21 August 2007

What do they really want…read their mind and map it too

AFTER the overwhelming response from readers to last week's Digital Oman column on Team IT Challenges, this week we look into what employees really want at their offices and how deploying technology can meet most of these requirements. Most managers would like to know what most employees want from the organisation. Topping on the list is a productive office culture which includes a two-way communication channel with his management.
Not all companies have a single culture, but over a period of time, a mix of personal influences creates the overall professional ambience. To understand this, the manager can begin to observe meetings, read through communication, monitor tea-time talks, examine employee behaviour and study the existing culture.

Having understood the current situation, he then charts the desired state of culture for professionalism within his sphere of operations. If the manager needs to steer his team towards the company's goals, he has to address his team with his clear concerns and highlights of best practices.

In a normal scenario, most managers are fire-fighting with day-to-day operations and take their team for granted to perform at their best with their current level of involvement and skills which is where the problem stems from. What is required here is taking time to see the big picture and sharing this with his staff openly. Borrowing-in his staff into his challenges and opportunities is not an easy task but not rocket-science either.
The manager can begin a team brain-storming as to the directions of the organisation, its core values, aspirations and future directions. Using technology tools such as a Mind mapping software (http://www.peterussell.com/Mindmaps/MMSoft.php) it is possible to document issues and points visually in a simple manner.

Personally I have used the ConceptDraw (http://www.conceptdraw.com/en/products/mindmap/main.php) and the free tool FreeMind () for this purpose. There are many more free software like the Thinkgraph (http://www.thinkgraph.com/)http://www.thinkgraph.com or VYM — View Your Mind (http://www.insilmaril.de/ vym/). Most software make to possible to convert these maps in easy viewable image formats, pdf format and html format.

A simple approach theorists suggest is the SWOT analysis — Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threats to assess a situation. The technique can be used effectively in any business scenario: Manufacturing, Finance, Marketing, IT, Healthcare, Government, Education, Training, Research, etc. You can use this technique for personal planning and organising which is a good training ground. The mind map diagram in the figure corresponds to a personal SWOT analysis.
Once this analysis is done, then it is time to reward the Strengths: improve on them while putting in place a plan of action to address the weaknesses and threats. The entire team can have a brainstorming day outside the office for this exercise and the management would expect a resulting plan of action in return.

To create the two-way communication between the manager and his employees, it is possible to try an open-office approach when employees could drop by to discuss if not engaged in a meeting. This may work for some but not all. So alternatively a morning mini-meeting before starting activities for the day is another alternative to try. Customise what suits your office environment and this largely depends on the employee responses.
Anytime, anywhere comfort in communication can be achieved by using e-mail systems for eco-friendly, clutter-free and instantaneous communications. Modern software make it possible to send related documents of pictures for review to the entire team with copies marked to relevant staff.
Meeting appointments can be fixed, by sending an electronic request to which the members can respond with an Accept/Reject/Suggest new time option. Some professionals use electronic calendars to mark their meeting appointments using PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) mobile phones. These appointments can be synchronised between the phone and PC version using software.

Interestingly it is possible to share your calendar with your other manager(s) and other staff to let them know about your availability. The opportunity for planning and communication has been opened up for adoption by the employees and the manager most often takes the lead: 'Walk your talk' approach.

Time and time again as mentioned, technology is only an enabler and it is the corporate culture that nourishes and sustains best practices within the office premises. This is very important for aligning personal goals with organisational goals while ensuring productivity and achievement of organisational objectives. Digital Oman will continue next week on enhancing productivity with yet another technology exclusively for you.