If you’ve been a manager for any amount of time, you’ve likely encountered the following visual:
This diagram illustrates the intersection of people, process, and technology that occurs throughout every organization. For any system (e.g., an association management software system) to operate optimally, your organization must have the right people in place and apply the right processes to the appropriate technology. When all three circles are complete and overlap, you are operating at maximum effectiveness. (I intentionally chose effectiveness and not efficiency, because you may be efficient at processing new members, but if you’re not effective at delivering value on that membership, you won’t be around long.)
My clients often engage me to help them with their technology, but for almost every project, we’re analyzing all three elements. Who?: the people involved, How?: the processes they are using, and With what?: the technology in place (or being considered).
So when your organization is faced with what is perceived to be a technology issue, be sure to take the other elements into consideration when you begin searching for solutions. Here are some questions to consider in each area.
Do you have the right people in place to complete the tasks? Do the people involved have the skills needed to get the work done? Even more basic to the question, have you defined what skills are needed so you can evaluate your staff?
I worked with a client that had a staff person who had managed their accreditation program for over 20 years, entirely in spreadsheets and Word documents. He admitted quite bluntly that he did not have the computer skills to manage this program in a database. But by keeping all of that data in spreadsheets and Word documents, a large chunk of important data was segregated from the primary database. This meant a lot of duplicate effort to manage the redundant data, and limited the organization’s ability to analyze data from across the organization.
Renowned training expert Robert Mager once said “If you put a gun to their head, could they do the work or not?” This is the question to ask to determine if you’ve got a skills problem or an attitude problem.
I’ve also encountered staff that have the appropriate skills but have not been thoroughly trained on the system they are expected to use. The full circle of ‘people’ in the diagram above includes being sure you know what skills you need, that staff has those skills, and they are properly trained.
Are the processes you have in place appropriate and effective? Have they been reviewed recently to ensure that they are still necessary? Are the processes designed to “work around” people and/or technology (i.e., have you designed processes to address deficiencies in the technology or lack of skilled staff)?
Very often when I work with clients I’ll discover processes that have been in place for years but never questioned because “we’ve always done it that way.” For example, one client I worked with reviewed every membership application they received to ensure that the member was qualified to be a member. When I asked how often anyone was rejected for membership, the response was “Not since I’ve been here, which is five years now.” The process had been in place so long, no one ever questioned whether it had any value.
A complete “process” circle includes reviewing processes regularly for applicability and not creating processes that work around people or technology.
Will this technology make you more effective? Will this technology help you better serve your mission? Will you get an appropriate return on investment from this technology (i.e., if you spend all this money, will you get improvements to justify that expense)?
I worked with a fairly large association to help them analyze their current technology infrastructure. Senior management believed that their current data management system had significant flaws and that the organization should change systems. The current system had been in place for over 10 years and the organization had invested well over a million dollars in it. After reviewing the technology, the people, and the processes in place, we were able to determine that the technology was not the issue, but rather the processes in place at the organization that were causing most of their data management problems. So some significant changes in their processes helped them to avoid the tremendous expense and disruption of selecting and implementing a new system.
There are times when facing challenges with some issue in an organization, changing technology is chosen as the way to address it. This happens because changing technology is perceived to be easier than changing processes or people. Technology may indeed be part of the problem, but should be considered only after the other two have been addressed.
The “technology” circle can’t stand alone. In order to be complete, it needs the right people and processes to produce the best outcome.
So when you begin analyzing any situation where you believe technology is the answer, be sure to consider the other two key elements as well: people and process.
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