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Are You a Policy Parrot? Mon 12 Mar 07

Parrots_andy_tinkhamI've been enjoying Matt Moran's stories about "when customer service personnel become policy education experts - explaining to you the policy versus listening and reasoning through your concern or situation."  He calls them his Policy Parrot stories.  We all have these stories.  It is a common situation where have a problem and are extremely frustrated only to hear "Squawk! I'm sorry but our policy doesn't allow . . . Squawk!"  The parrot label is very appropriate.

In hindsight these stories always seem humorous especially if someone else is the "victim".  However, the fun soon disappears if we see ourselves in that story, not as the victim but as the parrot.  Realizing that at times I've been a policy parrot is not a good feeling.  However, as with so many other problem situations the first step in recovery is to recognize that you have a problem.

Reflecting back on earlier discussions of Shadow IT  I talked about why users would often prefer to use Shadow IT instead of the formal IT organization.  Specifically some of the reasons were ease of use (no forms or policies) and the responsiveness.  And no policy parrots either!

I'd like a smaller laptop computer.  Squawk! Sorry our policy says only there is only one size. Squawk!

I need more email storage space.  Squawk! Sorry our policy says everyone is limited to the same amount. Squawk!

I want to talk to a programmer about some possible report changes.  Squawk! Our policy says you have to fill out a project request and have it reviewed by a projects committee first.  Squawk!

Sound familiar?  I'm sure it does.  So what do we do about it?  In a followup posting on Shadow IT I referenced Ben Worthen's article Users Who Know Too Much (And the CIOs Who Fear Them).  Worthen quotes Rob Israel, CIO of the John C. Lincoln Health Network, who says “I’m the only person in IT allowed to say no.”  His IT employees have only three options: approve a request, research it or pass it up to him.

Although that approach will certainly take care of the policy parrot syndrome I'm sure it has you thinking "but we can't always say 'yes' to everything our customers want".  It is easy to imagine chaos if user requests are fulfilled without question,  IT will become gridlocked with inefficiency.  Fortunately, there may be ways to control that without reverting to being a policy parrot.

When you look at policies we can place them in to 2 general categories.  One is based on making IT (and/or the company) cost efficient.  For example, many companies have a program of standard PC equipment and configuration for all users.  A request for a non-standard PC (or gasp, a Mac) would likely be denied as a matter of policy because of the extra effort and cost that IT would incur in providing and supporting it.  This is analogous to a store in which a customer wants a customized product.  Most store owners would gladly agree but at a price to cover their extra costs.  If the customer perceives the value as worth the extra cost they readily agree.  If they believe the cost is higher than the value than they accept the standard model.  We should do the same.  Working with the Accounting folks we should "charge" or adjust the budgets for special non-standard requests.  In many cases this will self-police the requests, in other users will feel the value merits the costs and be willing to fund the work.

The second category of policies deals with protection/compliance issues.  For example, all PCs being required to have anti-virus software programs to protect valuable company data and systems or blocking of certain Internet sites to maintain a safe non-harassing work environment.  In these cases we need to recognize that a request for a variance is usually based upon the need to solve a problem.  We need to be creative and figure out a way to maintain the protection/compliance needs while solving the problem.  Worthen cites the example of employees copying files on thumb drives to work with them off-site.  Rather than trying to stop this practice due to data protection concerns IT distributed thumb drives with encryption software on them.  This creative solution addressed the user need while maintaining the required security.

Often being a policy parrot is the easy thing to do.  Blame the lack of service on a policy issue, get rid of the customer and move on to other things.  As shown above coming up with alternative ways of addressing these situations takes extra effort.  It requires us to be flexible and creative.  It's not easy to do.  However if we want to excel at customer service and replace Shadow IT we need to be willing to try tactics such as this.

What are your thoughts?

Parrot photo by Andy Tinkham

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» Some More Thought Provoking Ideas from Matt Moran from Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms
Matt Moran consistently writes some pretty thought provoking posts about the world of IT. I first ran across Matt's stuff at the ITToolbox where he has contributed over 700 posts. I especially loved his Policy Parrot stories. Matt brings a [Read More]

» Saying Yes from Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms
Should we say Yes more often; or do we say Yes too often? Seth Godin recently had a great blog post "Looking for yes" where he contrasted his experiences at the post office and Fedex. The post office personnel consistently... [Read More]

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