Conversations about work – How space for a couple of "beers" can lead to higher client satisfaction
I spoke today with an acquaintance who is a frequent client of engineers. I had introduced a concept we've been developing that we call "The New Technical Workplace" and asked him for some observations about our concept and what we were trying to accomplish.
He offered this Illustration. He is experiencing a bit of frustration with the creativity of many of the engineers he has recently contracted. He found that he frequently offers insights and innovations to them to enable them to solve the problems and accomplish the goals of the projects he was engaging them to do. That is, he was guiding them to the solutions he had hired them to develop and deliver.
He was able to offer these concepts because he spent time in his professional milieu talking with other clients like himself. That is, the community of his fellow clients brought more diversity of experience and exchanged more information among themselves than did the professional community, even though the professional community has practices and standards implying continuing education, professional development and other knowledge enhancement systems.
Why is this? Why does the client community have more knowledge about engineering solutions than the professional community?
In our conversation, he and I resolved that beer was the answer.
In the work of his engineering consultants, the billable hour is the driving metric of management and teams. People come to work to do what they do – to put their heads down, work on the types of projects they are best suited for, deliver a high degree of billability (productivity), and then do it again tomorrow. The "best" performers are also focused and, frequently, specialists. Even in large engineering organizations, as they go through their days they may not converse with or see the work of other engineers.
The client, however, works to a different metric. His customers measure his performance by the performance and effectiveness of the systems and infrastructures he delivers to them, the systems and infrastructure he engages the engineering consultants to design and deploy.
In his frustration with the engineers' performance, he called on other leaders in his business area. They've now developed an informal group and meet over beers to discuss the types of projects they have, who they hire to do them, how they perform, how their work performs, define best practices, etc.
The New Technical Workplace
I was very pleased with his story and found that it affirmed the characteristics of some of the problems we are trying to solve. "The New Technical Workplace" has as one of its objectives, moving his kind of outside discussion into the culture of the engineering organization, inciting meetings over metaphorical beers.
That is, in its design, the concept seeks to make information developed by different teams of engineers more open and evident to the other engineers in an organization. "The New Technical Workplace" attempts to support the transformation a culture of ineffective or only formally accessed explicit knowledge into a culture of dynamically developed and frequently traded tacit knowledge. It provides places and spaces for the easy and casual conversations that move valuable stories from experiences "on the road" from team to team.
It moves an organization from a culture of knowledge "stocks" to one of knowledge "flows." It nurtures a higher degree of experiential knowledge and know-how and supports a potential for higher client satisfaction.