I saw my first intranet in 1997. It was not a pretty sight. I will never forget its “Feedback” icon. It was in the shape of a letterbox, from which suddenly a grabbing hand burst forth.
Being allowed to view the intranets and internal systems felt like being an investigator on Silence of the Lambs. ‘Ah, so this is where he tortures his victims.’ Because that’s what intranets and internal systems were, rubbish dumps and torture chambers. Many still are.
For years, I wondered why there was such a yawning divide between software designed for employees (enterprise software) and software designed for consumers. Why was so much enterprise software so utterly unusable, so incredibly badly designed?
A lack of commitment to delivering a quality employee experience by senior management is certainly the most important factor.
However, over the years, I noticed a pattern in the intranets that were striving to improve. There was nearly always a woman driving the change. Most often, this woman came from the Communications Department. She was tech-savvy and worked hard to build relationships with the IT Department.
Whenever I saw intranets that were delivering business value they were always collaborative efforts. It was IT working closely with Communications and HR and Support and Marketing and Sales. Working across divisions and boundaries and silos.
Traditional internal IT departments have been almost exclusively male dominated. Not simply male, but a very particular type of male. These hermetically sealed monocultures were like they were some sort of monastery where men could code in solitude, while sharing the occasional in-joke with their brothers. These monasteries of code delivered some of the worst software I have ever come across.
It is not wishful thinking but rather my constant experience that diverse teams deliver better software, deliver better customer and employee experiences. It is thus important to see the debate in Silicon Valley about the need for diversity as a critical one. The release of an internal document from a Google engineer challenging approaches to diversity within Google allows us to continue that debate.
The author of the Google piece makes the groundbreaking statement that there are undeniable differences between men and women. It is the differences we should celebrate, integrate and learn from. If we want software to work for the widest possible groups we must involve the widest possible groups in software development. A team with different genders, cultures and backgrounds delivers more usable, useful software.
One thing I noticed about the female champions of the employee experience is that they were often seen as troublemakers. Their desire to build bridges, encourage collaboration, put the employee first and help develop enterprise systems that actually worked, did not sit well with macho senior management culture. Men don’t like their monasteries being disturbed.
The old male world was: Listen to this leadership insight explaining how wonderful it is to work for us and how much we’d like your feedback telling us how great it is to work for us. And, by the way, we’ve just bought and installed a new sales management system. Pease learn how to use it by Monday latest.