Article Four of A Series on Adaptive Leadership
The Second Principle of Adaptive Leadership: Acquiring and Using Information
By Dr. Jerry Glover, Professor of Organizational Change, Hawaii Pacific University, Dr. Gordon Jones,
Professor of Management Information Systems, Hawaii Pacific University, and Papalii Dr. Failautusi
Avegalio, Director, Pacific Business Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Knowledge is the sum total of what humans and their organizations know about their world. Thus, culture is the warehouse, as well as the conduit, for both adaptive and maladaptive knowledge in any human setting. This means that all efforts to acquire and use information occur within the cultural context of an organization. Any new technology or management information system is therefore a product of the social system in which it is found. Unfortunately, leaders often fail to realize the importance of this fact when attempting to effectively integrate an innovation in an organizational setting.
We recall a casino hotel general manager in the Caribbean who had asked the human resources director from the corporate office in Miami to determine the cause of a “labor issue” in one of the property’s restaurants. Upon her arrival, the human resources director spoke with the general manager to assess the problem.
The general manager related that, for the past six months, what had historically been a well managed and high quality food outlet in the hotel had recently become a problematic and troublesome enterprise. Customer complaints regarding the service and the attitude of the employees had greatly increased during that period. Several long-time employees had resigned. Many others had complained about having too much work to do. There were rumors of a possible grievance against management.
She next met with the waiters in the restaurant. After gaining their confidence, she learned from the waiters the source of their frustration in the workplace. “Ever since the new computer (a point of sale terminal located in the customer service area) was installed six months ago, we don’t have the time to do our jobs. We work twice as hard now.”
“But I thought the new technology was designed to make your life easier,” she responded.
The waiters explained to her that since the new computerized system had been installed, they took the customers’ orders, entered them in the terminal in the service area, and then went to the kitchen to tell the cooks what they had entered in the terminal in the service area.
“Wait a minute,” she responded. “Why do you have to go to the kitchen to tell the cooks what order you placed in the terminal? I thought they had a visual display terminal in the kitchen to tell them the orders you placed from the service area.”
After a few anxious moments, one of the senior waiters revealed the waiters’ secret to her. “Yes, that is true, but the cooks can’t read.”
She further discovered that the technology-consulting firm that had installed the point of sale computer system had not bothered to assess the skills of the restaurant staff. Instead, they installed the terminal, met with the restaurant manager to “train him” in its use, and then left. Meanwhile, the cooks were concerned that they would lose their jobs due to their inability to read. Their long-term friends, the waiters, had been covering for the cooks to protect them from management.
The general manager and restaurant manager had been unable to understand why the problems had developed in the workplace. They had introduced a new technology to keep the restaurant in vogue with current trends in accounting and information systems, but they had failed to discover important information about their workers beforehand. As a result, a system designed to increase productivity had produced the opposite outcome. Change had occurred, but it had not helped the organization adapt. In fact, productivity had been on the decline because of the maladaptive way in which the new technology had been implemented.
Adaptive leaders need to be able to reconcile the design of new information technology with the values of those who will use it. Computer systems, telephone answering menus, and other information systems are effective only if they are compatible with the social context in which they are implemented. Effective knowledge management, therefore, has three equally important aspects: hardware; software; and the social system in which it is used. Ignore any one of the three aspects and most likely the system will fail to achieve its intended result.
Next week we will discuss creating synergy from diversity.
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