Miscast Workforce


It is tempting to believe that some roles are so simple that they don’t require talent. Misled by this wisdom, many managers don’t bother selecting for people who have talent for these roles. They hire virtually anyone who applies. Consequently, they end up with a hopelessly miscast workforce—thousands of employees who see their roles as demeaning and who can think only of getting  out of it as fast as possible. Thus cursed, their managers respond with strict legislation. They impose procedure manual on their people in the hope that they can make the role idiotproof. Their rationale: if I give these people the chance to make choices, many of them will use that freedom to make the wrong choices.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

 

Writing Useful Instructions


When you need to explain in writing how to do something, a set of step-by-step instructions is your best choice. By enumerating the steps, you make it easy for readers to perform the process in the correct sequence. Your goal is to provide a clear, self-sufficient explanation so that readers can perform the task independently.

Gather Equipment

  1. Writing materials (pen and paper, typewriter, computer)
  2. Background materials (previous memos, policy manuals, manufacturer’s booklets, etc.)
  3. When necessary, the apparatus being explained (machine, software package, or other equipment)

Prepare

  1. Perform the task yourself, or ask experts to demonstrate it or describe it to you in detail.
  2. Analyze prospective readers’ familiarity with the process so that you can write instructions at their level of understanding.

Make your Instructions Clear

  1. Include four elements: an introduction, a list of equipment and materials, a description of the steps involved in the process, and a conclusion.
  2. Explain in the opening why the process is important and how it is related to a larger purpose.
  3. Divide the process into short, simple steps presented in order of occurrence.
  4. Present the steps in a numbered list, or if presenting them in paragraph format, use words indicating time or sequence, such as first and then.
  5. If the process involves more than ten steps, divide them into groups or stages identified with headings.
  6. Phrase each step as a command (“Do this” instead of “You should do this”); use active verbs; use precise, specific terms (“three weeks” instead of “several weeks”).
  7. When appropriate, describe how to tell whether a step has been performed correctly and how one step may influence another. Warn readers of possible damage or injury from a mistake in a step, but limit the number of warnings so that readers do not underestimate their importance.
  8. Include diagrams of complicated devices, and refer to them in appropriate steps.
  9. Summarize the importance of the process and the expected results.

Test your Instructions

  1. Review the instructions to be sure they are clear and complete. Also judge whether you have provided too much detail.
  2. Ask someone else to read the instructions and tell you whether they make sense and are easy to follow.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

 

Intranets


Not all Websites are available to anyone cruising the Net. Some are reserved for the private use of a single company’s employees and stakeholders. An intranet uses the same technologies as the Internet and the World Wide Web, but the information provided and the access allowed are restricted to the boundaries of a company-wide LAN or WAN. In some cases, suppliers, distribution partners, and key customers may also have access, but intranets are protected from unauthorized access through the Internet by a firewall, a special type of gateway that controls access to the local network. People on an intranet can get out to the Internet, but unauthorized people on the Internet cannot get in.

Possibly the biggest advantage of an intranet is that it eliminates the problem of employees’ using different types of computers within a company. On an Intranet, all information is available in a format compatible with Macintosh, PC, UNIX-based computers. The need to publish internal documents on paper is virtually eliminated because everyone can access the information electronically.

Besides saving paper, an intranet can save a company money in the form of employee hours. Employees can find information much faster and more easily by using a well-designed database on an intranet than by digging through a filing cabinet or card catalog. Some of the communication uses companies have for intranets include updating policy manuals, posting job openings and submitting job applications, accessing martketing and sales presentations from anywhere in the world, updating and managing employee benefits, accessing company records and databases, collaborating from anywhere in the  world to develop new products, scheduling meetings, setting up company phone directories, and publishing company newsletters. In fact, just about any information that can help employees communicate is a good candidate for an intranet. As video and audio technologies progress, you can expect to see more multimedia applications on intranets as well.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

Fuse Knowledge to Power


Architects are concerned with flows. When designing a building, their paramount considerations are how occupants will move in it and how light and air will circulate around it. Equally important for organizational architects is how information, know-how, decisions, and careers will flow in the structure being shaped.

When the work of the corporation was primarily the organizing of manual labor, markets were local and slow to change, and the knowledge base upon which competitive success depended was stable, a unitary hierarchy of manager atop manager made a lot of sense. The information needed to run the business was limited and could be easily channeled in one upward or downward flow. Workers did the work, and managers did the thinking.

But this is a reality that has disappeared from most industries. Markets are dimensioned globally, rules change faster than some competitors can master them, and brainpower counts for much more than brawn. Most organizations, though, remain keyed to the old realities. Few hierarchies have even kept up with the need to build in change by linking each of their limited number of levels with the time horizons of greatest importance to the company.

A more serious problem, though, is the lack of rethinking about how a business needs to organize its intellectual capital, its knowledge workers. It is ironic, and wasteful, that while “knowledge workers” (technical professionals and other holders of graduate or postgraduate degrees) are making up an increasing proportion of the work force in many industries, the organization structures in which they work remain more the products of Industrial Revolution than of the information age.

Knowledge, especially which can affect the company’s future competitiveness, used to be confined to the research and development lab or to the strategic planning department. Now, as information systems-driven service industries assume a larger share of many economies, knowledge about the capabilities that provide competitive advantage is much more widely dispersed than was ever necessary in traditional manufacturing companies. No single information channel can contain it all. And even traditional product makers are changing. Fewer manufacturing jobs are directly involved in making something; more are concerned with planning what to make, how to make it, and how to keep customers happy after the product has been purchased. The intellectual demands on front-line workers have increased tremendously. The narrowly skilled assembly jobs have been replaced by the more knowledge-intensive positions of the factory automation technician.

Requirements for more intellectual value added have escalated up many organization hierarchies. Networked data bases, expert systems, and almost never-ending flow of new personal computer software have significantly expanded the scope and the nature of the contribution possible from many mid-level employees. This is not an unmitigated blessing, though. It has also seriously polluted the management role in many companies, making many into high-level doers instead of managers, increasing the role’s fragmentation, and making it brittle rather than strong and load-bearing.

This situation will only worsen as economic pressures lead to increased management delayering. Companies with eight to ten tiers of management will find it necessary to organize around four or five. The number of subordinates per manager will have to sharply increase. Middle managers will find themselves with less and less time to master these new white-collar productivity enhancers and to make the intellectual contribution their businesses increasingly need.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

How Losers Operate?


Losers tend to stick with a particular and hierarchical model of operation. The structure is set out in organization charts. There are probably job descriptions for most positions, and how the organization operate is set out in a physical or electronic manual. Preparing these and understanding them takes time. Hence people are reluctant to make changes that might involve altering diagrams, updating files and reprinting documents. Some people become complacent. They believe they have discovered or created a formula for continuing business success. They also swear by particular approaches and enshrine them in standard processes and procedures. The framework solidifies.

 Many losers have a weakness for single solutions, panaceas and fads. They believe that this management approach, that technology or a particular consultant’s methodology will provide and answer and solve their problems. While struggling to make a chosen course of action work they fail to consider alternative options. They look themselves in.

 Employees who can be trusted to operate in approved ways and observe standard practice are promoted. After some time corporate structures, processes, systems and mindsets become rigid and inflexible. Subject them to increasing stress and they first creak and groan, and then snap. Increase workloads and transaction flows and people in ‘loser’ organizations struggle to cope. Rather than operate in new ways or change processes they endeavor to work harder, faster and for longer hours. They quickly become overloaded and break down. Work-life balance is an issue in these companies because staff suffer the pressures without enjoying any of the compensating benefits.

 There are often alternative ways of achieving the same objective. Boats of many types and sizes may be capable of making the same journey, although imposing very different demands upon their crews. The craft chosen will reflect their preferences and aspirations. There may also be alternative routes to the same destination.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Knowledge Engineering


In the traditional approach to systems design, a system analyst, together with the ultimate end-users, or clients, for the project, will complete a functional specification of the system. At that point, the project is essentially in the hands of professional project management and programming staff, because that group possesses the knowledge and skill required to deliver the agreed upon features and functions. In the development of knowledge systems, this is simply not the case. Following the specification of function, a new problem arises. This is because it is not an algorithm that is being developed but knowledge that is being encoded for machine use.

 

The immediate problem is that traditional applications developers do not have sufficient knowledge of the applications area to complete the project from the starting point of a functional specification. This information generally exists in a variety of forms, depending on the application area. In some cases an individual or group of individuals may uniquely possess the relevant knowledge. In other cases, the knowledge may exist in the form of published materials like manuals or textbooks. In still other cases, the knowledge does not presently exist at all, and must be created and developed along with the system itself. This is an extremely difficult circumstance. Further compounding this problem is a critical factor: Regardless of the form in which the knowledge currently exists, it is not in a form that is ready for use by a knowledge system. Someone must decide what knowledge is relevant and desirable for inclusion, acquire the knowledge, and represent it in a form suitable for a knowledge system to apply. In all but trivial applications the task of representing the knowledge requires not only coding individual “chunks” of knowledge, but also organizing and structuring these individual components.

 

Historically, owing to the remoteness and enigmatic quality of artificial intelligence technologies, the person doing the actual systems development and the “expert,” or source of knowledge, were not the same. The availability of tools, in place of enigmatic technologies, has had an impact on reducing this problem. Even if one can imagine the case in which the “expert” whose knowledge is to be modeled is also an “expert” with the use of artificial intelligence development tools, there still remains a sizable problem.

 

In case where knowledge resides with some practitioner or expert, it does not exist explicitly as a series of IF …THEN rules, ready to be encoded. Most practitioners and experts find it difficult to explain explicitly what they are doing while solving problems. They are not cognizant of the underlying rules they are applying. Their expertise has been developed from numerous experiences and involves highly developed pattern recognition skills and heuristics.

 

In the case where the knowledge to be included is contained in text material like manuals, regulations, procedures, and the like, the information is still not in a form ready for inclusion in an expert system. It must be remembered that one of the most often cited advantages of expert systems is that they make explicit the knowledge that is most often implicit and unavailable for review, evaluation, dissemination, and modification. The task of making knowledge both explicit and available for systems application is that of knowledge engineering. Most literature on the development and application of knowledge systems has identified the need for individuals skilled in knowledge engineering as a critical factor to widespread use of technology.

 

Knowledge engineering involves acquiring, representing, and coding knowledge. The representation and coding aspects of systems development have been greatly impacted by these newly available tools. The speed with which prototyping can be accomplished has also helped reduce some of the difficulty in acquiring or refining knowledge. The knowledge engineer now finds it much less costly in time and effort to represent, code, and test early approaches to systems development, providing a more efficient feedback loop. This feedback loop is critical in the development of knowledge systems. The end-user/client for the project is, by nature, going to be much more involved in the systems design process. The “programmer” often is incapable of deciding if the system is behaving properly, owing to a lack of fundamental knowledge about the application area. This is simply not as strong a factor, where the programmer is capable of evaluating the accuracy and efficiency of algorithms. When the product is actionable knowledge rather than algorithms, the ability to evaluate project progress shifts to the end-user/client. This creates the increased emphasis on the feedback loop.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Plagiarism and Copyright Violation


Plagiarism and copyright violation are complicated issues, especially in modern technical writing.

Plagiarism is the practice of using someone else’s words or ideas without crediting the source. Many organizations treat authorship of internal documents, such as memos and most reports, casually; that is, if the organization asks you to update an internal procedures manual, it expects you to use any material from the existing manual, even if you cannot determine the original author.

Organizations tend to treat the authorship of published documents, such as external manuals or journal articles, more seriously. Although the authors of some kinds of published technical documents are not listed, many documents such as user’s guides do acknowledge their authors. However, what constitutes authorship can be a complicated question, because most large technical documents are produced collaboratively, with several persons contributing text, another doing the graphics, still another reviewing for technical accuracy, and finally someone reviewing for legal concerns. Problems are compounded when a document goes into revision, and parts of original text or graphics are combined with new material.

The best way to determine authorship is to discuss it openly with everyone who contributed to the document. Some persons might deserve to be listed as authors; others, only credited in an acknowledgment section. To prevent changes of plagiarism, the wisest course is to be very conservative: if there is any question about whether to cite a source, cite it.

A related problem involves copyright violation. Copyright law provides legal protection to the author of any document, whether it be published or unpublished, and whether the author be an individual or a corporation. Unfortunately, some companies will take whole sections of another company’s product information or manual, make cosmetic changes, and publish it themselves. This, of course is stealing.

But the difference between stealing and learning from your competitors can be subtle. Words are protected by copyright, but ideas aren’t. Rare is the manufacturer who doesn’t study the competitor’s users’ guides to see how a feature or task is described. Inevitably, a good idea spreads from one document to another, and then to another. If one manual contains a particularly useful kind of troubleshooting guide, pretty soon a lot of others will contain similar ones. Even though this process of imitation tends to produce a dull uniformity, it can improve the overall quality of the document. Under no circumstances, however, should you violate copyright by using another organization’s words.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight