Monday, 31 March 2014

Hug your way to profits

will not play at tug o' war 
I'd rather play at hug o' war 
Where everyone hugs  
Instead of tugs 
Where everyone (…) grins 
And everyone wins.
Sheldon Allan Silverstein (Hug o'WarWhere the Sidewalk Ends) 

Zero-sum games, where a winner wrests victory from a loser, are widely believed to be at the core of capitalism. This is reflected in its language: companies "compete" to "conquer market share" measured in percentages, and "only the best survive". Inside companies, particularly large companies, the same notion applies: I must defend my turf for fear of having my budget reduced or my authority questioned. 

The erroneous notion that only one person can have a given piece of the pie at any given time causes antagonistic behavior that leads to waste, particularly if the pie is not growing. Genuine collaboration and shared success can seem incompatible with competitive capitalism. In fact, they are fundamental prerequisites of corporate success. A company beset by internal strife wastes time and energy in futile battles that take away from its ultimate purpose (and its bottom line).  

A large IT department had been under massive budget pressure for over 5 years and, barely able to meet its maintenance obligations, it had failed to meet the expanding needs of business users. The IT staff was disheartened and disregarded inside the organization, so much so that business users preferred outside suppliers to IT, further depleting IT's financial and morale coffers. In this tug of war, the business users appeared to be winning, when in fact they were no closer to getting what they truly needed: innovative IT solutions to their specific business problems 

To resolve this sterile situation, management decided to replace the unpopular head of IT and reform the IT department. Wisely, they decided to couch this reform as a win-win proposition (hug o'war) wherein both the IT and business rank and file would come out ahead. Old wounds were lanced and patched in cathartic seminars, and a bright future envisioned with a positive, shared vocabulary. 

A few months in, the IT staff has renewed sense of energy and purpose, and they are being treated like partners by business users. The newfound goodwill will need to be stoked regularly to ensure that the group hug can last, but "everybody wins" is now a distinct possibility.

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