Information Technology or the Borg Collective? (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Quite a few years ago one of the Jims reporting to me created an innovation called the “Daily Musing”. Each musing was a tidbit, milder than but akin to those that grace the top of this column, that appeared on the user’s screen while logging in.

The Daily Musing became quite popular, and employees inundated Jim with submissions. Having your musing appear became something of a status symbol.

One submission (from the Curmudgeon Calendar) read, “Happiness is seeing your Mother-in-law’s picture on a milk carton.” You can see what’s coming. An employee complained, calling it a “clear case of gender-bashing.”

We tried to save the feature, but after reviewing the situation with Human Resources we concluded it was hopeless. We worked through several examples and found that only by extracting every last bit of wit could we make the musings safe for employee consumption. Even making it optional wouldn’t help.

(I happened to walk past the complainer’s cubicle not too long afterward. In the cubicle next to hers I saw a sign that said, “Grow your own dope – plant men.” Too bad about that gender-bashing thing.)

Another example of Human Resources killing a morale booster? No, HR was just the messenger. Our HR folks did their best to help us preserve our “Daily Musings”.

Two recent columns have painted the HR industry in a less than favorable light, and reader response has been awesome in its volume and passion. Only a handful of readers spotted a key point: HR doesn’t become a bureaucracy unless line managers willingly abdicate responsibility. Many look to HR for protection when they make mistakes. Many more give HR the dirty jobs they don’t want — like giving employees bad news.

Yes, all too often, HR departments act in ways that deserve criticism, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. Please notice that I said, “All too often,” not “Always” or “Usually”. Human Resources, like all internal support organizations, walks the fine line separating administration from bureaucracy (for a wonderful discussion of this subject, get hold of Larry Miller’s Barbarians to Bureaucrats). It also has something less than a free hand. HR helps implement the desired corporate culture — it doesn’t formulate it.

IS managers rarely offer compliments to HR. I think I know the reason: IS walks the same fine line, and comes over to the dark side easily as often. Yes, young Skywalker, when you take off Darth Vader’s helmet you just may find your own face inside.

Take an hour or so to look in the mirror. How long are your lists of “company standards” and “IS policies”. How flexible are you in interpreting them?

How much effort do you expend explaining your standards and policies? Do you explain them only when you issue them or often and in terms that demonstrate their value to the company and end-users?

When you find an end-user has violated one of your policies, do you just enforce the policy or do you take time to explain why it exists and is important? And when you’re done explaining (or better, before you start) do you ask why the employee violated the policy in the first place?

Have you ever said the equivalent of, “We won’t do it for you, we won’t give you the tools to do it yourself, and we won’t let you buy the tools either, because after you build it you may ask us to take over support”?

Did you write the e-mail policy that says the system can only be used for business purposes and that violations will be noted in the employee’s records?

The key questions to answer to find out if you’ve joined the Borg collective: Do a lot of your policies, procedures and standards exist for your own convenience? Borg! Is your first instinct when faced with an issue to draft another one and add it to the book? Borg again! Have you ever reviewed your policies and procedures to figure out which ones you can eliminate? Congratulations! You’re still human.

Human Resources has to deal with executive style, employment law, and union contracts. Accounting has to conform to both Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and the tax code.

What’s your excuse?