Transformation Doesn’t Happen in Silos

James Tyer and I often find ourselves chatting on Twitter about our shared observations and ideas.  One particular stream of though started to gel and we decided to formalize it some in a shared blog post (which was quite enjoyable) as an opportunity to extend the conversation. Let us know your thoughts.

 

There’s much talk of transforming HR, reimagining L&D, shaking up corp comms, disrupting marketing, “hacking” [insert your dept name here]. Transformation! Hacking! SEO buzzwords abound. LinkedIn feeds are full of it. Trade publications are recommending it. Armies of consultants are demanding it. Organizations are spending a fortune on it, yet once again nothing is fundamentally changing.

When “change” happens (and it can) it still happens within the department. This reveals our paradigm – the way our leaders see the structure of organizations – a last century, industrial era mindset. The result is a transformed department…that’s it. With the same problems, the same people – apart from the ones who were fired – the same leaders, the same titles. Really, nothing changes. It’s just the same old re-organization – not transformation.

A real transformation would see the end of these silos, an end to big departmental structures, decentralisation of power, a shift in authority, an end to the “business relationship manager”. For example, a real transformation of HR would likely result in no HR silo. Now that’s revolutionary!

Why do we do this over and over again? This time Amara’s law is particularly pertinent:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” – Roy Amara

Short Run:

Leaders are sold on technology as a solution to big problems… big problems in their areas. But this isn’t transformation, it’s piecemeal modification. For example, in HR: people analytics, performance systems, another LMS, maybe even an ESN. IT are dumping every shiny tool they see onto employees in a bid to keep up with “being digital”. Comms (the marketing of four years ago) are obsessed with new “channels” to give employees more and more information. And it’s not a question of whether comms or HR or IT are well-intentioned; it’s whether they are willing to keep repeating the same mistakes.

All we’re doing is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Long Run:

Technology is changing product development and distribution, it’s changing political discourse, it’s changing the consumer landscape, and has the potential to continue transforming our physical landscape. Take for example this Greg Ferenstein article on Medium where he reveals a simulation that showed how vast amounts of urban land could be reclaimed and 90% of cars would disappear due to automated vehicles. Technology stands to reimage the globe, physically, socially, and politically like never before.

We are naive if we don’t think organizational structures can’t change. Or are we short sighted, comfortable in our paradigm so as to unconsciously impede the progress of digital transformation by holding tight to familiar structures. Our cautious human nature prevents us from embracing real change. If we could just get out of our own way and let go of our archaic reward structures, our traditional ideas about leadership, our inability to be truly open and transparent with our work. Could we harness technology to create the modern firm – one that actually benefits consumers, workers and shareholders alike? The answer is Yes – there are already companies doing just this!

What’s Next?

If you’re fed up with endless re-orgs, talk of “transformation”, talk of disruption with no compelling alternative vision to the current state of affairs, uninspired by leadership, and feel like you’re working Einstein’s world of insanity. What do we suggest for those of you who would like to get started?

Well, the kicker is, there’s nothing easy. And when you’re out there on your own talking about new ideas, it’s tough.

Frankly you can only transform yourself. You can only change your viewpoints, outlooks, beliefs, ideas, and work. The fortunes spent on changing organizations are wasted because those who spend the money don’t change – they just tell others to. Change is social. Change happens one conversation at a time as Euan Semple has said. Be bold and talk about new ideas. Build your networks of like-minded support across departments, not just your own. Here are some frameworks to help guide your first conversations. There are no formulas – no one-size fits all. You and your organization will need to be agile to adapt to circumstance. To create your own version of the networked organizations.

A few sites, books, articles, etc to get you started.

Social Carves Its Own Path

Thousands of people recently commented (most agreeing) with a post on LinkedIn about how awful it was that posts on LinkedIn were no longer business related. Oh the irony.

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They were upset that LinkedIn was being used like Facebook; status updates and photos of the non-work related type dominating their network updates. (Huh, maybe it’s just what Microsoft wanted though?)

Let’s step out of the social platform mindset for a moment and return to just being social, sans tools. In my experience, as yours, the majority of business setting conversations don’t have much to do with the business. The sports talk, the sarcastic joke, the quick verbal jab, the nod, the wink, the stories of children, parents and pets are not only accepted but expected. This informal conversation is the glue that holds together the formal pieces and this is where LinkedIn conversations are going. For some, LinkedIn has strayed from a place with a distinct purpose. This disturbs them and they will leave. But honestly the “rules” were never there, only expectation and expectations can certainly change faster than rules… and they did.

There is a lesson here for organizational leaders looking to adopt social technology, it is of course a lesson in expectation and rules. It is that social carves its own path. The conversation should not be controlled. Efforts to do so will certainly kill it. It’s movement, like that of water, is critical for survival. Healthy social is natural and unchanneled, for if the sharing and conversation were strictly business related and devoid of the elements that truly unite people, form trust, and build relationships, organizations would ultimately suffer in areas of innovation, creativity, and problem solving.

It’s important to note that people connect with people, not content and that all conversations in business is the conversation of business.

Voices on The Wire

VoicesOnAWire_CroppedEven after over 10 years of Social Media being in the public consciousness, organizations still struggle to see how it differs from other technology in the workplace. Most often they implement it as they would any other IT project. They wrongly lead with technology, the features and the functions. But it’s not media, it’s social media. The term “social media” begins with the most human of behaviors; personal interaction. But if IT horse blinders weren’t enough, many also have a limited understanding of what’s behind the word “social.” Yes, social is communication, it’s sharing and collaboration but it’s also humor, it’s snark, it’s empathy, it’s thoughtful, it’s spontaneous and it can be calculated. Behind all social interaction is emotion, social media is affective media.

Successfully supporting social in an organization is first about understanding psychology, sociology and then technology. It’s about the voices that will be on the wire, not just the wire. So listen in now. What do you hear? Are the voices in your organization open? Are they honest? Are they cooperative rather than competitive? If they’re not, shouldn’t the wire wait?

Humility is a Bluebird

I read that in sales circles the term bluebird is slang for an opportunity that is unexpected or very profitable. You can’t exactly create a bluebird in this context (sales) I suspect but in others, by doing the unexpected we just might. For example the moment we let are guard down, even just a little, amazing things can happen. Yes, the vultures can swoop in seeing it as weakness but so too can arrive a bluebird of opportunity.

BluebirdMany organizational leaders think trust-building is solely accomplished by being strong and decisive. However a deeper trust forms when people in charge reveal their humanity which is often unexpected. Humanity is humility.

In a past organization I was working for, the leadership was struggling to solve the problem of time recording. In the contract space an organization can only get paid if the records for billable hours are accurate and complete. With most employees working on several projects at once, it was an arduous task to complete time records each day. The early solutions, in place well before I got there, included a system of automated emails sent by the finance department each day. Those late in submitting their time card were sent an ominous note informing you that “you have failed floor check” at 10:00 am each day. However simple, it was doing little to curb the epidemic of delinquency.  The typical approaches were not working as, regardless of the non-compliance, everyone still got paid.

Visibly flustered by the inactivity, the head of finance saw training as the solution. Yet this problem was not due to a lack of skill or knowledge and one operations executive agreed with me. I convinced him instead to post in our new Enterprise Social Network. His post was not to be a demand or a threat but a humble request; in his own words he simply asked for help.  He explained why non-compliance was bad for the organization, the individual and frankly stated he was out of ideas. Within hours the first comments started to appear and due to the inherent nature of social technology followers of followers chimed in seeing that it was safe to do so. Most offered personal tips; approaches and tools they used to remind themselves to complete the task. Others acknowledge these ideas and openly thanked one another.  What eventually appeared however was a criticism of the failed floor check email message itself. One employee even referred to the HR handbook and noted a discrepancy – the email message implied that if you received it, you already missed the opportunity. This was inaccurate, as 12:00 pm was the deadline. The 10:00 am email was meant as a warning but the verbiage led many to take no action since they figured it was too late!  The HR handbook was quickly updated and the email alert corrected. Delinquency declined.

A simple and highly atypical hierarchical communication, one based on humility, led to open dialog, productive criticism and a small unexpected change with financial rewards; a bluebird.

A Lesser Known Benefit of Enterprise Social Tools

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Naturally much of the talk, and vendor pitch, around organizational social tools is about the tangible value they can bring to the work being done; reducing emails, eliminating meetings, working out loud, collaboration, innovation, etc. What is not often noted however is how these tools can reveal the heart of the organization in the stories that are shared within.

Our enterprise social tool existed at my current employer before my arrival. It’s been growing in use and today most have adopted it for various purposes. Together we are focusing more on adaptation and working within it as well as stretching it’s capabilities beyond employees (more on that another time).

Early on, as I perused the conversations within, I came across one that our CEO began when an employee, who was there from the start, was leaving to embark on a new adventure. He reflected openly on the early days, painting a vivid picture of small office spaces and bleak surrounding that spoke to what every start-up probably physically looks like. It was written with a nostalgic emotion as it conjured images of a business struggling to survive, hope, partnerships and the profound belief in an idea. I found it refreshing to see an organizational leader opening up for all to see, sharing a story and just being real. As a new employee I was instantly able to feel like I was there in this simple exchange between founder and employee. It was the epitome of what these tools provide us; 1. transparency, where I could peer into the past and see how people were connected beyond work and 2. openness, where I and others could contribute to the story and even reawaken the conversation well after it had paused.

As an organization grows it risks social atrophy, where the space between us widens and the humanity is sucked out  – leaving a void which is usually filled with rigid hierarchy and the departmentalization of work. Social tools however can keep the arteries open and be a window into the past. They make visible the small flecks of culture found within each conversation, enabling new employees to learn who the organization really is beyond the titles and org chart. In essence, they can keep an organization small even as it grows bigger by helping all to never forget where they came from.