Information access and flow LO11448

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
15 Dec 96 22:20:32 EST

Replying to LO11428 --

Bill Hendry asked,

"How can we open the flow of information so that all members of an
organization will have access to the information they need to function
effectively, be creative and innovative, and make good decisions?"

Providing access to information is easy through technological methods.
Providing information that allows people to "function effectively, be
creative and innovative, and make good decisions" is another matter. In
general it requires some kind of filtering mechanism. Traditionally, the
filter was managed by the hierarchy. The hierarchy decided what was
important, and the hierarchy 'pushed' important information out to
everyone. In the absence of a hierarchy, you need new mechanisms.

We recently concluded an experiment -- we did not intend it to be one, but
it was -- in which we set up 28 independent, cross-functional teams with
instructions to 'manage their businesses.' Starting with one common
business process and system, within weeks we had 28 different way of
managing the businesses, and the second season around saw an additional 24
(new) ways. What we had was lots of creativity (one of the criteria),
sort of average decisions (everyone was focused on new processes), and
inefficient fuctioning. We had lost standards for measurement, we had
lost ability to compare, we had lost any best practices, and despite the
freedom, the teams were not sharing and developing any newer or better
methodologies. They were not communicating with each other. In
retrospect, everyone can chuckle about it, but it was not fun at the time.

In a sort of 'the emperor has no clothes' blindness, we all sat around and
agreed how good it was. Once we started to be candid and _really_
factual, it was easy to conclude that it was confusing, murky,
anxiety-producing, directionless, and demotivating. We still want to
increase individual latitude for action, but this was not the way.

Now, I have successfully done the same thing in a factory setting, so I
know it can work some times. However, the environment in this case is a
lot more complex than in a factory. And, there were a lot of bright,
energetic people intent on solving all the problems in the next 3 months,
so to speak. As a consequence, even at the lowest levels, there was
insufficient energy put into working as teams. Too much of the time,
individuals thought they had good answers, but they were unable to
convince their peers. One might argue that we did not provide enough
training or preparation, direction, or guidance. I don't know, but we did
try to do that.

What we learned is that there is a role for hierarchy, and it is to tell
people what common standards, the common priorities and the common
directions. The hierarchy also tells everyone exactly what information
the hierarchy will be looking at in assessing success. This provides a
tremendous focus. Identifying the common measures functions in essence as
'pushing' certain information to be looked at.

So hierarchy can add value. The problem with hierarchy is when it becomes
autocratic and peremptory, and stops growing, or inhibits the growth of
others. The answer to Bill's question may be to achieve some kind of
balance of hierarchic direction, focus, and 'pushed' information along
with free access to all information. It is a very interesting question,
and there are no simple answers.


Rol Fessenden
LL Bean, Inc


Rol Fessenden <76234.3636@CompuServe.COM>

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