Enterprise IT, Empathy and Culture

Recently, a disgruntled employee in our organization left a derisive comment on Yammer¹ about a password policy that was in place. He was frustrated as the policy added a truck load of friction to his work flow. He even went on to accuse the ‘policy makers’ of apathy.

What drove him to that point? There is a lot to unpack here.

Monopoly

Consider a B2C product; users have the option to jump ship in case they are annoyed with it. If they dislike Gmail, they can shift to Proton Mail. If they are incomfortable with Whatsapp, they can shift to Signal.

This is not the case with employees. If you think about it, Enterprise IT (E.IT) teams are a monopoly. Their customers (i.e employees) cannot jump ship because there are no other ships to jump to. If an employee dislikes Outlook, there is nothing she can do. She is stuck with using Outlook for 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week.

It is this feeling of helplessness combined with exasperation that manifests as unpleasant comments on Yammer. Its their only consolation.

Empathy

In a B2C scenario, a company’s revenue and profit depends on customer satisfaction. This automatically drives B2C teams to care about the experience of their customers; it forces them to be empathetic.

In an E.IT scenario, such a forcing function is absent. Unlike B2C teams, monopolistic E.IT teams needn’t worry about employee satisfaction. But this does not mean that E.IT teams can be apathetic either. On the contrary, they should force themselves to be more empathetic in order to offset the absence of an external forcing function (revenue). If they don’t, they will be nurturing an insidious problem: decreased employee productivity.

A shitty password policy is too trivial a reason for an employee to put down their papers. So what do they do? They put up with it. Instead of spending their cognitive resources to get work done, they spend it to put up with poor UX. Ironically, one of E.IT’s goals is to ensure that employees are well equipped to get work done.

Culture

If an employee is expressing his frustration with, for example, a security policy, its best to attempt to appease him. Explain the reasoning behind the policy. Do this irrespective of how distasteful his comment is. Doing so subtly forces the the user to be amicable instead of being combative. Plus, if the policy was put in place for a good reason, it is likely that he will side with you.

If the policy is too complex to explain, no problem. But ensure the employee feels heard. By doing that, you are letting other employees know that it is okay to bring up issues.

Why is this important?

“Anytime a company blames its users for its problems, alarm bells should start ringing. Because a company is founded on the idea of solving its users’ problems”

— The Morning Context

First step to fixing the problem is identifying the problem. What best way to identify them than asking users to bring up issues themselves? This is what I call a Problem Mining Machine (PMM).

Problems are opportunities in disguise. Welcome them. Let employees bring up issues. Foster a culture of openness wherein people feel comfortable to complain. In doing so, you would have built a PMM — an automated machine that unearths problems.

Pilots

On the flip side, employees must understand that the E.IT teams simply know better.

To explain with an analogy: if the organization is an airplane, then the employees are the passengers, and E.IT teams are the pilots. Sure, passengers might experience a turbulence mid flight but they trust the pilot to do their job and safely land the plane at the destination.

Don’t be that pompous jerk who screams at the pilot ‘you should have taken a different route to avoid the turbulence you incompetent piece of shit’. The pilots know better. If there was a better way to go about it, they would have.

This is not to say that one should not complain. Do voice your frustration but be respectful while doing so.

After all, Enterprise IT teams are your colleagues.

Footnotes

[1] Yammer is a closed social media platform for the employees of an organization

[2] This is a passive PMM. You can also build active PMMs via surveys and polls. It’s best to have a mix of both.

Thanks to Subasini, Ananya and Krithika for reading drafts of this.

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Writer. Reader. Philomath. Optimist. Figuring out life one article at a time at bitsoveratoms.substack.com