Voices Of The Corporate People

W. Kandinsky - Squares with concentric circles
W. Kandinsky – Squares with concentric circles

How can organizations become “social”? Adapting companies to the social economy so they can meet the requirements of empowered and connected customers requires some massive internal transformation. Even when leaders understand the necessity to shift away from old models and modernize their organizations, they hardly know where to start.

To decide to join the social dance floor is a first, smart decision. But then, what? “Deploy an internal social network” says the CIO.  “Publicize a new Vision & Mission statement” says Internal Comms. “Hire a consultant” suggests the Strategy dept. “What’s a social organization?” silently asks HR. All classical, outdated and unsuitable answers in our social age.

In fact, what is at stake here is a deep culture change. Tools are important enablers, but they don’t trigger the necessary transformation on their own. Changing the corporate culture and actual behaviors of employees at all levels, across functions and geographies, is a huge challenge. One size certainly doesn’t fit all. But it doesn’t help to over-complexify the issue. What’s really needed is action: tangible activities that advance organizations into the social world.

Let me suggest a very simple and pragmatic approach to this transformation. It goes with 2 steps only: getting ready, then acting; and a culture change framework that I named ‘Voices’. Because I believe that becoming social is pretty much about freeing the voices of the corporate people: listening to what they say, encouraging them to communicate and connect.

Get Ready

If it’s about culture change, one has to understand the existing culture that is to be changed; and who will help, versus who’s not. This point is particularly important because we know now (except for some top leaders overestimating their impact, maybe) that large-scale change requires much more than the executive team’s determination. Social can’t be top-down. It takes a network to spread a network culture.

1.      Understand the baseline situation. Where does the organizational culture currently stand in terms of perception and efficiency? Where are the pain points?

Companies are sitting on massive amounts of scattered data which, if linked and made sense of, form the best foundation for a transformation initiative. The combination of employee surveys, social media monitoring, corporate reputation assessment (such as PatientView’s for pharma companies), image audits, employer brand assessment, investors’ perception reports etc. provide a fair sense of the current corporate culture, from a relational and multi-stakeholder perspective. Diagnosis should also include existing processes & rules of engagement (what exists, what is possible, what is prohibited) and take into consideration the company’s ‘DNA’ and history.

On top of data, and because social is about emergence and conversations, assessment should comprise people’s insights through interviews. Internal stakeholders (leaders, change agents, existing social communities) certainly have a lot to say and interesting suggestions. The diagnosis phase is also a fantastic opportunity to engage with external stakeholders and have them participate in the organization’s transformation.

To make sense of all the collected insight, data visualization techniques are to be preferred to thick (boring) reports.

2.      Understand key contributors. Who will facilitate the transformation, or make it happen? Who will stand in the way, and why?

The organization is full of people longing for a more social working environment, whose understanding and energy are fantastic resources for culture change initiatives. They are sometimes just not visible by the executive team. A good diagnosis should identify those people: active participants to internal and external social networks, internal community managers, members of communities linked to innovation / collaboration / societal issues / digital, change makers in general. Beside, map the institutional “key holders”: decision makers, but also potential road blockers (control freaks, old-style power-driven leaders).

External stakeholders can help the change too, and it’s important to map them as well. Often, messages are better accepted when they come from outside. Know your external social advocates, selected thought leaders or executives in companies that have undergone a successful social transformation, and connect with them.

Act: Get on with Culture Change

E. Degas - Singer with a glove
E. Degas – Singer with a glove

Now the preparatory work is done, it’s time to reboot the corporate and organizational culture and install a 21st Century, social version. How? By rolling out very concrete activities, to enable employees to connect. I’ve often been frustrated at the lack of specific, tool agnostic guidance to drive the change, so I’ve developed a framework which can hopefully help others.

Much more than tools, this is about humanizing organizations: support meaningful connections, let people speak, listen to what they say, and leverage the power of their voices.

The VOICES framework:

6 steps to internal social transformation

The proposed structure is named after an acronym that reflects 6 key dimensions of organizational culture change.

1)      Vision – Develop & explain the strategic perspective. One has to be explicit and sincere about where the organization stands today, why it has to evolve, and where to. Share Lee Bryant’s remarkable presentation about 21st Century firms. Inspire the decision-making team: let them read Dan Pontefract‘s Flat Army, Frederic Laloux’ Reinventing Organizations, and Robert Phillips‘ ideas on public leadership. Explain why and how social is an enabler, frame the culture change, write the story of the organization as a social company (picture the target) and link it to corporate historical roots. Benchmark social companies and be inclusive: we all have a role to play in changing the culture.

2)      Openness – Encourage external connections, instead of preventing them (the common rule as of today). Set up a corporate speakers’ bureau, train employees into delivering engaging presentations, and promote them externally. Encourage attendance to social-related conferences, and post-event sharing of acquired knowledge. Check engagement rules applicable to employees in external speaking opportunities and social media, and revisit them since they’re probably too restrictive. Identify & publicize initiatives where staff supports local communities. Support co-creation opportunities with external stakeholders.

3)      Information – Educate about social: increase social media literacy at all levels of the organization. It doesn’t have to go through expensive training programs: MOOCs abound that offer free alternatives. Leverage conferences and communities of practice for benchmark, education & networking. Train the Legal, Compliance, Communication departments to the opportunities of social. Make use of visual tools such as mind mapping and infographics to ease understanding.

4)      Culture – Impact the corporate leadership culture. Connecting the social transformation effort with HR processes is critical. Something has to change in the way HR operates, both as a condition and a result of the change. This is no small task: training HR to social, working with them on management culture change, revisiting talent identification (to support internal social leaders and disruptive thinkers) and performance management (to reward collaboration rather than competition), seriously improving leadership diversity, implementing workplace flexibility, etc. The leadership team also has to be specifically trained and supported. Having them write a collective internal blog about their journey into social media could be a good idea.

5)      Enterprise 2.0 – Develop collaboration networks. This is about tools and using them well. Assess existing tools and improve their likability. Enable collaborative & social platforms, move away from predominantly email-based working culture. Shine the light on community managers (it’s high time to recognize the value of this job) and support their skill building.

6)      Success Metrics – Monitor selected performance indicators, since organizations don’t just go social for the mere sake of it. Beside classical KPIs (number of employees on internal social networks, of active users, of active communities…), a few new indicators should be considered: top leaders’ activity on internal social networks as well as external social media, speakers’ bureau activity, number of HR processes improved, mentions of the organization as a social company in the media, and so forth.

Internal social transformation is a critical challenge for companies, because it is the condition for them to succeed with their customers. As Susan Scrupski states it, “organizations must evolve beyond industrial age management structures and practices in order to prepare for a future that is predicated on agility, responsiveness, and distributed leadership”.

Thoughts, ideas? I’d love to hear your suggestions so as to help organizations become social.

Working Out Loud Cannot be Automated

Working Out loud
Image by Eric Ziegler

Not sure how I ended reading an old post by +Bertrand Duperrin but I did. Maybe something was calling to me. Maybe it is just purely coincidence that I re-read his blog post. Either way, it has triggered me to write a blog post for the first time in several months. Let’s dig in.

Bertrand Duperrin, posted a blog post back in August of 2012 called Employees don’t have time to waste narrating their work. What caught my eye originally was the title. First reaction, huh? You have to be kidding me. Bertand might be just trying to be sensationalistic with his title, I am not sure. But it did catch my eye and cause me to read his blog post. While the title is interesting, I have to say that the blog post hits a nerve. Bertrand starts his blog post with a concept that I agree with …

It’s impossible to think about emergent collaboration and self-organized structures without visibility on others’ work.

This first sentence makes me think of +Change Agents Worldwide (@chagww, #CAWW). Why? #CAWW is a self organized emergent collaboration organization that is about helping individuals, teams, companies, employees, etc. be more effective. #CAWW works as a network of individuals that interact, share, and cooperate and collaborate on different topics and ideas, always trying to improve upon ideas that will help organizations be more effective. It is almost like he wrote this sentence with the concept of #CAWW in mind.

In Bertrand’s 3rd paragraph he continues down the same path by stating ….

collaboration, cooperation, problem solving and even innovation requires something to be shared so trigger the dynamic. Moreover, people often don’t realize they can be helped : sometimes we believe we’re doing right while we’re doing wrong, we’re doing right while we could do better, differently.

While the first sentence could be interpreted several ways, this statement does not align with the title at all. Only after you get more than half way through the blog post do you start to see where the title becomes relevant. I believe this statement best summarizes the rest of the blog:

if people’s work’s worth being narrated, people should not always be the narrator. Their time is too precious to ask them to play the role of transponders.

So now I get it. People’s time are too important to waste on working out loud (#WOL). Bertrand continues and discusses the idea of having systems do the narrating by automatically creating activities in an activity stream – weekly reports, updates to profiles, etc. I understand where he is going, but I think this concept misses the importance of working out loud (#WOL).

What do I believe? The idea of working out loud is not about the automated interactions? There is some value, but the biggest value is sharing information in a way a system can never do. Sharing information includes asking questions or putting a thought out that could trigger a thought by someone else. Automatic system updates are too prescribed to cause an emotional reaction by the receiver and because of that, the value it just not as high.

I will say though, I do agree with his concept of having people jump out of their every day work systems to work out loud is not effective. To get people to be most effective, the system to work out loud needs to be integrated into the systems they work in every day.

Automatic system updates are the antithesis of what social networks are about. While an automatic update might provide value, they do not deliver come anywhere close to providing the same amount of value as working out loud.

cross-posted from Eric Ziegler’s blog 

The Insurgent Communicator

quote-the-future-is-already-here-it-s-just-not-very-evenly-distributed-william-gibson-231877

The future of communications is already here, but most corporate communications – specifically internal communications – are proof that William Gibson was correct. The way we communicate in society, from publishing to consuming information, has been reshaped dramatically over the past decade. But inside a corporate environment, you’d barely notice it.

The new communications covenant

In our personal lives we scroll through streams of updates and tweets at lightning speed, digesting news and information from the serious to the mundane. We gorge on videos in the hope that a one-minute video can communicate more to us in less time than reading. We slow down just long enough to interact with the content by liking, sharing, or adding a comment. These habits have become so ingrained that when we come across content that cannot be acted upon we almost feel betrayed, as if the covenant of the new media age has been broken.

Most of all, the content sources we view are customized to us – not by an entity that thinks it knows what we should receive, but by ourselves, either handpicked or based on our preferences, profile data, and personal network. While some may say this creates an echo chamber, the more one expands their network (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn) the greater the chance for serendipitous encounters with news/information beyond one’s usual horizon — more so than via any editorial driven publication.

Most internal communication professionals know this of course. So why do most corporations communicate to their staff using “web 1.0” methods or worse? Sure, some companies have implemented internal social networks where employees can customize their activity feeds, but when it comes to publishing and accessing “the official” news they often have simply recreated the old publishing model on a social platform, rather than re-imagine how the news can be created, published, and consumed. There are cultural and leadership factors in play here, but I want to focus on the less obvious reason, the communications staff.

Fear of change vs. opportunity

In story after story of companies implementing ESNs (Enterprise Social Networks) I’ve heard similar refrains: “Our comms people don’t want to use it” or “The communications team is actively resisting adoption efforts.” So even though they are well aware of the communication trends around them, which they’ve probably adopted in their personal lives, and even though they likely know that the future is here and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches them, they are resistant to the change. They only see the threat to the status quo and not the opportunity that comes with it.

They fear losing the control that comes with being THE source for their area of news in the company. They fear what might happen if (gulp!) their news isn’t as visible as before in a new social model or if the decision to receive their news is (double gulp!) left up to the employee! They fear the change that will come as the role of a professional communicator evolves, as it certainly will. They also fear possibly losing their job, seeing a diminished role for communicators in this future. But what they should fear most is being left behind.

Communications is the new front for organizational change

The opening quote also pertains to the larger world of business too. Companies are changing – or will be forced to change in the near future, some radically. The very idea of “the company” as we know it and the nature of what it means “to work” is being called into question by futurists, thought leaders, and enterprise change agents (some of whom are communicators), many of whom exist at the fringes of mainstream business but whose influence is slowly bleeding into the center. Radical change always starts from the edges in.

There is an opportunity here for communicators. Author and futurist Clay Shirky said, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” Apply this to your organization. The influence that communications – as a group, process, and medium – wields is immense.  The communications department should be on the vanguard of your organization’s evolution.

We know though that many won’t sign up for this path, even if the opportunities for the individual and the profession as a whole are spelled out in blinking lights. Such is the nature of change. This means however, more opportunities for those few communicators that do want to be change agents for their organization. It can be risky of course. The old command and control culture will fight back and if you ride too high in the saddle you will be picked off before you’ve had a chance to influence real change.

The insurgent advantage

That’s why a subtle approach will have a more lasting impact. Start by building a purposeful network in your company – you will need allies. If there is an ESN start “working out loud” to demonstrate the power of social communications, even on an individual level. Work with your internal stakeholders on new ways to publish their news – start small, but think big. If you can re-imagine the communications process for one small group, it could have implications companywide. Influence your allies to introduce the same changes in their groups.

Share your ideas with communications leadership, but don’t present them as some revolutionary way to change the face of communications at your company – that will expose you as an insurgent and the machine will fight back. Instead, find ways to couch them as enhancements to the current model, such as additional means to broaden the visibility of messages and increase readership. They will probably still reject them, but you’ll be planting the seeds of change, and as your network and influence grow through your underground efforts those ideas may resurface again from a different person in a different part of the organization, possibly from a place they can’t afford to ignore. Being a constant gardener for the future of the workplace is no less rebellious, but will pay off more than the efforts of someone whose overzealous passion for change can be misunderstood, thus marginalizing them.

It will take patience and drive but you’ll still be working against the system, from the inside, as a trusted colleague and employee looking to make your workplace better. Do you have what it takes to be an insurgent communicator?

Successful Networks Require a Cross-Disciplinary Team

It should come as no surprise that a one-dimensional approach to network “deployment” will yield lackluster results.  In the heyday of the Enterprise 2.0 movement, it was largely IT that introduced social networks to the workforce.  The mistake that many customers made in those early days was viewing social networks as a technology platform vs. an organizational catalyst for transformation.  Even if the initial use cases were solid, and vendors provided initial on-ramp training, the true power of a connected workforce would not emerge.  Social software is much more than the sum of its technical parts. In fact, you could argue the opposite is true. Organizations that took a multi-departmental approach to rolling out ESNs, have proven to be successful, are still growing, and have produced outsized returns to their organizations.

English: A diagram of a .
Diagram of a Social Network. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning to work in a connected, flat, transparent, and highly collaborative manner invariably surfaces tensions that require intra-organizational re-thinking.  They demand a new type of leadership.

Petty arguments that erupt over jurisdiction, approvals, roles, decision-making, authority, and budget allocation are exposed and rendered useless and highly unproductive when vibrant networks connect and share.  It’s one of the reasons why rigorous command and control, hierarchical models can’t survive in a healthy, transparent and functionally strong social network.

When we started assembling the members of Change Agents Worldwide, we knew we’d need a cross-disciplinary team that was equally adept at the mechanics and Zen of working in an open network, as well as experienced in the disciplines required to deliver true organizational change.  We’re also becoming more and more knowledgable about the science and practical application of Social Network Analysis (SNA). In mapping our own expertise,* you can see although we share many competencies, our social map demonstrates a visualization of the skills required to truly help large organizations take steps toward building a future workplace.

expertise
In this expertise map, a square signifies an area of expertise of one of our Change Agents. The larger the square, the larger the number of Change Agents (green dots) possess that expertise. A line between a circle and a square indicates a Change Agents possessing that expertise. Darker lines indicate greater degrees of expertise.

If your Enterprise Social Network has stalled, or you’re not seeing these outsized results, we can help you start extracting the value out of your existing investment.  If you truly want to experience what it feels like to be surrounded with this sort of expertise, we invite you to join us in our Green Room.  It’s free, and we will swarm you with ideas on how to approach your organizational issue.

 

*Special thanks to Change Agent Patti Anklam and Optimice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Enterprise Social Networks – What you need to know

I reviewed Thursday’s upcoming webinar on ESNs hosted by Carrie Young and Harold Jarche.  This is really one of the better webinars I’ve seen in a long while that explains in-depth, with real case study examples, the essentials about how working in an enterprise network matters deeply to a company.

Don’t miss this one.  Really.

webinar 3

Register here.

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How Digital Disrupts “Business as Usual”

Compressing Processes

In November 2012, we delivered a presentation at Ovum Analysts’ Business Process Management event: ‘Compressing processes – How productivity is going social and mobile’. It was a short keynote using case studies to show how the big four digital trends – social media, mobile devices, big data, and cloud computing – are disrupting ‘business as usual’ by speeding up decisions and actions. To be effective in this environment, businesses need to compress their processes to match their customers / competitors / alternatives…

A version of the presentation is embedded below. It’s been formatted for Slideshare (in the original, each example was an animated build to help with telling the story). And is followed by some additional notes.

Additional notes

The four trends should not be a surprise: social media, Internet-connected mobile devices, massive amounts of data being updated in real-time and cloud computing hosting the content and communications on a global basis. Combined, they enable conversations, analysis, decisions and actions at a speed and scale that simply did not happen before.

Example #1: September 11th changed intelligence procedures

September 11th, 2001 was possibly the first major event that felt the impact of the Internet and mobile devices. Studies later found that as many as 2,500 lives were saved by people ignoring expert advice. With landlines disconnected, many stuck in the towers were able to gather information via mobile phones, chose to ignore official procedures (stay put, don’t use the lifts) and managed to get out in time.

But there was another lesson to be learned. The 2005 paper: The Wiki and the Blog, published by the CIA noted that all the necessary intelligence of such an attack was known independently, but not connected. Confidentiality protocols prevented departments from sharing information – information was accessed on a ‘need to know’ basis, and decision hierarchies meant the journey from gathering intelligence, interpreting and analysing, making a decision and then acting on it was taking far too long. Research highlighted the trends that are impacting many industries.

The circumstances to which we respond develop more quickly. These rapidly changing circumstances take on lives of their own, which are difficult or impossible to anticipate or predict.

The solution: flatten hierarchies, open up information stores and communication channels, make more connections between different sources of data. Use tools, such as wikis and blogs, that make it easier to quickly share, discuss and update information. Shorten the cycle of receiving intelligence, deciding what to do, and acting on that decision

Example #2: A/B testing enables real-time decisions based on feedback

A somewhat less dramatic example but reinforcing the message. A/B testing is simply putting up two versions of the same web page and analysing behaviours (time spent on the page, what elements are clicked or interacted with) and then choosing the most successful version. Rinse and repeat. In short – it uses feedback to decide the design rather than expert opinions.

Sounds easy but sometimes it can be hard to accept when the feedback doesn’t align with expectations. People are great at ignoring or dismissing data that doesn’t fit our own viewpoint. IGN gaming network discovered that crisp clear prose was outperforming hyped-up buzzwords on certain parts of their home page. Previously, the opposite had been true. Why the change? After much ‘head scratching’ they finally realised it simply didn’t matter. Just make the change. If the results shift, make the change again…

[The latest trend] in A/B testing is to automate the whole process… so that the software, when it finds statistical significance, simply diverts all traffic to the better performing option.

Example #3: Given the opportunity, people will learn and mentor

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, headed by Nicholas Negroponte, handed out tablet devices to children in a remote village in Africa. The children had no formal education, no access to the Internet or digital technologies and had never heard English. The tablets were running the Android operating system, pre-loaded with over 1,000 apps – a mix of audio books, sub-titled cartoons, and number games.

The original expectation was that there would be more interest in the cardboard boxes than the tablets inside. There were no instructions given, no guidance or help. Just regular observation and analysis of log files recording all interactions.

self-learning

It took 4 minutes to power up the first tablet. Within 5 days they were averaging 47 apps per child per day. Within 2 weeks they were singing ABC songs in the village. Within 3 months they had mastered the basic sounds of the English alphabet. At 5 months they had managed to activate the built-in camera and were taking pictures (the camera had been accidentally disabled during set-up).

Whilst many will debate the ethics of the study, the results are fascinating. A group consisting of mixed ages and abilities working and learning together without any formal rules or instructions. The older and faster learners helping the others. Lessons that can be applied to business – perhaps be a little less prescriptive with activities, let people self-organise and discover possibilities, encourage mentoring.

Example #4: The Internet of Things means now everything is connected

Another quite recent example. The CIO at Toyota North America has been outsourcing all standard IT services such as email, file storage and device management. Re-focusing the IT department on supporting the business purpose and investing more roles in R&D activities. Great to see the IT role shifting back to being an enabler. I don’t know whether it’s an automotive industry trend, but the European CIO at BMW shared a very similar philosophy during a keynote at another analyst event in 2012 – Gartner’s annual CIO symposium. At BMW, 45% of the IT budget is spent on ‘keeping the lights on’ activities. The average is 60%. BMW is also focusing IT on R&D activities to help the business innovate.

And the automotive industry is demonstrating another big trend – sensors integrated into devices, automatically sending real-time updates over the Internet. A/B testing is about tracking what people do. Sensors do the same for machines – the ‘Internet of things’.

sensory adjustments

In this example, we have car. And a driver. The steering wheel monitors the driver’s vital signs – heart beat, blood pressure, sugar levels. That data can be automatically updated to online services for analysis. Yikes, the outlook is not good! Alert the driver to pullover and wait for the ambulance. Or… when the self-driving car goes fully into production, sit back and let the car take you straight to the hospital.

Example #5: Those with a stake in the outcome want to be involved

The fifth trend – less about technology, more about sociology. I’m not a fan of the word ‘Gamification’ but it describes a simple concept: applying game dynamics in non-gaming environments to motivate a change in behaviour. The simplest form that has appeared thanks to other technology trends is the use of badges and scoreboards. They can be great for getting people to complete tasks they otherwise wouldn’t bother to do. But the uses are limited – they are essentially about manipulation and benefits may only last in the short term.

Another side to game dynamics is role-playing and simulations. Arguably, games have been part of certain industries for decades – such as flight simulators used to train pilots without risking expensive airplanes or human lives. Massive multi-player online games such as World of Warcraft have demonstrated how engaged people become when immersed in something they want to do. The quests that are central to the game require team work, planning, regular communications, adapting in real-time when conditions change and ongoing skills development to face quests with increasing difficulty. Most organisations would benefit from enhancing those abilities in the modern office…

So how does a disengaged office worker suddenly become such an engaged and active participant in a virtual quest? First, they have a stake in the outcome. They are in control of their destiny. They aren’t being told to do something ‘just because…’ Second, they enjoy the activity. Who said work can’t be fun? Of course, much of work has to be taken seriously. But create an environment that fosters a sense of fun and you’re likely increase participation. Third, everyone is involved and has a role to play. There is no resentment that some people aren’t pulling their weight. The guild survives and thrives as a team. And that includes sharing the rewards… everybody gains from winning a quest.

Self-organising, highly engaged, working as a team, adapting in real-time to unpredictable circumstances – the definition of a modern business process, occurring in a game…

Role-playing games tap into essential human desires – to be in control and to be appreciated – that formal processes too often fail to take into account. Has the workplace become inhuman?

Closing summary

This was a short story-telling talk using real examples to highlight how digital, social and economic trends are impacting processes. It doesn’t mean the end of traditional process management and improvement but rather recognising that different approaches suit different environments. Standardised routines are all about managed, controlled, predictable outcomes – concentrating on stability, consistency and efficiency.  Predictable outcomes do not guarantee good results, particularly if facing uncertainty and change. Many industries are beginning to see the need for and benefits of more personalised and agile processes – more open access to data, more connected people, shorter decision cycles, being able to adapt in real-time and making continuous incremental adjustments based on feedback.

References

Change the Conversation

Ravens in Conversation

A large part of the history of our technology has been the effort to use technology to control human behaviour. Technology transformation is often sold on the potential to better make humans do things that they should be doing. The failure of so many transformational technology programs is proof that human behavioural changes are a subtler and more elusive challenge. Changing the conversation is as important as changing the process.

The Business Case for Technology Transformation

Leadership mindsets from the industrial era often lead to the management question:

“What can we do to make people do the right thing?’.

Technology transformation is sold on a promise of offering the answer. Too commonly management will choose a new technology system or process as delivering a way to make people ‘do better’. For example:

  • Customer Relationship Management systems will deliver better conversations with customers and better sales force productivity
  • Human resources systems will deliver better talent, engagement and performance conversations and better compliance with required processes
  • Business Process Management systems will enable better and more granular control of the processes that people use to do the work
  • Enterprise collaboration tools will make an organisation more collaborative
  • Knowledge management tools will make organisations better informed
  • Better analytical tools using big data will deliver better decisions in organisations

However, these technologies are usually only an infrastructure to support new behaviours and new conversations. Their capabilities underpin human behaviour. New processes will encourage change. New data capture and reporting may help measure activity. Without a willingness to change to new behaviours from users, the systems alone cannot make change without risk of major disruption or disengagement.

Technology rarely can require a new behaviour or a new conversation. Human creativity enables remarkable ways to cling to old ways in the face of new technology. Even to the extent that these technologies deliver better measurement of human activity, organisations are often frustrated to discover that the ability to measure and target activity simply generates activities to solely meet the measures, not behavioural change. Quantities are achieved as the cost of both productivity and quality.

Change the Conversation 

Changing the leadership question can have a dramatic impact on how an organisation makes decisions. Here’s a different question for management to ask about a transformation of technology:

‘What do our people need to better deliver our goals?’

There are a number of advantages that flow from changing the conversation around change and transformation in this way:

  • Engaging your users: Instead of assuming management or a technology vendor has the answers, the question opens up a conversations for people who do the work to contribute and learn. Treat your employees as skilled knowledge workers and respect their creativity and opinions. These people will have the best context on what is causing the issues and what support they need.  Engaging their input will be the most powerful element of change in performance. At the end of the day, the behaviours that need to change are theirs.
  • Change the leadership conversation: Shifting from a control mindset to one that is about realising the potential of the team is a powerful change in an organisational conversation. A transformation can be a key way to help accelerate this change in mindset. If employees feel trusted and are free to share, many people will highlight the way that the leaders themselves may need to change as part of that transformation too.  The best change begins with those seeking to drive change.
  • You may not need new tools or a new process: How many systems have been implemented to solve issues which were simply a lack of clarity of purpose or objectives of work? Do people need new skills or capabilities instead of new systems? Do people need new freedoms, approaches & leadership support to respond in an agile way to market needs? Consider alternatives and additional elements to enable the behaviour changes that arise.
  • Inconsistent demands on people:  Engaging your people in change will highlight areas where you are being inconsistent. In a siloed organisation systems often work at cross purposes. Are you sure that all the other elements of your systems & culture reinforce the right goals? For example, it is common for people in sales and service roles to experience that their time is used up with low value compliance tasks. As a result high value customer tasks will get pushed from the system. Forcing additional compliance will only make that worse. If performance management systems and the real leadership conversations in your organisation work against your new system, it is dead before it is even deployed.
  • Engaging outside the organisation: Do your customers want to give you the data that you need for your new CRM or analytics system? Does the change in sales approach or work process improve their experience as well? Will great talent be rewarded by working in your performance management system? Are you sure you can articulate the value of these changes to external stakeholders? Your people will need to do so. Your people’s reluctance to do your view of ‘the right thing’ might be saving you from broader issues with customers or other stakeholders.
  • Pace of change: Changing systems takes time. When will the system need to change again to adapt to a rapidly changing market? Are your people holding back because they can see the next change coming? Are you better to focus on your ability to change behaviours in more agile ways than through changing technology systems?

Technology transformation can be a powerful enabler of organisational change. However, it is merely an enabler. Changing the leadership conversation is often the critical element to ensuring the success of a transformational change.

This post has been cross-posted from simonterry.tumblr.com

Image source: http://pixabay.com/en/ravens-black-birds-conversation-236333/

Employee Engagement: Beyond Workplace Psychosis 2.0

I always have been an ardent supporter of true qualitative research. Yet, data IS interesting, specially when, considered under the right angle, it helps shedding a light on otherwise unnoticed facts and behaviors.

A number is a number is a number
Emanuele Quintarelli, when presenting the results of the Social Collaboration Survey he recently conducted among 300 Italian companies, exposed such numbers, which curiously were barely commented, during the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit (you can have a look to his presentation here). He, and his colleague Stefano Besana, found out that middle management is not the problem we all thought it was. On average, it represents a problem for less than 20 percent of companies having undergone a social business initiative. Wow… A fast and dirty interpretation of this finding would be to correlate it with the now (in)famous prediction from the Gartner Group saying that 80 percent of social business efforts will fail, and to assert that old thinking — introducing social with a project mindset, something easily understandable and actionable at middle management level — fails in reshaping businesses to adapt to our new hyper connected reality.

While intellectually flattering, as it nurtures our believing in the necessity for a cultural and behavioral change, making such a correlation would be a fraud. 80 percent of middle managers seing value in social means that part of them are adopting new leadership traits in their behavior (Emanuele’s survey in fact shows that half of companies, on average, think that their culture fits social initiatives). If so, how may we interpret the dreadful level of disengagement (63 per cent worldwide) among employees reported by Gallup?

When structure trumps culture

More than culture, organizational structure imposes constraints on our behaviors. Going even further, organizational culture might be defined as the set of behaviors which develop over time along the interplay of these constraints. As John Wenger insightfully pointed out:

“I’m often fascinated by how people, when they walk through the door of their workplaces, adopt behaviors akin to the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. Despite knowing in our hearts and in our guts that much of how workplaces operate is nonsensical and even anti-human, we maintain the charade that it’s the best way of doing things. As Alan Moore points out in No Straight Lines, industrial systems were not designed with human needs at their heart, yet we still organise workplaces along such lines. We go along with the deceit that doing things in a mechanistic, command-and-control way is the right way to do things.”

In many cases, the “victimization” of unengaged employees isn’t caused by, or targeted toward colleagues and managers, but toward the system itself, which structure embodies a deterministic set of constraints. Restoring goodwill requires much more than changing management’s mindset, it calls for a reweaving of the formal structure of organizations. Structure and culture are intimately linked, and at the end of the day, they all relate to relationships between people. As Dan Pontefract wrote in Flat Army:

“… organizational culture is defined by one criterion, and one only: an organization’s culture is defined by the manner in which employees are treated by their direct leader.”

I won’t discuss here the superiority of networks over industrial era hierarchies as organizational model, many others have brilliantly discussed it, you can for example read these recent posts by Jon Husband or Oskar Berg. Yet, a crucial question remains: does a networked organizational structure intrinsically trigger employee engagement?

Sadly, the answer seems negative. There are still few plausible case studies of companies exhibiting —and living— this kind of structure: GoreValveAutomatic, and some others, but they all share a common attitude toward employee engagement: they hire individuals who fit their internal culture, and are particularly cautious about the personality and mindset of new hires. When setting up the right structure, they tend more to protect the corresponding culture than to assimilate dissent elements. Indirectly, they all prove that, if a network-based structure enables engagement and collaboration by leveraging trusted relationships, it doesn’t help that much in restoring motivation from disengaged employees.

Workplace psychosis 2.0

Companies’ culture is evolving; in some cases, their structure is beginning — albeit slowly — to change, but the level of disengagement keeps on increasing. To counter this inexorable trend, some companies are beginning to adopt new behaviors: ROWE human resources approach, BYOD policies, better work-life balance,… but is there any tangible evidence that those are really enhancing engagement?

In a parallel to the rise of industrialization, in our Western societies, the XIXth century has seen our lives being more and more tightly structured and partitioned: work, family, religion, leisure, have grown into social and behavioral “boxes” which, for many people, were largely disconnected one from another. This social, moral, and ontological evolution even reflected itself in the thinking of the time. For example, in Ancient SocietyLewis Henry Morgan, one of the founders of anthropology, described social evolution as a set of patterns belonging different domains: technology, subsistence, marriage, family and political organization.

Today, all, but one, of these personal, social and political boxes which prevailed in the XIXth century have disappeared, in a global transformative movement, accelerated by the internet and the rise of networks. Technology is now pervasive, and affordable to anyone. Family is no more the infrangible nucleus it was hundred years ago, and marriage is no more the reference point of human lives. Political minorities take now their own voice, whichever it is, and the class struggle is merely memories in hedonistic and individualistic societies. Work, instead, has remained the last “reserved” domain, in which people still think and behave differently than in any other situation of a life characterized by social and cultural continuous hybridation. This fracture is less physical, as telework and freelance contracting develops, than psychological, as work codes greatly differ from the ones from our private life, as the nature of work moves away from its outcomes, and gets more and more abstract.

This situation sheds a new light on the lack of engagement, in organizations attempting to adopt more flexible internal rules and to entice employees to bring more of their personality and creativity into the workplace. Being a more complete self in a disconnected, self-contained, workplace, while living a more and more demanding and connected life externally, exhibits all the traits of a split personality disorder. In other words, organizations trying to socialize processes tailored (Taylored) to an industrial-era operational mentality, or to add a social layer to an otherwise closed system, are, slowly but steadily, growing workplace psychosis 2.0.

The nature of the firm, redux

Isn’t there any hope left, beside a radical erase-and-redesign move? Yes, there is. Beside culture and structure, and even beyond them, organizations have to rethink about their nature. I have previously written that the dominant transactional purpose of organizations, famously explained by Ronald Coase, is becoming an economic nonsense. For more than a century, they have grown on top of our society, draining tangible and intangible resources for their own sake, up to the point they have become totally closed systems, subject to growing entropy.

Instead of fighting for a shrinking piece of profit, organizations have to learn how to be useful again to the society which nurtures them, beyond shareholders’ interests, and to become the thriving engines of a global circular economy. To regain sustainability in the new world we see emerging, companies must rethink their own purpose, and will have to switch from an onward, quasi parasitic, to an outward, symbiotic, attitude. The schizophrenia route is definitely a no go. Instead of requiring even more from employees, they are urged to open the doors, and to show them that they care about the world, the society, the city, the life in which they operate.

For sure, most people want to get their work done the best they can, but this only if this work gives sense to their life, and if they are able to feel that this sense is shared among coworkers. Instead of trying to weave socializing behaviors with obsolete business mechanisms, let your employees know you care about your customers, and give them tools to support this. Let them know you care about broader, deeper issues, and help them getting involved in resolving the problems they tackle in their real, external, life. This was the lesson that my friend and colleague from Change Agents Worldwide Céline Schillinger brilliantly gave us during the Enterprise 2.0 Summit: her “Women in Sanofi Pasteur” internal movement grew on the premise of helping to solve the gender balance issue at work, a problem which isn’t limited to the internal corporate world, and the initiative flourished through external recognition. Her success shows that, in order to get more from their employees and contractors, in order to re-engage them, organizations must, simply, give them more. Not as employees, but as human beings. Not in the workplace, but in their life. Let us open the doors of the confined world of work, it needs fresh air. Right now.

The Future of Work is The Future of Leadership

An insight about the future of work dropped this morning as I discussed leadership in the network era with Harold Jarche and Jon Husband, my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide.

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The Future of Work is the Future of Leadership

The future belongs not to the leadership of technology. The future belongs to the technology of leadership.

Our opportunity is not incremental improvement in the leadership of change to implement network technologies. Our opportunity is a much more important transformation of the critical human technology of leadership for the network era. Only new leadership capabilities & concepts will enable us to realise the potential of the future of work

Realising Human Potential is What Matters

If you are one of the thought leaders, consultants or vendors working to bring about the adoption of social collaboration technology, you know there is a raging debate about what changes in social and network technology means for organisations. However, there is much that is unclear in the debate about the future of work.  Social Business is deadnot dead or even not enough. The biggest challenge is adoption, lack of executive buy-in, return on investment or even organisation’s success. You need a collaboration layer, you need purposeful collaboration or you need cooperation instead.

If you are a manager in an organisation trying to achieve outcomes in a rapidly changing business climate, you most likely missed this entire conversation. The debate about the impact of social collaboration technology is not even on your radar (unless a consultant or vendor has caused you to reflect on it for a moment before you returned to the daily challenge of running your business).

What matters most to managers is more effective human collaboration – collaboration that improves the performance of your business for your customers and delivering better work experience for your people. Managers everywhere wish there were better ways to tap the talents, innovation and engagement of their people to help deliver better outcomes. That is at the heart of the discussion of employee engagement in our organisations.

The technology that engages people and realises potential is called leadership. That’s why so many investments are made by organisations in leadership development and in a push for leadership in every role. Leadership is the most effective technology to solve for the management wish.

Network Era Leadership Realises Human Potential

Work is a human task. Leadership is the work of mobilising others to action. Leadership is how we help people to realise their human potential. Much of our network and collaboration technology is just an infrastructure for the work and leadership required. The network can magnify the culture of the organisation, but we need the right leadership models for managers to realise the potential of a network era of work.

Traditional management & leadership approaches inherit many of their concepts from process models borrowed from the industrial era. In this mindset human potential is measured in productivity terms.  The command and control culture focuses on using the right processes to drive human productivity and align that productivity with the right tasks. The engines of human potential (engagement, knowledge creation, experimentation, innovation & enablement) are driven out as sources of volatility & waste. What many call leadership is better described as a process of command of people with an efficiency mindset. That is not leadership at all.

These traditional management concepts also get baked into organisational systems. We have built much technology to explicitly or implicitly reflect these industrial models of management and work. Look inside any organisation and you will find plenty of systems designed from the top-down that reinforce hierarchical command and control. Pull out your system process maps and look for your employee’s ability to do exception handling. In many cases there is no exception process. Exceptions are handled in hacks.

Transparency, responsiveness, the ability to work across silos and effectiveness are often surrendered to tight control of process, narrow measurement of process outcomes, compliance and efficiency. Critical systems in customer management and human resources systems offer some of the most striking examples of these constraints and are widely copied from organisation to organisation. To the frustration of everyone, managers and people must work around these systems to collaborate and cooperate effectively while managing waves of top down change management to bring them back to compliance with process.

The disruption of the networked era is evidence of the scale of change that networks are bringing to our lives. ‘Kodak Moment’ has an entirely new meaning today. This pace of change focuses our attention on a need for change in the concepts of leadership & organisation to support a changing world of work.

We need not focus much on the threats of this era. The opportunities of new models of work and leadership are greater. New network technologies give a glimpse of the potential for leaders to better leverage the people of organisations for work and innovation.  However, realising the potential of human collaborative and cooperative knowledge work in networks demands new leadership models.

We Know How to Start Leading in the Network Era

Each new era brings social changes and requires new more effective concepts. We updated the concepts of leadership and management at the birth of the industrial era, leveraging existing concepts from the military and other spheres of human life. Now people need to work to develop new models to leverage the infrastructure delivered by networks and collaboration technology.

The good news is that many of these concepts are already clear and have been developed by practitioners to the point where they are capable of application in everyday work. These practices now work highly effectively and can be taught. Managers now need to pick these up and build the capability in their people to lead in new ways, using:

  • Deeper self-awareness and understanding of human behaviour and drivers of high performance
  • A greater focus on systems and a wider view of outcomes and stakeholders
  • Purpose & Trust to enable leadership & followership in every role
  • Experimentation & Adaptation
  • Collaboration & Cooperation
  • Network models of work organisation like Wirearchy, Pods and Swarms
  • Social work and learning, such as personal knowledge managementworking out loud.

However, we cannot expect managers do to all the work alone. We will need to support them with learning, coaching and the opportunity to practice the new skills and mindsets.  We need to change the organisational systems and processes that hold back this opportunity to better leverage human potential.

Making these changes is the great challenge of leadership is in the new network era. It is the work I will be focused on with my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide as we help others to navigate these changes.

The future of work is the future of leadership for everyone in organisations. Building a better more effective model of leadership will help realise the human potential of this future. Join the effort in your organisation to build a new technology of leadership to make this possible.