Parallel [learning] structure

I am working on a book chapter in an upcoming academic publication on disruptive technologies.  My focus is on the human capability impacts that disruptive inventions have on operations management practices.  In our RA language it is about the capabilities of CSP operations personnel (non-RA people) to detect, correct and ensure process and data integrity in their own operations areas.  Needless to say I tried to solve world hunger in 20 pages and failed dismally. I must have had about 10 variables in this short study, all of which affect the people capability in some way or the other. That makes for a nice academic study if somebody is keen to delve in.

One thing let to another and I ventured down a bold new road.  Bold and new for the RA community, but perhaps not so bold given academic objectives. When I analysed all the contributors to the CSP personnel’s inability to cope with, or execute accurately its operational tasks, the concept of organisational learning came out.  The objective of the chapter is to identify the reasons for a CSP to create a new function or new roles (using RA as example). I see this as a change in basic business management practices.  The operations areas (billing, customer care, etc) should, in line with general business management theory, have the capacity and capability to execute its operations properly.  Failing which, personnel performance management and human capital processes kick in. Business Management 101.  We know from experience that this is not case. Why not?

Seeing that CSP’s are traditionally leading the disruptive innovations field, the need for ongoing learning is just so much more prominent.  Organisational learning is not about training. One tends to think about it as “sending the developers on a training course”. Organisational learning in this sense is about organisational change management. Embracing the need to change our ways of thinking and doing. To recognize that we lack skills and competencies or that we simply do not have the “zoom effect”.  Core skills become rigid liabilities. Think about a techie with leased line experience, who must now manage IP Networks. Organisational learning leads to the ability (personal conviction and organisational support) to alter the state of our current capacity and capability. This sounds straightforward. How many times have we as RA managers engaged in some form of resource motivation exercise? Countless.

From the literature big stumbling blocks appear to be the upper echelons of the organization and those with a long tenure. They appear to be more set in their ways and less able to see “the bigger picture of the grass root level reality”. The bigger the organisation, the more profound this challenge.

Technology advances faster than human capability. It is a fact of life. Organisations compensate. Some compensate by working its staff to death. Others appoint expensive help but fail to integrate them properly. Most organisations simply change their org structure in the hope that the incapacity and incapability of its force would miraculously fix itself.  Yet others create new roles to pick up fallen pieces or hurry along something of great importance. RA is a compensation intervention. It acts as an intermediary to translate between the technologically competent and the business competent.  At least in context of Business Management 101.  I am wondering how RA could be a learning intervention.

  • RA’s role as monitoring agent provides a report with failed processes back to the 3rd party for which the monitoring was done. If this party were to take this feedback as learning opportunities, the monitoring report would not include those failures in future reports.  Isn’t it one of the RA objectives to report regularly on failed processes and manage this 3rd party through a dedicated RA analyst to improve the process? The RA auditors specifically look to see what capability the RA team has to manage this interaction with its business counterparts;
  • RA’s roles as facilitator and advisor have a similar learning objective. Only, in this case it is as a “teacher”.  A facilitator/advisor does not have the mandate to fix things. The role helps the person who is responsible to detect, correct and ensure…to do just that. Point him where to look, what to look for and how to action it. The role of facilitator/advisor cease to exist when the owner of this process can function on its own. How does this differ from a mentor or teacher? OK, in practical RA this does not happen because our mentorees never learn or there are just so many areas where they need advise that we are perpetually inundated with request for assistance.
  • RA’s role as business optimisation agent is in my mind no different from project office resource. Most organisations have a separate PMO cum project management capability. Any improvements not done operationally as part of every day work should go into a project and managed as a project. Continuous improvement is an objective of every department head and should in a generous measure be included in every line manager’s KPIs.

RA’s role as operational fixer is assumed to be included in the roles in the literature even though the description/definition of the roles above suggests non-execution. In non-CSP industries that are looking into RA now, the thought of setting up a parallel structure is incomprehensible. Operations stay accountable for the execution but the first 3 roles (monitoring agent, advisor and facilitator) are real opportunities out there for non-telco people.

I am looking at this parallel structure as either a learning intervention or as a permanent new business management feature. As a learning intervention the roles of Learning needs assessor, Teacher and Mentor need to be properly formalised and managed. I can see where our notion of benefits realisation calculations can come in handy to motivate this approach. In the current trend RA is a permanent parallel structure albeit with an ongoing battle to justify its existence. My question is this. If an RA person or Engineer is expected to continue learning and adjust his/her mindset and skill set, why not the rest of the organisation? I don’t disagree that the parallel structure is current required. The question is whether this should be permanent and if so based on what motivation and at what cost? Cost here does not only refer to financial implication but also the psychological cost of interdepartmental tension, role conflict, etc. Sure, RA through benefits realisation, can pay for itself but if all units in the organisation took on this accountability to learn and adjust, the additional “benefits” would have been included in the profit and not pay for a parallel structure.  I am questioning the operational execution responsibility of RA here. Not the concept of RA or its role as monitoring agent, advisor and facilitator.

This chapter may not be long enough to capture all the other issues affecting the CSP’s management practices. There are a number of other issues I believe contribute to the fact that RA has right to exist. But that’s a story for another day.

Güera Romo
Güera Romo
Güera has many years of experience in business transformation in the engineering, defense, government, banking and telecommunication industries. She has experience in mergers & acquisition, rightsizing, re-deployment of personnel, business process re-engineering, system selection and implementation.   Güera holds a BCom Hon (Industrial and Organizational Psychology) degree and is currently pursuing a doctorate that draws on her practical experience of developing human resource capabilities within large corporations.