More Than Technology
Plugged-In Managers Integrate the Entire Operation
Business management theory has traditionally focused primarily on people and organization, but in the 21st century a third element has become a significant piece of the picture: Technology. Management department Chair and Professor Terri Griffith has written a book aimed at helping executives integrate technology, both high and low, into their management style and practice.
Plugged-in managers balance people,technology and organizational processes.
Her book, The Plugged-In Manager, was published in October 2011 by Jossey-Bass. Griffith says the book grew out of a professional lifetime spent watching organizations fail to adapt technology to their needs.
“It makes me sad to see technological innovations fail because people don’t know how to integrate them with the people and organization,” she says. “For the most part it’s not because they don’t know how to do it, but because the big picture has never been presented in an easy-to-grasp way.”
Griffith says she originally started out to write a book about management of the Facebook generation, but when she submitted the proposal to Jossey-Bass, the editor, Santa Clara graduate Genoveva Llosa, told her that several other books with that theme were already in the pipeline. Instead, Llosa suggested that Griffith develop a chapter on plugged-in management into a full book proposal, and that was what finally happened.
Filled with stories based on interviews with business leaders, the book focuses on integrating the management of people, organization and technology in a practical way.
“The how-to element is built into the book,” Griffith says. “A company could hand it out in the new-hire goodie bag to help someone just starting out see how to develop and advance an idea.”
One of her critical points is that technological change can’t stand alone but has to be implemented with wise consideration of the management of people and organization as well. The book’s subtitle is “Get in Tune With Your People, Technology and Organization to Thrive.”
In the first part of the book, Griffith outlines the three practices of plugged-in managers:
- They stop, look and listen before making changes. Too many managers, she says, make the mistake of going after every “shining object” they see, whether it be a new technology or a new management approach. A plugged-in manager will take some time to research and reflect on what it would really take to make the contemplated move, given the people, technology and organization involved.
- They mix together solutions that balance the people, technology and organizational process involved, resulting in a fully integrated approach that makes the best use of all three.
- Finally, they share what they know with others in the organization, modeling good plugged-in management behavior and encouraging others to develop the same skills.
A number of well-known firms are profiled in the book, including Nucor, Southwest Airlines, Providence Regional Medical Center, Zappos.com, and Intuit. One of the book’s stories, illustrating plugged-in manager concepts in action, has to do with the development of the Brainstorm program at Intuit.
Tad Milbourn came to Intuit (the maker of Quicken, Quick Books and TurboTax) straight out of the University of Wisconsin. Early in his employment he and several other new management employees were sent with a group of new technology employees to the company’s call center in Arizona to learn about the products and how customer questions are handled.
After returning to headquarters in Mountain View, Milbourn and some of the others continued to meet regularly to discuss work, taking advantage of Intuit’s policy of allowing employees 10 percent of their time to pursue any issue they want. An issue that quickly arose was the difficulty of finding and sharing information within the company, which was closely related to the complexities involved in proposing a new idea.
They originally thought about starting a Facebook-type program to improve communication but decided instead to come up with something original. Over a weekend, one of the tech experts in the group put together a simple program in which an employee could click on one button to share an idea or click on another button to find out what ideas had been suggested by other employees.
Brainstorm, as the program was named, went viral within the company, which in turn developed it as a program that could be marketed to other companies to help in their idea development. It happened, Griffith said, because the people in the group stopped from their daily tasks to look at bigger issues, mixed their talents and understanding of the organization to come up with a solution, and grew the idea by sharing it within the company.
“Tad is a really smart guy with a broad education and an interest in how people do things,” Griffith said. “That he and this group of new hires were able to take the lead in making this happen just goes to show that you don’t need 20 years of experience and you don’t have to be a technological guru to be an effective plugged-in manager.”