written a good piece for the MIT Sloan Management Review. The title of the article is "4 ways to design employee experience in the remote work era."  Brown draws on an interview with research scientist Kristine Dery. In the article, Brown & Dery argue that organizations have to reduce their reliance on heroic behavior on the part of employees to get to the job done.  Here's an excerpt:  

Companies that deliver strong employee experiences deliberately move away from a culture of heroics, in which employees often have to go above and beyond to find ways to deliver for customers, becoming “heroes” in the organization, Dery said. 

Instead of depending on heroic employees, companies should focus on processes and systems that can deliver for customers consistently and solve more complex problems. “Let’s figure those things out, and then let’s embed those into our organization, either through technology or through behaviors or through new metrics. That connection is much more systemic,” she said.  Implementing systems includes:

-Integrating operations across silos to make it easier for employees to innovate and deliver on the customer experience.
-Allowing seamless access to data and information about customers, putting power into the hands of employees to do what technology can’t do.
-Digitizing work, which allows for employee mobility — especially important now — and employee self-help.
-Using employee platforms, which allow employees to search for information and ideas, easily share knowledge, and reduce duplication.

Companies should also consider a dedicated customer experience team. “That phase where different employee experiences across the company were creating all sorts of quite chaotic decisions and responses was managed much more effectively by companies that had a dedicated [employee experience] team, that were looking at that right across the organization, and able to create more systemic accountability measures,” Dery said. These companies were able to get technology into the hands of employees faster, and could anticipate speed bumps ahead of time, instead of reacting to them after the fact.

This notion of moving beyond "heroic behavior" reminds me of the research conducted by Anita Tucker, Amy Edmondson, and Steve Spear years ago on first order vs. second order problem solving.  First order problem solving often involves heroic behavior.  It involves corrective action by front-line employees who are often going above and beyond to get the job done.  However, the same problems keep emerging, and over time, heroes don't always emerge to stop bad things from happening. Tucker and her colleagues explain the distinction and its importance:

Research on problem solving makes a distinction between fixing problems (first-order solutions) and diagnosing and altering root causes to prevent recurrence (second-order solutions). First-order problem solving allows work to continue but does nothing to prevent a similar problem from occurring. Workers exhibit first-order problem solving when they do not expend any more energy on a problem after obtaining the missing input needed to complete a task. Second-order problem solving, in contrast, investigates and seeks to change underlying causes of a problem.

So, ask yourself:  Are we too reliant on heroes in our organization?  Do the same problems keep resurfacing?  Are we thinking systemically when we examine the reasons why problems occur?

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