The Seven Deadly Sins of Information Management, Part 3: Sloth

In my last post, I talked about greed as it relates to IM projects. Long story short, for different reasons, people actively refuse to share information, train employees, or generally cooperate with others.

Today’s topic: sloth, defined by Wikipedia as:

…spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. Sloth or lut can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.

To be sure, on information management (IM) projects, the ultimate effects of sloth often resemble those of greed–i.e., work just doesn’t get done in a timely manner, if at all. Alternatively, work is just sloppy. However, the motivations behind sloth and greed are typically quite different.

Greed inheres a certain defiance and even anger. For instance, consider Barry, an employee who isn’t happy that his job is changing. No one asked him what he thought. Maybe he has to learn a new skill or application. Either passively or actively, Barry expresses this anger in the workplace. Take away the change in Barry’s job and he would not have been problematic.

By way of contrast, sloth lacks the same type of precursor. When sloth manifests itself, an employee doesn’t necessarily feel aggrieved. Nothing is changing with Lillian’s job and she’s actually pretty happy. Maybe her boss asked her to look into Big Data. However, for whatever reason, she just doesn’t feel like it. She’d rather play Angry Birds while no one is looking.

Understanding Sloth

Now, sloth should not be mistaken for an employee with conflicting and diverging priorities. For instance, on my ERP projects in my career, I would need to meet with the Director of Finance or the Payroll Manager for different reasons. The organization was deploying a new CRM or ERP system and my job involved activating that new system. (Of course, I couldn’t do it alone.) Unfortunately, I would often have trouble scheduling time with individual clients because they often had to deal with emergencies. By definition, these issues trumped any “future plans” that I had to discuss with them. Consequently, my meetings were sometimes canceled.

This isn’t sloth; this is just reality. A problem with testing or training in a new system always loses to an immediate organizational crisis. Consultants need to get used to this. It’s an occupational hazard.

Simon Says

Sloth is often a function of knowledge, curiosity, and personality. Consider the following problem: similar but not identical customer or employee data from two different spreadsheets has to be married–say, 2,000 records.

Sure, there are people who believe that this has to be a manual exercise. Because of this, they just don’t feel like doing this type of monotonous work. But plenty of people are naturally curious; they know that there just has to be a better way to do this. Adventurous and inquisitive folks are rarely lazy. They either know about Excel’s VLOOKUP function. Alternatively, they will search the web or ask others if there’s a better way to marry data. JOIN statements come to mind.

Understanding sloth is the first step in preventing or minimizing it. Ignore it at your own peril.

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Next up: Pride

Category: Information Development, Information Management, Information Value
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