I Don’t Work Here

I cook. It is, as the kids like to say, my jam. When I am home, there is a 48.2% chance I will be found in the kitchen. When I return from a long trip, I look forward to making dinner. I love getting my knives back from being sharpened, but I put it off because I hate to be away from them.

Along with all this comes the job of shopping for groceries. Just ask Bill Parcells. And I like shopping. I like browsing the produce area, sampling the new cheeses, examining the day’s bakery offerings. But I draw the line at the self checkout lane. I refuse to use it. Why? Because I do not work at the grocery store, and haven’t since my junior year of high school.

I also am a proud homeowner. I am at times called upon to repair or maintain said home, which means a trip to the hardware store. I select my goods, most of which I’m sure I already have but can’t find, and head for the front. Here I am again welcomed by a self checkout lane. I drag my cart to the customer service area and plop my selections up for them to begrudgingly scan and total. Why? Because I do not work at the hardware store. Never did.

Our stereo died last week. Beyond repair. So I trundled off to purchase a replacement. Nothing fancy, but the speakers and turntable need a receiver, and I hate to see those albums gathering dust. So I make my choice, walk through the checkout line that winds through a plethora of sodas, snacks, CDs, magazines, blenders, used cars, computers and plastic surgery offices. Oh, and gum. There’s not people in this line, mind you, just ropes that point the way. I go through them, because deep down I am a follower. Once I arrive at my destination and the staff rings up my mirth-maker, I am instructed to swipe my credit card in the machine for them. I decline, because I know they will then need me to hand it to them so they can confirm its a real thing and not an imaginary card (which it seems the card reader would be better qualified to judge). I decline step one and hand my card over. Why? You know.

There are few things in the world that irritate me more than being asked to pay for the privilege of doing someone else’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll jump in when I’m needed in my office or at home. But if I am the customer, I will decline. Until I am offered a discount on my goods, I will continue to defer, all the while reminding these establishments that I do not, in fact, work for them.

I try to take this same mindset with me when installing a self service system. Sure, we want our managers to take an active role in their employee’s life-cycle. And sure, an employee deserves unfettered access to their own information. And we certainly want HR to be as efficient as possible, and to get out of the “administrative” arena and start adding real value. But what do you do when a manager tells you, “I don’t work in HR.”

There are a few answers you can give, of course.

  1. You do, indeed, work here, and this is part of your job, not ours. (Also known as the “throw it over the wall approach.” Not terribly effective for relationship building.)
  2. We are building this for you. We (meaning HR) are not terribly fast or responsive, so you are better off in the long run. (This has a little merit, and explains why I will allow a self check out exemption for three items or less. Assuming none of it needs to be weighed or includes an “ID required” item.)
  3. Pretend you don’t hear them over the sound of your own weeping. (Very effective. Also works for getting out of speeding tickets.)

The right answer? That’s a bit trickier. But if you design your system around the user’s experience, you’ll be halfway home. The other half is getting them to agree the system is way better than the old way. (Remember the old IBM commercial about the grocery store? A guy stuffs his pockets with things from the shelves. As he leaves, he walks through something akin to a security gate at Williams Sonoma, which beeps. The security guard rushes over the let the gentleman know he forgot his receipt. Intelligent scanning, maybe using RFID or something similar. I’d use that for sure.)

The same rule applies for any process design, of course. But the big systems require the most care, and are most susceptible to failure due to cultural resistance. Build to the user from the beginning and you can greatly increase your chance of success.

(Gratuitous link: Patton Oswalt and self service grocery robots. Mostly SFW. Enjoy!)


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