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Management Strategies

09:16 AM
Gerald Shields, The Nolan Company
Gerald Shields, The Nolan Company

Staying Effective in an Efficient World

When an organization's focus shifts too far to efficiency, effectiveness suffers.

The pace of business today and the realities of the current economy have resulted in changes and adjustments throughout the business world. With cost pressures, businesses have stressed the impact on service.

Anyone who has endured the gauntlet of airline travel recently understands the frustrations caused by the cost pressures on the airlines and the service impacts these changes have forced on air travel. From baggage fees to inflight meals to the frustration of rescheduling flights, the list of services sacrificed for efficiency is extensive. From the consumer point of view, all these changes in the name of efficiency have stressed consumers who are looking for effectiveness and support.

Of course the airlines are an easy target, but the point remains valid. When an organization's focus shifts too far to efficiency, effectiveness suffers.

Achieving an effective balance of service expectations and business efficiencies is equally critical inside organizations between internal service organizations and internal consumers. Employee surveys continue to report a disconnect between employees' activities and the mission of the organization. A recent Harvard Business Review article, "To Give Your Employees Meaning, Start With Mission", discusses the direct correlation between employee satisfaction and their sense of feeling connected to the mission. A service-based organization finds a way to connect employees to services and consumers.

I've written before about efficiency and effectiveness in corporate IT departments, and while that discussion focused on IT, the lessons to be drawn from it hold true throughout any organization concerned with internal service. Few IT organizations seek to truly understand internal business units' perception of IT's impact and the importance the business units place on the components of IT delivery. It is critical to recognize this insight to become an effective IT organization that impacts the business. It's easy for IT to focus on one component, such as availability, but that pigeonholes the IT organization as a utility provider. CIOs might boast of a 99% availability record, but if the users don't perceive a greater value in IT than as a utility provider, they'll only care about the 1% of the time the network is down.

[Previously from Shields: 5 Key Components of IT Effectiveness]

To become truly effective and not just efficient, it is vital to understand the customer's expectations and how you're performing according to those expectations.

During these difficult times of cost pressures, staffing reductions and process changes to drive down cost, businesses must be aware of the relationship seams that are being stretched and potentially coming unraveled. It is vital to understand the internal consumer needs, expectations and issues while balancing the pressures, needs, services and expectations of the service provider. This process does not happen naturally. As change and financial pressures continue to exert tremendous pressure on organizations, it appears that clear understanding and service-based focuses continue to be the last elements of discussion. Ripple effects of these changes are rarely understood until they are implemented and wreak havoc on relationships. Leaders must drive to become a service-based organization where the needs of the internal consumers are clearly articulated, understood and managed by the internal service providers.

Managing the seams between the internal service providers and service consumers is critical in leading a healthy, agile organization. Service leaders must actively utilize a number of proven tools and techniques to help the organization return to a service mentality. One such tool is the RATER method, as outlined in Valarie Zeithaml's book Delivering Quality Service. RATER measures value in Reliability, Assurance (knowledge, quality and credibility of the staff), Tangible (physical aspects of communication, documents and processes), Empathy (relating to user concerns and issues) and Responsiveness. It is a qualitative and quantitative method that can help provide customized solutions to improve effectiveness. RATER and other tools like it provide a clear roadmap when the path toward a service focus seems murky.

As an organization moves to a service focus, the leader should define the internal services the organization delivers, the appropriate service levels and the cost associated with delivering the services. This intersection of consumers and services forms the service instance that takes on definition and service levels that can clearly be defined and measured. The service leader and the consumer leadership should meet periodically to review service delivery and expectations. This kind of partnership can create a spirit of transparency and collaboration and improve relationships throughout the organization.

A very positive, proactive method of managing a service-based organization utilizes techniques to proactively measure the expectations and perceptions within the services and consuming organization to determine where there is relationship stress. By proactively measuring the service performance and expectations, the organization can maintain a healthy service-to-consumer relationship that improves the business and raises the level of performance in organizational effectiveness, as well as organizational efficiency. This service focus gives employees throughout the organization a sense of purpose and empowerment, creating a culture that is both efficient and effective.

About the author: Gerald Shields is Practice Director, Healthcare IT for The Nolan Company. Gerald has over 30 years' experience managing enterprise scale IT functions, with a focus on enabling the business through effective automation. At Aflac, he served as CIO and in senior IT management for over ten years, and is a respected thought leader and innovator in the areas of IT management systems, technology strategy, and mobile technology.

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