Crossing The Streams

Warning: this blog contains logaspheres. Please enjoy responsibly.

From Ghostbusters (1984):

Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.

Peter Venkman: What?

Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.

Venkman: Why?

Spengler: It would be bad.

Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?

Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.

Venkman: Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

Let’s talk about crossing the workplace streams. Some call it “convergence”, others the “organisational super-nucleus”. Whatever we call it, I am conscious of stumbling down a very well-trodden path. I’ll take that risk though as I’d like to look at it through my own simplistic systems lens in the hope that it is a useful contribution to the workplace future-proofing debate.

My inspiration for this post is Neil Usher’s idea of the logasphere, wonderfully articulated in this recent post, where he implores the individual workplace disciplines and his fellow workplace practitioners to “peel off their labels” and free themselves from self-imposed “artificial constructs”. Neil offers this concept as a lens through which to view what we do in workplace (the Social, the Physical and the Obligatory) in order to give ourselves the “chance of a common understanding”. What follows is my interpretation of the logasphere and I apologise to Neil in advance both for hijacking one of his posts and for any unintentional misrepresentation of his views.

As a trainee systems thinker, I subscribe to the point of view that an organisation should be conceptualised as a complex, adaptive system where all of the different parts interact with and influence one another in order to achieve the purpose of the system. A key characteristic of a system is that its constituent parts co-operate and work in harmony with one another i.e. the whole is a sum of the parts and their myriad inter-relationships.

With that in mind, in an organisational context the workplace disciplines may be viewed collectively as a sub-system of the whole system. For me, the logasphere is about how our people, place and support services activities are co-ordinated and aligned with the ultimate objective of achieving organisational purpose.

The workplace sub-system has its own purpose which is to enable work by meeting the specific needs of internal customers (and I make no apology for thinking of colleagues as customers – to serve does not imply subservience) in the pursuit of organisational purpose. Fundamentally this should be based on a recognition that we do not exist without our customers and we should not be surprised that their expectations are that workplace services should be customer-shaped i.e. they want solutions that respond to their particular needs in ways that suit their particular circumstances so they can get what they want, when they want, sans hassle.

In the logasphere we need to understand the relative values associated with customer demand for the Social and the Physical, within the boundaries of the Obligatory, so that we can design our work against this demand. In designing our work, we should remember that we want to service value demand and eliminate failure demand, the latter being the demand that arises because we did not get something right or right first time. This does not preclude challenging and influencing customers where appropriate; I am not advocating blind obedience or acquiescence. We need to study how the work works i.e. how it flows through the organisation and encourage each other to think and learn as we do so. The result is a sub-system that is continuously refined so that it always has the capability to meet the variety of our customers’ value demands.

So, cards on the table, I am an unashamed fan of convergence because it makes perfect sense from a systems perspective. However, I am pretty sure that this is not a view that would be shared by the various professional workplace institutions, industry and trade bodies. The workplace clans will continue to co-operate, collaborate and learn from one another but they will not support anything that they perceive as threatening their distinct identities, skills and capabilities or the lifeblood of their membership subscriptions. Self-preservation will always prevail and I intend that as a non-judgemental statement.

This presents a considerable challenge but one that can be overcome by us workplace professionals operating at the level of the organisation. We must take individual responsibility for effecting this change which means coming together and persuading our internal customers that their needs and organisational purpose will be far better served by a single workplace business unit functioning in the logasphere.

It is probably high time for an example. One observation I have made is that significant waste is created because we have multiple sources of people data, all of which contain inaccuracies, contradictions and duplication. This generates failure demand which requires considerable resources to unpick it while all the time undermining the achievement of organisational purpose. I do not think there is much value in measuring the resultant waste because it would be too complex and resource intensive – a bit like trying to accurately calculate the butterfly effect. It is enough to recognise that the waste is substantial.

So what different types of people data are used in organisations? Here are some examples by way of illustration which are inevitably non-exhaustive:

Social

Reward, payroll and pensions; learning & development; international mobility and placement services; training; talent management; flexible working; absence records; timewriting; expenses management inc. deployment of corporate credit cards and purchasing cards; contractor records; inductions; travel services; accommodation services; teambuilding etc.

Physical

Portfolio management; space planning; building, infrastructure and amenity services; ID cards (access control/cashless vending/secure printing); parking permits; fleet management; incident / crisis management; IT accounts, equipment loan and desktop applications; disaster recovery; helpdesk and deskside support services; business continuity planning; ergonomic assessments etc.

Obligatory

Compliance records; internal audit; employment contracts; accounting records; legal, risk, safety & environmental registers; other mandatory record-keeping etc.

From an organisational point of view, it should not be difficult to understand the efficiencies that would be associated with “one source of the truth” in the form of a meticulously compiled and maintained master set of people data from which all of the above demand management requirements are drawn. It is anodyne subject-matter but it would save a lot of blood, sweat and tears, promote significant productivity gains and avoid a lot of unnecessary costs being incurred. From an individual employee’s point of view, how their experience of work and the workplace would be augmented and enhanced because their value demands are being serviced so effectively!

Many companies have invested significant sums of money in so-called “top hat” reporting solutions where a master software programme pulls together management reports from a myriad of other applications. I will buy shares in the IT company that realises the future is in a foundation or under-pinning programme of master people data which can be used to feed into any number of HR, workplace, financial and procurement platforms. This may be idealistic bordering on naïve but hey, who said doing the right things was easy?

I am in no doubt that selfless convergence should be the next frontier for workplace. If we do not pursue it, the internal power struggles, self-interest and vying for a seat at the top table will continue and these will only serve to destroy organisational effectiveness and, as a result, shareholder value (shareholder value being a consequence of excellent organisational performance and not an end in itself – but that’s a whole other debate). So let’s move the conversation towards how all of us in workplace can co-operate, rather than compete, and collectively contribute to organisational purpose. And if we can do it internally, maybe we can encourage our supply chain to follow suit (Varcoe and Hinks’ concept of the “Intelligent Cooperative”).

The final word goes to the Ghostbusters:

Egon Spengler: I have a radical idea. If the door swings both ways, we could reverse the particle flow through the gate.

Peter Venkman: How?

Spengler: We’ll cross the streams.

Venkman: Excuse me, Egon, you said crossing the streams was bad.

Ray Stantz: Cross the streams…

Venkman: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client. The nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog.

Spengler: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive. [Team ponders]

Venkman: I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it. Let’s do it!

You know how it ends: the good guys take the risk and cross the streams….and Mr Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was toast.

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