Somebody asked a group of senior IT people about to buy a whole new software infrastructure based on the ‘agile’ approach, what would be the most important thing they wanted the software to do. The answer was: getting home for dinner on time.
Many years ago I was involved in setting up a new collaborative structure for a pharmaceutical R&D client. It was a combination of structural, behavioural and (enabling) technologies approach. Our IT partners did a lot of analysis on the needs of the Research Division. This division was populated by PhDs and MDs, ‘la crème de la crème’ of the industry. Our IT partners, who needed to provide the ‘collaborative software’ part of the solution, asked similar question: what is your number one priority?
The expected menu of answers included a brand new ‘combinatory chemistry’ software support and a real-time collaborative tool between researchers at different R&D sites scattered around the world. The number one request of the highly skilled, highly paid, highly published and highly scientifically avant-garde executives was: could you speed up these laptops, please, they are so damned slow!
There is an obvious pattern here. The most basic needs are often overlooked in favour of more sophisticated, game-changing aims. But the reality is that there is nothing ‘basic’ about getting home on time or expecting the computer to fire in less than the time it takes to read War and Peace.
The two examples have however one very good thing in common: people asked! Well, don’t take that for granted, since we often act as if we (managers, consultants) knew very well the motivations of people, or what would be ‘unquestionable’. The word says it all: we don’t need to question.
Entire compensation schemes, for example, are created without asking people what would motivate them. Since money is ‘the easiest’ and supposedly most universal one, we create a structure about this. Which it may be the right thing to do, but it is often done without a single question to people.
My followers know that my favourite employee engagement survey has one single question: why are you still here? Frankly, we take this as a bit of a joke, but it is far from it.
If we keep asking questions… we have a better change to understand the real world around us. And, getting home for dinner on time, would be a bonus.