I have a hard time keeping up with my twitter stream, so I do not open every bit.ly link. However, this one caught my eye: a tweet from two people I highly enjoy following, Venessa Miemis (@venessamiemis) and Jon Husband (@wirearchy) caught my eye: "brilliant post by @tdebaillon" - so I opened it and read this very well argued case for what is increasingly being referred to as Social Business Design (which I prefer to the more technology-skewed term Enterprise 2.0, which essentially means the same):
2.0 technologies are already changing the way we are using the Web, the way we are connecting, conversing and interacting with each other. We discovered that these conversations are a totally new way to learn, to collaborate and to exchange knowledge, but most of our initiatives are still about harnessing these technologies into existing models. To go further, really unleash their potential and embrace the systemic changes they are allowing, we all need a shift.
One of the current trends in Enterprise 2.0 frameworks is the use of social tools to optimize business processes, to fit them into the existing, or to replace them when (and only when) they fall short. This, of course, will minimize failure cases, will speed up business efficiency and facilitate adoption in organizations. But…. where is the shift? Our process driven businesses are no more than thirty years old, and were born from a misunderstanding of Japanese heterarchic and consensual social culture. A process-oriented approach to Enterprise 2.0 won’t allow place for the most powerful aspects of what the Social Web emphasizes: self-organization, non deterministic outcome, unconstrained trust, informal knowledge capture, borderless ecosystems, etc.
We have no tangible, rational proof that the process driven organization is the best model for today businesses, apart from “it works better than before” statements. One of the main reasons why companies are not ready to shift to another, networked, model is risk avoidance. While sustainability, and the gain of new competitive advantages, are crucial for any business, risk avoidance is a management and delivery model which literally turns its back to the non-linear complex world we are living in, and are in fine unsustainable. The very nature of CAS makes them unsuitable for complicated rules and determinist mechanisms, and complexity must instead be embraced with simple, quickly reconfigurable rules.
The author really makes my day by very coherently arguing that social media have a big and positive impact on business, not just through the possibilities offered by social media or 2.0 technologies, but also by the shift in mindset and values that come with the adoption of these tools. This leads to an opportunity to innovate business processes and design new, more networked, less hierarchal organizational structures (as Jon Husband would say: Wirearchies).
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Gary Hamel has been arguing the case for what he calls Management Innovation in his new book The Future of Management. I would argue that Management Innovation per Hamel and Social Business Design are two overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Hamel provides inspiring examples of businesses that are have embraced these (new) ways of connecting, conversing and interacting with each other: W.L. Gore has been doing this now for decades - almost turning self-organization to an art-form; Whole Foods Markets have adopted Trust, Transparency, Community and a few other values as leading principles for a radically different organization design. W.L. Gore has been at it way before the arrival of 2.0/social media or even the internet, Whole Foods is a leader in utilizing Social Media in very effective ways: they have a Twitter following of over 1.7 million (a good interview with Marla Erwin, Interactive Art Director for Whole Foods Market on their success in this recent Social Media Examiner piece).
So a little reality check here: the first example - no relationship between 2.0 and a networked model, in the second one I would suspect a strong correlation. No big reason for concern, I still buy (and even strongly advocate myself) Thierry's assertion that social media/2.0 is providing an accelerator to organizational (and business model) rethinking along the lines of less "command-and-control" and more "connect-and-collaborate".
So far so good. But.... if this is all true, then why aren't we seeing companies applying these brilliant insights on a large scale? Is Thierry preaching to the converted? Does it matter that I agree so much with him, or Jon Husband, or Venessa Miemis, or the folks at Dachis Group (who came up with the Social Business Design moniker)? Well.... no! Because we are just a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks! We are consultants, experts, students, whatever you want to call it of this field - yet we do not seem to be very successful in convincing more than a handful the business executives of going in this direction. Ok, there are some well known cases of companies old (Dell, IBM, Lego), and new (Zappos, Threadless), but that is a relatively small group if we consider the whole market.
As Thierry observes, risk avoidance prevents (most) companies to go there. So what are we missing?, what could we do better? Why is this perceived as a risk to be avoided (in a time when other risks were not picked up suffiently) by most corner offices? The answer may possibly be found in:
1. different wave-length: today's leaders were educated in "command-and-control" operating models at business schools (is it a coincidence that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods does not have an MBA?). They were taught to use their left brain, focus on metrics, use deductive reasoning, apply fact-based decision making. Connect-and-collaborate leadership styles were not part of the curriculum, and feel alien to them. And when we try to convince them, we come at them with "right brain"-type arguments, full of holistic, connect the dots, see the big picture, feel the passion and trust, understand the empathy that underlies the relationships kind-of arguments. I don't blame them for not buying in - given their perspective, and given that this has worked well for so many years.
2. rock solid proof is lacking: We can argue all day over the pro's and cons of organizations designed by applying networked vs. hierarchal, open vs. closed, info sharing vs. info hoarding and other related values and principles, but we will never win this discussion if approached through this lens. I feel it in my bones, I sense it by looking at so many unrelated, yet coherent patterns, but that's me again, applying my right brain - not connecting with the left brain thinkers that I am trying to get to the same insight. The lens we do need to apply is the lens of business benefits - hard and cold facts and figures that prove the case in an analytical, deductive way beyond any doubt. I wrote about this in a recent post, citing McKinsey and Dartmouth/Inc.500 research. We will be successful in making our case, in showing the value of the 'socially designed business', if we can can help business leaders do these important jobs:
- How do I create better employee engagement?
- How do I remain an attractive employer for future talent and reduce turnover?
- How do I build customer advocacy?
- How do I lower my communication costs and increase effectiveness at the same time?
- How do I increase the number of successful innovations?
- How do I increase the speed and access to knowlegde and to internal experts?
3. de-risking: ... and even then, it will still feel risky for business leaders. So how can we help them 'de-risk' the decision to start adopting all this in their organization and start promoting a culture that is more "connect-and-collaborate" and less "command-and-control"? We can design experiments, pilots, small scale probes to show the impact and effectiveness in limited, relatively secure settings. Pick one department, one business unit, one functional area and start there and learn from the mistakes. Let's not go for the whole enterprise at once. There will be a ripple effect, with success, there will be ambassadors, and over time, leaders will become more confident that the success can be replicated in other parts of the business.
So here you have it: my Rx for getting some real traction beyond the celebrated few: speak the language of today's business leaders; help them do their important jobs better and back it up with hard, cold facts (God Bless McKinsey); take a measured approach and lower the perceived risk through small scale pilotting.
I wonder what your experience is with applying these suggested approaches? Did it work? Why not? What else could we do to help more companies on this road?
Cecil posted a comment and introduced me to his great post on the same subjcet: 5 elevator pitches for Enterprise 2.0 adoption on his Heavy Mental blog. Check it out, really useful!