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An engaging use for business information

Spying on the boss should become a national pastime

Many companies are as bad at telling their staff what's going on as they are at listening to what they have to say. This is ironic, given the modern managerial fetish for monitoring performance and empowering employees — these ideas exist solely on Planet PowerPoint, separated from reality by cosmically thick layers of jargon.

Technology has the answer, of course. Take IBM's new Workplace for Business Strategy Execution, a clumsy name for a neat concept. It bundles up all manner of live company info and displays it on the desktop: no need to wait for the weekly report or quarterly review.

That's the right idea, it just doesn't go anywhere near far enough. According to the company it's aimed at "leaders everywhere": it should recognise that everyone in a company is in charge of something, even if it's just their job. Given the chance, everyone in a company likes to know how well it's doing — provided only that they expect to share its success. Look at the profusion of desktop stock tickers during buoyant periods in a company with share options.

But options are more likely to soar or sink depending on market conditions than anything an individual employee can do, which ruins the fun. It would be much more rewarding to have your division's daily statistics on your desktop, no matter where in the organisation diagram you are. Modern management information systems go a lot further, at least in theory, with promises of highly detailed statistics on quite minor business processes.

It's a short step from being able to see how your individual contribution is affecting the company to scampering up the structural tree and checking on how effectively your manager is using your contribution — and thence to their manager, and so on. This sort of radical democratisation of the workforce may sound unsettling, but it's never been tried before simply because it wasn't possible. An engaged workforce is an effective workforce.

This sort of thinking becomes especially valuable when you're dealing with remote or teleworking staff, something increasingly necessary in the competitive enterprise, and also helps involve staff with major decisions. That's something that's badly lacking at the moment.

We've tried too little communication as the basis for corporate management. Let's have a go at too much.