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Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Chief Knowledge Officer, The Knowledge Management Institute of Canada; Senior Advisor, Knowledge Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Husky Energy

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Tools, Tools Tools...My Rant

OK, so everyone is entitled to a good rant every once in awhile. This one is about the obsession organizations have with "tools" and their belief that having lots of tools leads to better knowledge processes.

Take this Hammer... 

 

The term "tool" is constantly misused - Social Media Tools, Collaborative Tools, Productivity Tools and secondly, by assuming every piece of technology is a "tool" it creates the wrong mental model and limits the effectiveness these technologies have to drive the outcomes for which they were designed.

When I say the word, "tool" what do you think about? - I think of a hammer (tool used for hammering or removing nails) A pencil (a tool for drawing or writing). There are of course software tools - Word (a tool for writing/word processing), PowerPoint (a tool for creating presentations) etc.

Too Many Tools; Not Enough Environments 

 

Let me say from the outset, most organizations have too many tools and not enough environments. In fact many of the "tools' used by organizations, can and should be replaced by environments - Think email (a communication tool) @Don Tapscott does an excellent video interview for McKinsey on this issue: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/making_internal_collaboration_work_an_interview_with_don_tapscott

Social Tools? Really?

 

Do we really think we need a "tool" to be social? 


Folks, Facebook is not a tool! - Nor are most Wikis - They are environments! - They have embedded tools e.g. text editors, slide sharing etc., but Facebook. Linkedin, Jive, Yammer etc. are social environments. Twitter might be considered a communication tool although increasingly young people are also using Twitter as a social environment.

 Why is the distinction between "tools" and "environments" so important? 

 

Tools are used to accomplish tasks like hammering in a nail, posting a comment, sharing an update etc. Once the task is complete, the tool is no longer needed. Environments are places where people live, work, play, discuss issues, problem solve etc. I have heard companies refer to the launch of their "social media tool" - immediately people unconsciously adopt the mindset that this is something they will use when they want to be "social" or  complete a social task like deciding the venue for this years Christmas party, rather than a place where they can effectively and purposefully work, learn, collaborate  and share knowledge and insight with their colleagues to solve real problems or accelerate the achievement of goals.

 The "Best Technologies" are those that people actually want to use 

 

What our research shows over and over again is organizations have "too many tools" that don't effectively connect with the work needs of employees. As a result employees abandon company sanctioned tools/ technologies for ones they actually want to use. According to Bill Jensen@Jensen Institute, "The technology available to individuals are better those those available in most organizations" (see his video, #Hacking Work)

Here are common statements we hear from employees when they are asked about the effectiveness of their organization's tools:
  • Too slow, takes too long to locate what I'm looking ffro
  • Too confusing...don't know how I'm supposed to use this for...
  • No version control
  • Too many tools used for basically the same purpose - which one do I use? How do I find the information I am looking for? What's of value?
  • These are not the tools I use for my work ...I use...
People in most organizations are unhappy with the tools at their disposal - Why? Because many of these so called "tools"reduce productivity and effectiveness. Employees are constantly being asked to shoehorn how they work into a common set of tools which is akin to saying, "this is how we want you to work" instead of recognizing that individuals know how to be productive and that this differs from person to person. For example, I'm a Mac user and have been almost forever. The Mac works the way I think and therefore makes me more productive - why would you want to take away my Mac and make me use a PC? - This would certainly cause an almost immediate drop in productivity as I try to re-wire my thinking to adapt to the PC  and I would now have the added challenge of shifting back and forth between the two (because of course I would continue to want to use the tool that allows me to me most productive.

Every Handyman Knows - You Need the Right Tools for the Right Job 

 

Why is this so hard for decision makers within organizations to understand? Why do so many companies invest in massive IT systems without first understanding what technologies they need in order to support the work their people actually do?

The right tool allows you to do the job more efficiently and effectively. The wrong tool, breeds frustration, complacency and slows down the work.

The Final Word(s)...

 

  • Understand the knowledge needs of your people and the work they do BEFORE investing in tools and technologies.

  • Give employees the ability to use tools and technologies which they need to be productive and effective - Tools and technologies they want to use. Spend the time find out what these are and why your people want to use them.

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