Three Ways to Avoid the Wrong Center of Gravity

May 24, 2016

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” – Stephen Hawking

The wrong area of focus in an organization will tilt resources and systems away from positive outcomes. Institutions need to be aware of their center of gravity; namely is it towards the customer or the administrative center? Here’s some ways to tell:

  1. What percentage of effort is being spent on administering vs. serving and innovating? Here’s a red flag: proliferation of little departments created to do nothing but process administrative transactions, ranging from financial reports to expense approvals. Also watch for leaders who seem to have little time to be creative or innovative because they are in endless do-loops of “adminis-trivia.”
  2. Are administrative units asking for time and information from revenue generating units, or the reverse? If the primary interaction between administration and customer-serving (or in higher ed’s case, student or researcher serving) units is one way (administration asking work from units) then this could signal poor services from the center and/or an over-emphasis on corporate infrastructure.
  3. What percentage of technology spend is on ERP (finance, human resources, etc.) and other administrative systems, vs. innovation for the customer? IT spend can be a telling proxy for the wrong center of gravity. Administrative systems are neutral differentiators at best; nobody engages with your institution because of the quality of a general ledger system. All organizations need to have administrative systems to operate, but a wise person once told me “starve investment in these systems or else they take on a life of their own.” Watch for new projects for ERP masquerading as operational expense. If revenue-generating units have to beg and plead for money to innovate, while ERP systems are doing upgrades and new functionality as a matter of course, this can signal dangerous imbalance.

“Madness is like gravity, it just needs a little push.” – The Joker, as played by Heath Ledger

Leaders need to push resources and systems towards desired outcomes –  innovation, customer delight, new products, employee engagement – not towards a dominant administrative center.

Worth mentioning …..

Worthwhile: All leaders should know that Internet access is increasingly an economic issue, not an access issue. While in broadband can still be scarce in some rural areas, the issue is affordability, creating a digital divide.

Worth thinking about: Beware of the “last person spoken with” syndrome, when making decisions or taking a position. Consider all input and information.

Worthless: The vendor representative who used the word “girl” in front of me when referring to a female colleague. And the tech industry wonders why it has difficulty recruiting and retaining women.

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