Given current sexual harassment law, you probably can't show Akira Kurosawa's brilliant film,Rashomon, at your next off-site staff meeting because the plot involves a sexual encounter (mentioned, not graphically depicted or discussed in detail). It's too bad. Rashomon provides a powerful metaphor for your attempts to find out what's really going on in your organisation. Rashomon is a crime story, except that even what the crime was isn't certain. None of the accounts match up, even though two of them are from the victims -- if, in fact, they were victims. The alleged perpetrator's rendition confuses things even more, and even an eyewitness description doesn't resolve the viewer's uncertainty. When the movie ends, all you know for sure is that you'll never know anything for sure. Sound familiar?
A recent column described some techniques for getting information -- if not straight information, at least straighter (seeTalking turkey). Here are some more ways to help you get as clear a picture as possible.
- Don't rely solely on your chain of command. Create opportunities for employees to communicate with you directly -- for example, regular small-group lunches and monthly all-hands meetings. Also, make sure employees know you welcome one-on-one time, if they need it.
- Confidentiality si, anonymity no. Employees need to know they can trust your discretion -- some of what they tell you could place them at personal risk otherwise. Don't, on the other hand, provide anonymous communications channels. Anonymous information is worthless: You have no way to distinguish between important information and simple backstabbing.
- Surveys. Occasionally, ask employees to fill out "state of the organisation" questionnaires. You won't get very much useful information -- the results will be devoid of nuance. What you will get is a cross-check: if survey results are seriously different from what you think you know, your information-gathering mechanisms need revamping.
Technology can help, but not very much. To the extent a good system of objective measures can help you determine how your operation is running, information technology, in the form of automated systems management tools, will give you a useful picture. Useful, but seriously incomplete, and except where the system collects all data automatically, your IT is simply processing information that's potentially biased at the source.
GIGO -- garbage in, garbage out -- is an old term in IT, reminding us that all the technology in the world can't fix wrong data.Send any comments to Lewis, who heads IS Survivor Training, which organises "Leading High-Performance IT". Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.