Archives For July 2009

My thinking is definitely a product of what I read and experience.  Right now, I’m reading Life, Inc., going through some harrowing politics at work,  just read this fantastic Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker today, and we’re all trying to figure out the Zappos.com sale to Amazon.com.

When I put those pieces together, here’s what I get:  in today’s corporate environment, decisions get made for the wrong reasons.  Value systems have shifted.  Focus is on the short term.  Monetize.  Squeeze every penny out of what we can right now.  The end of the quarter is right around the corner.  We’ve been trained to value everything by how much money it’s worth.  And in the board room, we’ve gotten to the point where executive hubris (which is bad enough on its own) might be at the root of the financial crisis (read the Gladwell article before you call me crazy).

But, I think there is hope.  If you buy into Rushkoff’s notion that we’ve been indoctrinated to live our life according to the rules of corporations, then I think we can look to companies like Amazon and Zappos for change.  Their focus on the customer and long-term approach rehumanize the individual.  The Jeff Bezos video was great to watch in that respect; I especially like when he talks about pursuing initiatives that might not have a pay-off for five to seven years.  Refreshing.

Next post I’d like to tie in the Gladwell article & how enterprise2.0 efforts can bring transparency to decision making.

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In the past week there have been three very smart posts on dynamic signal: one from David Armano , one from Skillful Minds, and one from Mark Fidelman.  The dynamic signal is one of the key elements (archetypes, as Dachis Corp calls them) of developing a successful social business (internally, externally, or preferably both); it is an enabling capablitiy whose fate will be decided by an organization’s culture and its employees’ willingness to create a dynamic signal and embrace its potential.

Back in January, I posted on this topic of pushing information to the edge of organizations.  The theory is actually based on the military’s traditional methods of Command and Control and how they are attempting to evolve information flow, much like we’re trying to do with a social business.  Below, given the recent discussion of dynamic signals, is an appropriate excerpt of that post.  If you wish to read the entire post, it is here (actually written around an event incited by David Armano).

Command and control (C2) was the traditional method (and is still widely used today) for organizing military forces.  As a soldier (on the edge) you got your orders only once, from the top (the core).  You followed them, no deviation.  One of the main reasons for this approach was lack of bandwidth.  Chances were, once you got into the field, should an unforseen situation arise there was almost no opportunity to communicate back to the top.  You had no choice but to proceed as planned.  And speaking of unforseen situations, C2 assumed that there wouldn’t be any.  We knew who our enemy was and how they operated (think Cold War); not so true in today’s world (think 9/11).  Resulting from this C2 approach was a very strong/smart ‘core’ and a very weak/uninformed/dumb ‘edge.’  That just won’t work today.

Power to the Edge urges the military to change its approach, to empower, educate & sharpen the edge.  Things do happen in the field and the the front lines need the ability & freedom to operate and overcome those obstacles.  Technology & bandwidth have made information flow to the edge possible; the edge can be smarter and more effective than ever before.  However, there is a foundation that must be in place for Power to the Edge to occur :

• Clear and consistent understanding of command intent;

• High quality information and shared situational awareness;

• Competence at all levels of the force; and

• Trust in the information, subordinates, superiors, peers, and equipment.

So, I think the bullet points above represent key requirements for companies looking to generate a dynamic signal (each bullet probably deserves its own post).  While a dynamic signal could be a great asset to an organization looking to be more effective/efficient/innovative, you don’t just order one from Amazon (or HP).  You have to build it, and it’s not a tool – the tool amplifies the signal, but the tool does not create the signal.  Employees, given the right culture create the signal.  Once you’ve got that, a tool can tap into the signal and distribute it very efficiently.  But, even after you achieve distribution of your dynamic signal, does your company have the culture (or design) to act on it?  To benefit from it?  Are your employees ready for this?  Are those who hold the power in your organization ready for more informed employees?

Going back over a post by Todd Defren , I was reminded of a post I put out earlier this year.  Why?  Because I think they both speak to the same fundamental shift that e2.0 brings about: a flatter organization with more empowered employees.  As social media tools (presumptively) break down hierarchies and barriers to information, individual employees will be presented with more decision making power (and more decisions).  How will they react?  Are employees ready to make decisions normally left for or deferred to their supervisors?

Let me offer a real-world example (scrubbed, of course, so as not to give away the secret recipe ;)).

Here’s the setup:  You’re part of an organization that is tasked to choose between two software tools that would accomplish Capability X (could be a portal product, could be a document management system, could be a project management suite, etc…).  Now, let’s say one of the tools (A) gets piloted across your organization, maybe has a few thousand users and a lot (a lot) of political support.  The other tool (B) has less fan fare, but hits more of your requirements, has strong support from your core business, is cheaper and is, architecturally, a better fit for your company.

You are a member of the team responsible for evaluating Tool B.  As part of your evaluation efforts (competitive intelligence, really), you create a survey of Tool A pilot users.  Results to follow.

As time goes on, the pilot of Tool A continues to gain users and acceptance at high levels of the organization.  However, the more you explore Tool A and Tool B side-by-side, the more you’re convinced that Tool B is the right choice.  No matter, though.  Tool A, after a few months of piloting and mounting political support, is given the nod as the ‘winner’ and is slated for implementation.

Before you go to production the results of your survey come in and they are demonstrative; the pilot users of Tool A not only find it clunky and confusing, but they fail to see the value in a full implementation of this particular tool.  Through their comments they recommend the organization look at other options, wasn’t another tool being evaluated internally?

You’re impressed with the results of the survey and think that they need to be seen.  Your company has blog and wiki capabilities and it would be easy for you to share the results of the survey across the company.  You think it’s the right thing to do, but then you remember all of the political support Tool A has.  Would posting the results put your job at risk? your reputation? what about those of your supervisor(s)?

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If you go back to Todd’s post, 3rd to last paragraph, all of his questions are valid, we’re not quite sure where we’re going to end up but we seem to have a pretty good idea of the different paths ahead of us (although, I would hazard a guess that many companies implementing e2.0 technologies don’t have a full understanding of the deep cultural impacts these tools have the potential to achieve).   The impact these tools have on our corporate culture will result from the decisions employees make in the situations similar to what is described above.  And those decisions will be impacted by your current corporate culture.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these tools will change the culture…they won’t, they will only reflect it.