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The View from Here: Lead, Wallow, or Get Out of The Way

Throughout this issue, each expert has made similar points:

  • Speak the language of business, not science
  • Usability metrics are important only if they help business leaders
  • Track and improve operational efficiencies and effectiveness
  • Do not track technical achievements

Here is the honest translation: It’s time to stop wallowing in arcane metrics debates such as, “By moving this link 0.03 centimeters to the left, we increased user efficiency by 0.00003%!” and, instead, participate in the conversation at the grown-up’s table. A more professional way to start the conversation would be, “How do we leverage usability as a competitive advantage? How can we leverage it as a driver of innovation, customer intimacy, or product development?”

This is great advice, and if you follow it, it will serve you well. However, if all you do is follow the advice, you will still be just a follower.

Usability Leaders Required to Fulfill Urgent Business Needs

This is a call for you to go further—to step up as a leader in the usability field. There is a storm brewing in the new war for talent—how companies keep and attract the best people. And you could, if you choose to, be one of your firm’s most strategic assets in that war.

Every consumer now expects that the next thing they buy will be up to the standards set by Google or their iPod. Everybody wants every product and service to be simpler and easier to use. While these are worthwhile goals, this kind of pressure only serves to increase the number of coworkers, managers, and leaders who ask for your help.

But the push for external simplicity and ease-of-use is only the beginning. The huge unrealized opportunity for usability experts is internal. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a recent survey of global CEOs indicated that:

  • 77 percent of CEOs report increasing levels of complexity within their firms
  • 78 percent say reducing that complexity is a personal priority
  • Only 4 percent say that they are good at measuring levels of complexity
  • You can become everyone’s hero by successfully addressing workplace complexity.

Enterprise Usability Needs Leaders

Business leaders need you to rise above one-off usability issues. They need to improve enterprise usability—how all internal systems, structures, processes, and work tools come together to create an integrated work experience, which in turn creates competitive advantages that cannot easily be duplicated.

“Usability professionals have an unprecedented leadership opportunity in the coming decade,” says Charlie Kreitzberg, usability guru, CEO of Cognetics (and founding editor of this magazine). “Increasingly, corporations sense that usability can improve their efficiency and quality but are finding it difficult to implement effective processes. Our challenge is to create best practices that make sense to people whose view is quite different from ours and which support the desired behavioral changes.”

Where should you start? Change the conversation to change the exchange of information and the thought process. Building user-centered (ital)companies is a fairly new idea. Before jumping into metrics and practices, executives need to debate where and how they’ll see the benefits of being user-centered. One way to begin that discussion is to visit and check out the SimplerWork Index, developed by my company, the Jensen Group. This tool is based on two decades of research into enterprise usability, and focuses on six of its critical dimensions.

But more important than any tool, tip, or how-to is changing your mindset. It’s time to stop wallowing in arcane debates, and raise the level of conversation—take on a new leadership role within your company. If not you, who? If not now, when?