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What About Bob?

He haunts my dreams.   I see the old white-bearded guy in many places. No, not Santa Claus. That  was last month.  It’s Bob — the guy who  has been here forever and knows how to do the things you “can’t do” with the legacy  system.  “What About Bob” is the first of  three installments on organizing for success in SAP implementations.  The next two posts will focus on “Us and Them  – Implementation Teams and IS” and “After You Go Live – Maybe There Should be a  Plan?”.

If you read my Off the Cow Path, you know that we’re new at this –  four months into our implementation.  As  part of our RFP preparation and evaluation process we imposed on the generosity  of at least a dozen SAP sites.  During these  visits, I kept running into Bob.

In some cases, he had made the transition well.  Bob was now the basis guy.  In other instances, he was still holding up  the pillars of the legacy system.  At two  sites, I heard people bemoan the fact that “old Bob” had decided to retire  early, rather than learn to swim in the SAP sea. 

We learned three things from Bob – or people’s fond memories  of him.

Retrain and Retain
  Golden Villas calls.   The baby boomers in IT are being tempted to cash in on those retirement  plans and they’ll be more likely to scoot out the door if you overlook them in  your training plans.  “But, is it really  a good idea to retrain Old Bob?”, I hear a twenty-something say?  Having learned more than a few OS’s and  programming languages over the years, I can assure that the third and fourth  systems are easier than the first.  Experience matters. Besides, Bob couldn’t have  stuck with it this long, if he wasn’t good at it.

Empower Experience
At one of our site visits, I was talking to Bob about a new  technology and suggested a publication I thought might help.  He agreed, but said that his manager – twenty-five  years his junior – had vetoed it. 

Is there a place in the world where experience and knowledge  is given credibility over just having a big desk?  Yes and not where you might think.  It’s the military. 

Our armed services have a personnel category known as “Warrant  Officer”.  Not a general purpose manager,  but a technical expert who is given a career path parallel to, rather than in  competition with the people who want to be generals (or CEO’s).  The warrant officer concept has proven an  effective method of retaining talent which might have otherwise gone to private  sector.  Maybe a civilian equivalent of a  warrant officer program could help you keep talent away from your competitor or  Golden Villas.

Plan for Transition
No matter how wonderful your organization is, someday Bob  will decide that it’s time to pass the joy on to another generation.  If you done your best to retrain and retain  him and empower his experience, he’ll probably give you more than two weeks notice.  Pray for several months at least.  Find his replacement before he goes and set  up a mentoring/training program to insure a smooth transition.

Sounds easy, but, here’s where you may need to take the hatchet  to bureaucratic red-tape.  I’ve been in  organizations where I’ve heard, “We’re not allowed to even recruit for a  position till it’s empty, much less double fill it!”  Be creative; ruthlessly creative, if  necessary.  Hire someone as a temp.  Hire them as anything. Don’t let “the rules  of the cow-path” leave you exposed. Don’t let the cows kick over your servers. 

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  • Hi Leo,
    Your writing style is refreshing but I think this content, while properly labeled as “Ranting”, should be labeled as well with the Change Management label as that seems to be a very central topic here.
    There have been discussions about the labels of the forum topic Change Management. Should the name of this forum be changed?.

    The idea behind having a topic of Change Management was to encourage discussions about the new paradigm shift to a process centric way of thinking.  I’m afraid that OCM is going to be viewed as just another way of looking at the more application/solution centric mode of IT improvements.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  • Hi,

    Excellent weblog. You said “Is there a place in the world where experience and knowledge is given credibility over just having a big desk?”.

    Personally, I believe that it is the agility and innovation of youth, combined with maturity of age, that makes a winning combination. Any organization that is capable of balancing the two should be able to sustain itself for a profitable growth. I know about a place where both knowledge and non-knowledge workers are given incentives for injecting fresh ideas that help the business reduce costs or increase profitability. So at the end of the day, its not about what you do, but how you do it (run the organization).

    Keep writing.