Systems to organize what employees have to do, or want to do?

I blogged before on the difficulty Enterprise 2.0 faces for entering big organizations. It suddendly occured to me the other day that current IT systems (ERP, CRM,..) are mainly meant to track and organize what employees have to do. While Web 2.0 tools are doing wonders aggregating intentions and organizing actions of people according to what each one of them wants to do.

It is not new that Markets and Hierarchies represent two forms of coordination with their specificities. In this sense, Web 2.0 seems very suited for Markets, allowing people with diverse interests to loosely collaborate for a while, before moving to something else. With that in mind, it seems that Enterprise 2.0 is confronting a very tough challenge, it wants to re-use for Hierarchies the tools that seem to be almost meant for Markets.

But for people who have been in management positions, it is clear that the command and control model has its limits. That a good part of your job is actually to create meaning so that what people have to do, more or less align with what they like to do. It is even more so when you deal with knowledge workers, where there is a strong asymmetry of information, where they know what they have to do, and you as a manager painstakingly try to keep up with what they are explaining to you.

This is why, even though I believe it will be difficult and require a lot of cultural changes, I still think that big organizations can benefit from the new Web 2.0 tools. At the heart of the change will probably be a modification on the way we conceive firms. But, when some corporations let employee use part of their work time as they wish, there is still hope that big organizations can transform themselves to adopt more decentralized working models.

Trying to make value out of what your employees want to do, instead of what top management thinks they have to do is obviously a big shift. But who said the latter should be the ultimate way to run hierarchies. If there is indeed value in the former, evolution will naturally produce new types of organizations thriving on those principles. If you’re still running on the old model, you’ll just have he choice between mutating or sinking into oblivion.

4 Responses to “Systems to organize what employees have to do, or want to do?”

  1. 1 timoelliott May 6, 2009 at 9:18 am

    I’m not sure there’s such a clear distinction between “have to do” and “want to do” as you imply. The first generation of business applications took what the most effective employees were doing and encoded their “best practice”. i.e. they took what some employees “wanted to do”, and forced everybody else to do the same.

    I believe that the next generation of Enterprise 2.0, or “business user” application will have to be far more flexible that the first generation, but they will follow the same curve — what is best practice today will become standard practice, and companies will manage and enforce that behavior.

    For example, I can easily imagine a day when effectively networking with your peers, or making sure that people can easily find out and benefit from your expertise are no longer perceived as “nice to have”, but simply part of what employees “have to do”.

    Today there are employees whose job involves technology evangelism with customers (I’m one of them), and they “want to have” a blog to do it more effectively. But in the future, this may well become a requirement of the role (I find it hard to imagine doing my job effectively without it).

    BI Questions blog:
    SAP Web 2.0 blog:

  2. 2 Frederic Baud May 6, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Hi Timo, thank you for your comment.

    While I appreciate your way of presenting things (always appreciated it), I still believe that the best practices you describe were not the result of what some employees wanted to do. In my view, they were the result of what managers wanted the employees to do.

    I find it hard to imagine that SFA, Project Management and Supply Chain Management systems were really designed by people who wanted to apply these for themselves. More convincingly from people who used to be in these positions and then turned their expertise to serve managers’ needs.

    With Web 2.0 the whole dynamic is reversed. You no longer express corporate and goals then distribute task and objectives to employees. People express what they want to do and community managers try to put coherence afterward to get the flow going. This is fundamentally different and would require a deep cultural change from organizations.

  3. 3 tjtobin August 25, 2009 at 1:28 am

    How long until we get internal report cards and you choose the people for a project from the bench of available talent?
    Or have an internal market where employees can move projects and get hunted for the most profitable projects?

  4. 4 Frederic Baud August 26, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Hi Tom,

    There are also people thinking that virtual currencies could be a way to fund and reward transversal projects. It is not a mystery that current organizations give a lot of talk on these initiatives (innovation, knowledge management, sustainable development,..) but little actual budget. People are asked to contribute, but efforts are not tracked and largely under-rewarded. Virtual currencies could be a way to allocate more efficiently the slack that organization want to tap when they think about these projects. All in all, that would be one of the means to put more market dynamics within the boundaries of current organizations.

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