Enterprise Toolbox

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - The new economy has brought us terms such as knowledge workers, business intelligence, and competitive data. Indeed, we know more than we did in years past, but how are we using that information? I'd contend that we may be having more intelligent conversations but are getting less and less done (that's "done" as in implemented).

These days, we value ideas; just look at the amazing array of promising solutions being funded and discussed in the start-up community. The recent shake-up in tech stocks is not surprising and is a direct result of the concepts of "speak" meeting "do": That is to say the time for talk is ending and the time for results is here. CTOs at startups who can lead both the speak and the do in equal amounts will be the successful survivors.

But the issue of speak vs. do goes well beyond start-up companies. Businesses of all stripes place greater value on those who can speak about ideas rather than those who actually implement them. One example of this can be found in the consultant vs. software developer roles -- why is it that we pay so much for consultants and not nearly the same amount for software developers? Could this partially explain the glut of consultants and the low number of developers?

CTOs need to focus tightly on doing for another reason, too: the competitive landscape. With the shift to the New Economy comes ever-tighter competition; "those who hesitate are lost" fits today's climate perfectly.

The balancing act

So how can CTOs and other business leaders begin to better balance the speak and the do? For starters, make trial and error a part of company culture.

Inspire people to try (to do) things but don't include trial and error as a part of staff performance measurements.

Next, evaluate whether fear is part of your culture. Fear will tend to increase the speak factor as people try to protect their standing. At the same time, the amount of do will greatly diminish, as people are afraid to try.

Look at your organization. How much time do you spend talking? Is more time allocated for meetings or for actually doing the work? There should be a healthy balance between the two -- perhaps 30 percent to 40 percent speaking and 60 percent to 70 percent doing.

Don't confuse making decisions with doing. Decision-making is a tough process to get through. But in relation to doing, the decision is merely the starting point for the doing to begin; it is not an end point.

Do you ever question why your company does things a certain way? If the answer is "because we've always done it that way," then it's time to take a step back and think reinvention. Our business processes and workflow are changing with lightning speed.

Much of the time the old ways of doing things must be revamped to meet today's needs and our future challenges. For example, your existing order-processing workflow may be ideal for the brick-and-mortar world, but will the same workflow succeed equally well in the online world? Find ways to reward your employees for seeking new methods to improve the way things are done.

Admit it: We live in a benchmark-happy world. We save and analyze all kinds of data about our customers, products, services, employees, and so much more. But how closely do we measure the success of our processes?

CTOs and other business leaders should find ways to gather metrics on business processes so as to gauge the success of the do. The data gathered could then be used to continuously improve business processes.

I applaud the latest moves in many organizations toward a less formal, more collaborative working environment. The onset of broadband technologies and Web-based collaboration software and services is a huge asset to the think and speak operations of highly distributed organizations. Leveraging these same tools as part of the do will also increase the number of tasks that get acted upon.

And perhaps "act" is the key word. CTOs and other business leaders need to create a culture that thrives on action. It is one thing to speak about what you will do but quite another to really do it. Does your organization move quickly to action or does it just speak? Write to me at maggie_biggs@infoworld.com.

Maggie Biggs is director of the InfoWorld Test Center.

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