Friday, November 23, 2007

Getting To Know Gloria Gery

I recently came across the following quote by a management consultant named Gloria Gery:

It is better to build performance into the process than into people.

My first reaction was of strong distaste. She seemed to be saying that you don't need to develop your people, you don't even need to treat people as individuals. Just build a good process, and then any old schmuck off the street can come in and perform, because it's not about having talented people. It's about having a good process. Ah, organizational bliss (and something less than bliss for the person who need have no talent).

But maybe that wasn't what she was saying. I'd never heard this woman's name before, I'd never read her stuff or seen her presentations, and the quote was context-free. So I figured I should poke around a bit. I found this next quote, which seems to parallel the previous one:

We must give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation. What workers need to do their jobs – information, rules, and knowledge – is often spread all over the place. Good design puts these things within easy reach and shows how to use them to optimize performance.

Hmmm... I still think I've got a fundamental disagreement with her, but that doesn't mean she's wrong. It might be a question of context and assumptions, and maybe I disagree because I'm trying to apply the concept in a place or manner that she didn't intend... and her last sentence just might redeem the whole thing.

If by "competence" she means an in-depth understanding of arcane and byzantine procedures which are unique to the organization (and therefore do not constitute what Sally Hogshead calls "portable equity"), then I agree. That's not the kind of competence we should try to develop within the person. It rightly belongs in the situation/process.

So I kept reading, and she really won me over with the following lines (emphasis added):

Most of our training is compensatory for bad system design and help desks are the balloon payment on poor system design. If we have to teach people how to use a system, it wasn't designed right in the first place. Why do we have training that teaches useless jargon? Why should we have to live with error messages like 'File sharing illegal error?' Look at the evolution of a program like TurboTax. Simplify, simplify.

Ah, if that's what she's talking about from the start, if she's saying we shouldn't expect people to be "competent" in useless jargon or able to decipher mumbo-jumbo error messages, then I just might have found a new best friend.

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