Month: March 2013

The Human Enterprise: Progress or perish

Perhaps the most welcome business innovations in century 21 is the realization that the 1990’s CEO pablum, “People are our greatest asset” is actually true, and that this means that business must rebalance its structures and processes to support and enable people rather than to control and contain them in boxes, while they service the processes and infrastructure. A flipped business if you will. A humanized rather than mechanized ideal of the perfectly efficient organization. It has finally been proved – what everyone already knew is true – employees who give a darn [sic] do better work, which makes their lucky employers more successful.

So we are thrilled that work will finally evolve away from what has often been a negative experience, and start becoming place where people thrive – along with the economy and society at large. It all sounds great. But it is an earth-shifting change that leaves many management teams uncertain and uncomfortable and many employees frustrated. A human-centric business questions some of the fundamental tenets of traditional enterprise design and operation, and it will take some time to sort it out. Being human is complex and being a business is complicated and so growing together is sure to be a precarious but altogether magnificent undertaking.

As yet however, many of us are still in a hard place.

Drivers of Disengagement

There are three ways that work becomes a soul-crushing, disengaging job that leads to “its fine like that”, what-kind-of-shortcuts-can-i-take, and the-least-I-can-get-away-with effort.

1. Work that asks people to do stupid stuff.

This can be menial work, in which the person doing the work has no stake or impact on the outcome. Think fast food, factory work, mail delivery, or other work that is heavily routinized and automated. A craft is different, because it involves mastery – these jobs do not. This also happens when the policies or processes of work are flawed in ways that are obvious to employees, but aren’t likely to change as a result.

2. Work that prevents people from doing good stuff

Many knowledge workers suffer in this camp, though often craftsmen (builders, etc) and service providers (nurses, consultants) do too. [My housekeeper quit her company for this reason and started her own, so my house is cleaner.] They have ideas, aspirations, curiosity, commitment to quality, but their management is so focused on maintaining the status quo that it is nearly impossible for these people to do any of the good work that they want to do. [This status-quo fetish is a frequent and sometimes unintended consequence of command and control hierarchies. The antidote is leadership.]

3. Work that takes undeveloped souls and keeps them in the dark

Hire people to do something, and never invite or enable them to develop their skills or to do more than they were hired for, and what you will get is glassy eyed mushrooms. These people disengage because they don’t know anything better. There can be many causes of stagnation, but simply accepting it is a losing strategy.

So how do we go from unintentionally soul-crushing to the labor’s Valhalla we seek? (Intentional soul-crushing is another matter altogether.)

Dan Pink showed us that intrinsic motivation is vastly superior to external motivation (do this, get that) to drive effort and outcomes for all but the most mechanical of tasks. Pink’s model shows that people are engaged (intrinsically motivated) when their work has three elements – Mastery – the ability to demonstrate and constantly improve one’s craft, Autonomy – the ability to solve problems and make decisions on their own, and Purpose – the idea that their work matters as part of a greater whole. (Click here If you haven’t seen his classic TED talk.).

Pink focuses on the individual, however, and what we need to understand here is how to make that work for organizations. There are those that claim the drivers of employee engagement are “Relationship with immediate supervisor, Belief in senior leadership, Pride in working for the company.” But normal people will recognize those as markers (KPIs), rather than drivers of engagement.

Drivers of Engagement (the human enterprise)

1. Purpose

If I don’t believe that my company is valuable, then my work is not valuable, and therefore I don’t value it, so I don’t invest in it, I am not engaged. Duh. Purpose, however, is not limited to green and eleemosynary causes (thanks for tolerating my nerdy words. it means charitable). A corporate purpose is an understanding of the change you want to make in the world – whether it is to make people happier, richer, more entertained, more constructive in their work, etc. Purpose must be deeply authentic, and not just a carefully crafted-by-committee Mission Statement. I talked more about why it matters here. In order to scale beyond small business size, purpose must be accompanied by narrative – that expresses that purpose to your customers, your market and your employees. This gives everyone the ability to connect with tell and build his or her own part of the story.

2. Transparency and Impact

You may find yourself with a purpose, and you may mean it, and you may find yourself with a marketing plan that expresses it and a roadmap that builds it (congrats to you) (if you’re saying to yourself, this is not my beautiful purpose, this is not my beautiful roadmap, then read on). But to make it work, to make it great, you need a team of people who have full, mutual awareness of what they are doing and what the leadership is worried about.

If people can’t see the drivers of their work (why) , and the impact of their work (how’d I do?), they can’t be engaged. If R&D doesn’t know what marketing is pushing and marketing doesn’t know about the latest innovation, and the plan to re-architect the customer support program, and the team in Europe’s new experiment and the recent customer loss or win and the 6 major decisions that the executive team is working through, then they are probably not very engaged.

When people don’t know what is going on, they can not consciously affect its outcome. They are not engaged. Transparency is not just about soaking in each others intellectual and emotional effluence (though that has its advantages too), its about knowing what’s going on around you so that you can constantly align, connect, consider and matter.

The flip side of transparency is “impact”. With the right kind of transparency, i can see what is going on, and understand the impact that my best work makes. I can see who and how I help. That matters.

3. Mutual Dependence

When we work together as a team, we help unpack each other’s intellectual boxes, we refine one another’s ideas and discover new ones. We improve each other. We build a continually improving, communal memory, experience, and insight (to riff on a William Gibson quote). Members of such a team take ownership of their responsibilities seriously, but invite and relish in the fact that they can rely on their colleagues to help them work through sticking points and make their best work better.

A collaborative environment helps sustain energy, focus, and purpose. But to get here, you must be aligned, you must have a mutual respect that leads to mutual compassion and curiosity that makes it fun to air challenges, problems and failure and a joy to bash and hash it out together.

If you do not have a “culture” of mutual dependence at work, technology will not change that fact. Generally this is about aligning around common goals, and offering one another respect as a conduit to trust, which enables you to do what teams do best – amplify strengths, and minimize weaknesses. If you’ve ever been a part of that team, you know.

4. Leadership

Some social media-ites believe that in the future, organizations will be purely emergent and collaborative, with no leadership required. I am not of that school – though certainly the nature of leadership will change.

Leadership matters, and there are two things that great leaders do 1) communicate without ceasing (leading to that transparency and inclusion thing) and 2) Listen without ceasing by asking lots of questions. Dear leader, if you aren’t both sharing your vision and listening to your workforce, then there is at least an organization’s worth of people who think you are a fool. This perpetual telling and listening looks like a subtle and dynamic balance between confidence and humility.

There is a third thing, and that is that you must be authentic. The human nose can detect the scent of patronizing palaver in micro-parts per million.

It is important to note that real leadership is recursive. Great leaders are constantly building the value and capability of communicating, owning, questioning and listening in all of their team members. Constantly.

[A fascinating counter-indicator here is the Valve thing. The billion dollar company with no formal hierarchy whatsoever. This merits study. There’s learning to be done to ensure that our egalitarian aspirations go more Jeffersonian than Orwell-Golding-esque.]

Related Topics – Gamification and Wall Street

5. Gamification as driver?

Gamification is a topic that has become tightly wrapped around the engagement axel. Gamification has two faces. The first is manipulative, the second is about forming positive habits. Most customers I talk to actually want the first, though I don’t think they quite realize it. This is disturbing faux-engagement, and is, I think, primarily a side effect of metrics abuse. Getting people to juice their numbers via manipulative performance metrics is not engagement. Just like company picnics aren’t a bad thing, but also don’t in and of themselves improve morale – same with badges and leaderboards. They don’t necessarily hurt (though they can), but they never address root cause.

The forming good habits thing is different – it uses gamification theory to say – hey – I know how people work, i know how habits are formed so I’m going to use that insight to help transition people to new habits. The new habits may be ones we think will build a more transparent, richly communicating, mission-aligned collaborative environment – like adopting collaboration software. Or maybe they are about digging through training material. They can support engagement, but they can’t create it where there isn’t any.

Gamification is not engagement, its habituation, and generally will promote small, mechanical types of interactions (check ins, etc) but is in no way a substitute for more substantive types of engagement. If you want to game the cash register, that might work. If you want to game your R&D, marketing, business development, or any other kind of “knowledge” work, you may want to rephrase the answer in the form of a question.

There is third, deeper meaning of gamification that transforms complex problems into multi “player” solution spaces . This is darned interesting, but is not what your average CIO is asking for, and can’t be acquired as a checkbox feature of social intranet software.

6. Shareholders take note

Though hard evidence was a long time coming, the basic argument goes like this. When employees give a hoot, they do better work, which leads to better outcomes across all measures. This chart from the 2012 Towers-Watson report is but one of several eye-popping bits of evidence to emerge last year. It shows that businesses with high levels of engagement have 3x the operating margin of those with low engagement. THREE TIMES THE OPERATING MARGIN. Three. What do you think happens to companies with a third of the operating margin of their competitors?

Bruce Temkin has also developed some relevant research. He backed into the topic as part of his methodical work on Customer Experience, because he could not help but notice the profound effect engagement has on customer satisfaction. He has a good model that is driver, not marker focused, and connects some of the dots between Engagement, Revenue and Customer Experience.

In fact, the benefits that accrue to the organization are so great that CV Harquail wonders if it isn’t the greatest management scam of the decade.

The Big Fat Marker

If you are looking for a marker (KPI), rather than a driver, its this. Engagement IS the marker. If you are looking for a leading indicator of performance, if you are looking for a leading indicator of how well your board and your management team are performing, how delighted your customers will be, and your shareholders thereafter, look at engagement. Perhaps it should become the new 10K reporting requirement right next to cost of goods. (Can you imagine the metrics abuse that would ensue?)

Engagement is the outcome of earning the respect of your employees, and encouraging and enabling them to do work that matters together. Increasingly, your employees are your business. Not your natural resources, your massive infrastructure, your intellectual property, your distribution channels or your processes. Its your employees. Respect them, include them, don’t patronize them. Earn their engagement and win.

If we succeed at humanizing the workplace, we will reinvent work as a place for personal fulfillment, a radical new engine for the economy, and a more sustainable society. For at least this generation and perhaps 5 or 100 more, our combined (but not homogenized) human capabilities and aspirations will be the most powerful force on earth.

The best is yet to come. Or, fulfilling a promise to @krcraft, #GSD!

denial cycle

Collaboration isn’t working.

What we have ourselves here is a chasm.

(this article originally appeared in CMSWire)

Collaboration isn’t breaking out all over.

Dear Colleagues:

Can you feel it? Its the subtle loosening of gravity’s pull as we pause at the peak of the hype apex before we thunder down into the trough of disillusionment (with apologies to Gartner). Social collaboration isn’t working very well, but must we  go gently into that good night?

Some of the reasons we’re hitting the near edge of this “chasm” we’ve known and predicted from the beginning. This is a paradigm shift as fundamental as any the modern workforce or capitalism has ever seen. More significant than the PC, the internet and the IT department combined. More significant than globalization. Its about retreating from command and control practices designed to make the ENGINE of capitalism (and government and war) purr, to a collaborative one which activates the full capabilities of the participants and networks them in a way that amplifies and accelerates action.

Its about changing from a daily grind of covering our individual and collective hinies to one where we are joined in the intellectual. emotional and emergent pursuit of “better”.  Of mission and service.

Ok – so that’s pretty hard, we have established but few ground rules, and it looks like we’ll wander another 10 or 20 years or so in the desert till its really as true as we’d like to to be, but it does seem inevitable, and so it is. But we could speed it along with more rigorous research and learning. We need to stop trying to ferret out bits of good news and start ferreting out learning. In other words, we need to take our own advice about facing both good and bad news with equanimity and an authentic learning orientation.

But there’s another angle to this and its really, really bothering me. Adoption. All the 68,000 vendors in the space (including my employer, OpenText) have settled on streams and digital workspaces as the definition of social collaboration technology -with some allowance for variance in quality, focus and features. And now we’re all lecturing on about adoption.

There are several things that are bothering me about that.

First. The language we’re hearing about adoption is eerily similar to the language we heard about every other enterprise IT paradigm that social collaboration is supposedly saving us from. “People don’t get it, we need change management and training and…..” And maybe that’s all true. But I know that I have scoffed at those foolish 1990’s KM people who stuck to their guns and soldiered on in spite of the fact that what they were doing clearly wasn’t working – though the value proposition was real, vital and clear. I have said the same thing about other IT systems of yore.

Can we now smugly believe that we are somehow more enlightened than others because we “get it”? If we’re so awesome, why isn’t this working? Why doesn’t everyone “get it” and why are we having such a hard time with adoption? I know, I know, human behavior, culture and all that. But we adopted cell phones as fast as they could make em. Just sayin’. Some of the change management stuff is real, true and urgent, and some of it is just denial. We do not want to believe that maybe we aren’t right. But we aren’t.

Third. So we’ve been pushing this techno philosophy pretty hard for three or five years, and as a Gartner analyst recently observed in a meeting, its no longer a new industry. And what have we learned? We have a bunch of people like me, many better than me,  lecturing on what should be and could be, but where’s the “what is”? I want a more rigorous body of learning out of the last five years. We deserve it and we need it to continue to be leaders in the reinvention of work. I know that there is an Amazon’s worth of books and papers out there, but its not enough. Yet. We have some clear wins. The majority of fortune 1000 businesses are using some form of social media to communicate internally as well as externally. Pockets of success are found within many companies and a few organizations are entirely transformed. Perhaps more new organizations are being formed after the new model rather than the old.

In the face of a mountain of evidence that something isn’t working as well as we hoped, is “try harder” a good strategy? Are we asking the hard questions of ourselves that could help us tell the difference? Like – why do people like email so darn much in spite of the fact that its killing them and makes their life more difficult in both the long and the short term. Are we wrong to ignore it? To insist that “email is dead, use this instead”?

Why do teams fail to act the way we think they will? Are we oversimplifying the notion of team? What about organizations? Where is the deeper insight on the relationship between teams and organizations? Why isn’t a sophisticated vocabulary breaking out? Why do we not yet have 100 words for different kinds of collaboration and teams, as expert in it as we think Eskimos are about snow? What is the difference between an intranet, a community and a team? I don’t want a tweetchat full of clever answers, i want clarity – and so do you.

So – yes, the paradigm shift will take a generation to turn over. But we have not yet come close to our full measure of duty as techno-innovators to drive it. I would like to toss out some themes where I think we have important questions to ask, things to learn. Maybe these are on the right track, maybe not, maybe its the wrong question entirely. But we need to start asking questions and stop searching – exclusively – for crumbs of corroborating evidence and data, and start looking at the entire body of information.

In other words, we need to step back from building business cases – though they are still important and valid – and put more emphasis on building our knowledge.

Themes and Variations
These are some of the themes where I want to see harder questions asked. What are your questions?

1. The organization
First – the organization, the intranet and collaborative teams are NOT the same thing. The relationship amongst and between these things need serious scrutiny. We’re beginning to see serious and rigorous study of public social networks in use for marketing, crisis management, etc – but that’s a bit easier – its all happening out in public, so we can see it and analyze it, thanks to the Twitter API. Its a bit harder to go into private enterprise systems and have a look (with some obvious and disturbing exceptions).

2. Connecting the dots
Second – streams are nice. I adore twitter. I adore our internal corporate tools that are similar to it. And here we’ve seen great adoption. We’ve turned our org into a giant chat room -an extension of Instant messenger or chat for all. Nice. there’s benefit in that. Ambient awareness has huge benefits and is one of the key elements in making remote work work. But that’s not a ‘wirearchy’, it does not make work visible in an actionable way, it does not cement team bonds, it connects only a modest set of dots, it is, in short, inadequate to change how we work, though its a nice addition. We need to build the semantic, statistical, psycho-social and otherwise tools that goose the gods of serendipity?

3. Collaboration
Several years ago, I came up with a definition of collaboration that focused on three key ideas: creation, connection and compounding. I also observed that great teams shared four basic traits – they had a shared sense of mission, they respected one another, they trusted one another and they were committed to achieving excellence. We’ve since learned that very effective teams have great communications – and – very importantly – members are more or less equal in the amount they contribute – no divas, no wallflowers. But we’re only seeing whispers of real actionable insight into how to contrive (or “cast”) these magically great teams. Leadership, yes, balance and matching of people – yeah, we sorta kinda know we have to do that, but few of us know how.

How is most collaboration achieved? What is the type, volume and velocity of information that needs to be exchanged? Is this the same of variable by team? By task? By …. what? How can teams connect to the whole and vice versa?

We’ve learned some other things too. What is the number one source of employee disengagement? Opacity of the organization. We have no idea what is going on, therefore we know we aren’t contributing meaningfully, and can’t contribute meaningfully, so we’re sullen. Turns out sullen employees (otherwise known as the disengaged) don’t churn out the best work. How are we fixing that? Ten years ago we tried dashboards based on BI – that didn’t really help, and was too metric-sy and therefore, more likely than not, punitive so it didn’t work. Streams? Not the way we currently use them.

4. Teams and Organizations
We’ve done some good work here. Shared workspaces and profiles have helped many organizations know themselves better, work more efficiently, and collaborate more seamlessly. But adoption here has been very hard for many, and even where adoption is high, we are still not meeting our ultimate goal of seamless, common operating pictures – shared knowledge, group insight.  

I want to know more about where the actual work gets done. We believe it mostly happens in  teams. There are several types of teams, and I think we need to start paying careful attention to the differences between them.

Why do we have different kinds of teams? What makes them different? How can we use technology to help them? How do teams and the organization as a whole relate to each other. What work is going on in the organization and who is involved? What is the pace? What are the outcomes? When we say visible work – are we thinking about it the wrong way? Maybe we should focus on making the patterns of activity visible more than simply the typing of individuals. How many teams are in your organization right now? How many are project teams? How many are committees, how many are swarms responding to urgent miscellaneous stuff? How many teams are people on? At what rate do they form and finish? Is it a stable number? Are some people on more teams than others? Is that good or bad? I have no idea. But that’s unacceptable. We need to start knowing these things.

Here’s one hypothesis to begin the discussion. There are (at least) 5 different kinds of teams.

1. Structural. these are the teams that we can see on the org chart. Marketing, HR, R&D, etc. In larger orgs, these break down even further – hierarchically.
2. Cross functional – these are the teams that collect people from across the organization for various purposes. In my world, these are often product teams.
3. Project – these are people that have come together for a very specific and time bound purpose and deliverable.
4. Interests and Communities of Practice – these are groups that support one another emotionally, socially or professionally, and you’ll see many of them within an organization.
5. Swarms – these are the long lists of people, many of whom you’ve never met, who are on the cc line of that last reply-all-urgent email trail you were on. You feel this pain like I do, right?

5. Really Visible Work
There are many ways that these teams are different, but the most obvious is how they form. Think about it – I’ll spare you (and my editors) the 1000 words I could write here on it for another time. Maybe you’ll write them for me. There are other important differences too. Quick – give me three ways we could help these different types of teams be more effective. But wait! Why do we have these different types of teams and what do they tell us about the organization? Would visibility into what teams are where and when and why help us? In what way? would we be more engaged once and for all if we could see all this? Is this what we should be talking about when we say “visible work”?

Next?
The paradigm doesn’t need to complete its shift for us to be squeezing more value out of it now. We do not need to wait until the majority of CEOs agree with “us” (whoever us is). We can start now, if we ask the right questions. If we continue to ask questions, rather than construct success. Today is the day to stop “proving” we’re right, and start thinking about what’s next. Our successes are real, and there, and let them be reported. But, the immutable law of physics still applies. People will adopt a tool when its easier to use than not to.

This is a great time to do it. We’ve had some important successes. Social Collaboration is an accepted part of mainstream business.  We’ve settled in a bit and we have an important opportunity to step back and formulate some really hard questions. We have greenfield ahead of us. But we have a lot of good honest work to do to the bridge the chasm, and I for one am vibrating with things I want to do next. You?

The best is yet to come.

Sincerely yours,