POWER TO THE PEOPLE! The importance of finding the right tools for the job

Part of the beauty of social media is the range of tools and services one can find that can make life easier. If a platform is popular enough dozens, if not hundreds, of developers will create an application to enhance its functionality. If you use Twitter, for example, you know you can find tons of free or low cost ones that will suit your particular tweet needs. Need to manage multiple streams? Want to tweet using your phone? Want to have your lovely assistant tweet for you? To paraphrase the IPhone commercial, “there’s an app for that.” There’s a sea of quality services to fish in, and if you catch something that doesn’t suit you can throw it back and try again until you’re satisfied. I love living in the future!

Now contrast that against most workplaces. Resistance to change, legacy systems, and costs come together to create an environment where you’re stuck with limited options. I mean, does anyone use Outlook for their personal use (or Internet Explorer)? In the competitive environment that most organizations operate in, you would think that there would be greater incentives to allow for personalization of workplace tools. It has long been established that people are different in the way they absorb, process, retain, and disseminate information. Left-brain vs. right-brain, visual vs. auditory-recruitment and training systems are designed to connect with these various types of people in order to make information stick. So why doesn’t this seem to apply to the internal systems that workers must use on a daily basis?

Granted, I’m being simplistic. You can’t have too much personalization because, among other things, disparate systems might not be able to work together. This would lead to mis-communication, which is what you’re trying to improve, not make worse. There’s the question of how an organization would manage and integrate all of this, as well. And consider this-a company’s culture is more than the sum of its parts. Too much differentiation could compromise the cohesiveness necessary to maintain it. So what’s a person to do? How does someone find the right tool for the job within an existing framework?

Let me tell you a short story…a few years ago I was the HR lead for a project team and part of my responsibility was to create the program’s training materials. In order to do this I partnered with the vendor’s training department for two days in Toronto. As the lead on the training team walked me through her process in creating the base materials (I was responsible for converting it to our company’s specific needs) I noticed something. The program she was using was similar to one that I used at work; however, her version was faster and more robust. It was like I was still using a VCR while she had upgraded to DVDs. When I returned home I asked the IT department if the superior version was available to us. It took a while to find but fortunately it was a part of our existing software inventory. In the end, this upgrade (and her patience in helping me effectively use it) helped to get the materials created on time and at a much higher quality level.

So there are a few points to be made from this:

  1. You’re only as good as the tools you use (and use well). Don’t be complacent and think Microsoft Office is all there is. There’s plenty out there that are as good, if not better.
  2. Recognize how you work best. As the saying goes, “Know thyself.” If you hate Outlook, find out what other programs are available that are similar, but could be configured to be better suited to your strengths.
  3. Ask around and see what other people use to stay productive. The marketing, PR, and communication departments usually have the cool toys so see what they use. You’d be surprised at what you can take away from them to make your job easier. You should also talk to your external network. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that your systems aren’t cutting edge. Not everyone has the best and latest hardware or software.
  4. IT is your friend. If you see something that looks useful, ask them if it’s in stock already or if it’s something that could be purchased for company use. Keep in mind that if it’s costly you may need to be prepared to justify it (e.g., by presenting a business case). Also, just like PR and the other departments mentioned in #3, IT loves cool stuff. Expect them to have tools, like wikis, instant messaging, and others, that make their jobs (and potentially yours) easier. Lastly, speak to the IT purchasing manager because he/she will usually have an overview of what’s available within the company.
  5. Read, dammit! Oftentimes the tools we’re most comfortable with have functions that could increase our effectiveness, if only we knew about them. Read the operating manual. Ask questions. Find discussion boards where the geeks subject matter experts hang out and see what can be learned from them. People love to tell me that I’m an expert at Excel. The truth of the matter is that I’m not, I just know more about it than the average user. I mean, it’s not like I can create awesome games or some such.

So don’t settle for average. If you’re expected to be a rock star, get the right tools to be one. If you can’t secure them externally, then look within. . Then take the time to learn them thoroughly. You might be surprised by what’s readily available to you to help you be more effective in your role.

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