Archive for the 'organizations' Category

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.

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Will Enterprise 2.0 ever enter big organizations?

I have been reflecting lately on how Enterprise 2.0’s experimentations could be introduced in a big organization environment. There is a lot of “change management” thinking there for sure: start small, pick quick wins, build a community of supporters,… But it seems that there is also more profound forces involved as well: Enterprise 2.0 represents a real paradigm shift for process oriented organizations.

I hate to use the term “paradigm shift”, because it has been used so many times, and for quite common situations. But in this case, I’m starting to wonder if there is not indeed a very distinctive approach between the two modes that would require organization to adopt very different ways to think about their internal dynamics.

Let me first give a bit more background on what I mean by process oriented. It is obvious that many big organizations, if not all of them, conceive their production of value (be it an actual product or a service) as a succession of tasks performed by different individual in specific roles. In this approach, the actual individual fulfilling a role is quite irrelevant as long as he or she has the capacity to perform the corresponding operations. The greatness of such a design is that it tends to make production fairly predictable. The downside is that you can not use the complete value of every individual in your organization because you ask them first to fulfill roles and you miss everything they can do outside of this specific role. Plus there is also a natural tendency to accumulate slack: if you use 100% of the time of an individual in a particular role, you create a bigger uncertainty than if you ask him to operate at 70%, plus or minus a couple of percents; and thus, you become less predictable.

On the contrary, if you loosely define Enterprise 2.0 as the adoption in a production context of collaboration modes as found on the Web, you end up with a very different picture. The individuals and their abilities are at the center of this picture. People freely decide to which project they will contribute and on which part. The whole dynamic is anything but predictable. It is on the contrary very efficient to perform many projects at the same time but with no coordination of a central authority that would ex ante define which one are really worth pursuing. Projects happen not because they are dimmed important by a couple of executive roles, but because the necessary skills aggregate through the desire of each participant of contributing. You trade predictibility for an incredible speed of implementation.

Now imagine a big organization that has been defining and refining its internal processes for the past decades. That has established its recruitment and dismissal processes to constantly have a sufficient stock of resources to fill the different roles. Imagine that you ask it to conceive itself as an internal market where resources can freely recombine to pursue emerging projects. That you promote the notion that you will, through this, greatly augment the output by loosing control on the nature of this output. Did I mention the term “paradigm shift”?

BarCampBank as an open incubator for breakthroughs

There is a recurring question about BarCampBanks and what you get there beyond meeting great people, exchanging business cards with them and feeling the dopamine running through your veins hearing what they have to say. If that’s not enough for you, I’d say that in my view there is even more: a powerful accelerator of ideas maturation and pre-innovation incubation.

I’ve been doing the pitch on a couple of occasions and I thought it may be good to write this on paper because it may sound counter-intuitive to some: it’s by sharing your ideas that you get a better chance of implementing them.

First point of the pitch is that “an idea has not value in itself”. I don’t want to run into the debate that it often starts, but just bear with me and take for granted that if you do not implement the idea, you’ll never see any value come out of it; and that for the community, it’s better that an idea is implemented by a good executioner than put in practice by a less able orginator who would have supposedly conceived the breakthrough out of the blue.

Second point is that if you try explaining your idea, you just realize that usually everything does not come out so oderly that you thought it was structured in your head. That people have sometimes intelligent counter-points that you did not think off; and that finally it helped you refine your understanding, opened new horizons and all-in-all accelarated your thinking process.

Third point is that thanks to the BarCamp format and its emergent approach to subject selection, you end up speaking with people who have at the same time very similar interests than those you’re just pursuing, and slightly different as well. Confronting your ideas with them help you understanding in what sense what you think is definitely unique, but also at time how complementary it is to the others’ points.

Finally, I point to the image of conceiving discussions at a BarCampBank like a way for everyone to bring their own pieces of the puzzle, of putting them on a table, of trying for a couple of hours to compare and trying to adjust them together. Then letting everyone go back with a still incomplete picture, but certainly slightly larger and more focused than everyone had when entering the room.

So what’s the deal? For me it is because execution is the real test that you should not spend unnecessary energy in producing ideas on your own. It is much better to speed up the process of idea creation by contributing to a common pool, then let the best implementers bring the result to reality.

There is also the question of knowing if this does not entice a free-ridder attitude: just listen to others’ ideas without giving yours. While everyone is perfectly free to adopt this behavior, I’d say that there are probably those that will get the least out of the deal. I have rarely seen people understanding perfectly what the others say without asking questions, plus I also think that you get the best explanations when you really give the context of your question and you let the train of thoughts run full speed.

Then there is the finaly question if this mechanism is equally interesting for big organizations and entrepreneurs, and if one side should not be wary of having the other one stealing their ideas. And here, people often think of entrepreneurs seeing their great ideas stolen by big organizations. My answer to this is first from the macro level on one-side: if an idea has every chance of better be implemented by a big organization, the community should spare the cost of seeing an entrepreneur duplicate capacities to just do what the big organization could provide at once; plus, if this is really the case, it is more than probable that the above entrepreneur will get squashed by the big organization when it realize that he/she has discovered a lucrative market. Then my answer is on the micro-level on the other side: there are ideas that can better be implemented by big organizations, then there are those that cannot – these are innovations called disruptive because they cannot be carried by current organization the way are operating.

So anyone, from a startup or a big organization, should find interest in participating in a BarCampBank if they are attracted by innovation and the creation of new business models in the world of banking and finance. I hope that I made my point in explaining why in my view the more they bring to it, the more they’ll get out of it.

Would your organization accomodate an outer-space organigram zap?

James Gardner has just been putting in his latest post the case for an increased ability by organizations to nurture disruptive innovations. I’m not sure I share James’ optimism, furthermore I don’t think that a renewed agile strategic process will do any difference in that regard.

This made me think of an intellectual experiment. What if we witnessed the appearance of alien ships equipped with a new arm aimed at our business organization? In the vein of a neutron bomb – that leaves intact the building but destroy any life forms within it – this weapon would be more lenient and able to keep the occupants, their brains and skills intact- to the exception of any recall of what was the former organigram and the functions attached to anyone.

My first question would be: what do you think would be the instant drop in capitalization of your company on the market place after such an attack? My second question would be: do you think it will ever be able to recover?

With that in mind, I believe that the market has shown an amazing capacity at creating this sort of organizational value by quickly assembling different skills readily available to build on an innovation. I see an extreme difficulty in reshaping most organizations beyond acceptable adjustments.

We can take the Google and Microsoft example as a yardstick. I think that , if we were to investigate the composition of the two employees population, we should find statiscally a very comparable pool of talents, age distribution and so one. Nevertheless, I think that Microsoft’s pecking order makes excessively unlikely that they will ever be able to compete with Google on their turf.

If you are still sceptical in the leeway that the market has and that organizations have not: Can you imagine an organization accepting to replace most of their 50-something senior management staff by 30-something guys? This is what the market is putting ex nihilo in place regularly. Whenever a 40-something has acceded by chance to the upper position of a venerable organization, he/she has never tried to rejunevate the executive populations and usually stay on the chair for the next 20 years aggravating the excutive age problem all along.