Human Resources Viewpoint

Dec. 21, 2004
Be your own force.

If anyone in the galaxy didn't know who George Lucas was before this year, it's likely that the hype surrounding the release of The Phantom Menace, his first Star Wars movie in 16 years, has changed that. Still, what many don't know about George Lucas is that he subtly hides in all of his Star Wars movies the message that man's inventiveness can overcome even the most sophisticated technology. By contrast, the people who know Jerome Jewell comprise a much smaller universe. But Jewell, too, has a message about man and technology: It's time that we start to master technology -- like George Lucas suggests -- before it masters us. A former IBM Corp. manager with an M.B.A. from Columbia University, Jewell is concerned that the advances in information technology have created a breed of managers who have lost the art of human interaction and who immerse themselves in information rather than focusing on the value that that information can provide to customers. Who among us, he asks, is not guilty of sending someone a voice mail or electronic message -- rather than getting up to talk to a person two offices away -- because of the desire to avoid a possible conflict? "A lot of managers use electronic mail and voice mail as a crutch," says Jewell, president and founder of Jewell Consulting Group, Denver. "We have made them a useful avoidance tool on the pretense that we are [avoiding] 'less efficient' human interaction." In the same vein, he says, many find themselves so overwhelmed with information that there is insufficient time to make a decision, or, even worse, the decision is delayed."We have lots of good information," Jewell observed at a recent American Management Assn. conference, "but not a lot of good decisions are being made because of information overload. "Because we are seduced by technology, we have let technology drive the way we deliver value. We have overutilized hard drives and underutilized our heads. All our network searching [for information] is of zero value to the customer unless we set time aside for decision-making." Indeed, it is time, he says, to scrap the current business approach where 80% of a company's strategic-planning time is devoted to information-gathering, 10% to analysis of that data, and 10% to decision-making. "We need to move from the information age to the thinking age," says Jewell. He offers a new model that pushes decision-making -- and thinking -- to the forefront. His suggestion: Devote 60% of the time to creating and decision-making, just 15% to information-gathering, and 25% to data analysis. "The information age focused on [developing] better answers," he says. "The thinking age will focus on asking better questions [because] we need to ask . . . not how do we reduce costs and be more efficient for customers, but how do we drive up values for customers." That means, says Jewell, that companies will have to learn how information technology can help them provide better value for their customers and not just strive for more powerful computers with faster modems. "We have [incorrectly] made technology the interface." "We need to align technology with our two most important assets: customers and employees," says Jewell. "We need to ask whether technology will enhance the value to a customer and [whether] it will tangibly improve the ability of employees to create value. If not, we are better off without a technology enhancement." What's more, just as in days past when companies used hand-passed memos, message centers, typewriters, and time-consuming library research, companies need to make personal interface a top priority. "We have to restore the synergy between technology and human assets," says Jewell, because even in an era when technology seems to make employees expendable, people still are the only "lasting asset. They are the only ones," he says, "who can manage relationships" inside and outside an organization, and "learn, reason, decide, be conclusive, be creative, and ask 'what if' questions." George Lucas couldn't agree more. Senior editor Michael A. Verespej covers human resources issues for IW. Contact him at [email protected].

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!