Simon Terry

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Comparisons are Otiose

We need to see others as individuals, not by comparison. The most dangerous comparison of all is comparing another to one’s self.

Humans are social creatures. We live in tribes, clans, and families. We gather in large aggregations and participate in social activities that reward us with wealth, social status, respect, and fame. For many people, the hierarchy of this social activity is an all-consuming focus.

With this social activity comes the inevitability of comparison. There are others. There is me. In the gap between the two questions arise. How do I compare to them? How do they compare to each other? Am I rising or falling? How am I doing?

The reality is that we will never know. The goals, motivations, failures, set-backs, lessons, effort, history and support of others are mostly hidden from us. We cannot know exactly how they are going or what the outward manifestations mean for their personal sense of achievement. Appearances are deceptive.

Even if there was value in comparison, we live on a planet where there are just too many other people. With all those people there are millions of ways to discriminate. There is no end to the comparisons that can be made. Know your place in one domain and another will arise to confound you.

To compare we need to see some things as like us and others as not. Ultimately, these comparisons diminish our individuality our uniqueness and our ability to contribute to the diversity of our society. As appealing as comparisons may be to our hierarchical brain, we are wiser to see each person as a unique individual.

The answer to each of the questions is not outside us.  Comparisons get us know closer to understanding what will offer us meaning, happiness and satisfaction. Comparions offer no insight into others. We can learn from others and collaborate with others. Competing with others should be saved for situations where that is the point of the game.  Competition is not the meaning of our social, human lives.

No Prize

The competitive performance orientation of modern business can mean executives will focus intently on execution of the goal. There are no prizes for first, fastest or biggest in collaboration. The best collaboration is fulfillment of your strategic goals. That’s ongoing adaptive work.

Starting the Race

When starting a new collaboration implementation, questions from senior executives often focuses on what success of the project looks like.  These executives look to external experts and sources to guide their definition of success. The questions often come from the traditional competitive dynamics of business:

  • Will we be the first of our competitors on this tool?
  • Who’s got the most employees?
  • Who’s best in our industry or market?
  • How many employees do we need to get on the platform?
  • How fast can we get this done?
  • Why do we need to invest for that long?
  • Can we do it cheaper than others?

There is no prize for collaboration. In hunting for the traditional definition of success in competition beyond the organisation, these executives are starting in the wrong place

Each organisation’s strategy, culture, needs and team are different.  Benchmarks can be shared, become competitive goals and a source of bragging rights, but they are usually meaningless in the creation of value. Rather than engaging in the traditional business competition, each organisation needs to develop its own strategic plan and invest accordingly.

Asking Why

In the questions above, while the executives are asking to quantify goals, they are actually trying to make sense of what success looks like in this new and different way of working. Most executives have learned to define success clearly for a new endeavour and work their way back from there using tried and true transactional methods to hit that target.  The questions are all efforts to assess how hard the transition will be and what they will need to do to support the change.  Answer the question at face value with a number or a case study and you might short circuit the learning and sense making process. Importantly, you run the risk of ending up with tried and true approaches rather than a wider adaptive change.

The questions are all efforts to assess how hard the transition will be and what they will need to do to support the change.  Answer the question at face value with a number or a case study and you might short circuit the learning and sense making process. Importantly, you run the risk of ending up with tried and true approaches rather than a wider adaptive change.

Leverage these questions to engage the executives on the question of why they are pursuing collaboration. Go looking for the answer of what success looks like in the broader plans and goals within the organisation. You can’t quantify success until you know what they want and the work they have underway to achieve it.

Help the executives to understand that an important part of any collaborative work is the goals of the workers too. This is a conversation that stretches well beyond the board room and has the potential to significantly change the direction of the project. The goal of any collaboration project is to leverage the discretionary contributions of employees. Their definition of success matters too.

Don’t fall for the numbers game and short term targets. A collaboration project is ongoing adaptive work for the whole organisation.


What to Care When

What to Care When-2

Three Kinds of Senior Executive Resistance



Understand the different kinds of resistance from senior executives to your collaboration project.

Senior Executive support can be essential in any change program. Future of work and collaboration projects critically need the participation and leadership of senior leaders in the organisation.  Intimidated by senior executive power and authority, we can easily confuse the source of their resistance to a change program.  In many cases, what we perceive as an instruction that our work is a bad idea, may be a request for assistance to advance the cause.

Three Kinds of Senior Executive Resistance

Not all resistance is the same.  Often we need to dig underneath the No to learn more. Here are three major sources of pushback

  • Lack of Relevance: Senior executives are busy. They know that their time must be carefully allocated to ensure their success. Fail to be relevant to their business goals and strategies and you will quickly fall off their attention. If your initiative is competing for time or attention with a major priority, you will come off second and make even provoke efforts to stop you.  Lack of relevance is a signal to revisit the business case and benefits for your change.  Make sure they are aligned to important strategic goals of the organisation and to benefits that matter to the executive in question.
  • Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: For a busy executive any doubt about what you are seeking to do can be a reason to ask you to stop and do better.  Make sure you are clear on your change and your needs for their action and support. If your proposed change threatens a senior executives ability to exercise their role, their intelligence, their power or traditional ways of operating in the organisation, it is like to generate even more fear, uncertainty and doubt. For people used to trading on confidence, even a little FUD will trigger a response.  Sharing understanding and building capability in the executives is the best response to FUD. Enable an executive to lead in a new domain and they can quickly transform from opponent to advocate.
  • Committed Opposition: There is always a hard core of cynics and naysayers. Don’t waste your time seeking to change their views.  Work around them instead.  If you can demonstrate that your change is strategically important and the future way of working by engaging other leaders, these executives will leave or be made redundant in time.

Your Employees Aren’t Consumers. They have Too Many Expectations. 

Your employee’s consumer behaviour won’t translate to the workplace. The barrier to consumer style adoption is the impact of your systems and culture. Implementation of technology alone does not address these cultural and systemic issues.

A common question for any vendor of future of work tools is ‘why do I need to invest in change and adoption? Aren’t consumers adopting these tools quickly?’  Consumer adoption of new tools is exciting. The vendors of consumer product have developed a new science of fostering adoption and engagement.

How Consumer Adoption Works

Successful consumer tools are designed to accelerate adoption. They spread through human networks using role modelling, social proof and by enabling these relationships to build on network effects to create standards of interaction.

The features and algorithms of these products are constantly tweaked to reward individuals for their use of the tool and to foster the social value that individuals seek from the tool. Because the vendors are only concerned with consumer behaviour on the platform, they have all the data that they need.

Make a mistake by adopting the wrong consumer tool and you simply walk away from the mistake. It is likely you discover it is the wrong tool because your friends and family don’t join you in using it. Switch to another tool and try again.

The only barriers to this consumer adoption are access, legal rules, and social acceptability. Given the cultural diversity of society and the rapid diffusion of new ideas in consumer society, the last barrier is malleable with enough time, enough users and a big enough marketing budget.

Unravelling The Corporate Barriers

Your employees aren’t consumers roaming the world with their own choice of relationships and their own choice of social standards. Employees are locked into relationships by their work, their roles and the systems of the organisation. Cultural and performance standards are managed tightly. Productivity pressures are deliberately real and demanding.

Culture is the expectation of how people will behave in work interactions. Culture is a tight envelope on what actions are acceptable to peers and managers. Culture shapes individual’s reputations which play a large role in the trust, work effectiveness and future career opportunities of individuals. Breaches of these expectations don’t cause mere social disapproval. They have real consequences for performance ratings and ultimately whether someone gets to keep their job.

Employees have been deeply trained in the performance ethic of organisations. Without a clear sense that a new way of working is authorised, more efficient and achieving a worthwhile goal of the organisation, they will rightfully refuse to take it on. Leadership plays a key role in providing this reassurance and setting a strategy for the work value of a tool.

The social, work and management systems of your organisation are designed to enforce a standardised way of working and standardised behaviours. These standards reach far beyond one tool. Your new tool is trying to introduce new ways or working and new ways of interaction. The benefits case depends on users using the tool in new way. Any tool that conflicts with one of these existing organisational systems will fail to realise its full potential.

Some brave Change Agents and early adopters will fight your systems to help adoption. Like consumers, they will try to change on the promise of the tool and fight the system pushback. Their success will depend on the ability of your culture and systems to adapt and the support they receive from leaders. The best way to ensure success is to invest in the change and adoption resources required to support this adaptation of work.

An investment in change and adoption to support your new tools must be more than communicating a new use case. Change and adoption support must be about enabling the organisation’s culture and systems to adapt to realise the strategic business value of the new tool. Change and adoption support must be about realising a richer level of trust in the new tools, new ways of working and each other. The path to greater maturity of usage and business value depends on it.

Where Does Collaboration Happen in Your Organisation?


Between People

There’s only one place collaboration happens in your organisation – between people.

Collaboration doesn’t just happen on your technology platform or in your activity based workplace. Collaboration happens wherever people come together to work. Collaboration is a human activity integral to work wherever it occurs.

Between Diverse People

Like the diverse people & work in your organisation, collaboration takes many forms. As an outcome of the interaction of many people, it reflects all their diverse contributions and preferences.

Build a monolithic and exclusive collaboration solution and you are likely to disappoint the diverse needs of people who are looking to tailor solutions from a digital workplace of “small pieces loosely joined.” Universal solutions designed for corporate control are complex. The greater the complexity of your collaboration solution and the more that it is top-down imposed on employees, the more likely it is to fall foul of Gall’s Law. Systems designed for single standard or even an average are likely to disappoint everyone.

Leave flexibility so that your employees can adapt and use the collaboration infrastructure in their work. If it is too hard or too ill-suited to their diverse needs, employees will just work around it, by bringing in their own small pieces.

Between People Everywhere

Beware efforts to promote collaboration that are tied only to one piece of infrastructure or one pattern of working. The needs of the employees of your organisation and their work will likely require more.

Don’t invest all your efforts in the infrastructure when what matters most is what is going on in the relationships between people. Infrastructure supports and enables collaboration but it doesn’t define it. Remember the real value of collaboration is following activity beyond the infrastructure to understand how it changes the work.

What to Think When – The Video

Kevin D Jones has turned his excellent video making skills to turn the What to Think When infographic into one of his great Business Processes That Refuse to Die videos. Enjoy!

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