Why High Performance People Need High Performance Technology

My colleagues and I have spent the last four years studying the links between technology, human performance at work, customer experience, and the financial performance of companies. One fascinating insight we’ve learned is that what separates the highest performing people in their work from others is their ability to reliably focus their attention, bringing more of their cognitive resources to bear on their work each day than their colleagues do. It’s not easy in our distraction-rich, techno-charged world.

There’s plenty of research that proves that happy employees are more productive, but Drs. Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer made an important discovery in 2010 that turns conventional wisdom about where happiness at work comes from, upside down. The most powerful source of happiness at work isn’t money, free food or recognition, but rather getting things done; making progress every day toward work that we know is important. The more conducive our work environment is to staying focused, and the better we are at suppressing the sources of distraction within ourselves to get our most important work done, the happier we will be at work. And, the effect is even stronger for work that requires creativity and problem solving skills.

Unfortunately in our workforce technology research, technology distraction isn't on the list of things leaders are concerned about. It should be, because the most pernicious sources of distraction employees face are the ones that lie beyond their control - the distractions that originate from the technologies their employers require them to use, when there are no alternatives.

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Graduate-Level I&O Course: Use Customer Experience Insights To Unshackle Employee Potential

Enough of the platitudes about the virtues of being customer-centric, and the feel-good mantras about listening to customers. Everyone listens to their customers, but that’s not the same thing as operating like you do. Listening and understanding are hard enough in our interrupt-driven business world, but listening, deeply understanding and doing the right things...almost every time...is nigh impossible. Yet somehow there are great companies who keep doing it, and chances are you know who they are. Maybe you’ve thought to yourself: “If I just knew what some of these great companies like Southwest Airlines or Toyota do differently, I could make a difference in my company." Well, here’s your chance, starting today, right where you sit in I&O. But first you must understand that it’s not what they do differently, but why and how they decided to do those things, because that’s their secret sauce and what you'll need to figure out for your company. Sam Stern and I offer some powerful tools to help you do that in our new report: Use Customer Experience Insights To Unshackle Employee Potential.
 
Customer experience is a product of employee behavior, and I&O shapes employee behavior
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Forrester’s Server-Hosted Virtual Desktop (VDI) Wave Reveals Two Vendors Lead The Pack

With server-hosted virtual desktops (VDI), you take something that used to be a few centimeters from someone's fingertips - their Windows desktop - and move it sometimes thousands of miles away, and you expect them to be okay with that. It’s possible, but choose your technology vendor wisely, because the project’s success will hinge on the end user experience.
 
It’s not easy to give users an equal or better Windows desktop experience with VDI than they have with their local PC. If they rely on videoconferencing to collaborate with their colleagues, the VDI system has to work with their local webcam and it has to handle the video stream properly so they don’t get choppy voice and video. If they use a tablet, your VDI vendor’s tablet client has to be good, with intuitive touch gestures. There may need to be a way for them to install software, and they may need to use the system over a 4G/LTE network link while traveling.
 
To do all of these things and more across a wide range of work styles, devices, applications and networks requires sophisticated, expensive capabilities. If you choose your vendor primarily on cost, the solution you get may not have what you need to deliver an acceptable user experience - especially if your business needs change.
 
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Is Your Company A Place Where Employees Grow And Thrive, Or Wither And Leave?

As Forrester's Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) proves, the key determiner of a company's success is customer satisfaction. We can also prove that there is a strong correlation between employee satisfaction and customer perception and opinion, which is more pronounced with those employees who have a greater impact on your customers. To improve customer satisfaction, these employees have to feel that they can succeed. If they can’t succeed, they will burn out, and burned out employees aren’t going to help your company win, serve and retain customers. Forrester believes that you as an I&O leader can play the decisive role in customer satisfaction, if you choose to.

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2015 Will See The Rise Of Human Science And Technology Convergence

At the leading edge of every employee-led workplace technology revolution is usually a handful of motivated people who are constantly experimenting with tools and technologies to improve their work. In the early ‘90s, millions mastered the venerable PC and especially Microsoft Excel - partly because for the first time they could quickly collect and process thousands of data points, present it in ways that they could make sense of it, and make better decisions faster. The result: they could work in new ways that were previously impossible, and they could be more productive and valuable for their employers. In short, these employees were the leaders and innovators in their organizations. 
 
In 2014, these engaged employees' time and energy is going toward finding tools that will help them stay productive as they become more mobile, and their work and personal lives continue to blend. For example: Desktop computer usage as a percentage of the work day is declining, and for at least one hour each work day, 13% of global information workers now use a tablet for work - primarily so they can get work done from home. Forrester believes that investments in mobility technology will increase through 2015 and beyond.
 
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Technology Jeopardy: Beat The Odds Of Project Failure With A Single Question

A version of this post originally appeared on Computerworld.

People are always asking me, “What can we do to help people do their very best work?”

Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question. But I really do wish someone who stewards workforce computing for his or her company would — and I'd be over the moon if it were someone who really wanted to know the answer.

Spend a million bucks on security? Sure! Two million on a sales force automation system to get better reports and more predictable forecasting? Of course! Another million or so on private cloud automation to speed up provisioning? Sign me up! But how much would you spend to understand how technology impacts the most powerful driving force in your company: the intrinsic motivation of your people? The what? Yes, exactly.

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As You Prepare for VMworld 2014, Educate Yourself On Digital Workspace Technologies

Bill Gates said "People everywhere love Windows.” Whether or not you agree, the fact that Microsoft Windows remains the de facto standard for business productivity after nearly 3 decades, suggests that many still do. But as the sales figures of Microsoft’s competitors suggest, people everywhere love lots of other things too. And one of the reasons they love them so much is that they like to get things done, and sometimes that means getting away from the office to a quiet place, or using a technology that isn’t constrained by corporate policies and controls, so they can be freer to experiment, grow their skills and develop their ideas uninhibited.
 
Technology managers I speak with are aware of this, but they’re justifiably paranoid about security, costs, and complexity. So the result of these conflicting forces coming together is inspiring rapid innovation in a mosaic of technologies that Forrester collectively calls digital workspace delivery systems. It involves many vendors, including Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Dell, nComputing, Amazon Web Services, Fujitsu, AppSense, Moka5, and more. The goal of our work is to help companies develop their capabilities for delivering satisfying Microsoft Windows desktop and application experiences to a wide range of users, devices, and locations.
 
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How Technology Burns Out Employees And Erodes Customer Service, And What To Do About It

Do you start your days looking at a calendar full of meetings and feel overcome with joy? Me neither - especially when I have a lot of work to get done that I know is more important. And when you’re in those meetings, are you fully engaged or are you trying to clean out your email queue and put the finishing touches on your slides for your next meeting? That’s what I thought. After all of your meetings, are you in any mood to plan your next day, week or month? Nope, me neither. Do you tell yourself that you’re going to get up early on a Saturday so you can get things done that require a lot of focus, and then don’t do it? Yeah, me too.

And so it continues. A crisis of attention wears us out and re-tunes our brains to feast on the false sense of accomplishment that goes with getting a lot of really small, transactional things done. And our mobile devices make matters worse. Without realizing it, we drain our limited cognitive fuel, leaving nothing left at the end of the day to do serious thinking, creative work or longer-term planning. Mismanaging our technology and ourselves, and burning out, is but one element in a mosaic of things that scientists who participated in our research like Teresa Amabile at the Harvard Business School and author of “The Progress Principle", and David Rock, neuroscientist and author of “Your Brain at Work" now know about how we work best as knowledge workers. It’s also something that we as individuals can, and must control if we want to be effective in our jobs as knowledge workers.

When employees don’t have the resources to meet the demands of their jobs, they burn out

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A Nice Example Of Applying Desktop Virtualization To Improve Customer Experience

When I was maybe 2 years old, my mother lost track of me in a Toys-R-Us store. After a dozen stressful minutes, she finally found me - holding a Fisher-Price airplane. And so began my love affair with airplanes and aviation. So as I looked through the break-out schedule while attending NVIDIA’s GPU conference two weeks ago in San Jose, California, Gulfstream Aero’s session on transforming manufacturing and field service with desktop virtualization caught my eye. It didn’t disappoint.

There are 2 reasons why I liked this session so much and why I think it’s worth sharing with you:

  1. It’s a nice example of technology that makes the work easier for employees, and helps them improve the customer experience directly.
  2. It’s also an example of how a technology that’s not necessarily a money saver (in this case, VDI) shines when it enables workers do something that would be difficult or impossible any other way.
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Navigating the Legal and Audit Implications of BYOD Initiatives

While the consumerization of IT marches on, in its footsteps lurks the specter of unknown risk. We live in a world of zero-sum games of litigation where suffocating regulations are the norm, and failure to comply can draw millions in fines and lawsuits. Technology diversity multiplies the challenge of maintaining compliance — it’s no wonder so many IT shops take a one-size-fits-all approach to workforce computing and forbid bring-your-own-device (BYOD). But it doesn't have to be this way. It’s possible to craft an approach that brilliantly achieves the conflicting goals of embracing BYOD and consumerization while slashing the risks and costs at the same time. Our recent research on the topic comes from working with lawyers and auditors who specialize in technology law and compliance reveals that it can indeed be done.

You Still Have to Act But the Cure is Often Worse Than the Disease
The technology attorneys we interviewed for this research agree — once you learn that BYOD is happening in your organization, you have a legal obligation to do something about it, whether you have established industry guidance to draw on or not. The answer is seemingly simple: Take action to stamp out the risk. However, the answer isn't that straightforward because: 

  • The more restrictions you put in place, the more incentive people will have to work around them and the more sophisticated and clandestine their efforts will be.
  • There is no data leak prevention tool for the human brain, so arguably the most valuable and sensitive information walks around on two legs and leaves the building every night. Accepting this is important for keeping a healthy perspective about information risk on employee-owned devices.
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