Let’s begin at the beginning
We’re lovers and we’re losers
We’re heroes and we’re pioneers
We’re beggars and we’re choosers
Frank Turner ‘I knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’
My shelves are full of books about artists, poets, politicians, entrepreneurs, rebels, change makers and revolutionaries. I am drawn to conversations with people making change happen in all facets of our world from the arts to zoology. The work that I want to do most and do most often is work that changes the world to make it more human. The company and community I keep is called Change Agents Worldwide. I am in more communities of change makers than I can count. Every business I am involved in is working hard to change the world for the better despite the complex and dreary challenges that change makers face. This morning, driving to work listening to music, an insight dropped .
Maybe, just maybe, there is a pattern in all this.
The pattern is that change is life. Change is the vitality of growth. Change is the everpresent battle against the decay that settles on the static and the passive. Change is the opportunity to see the unrealised potential, here and now. Change is what the living do.
Change makers see problems and know their job is to make things better. They don’t complain (much) and they don’t expect complaints to be an answer. If you want change, you get on with the challenge of bringing a better world into this one. Nobody will do your work for you.
Changemakers don’t expect perfection. They start where they can. You can’t accept dead history as an excuse when you demand life lives up to exacting standards and are prepared to exhaust yourselves trying.
There is an old phrase that we are the company we keep. I will happily keep leaning into my communities of rebels, change makers and entrepreneurs. Let’s hope their energy, passion and life keeps rubbing off on me. I’ve got a lot of change left to make and a lot of living left to do.
And I know I’m not the one who is habitually optimistic
But I’m the one who’s got the microphone here so just remember this
Yeah, well life is about love, lost minutes and lost evenings
About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering
And they help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live
Yea, the only thing that’s left to do is live
Frank Turner, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’
Thanks to Frank Turner for the song:
Thanks also to Helen Blunden for her discussion about art and architecture this morning that prompted this meditation.
As collaboration platforms respond to the demands of C-suite executives for new tools for digital communication, two themes have risen to the forefront of debate. Everywhere we turn at the moment we have the twin topics of:
- 100% Adoption
- Collaborating with Everyone
Both targets are counterproductive illusions. They aren’t as attractive or as realistic as they seem despite the many people promising miracles to eager executives.
100% Adoption as a Measure
That we are even discussing adoption shows the growing maturity of the collaboration technology market. In the early days, there was too much expectation that the tool itself would deliver magic and users would automatically interpret how and when to use the tool as they change their work.
Now that we are focused on and measuring adoption, we are confronted with the inevitable race to 100% adoption or similar goals. We have reached the point where the goal has taken over and the logic for the goal has been lost.
Increased purposeful use of a collaboration platform is valuable. However, much that is measured in measuring adoption is not purposeful use and has little business value for the organisation or for users. Likes on the CEO’s live video or a post that gets no engagement does not guarantee any business value.
More importantly, the purpose of all this adoption is often vague. Big adoption numbers make community managers feel great when performance measures are often uncertain. They provide marketing for tech companies. They also stroke senior executive egos as they falsely correlate adoption to engagement. As I have repeatedly stressed, we need to move beyond adoption for its own sake to creating value for the business and in line with its strategy. A cavalcade of GIFs, likes and chatter can be the exact wasteful time suck that many executives fear. Pointless activity driven by platform features or campaigns will ultimately drive rational users away. Employees are sensible enough that they will choose to spend their time creating value for the business or their own work instead of delivering work to a meaningless metric.
Collaborating with Everyone
As a passionate advocate for working out loud, many people may assume that I would encourage collaborating with everyone. I don’t because you can’t collaborate with everyone and it is generally counterproductive.
Research has consistently shown the value of psychological safety in high value collaboration. We just aren’t safe if the network universe must be everyone. This is a key reason why I stress that working out loud is ‘Sharing work in progress with a relevant audience’ (emphasis added).
Relevance is also a key element for the ability for a collaboration opportunity to find someone who can help or learn from that message. Messages in bottles send out into large expansive networks often struggle to find relevant partners and responses without the support of community manager and other champions to guide them to relevant parties. Smaller groups closer to a team or a clan scale are much more useful launching pads. People can assume that a message sent to everyone is not relevant to them. It gets less attention in the fast flow of broadcast communication.
Another key reason is that much of the focus on ‘collaborating with everyone’ is really about communication, not collaboration. There are real human differences between chatting, communicating messages, having a conversation and getting down to the task of working together. If you are focused on broadcast communications then you can target everyone but expect to get the usual low engagement that you see on any other broadcast communication channel. Forcing broadcast messages into the streams of people busy doing work is not a solution. It is counterproductive because it either disrupts the flow of employee’s work, they miss the messages or they disengage from the communication channel. Worse establishing that broadcast is the leaderships’ preferred mode of engagement encourages others to model that behaviour too. Collaboration is far more effective when people check egos and listen.
If the digital era has taught us anything, it should be that perfection is overrated and learning and adaptation is a far better approach to work. We don’t need 100% adoption of a tool. We need the adoption of the collaborative work that will help realise our business goals. We don’t need collaboration with everyone. We need collaboration of the specific groups and teams that will realise our desired forms of new business value. Collaborative teams learn by doing and learn from the role modelling of others. If the strategy is not clear now, then the work of the community will be to learn and adapt their way to fulfilling these objectives.
The challenge with change is that communication can be complex. Often communication is hard when things are uncertain or it might make things more uncertain by raising issues. The answer is to communicate early and often.
We often wait to share messages. We want things to be more certain. We want things to be perfect.
There is no way to prepare a perfect communication. Communication is a two-way exercise. You can’t perfect communication without the active participation of the other party. As George Bernard Shaw said:
The greatest issue in communication is the illusion it has taken place.
We are often reticent to share a message of change because there will be initial emotion, difficulties and resistance. Change always gets harder before it gets better. However that difficulty is a critical part of the change process. Questions, pushback and emotions are all part of finding the right change and getting your message across.
Delaying communication because of the initial difficulty is misconceived. The further you progress your change without communication and engagement the bigger the initial pushback will be and the longer it will take to resolve. Worse it is also likely that you are more deeply committed to your change and reluctant to take feedback or listen. I’ve seen too many situations where late engagement lead to a total breakdown in trust. Treat people like adults and engage them early.
Once change has begun people are hungry for information. Gossip, guesswork and assumptions will fill the gaps in understanding. Close up the space for troublemakers with regular communication to build understanding and trust.
If nothing is happening or nothing is changing say that. People do not assume silence is good news. A regular drumbeat of communication will enable people to reflect, build understanding, make suggestions and ask questions.
We can all communicate more about the changes going on in our work and organisations. A culture of Working Out Loud is one approach that help makes this an ongoing dialogue in organisations.
I was very excited last year to be asked to talk as part of Monash University Education’s STEM Talk series about my career journey and how STEM capabilities have powered my experiences and learning. The talk has just been published.
Adopting management best practices is like asking your company to all become Finnish. All these best practices are more complicated than they seem, others are evolving the practice and the best practice is not why others were successful.
Our Finnish Initiative
Every day a CEO is fired up on the need to implement a new best practice across the organisation. They may have been to a conference, spoken to a competitor, read an article or listened to a consultant. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the best practice is ‘Being Finnish’. The CEO has heard that companies that are Finnish are global success stories and wants everyone in the organisation do their work using Finnish and reflecting Finnish culture as soon as possible. You are tasked with delivering the Finnish initiative companywide as soon as possible. You happen to like Finland and the Finnish people but have your doubts for a few good reasons.
Best Practices are history, an unreliable predictor of future success
By the time management practices have industries of consultants built to promote them, there is a very good chance that practice has a lot of history. The practice has gone through pilot, rollout, a period for measurement of success in a lead organisation. It has then been shared on the conference circuit and built its own community as it spreads to other organisations.
After that consultants have picked it up from the community and begun to turn it into a practice that can be sold as a simple package. At this point, there’s no guarantee that the originator is still even using the practice. Practices often outlive the failure of the original organisation. There are many successful Finnish companies but would your CEO have a different perception if he or she knew that the Finnish case studies were based on Nokia’s growth in the mobile handset business? Being Finnish may or may not have contributed to Nokia or any other Finnish company’s success or failure. We will never know exactly.
Best Practices are Simplified Practices that Aren’t Simple
To implement Finnish in your organisation, it is likely to be simplified down to a few practices. Let’s say you settle on speaking Finnish and adopting a short list of Finnish values and cultural practices.
Even the simplified versions prove to be trickier than people expect. Finnish is a language that’s from its own language group. It will take people years to come up to competency and then there’s all the processes and documentation in the organisation that needs to be translated and realigned with the new strategy. There is a real danger that your performance will decline as everyone builds competency in Finnish, miscommunication occurs and the clashes with your current approaches are resolved.
Why Catch Up?
Even if you execute your project perfectly. There is always others who have been Finnish for longer and will have a richer history of learning through the application of Finnish. While you are still implementing simplified Finnish, they will have a rich adaptive culture of Finnish. Best practices are often racing to where someone used to be, not to an advantage.
Every New System is a Culture Program
No matter how well you learn to speak Finnish, do Finnish things or follow the Finnish values, it is not what makes you Finnish.
Imposing a whole alien cultural system on your organisation is a difficult challenge. Finnish people are proud of their culture and they have grown up in it. It is not an imposition. Your current systems and culture don’t disappear just because everyone’s trying to be Finnish.
The system likely has elements and relationships that you and your users won’t understand because you are not from within the culture. Many simplified versions of Finnish are unrecognisable to those who are Finnish because those new to the practice leave out elements without any understanding.
Your Problems and Opportunities are Unique
Management is about responding to the challenges and opportunities unique to each organisation. Effective strategy is tailored to the organisation, it’s position and capability. Being Finnish because Finnish is the new management fad is abdicating the responsibility to manage the actual circumstances of the organisation.
So the next time you consider implementing a management fad, consider it as implementing Finnish, or Faddish, and see how the views change.
After publishing my recent post on the four drivers of value creation in collaboration, I chatted with Anna Chu about how these concept is applied. The conversation highlighted to me that there was value in further explaining how to use these drivers to connect senior leaders and employees to the value of collaboration. This post will explore that topic further.
Drivers as a Link
As I noted in the initial post the four drivers are a simple tool to find value creation opportunities. Their power is that they act as a link between organisational strategic value whether in economic or non-economic value and the features and benefits of technology solutions and their use cases.
Let’s look at two examples:
Top Down Start – From Strategy to Use Case:
- The CEO approaches you to improve Innovation in line with the new corporate strategy. The strategy is a little unclear on how innovation works in your organisation so this responsibility is a little daunting.
- You have a conversation with the CEO and ask some questions to explore the drivers:
- Growth: What outcomes do you hope will grow through Innovation?
- Effectiveness: How do you see Innovation enable us to do things better?
- Velocity: What do you want us to do faster through innovation?
- Protection: How do you see innovation help us to avoid risks?
- The discussion is long and involves a lot more back and forth but together you clarify that the CEO is interested in how the organisation can more quickly bring products to market based on insights from customers. She is worried about being disrupted by a new competitor.
- You develop a strategy for the innovation initiative that is based around a series of new use steps that demand different ways of working:
- Growth: Increase Sales and Retain Customers by Delivering New Products
- Effectiveness: Better Convert Insights to new Product Features with higher value for Customers
- Velocity: Deliver Products to market Faster using better interactions in product team and the rest of the organisation
- Protection: Reduce competitive threat of disruption
- With these tangible steps you can now approach users to discuss how they might achieve these steps by changing the way they work:
- Growth: Better train sales people on new products and help them to better pass on customer feedback and insights directly to the product team. Allow them to collaboratively work together to develop new sales strategies for the new products
- Effectiveness: Enable the product team to work to a product backlog with more customer insights and involving more interaction with the customers and the rest of the organisation
- Velocity: Reduce the number of meetings and approval steps to bring a product to market. Shift from exhaustive approval to transparent experiments that are monitored by all stakeholders
- Protection: Alert the whole organisation to the disruptive threat. Engage all employees in the search for customer insights and competitive intelligence. They can come from anywhere.
Bottom Up – From Use Case to Strategy
- You notice an employee using a collaboration platform in an unusal way and you go engage them in conversation. She is posting daily tips and tricks on password security.
- The employee explains that she has decided to work out loud on her challenge of improving employee passwords. She knows that passwords impact everyone and her role in IT security doesn’t give her contact with everyone. There aren’t many resources for this initiative.
- You help the employee to connect this activity to the strategic goals of the organisation:
- Effectiveness: How can we better secure organisational data and systems to ensure legal compliance and also to maintain a secure environment?
- Protection: How do we avoid the risks of intrusion or breach of legal compliance?
- You work with the employee to get some additional funding given the strategic importance of this work and you develop a much wider range of initiatives that leverage collaboration to address the key work challenges using different collaboration opportunities:
- Effectiveness: In addition to better passwords, you are able to improve single sign-on, deliver better document management, etc
- Protection: You are able to engage a much wider group of employees in working together to improve information security more generally. In particular, you let employees know the many risks and legal requirements through discussion and action together.
A Bridge Between
Organisational goals and strategies are unique and highly contextual. So are the goals and strategies of users. The power of the four drivers is that they sit at a middle level of abstraction which helps connect high level strategic concepts and outcomes from the strategy process with specific individual user actions. Using the drivers to guide conversation and to guide questions helps anyone leading adoption to build a much stronger connection between activity and value in both directions.
For over five years, I have been talking about the potential for organisations to create value everyday using collaboration. Through the Value Maturity Model, and its application in the Collaboration Value Canvas, I have discussed repeatedly the importance of an understanding of value to users and to the organisation.
Until now, I have left the definition of value entirely to the imaginations of readers. One reason for resisting defining value was to avoid an immediate reduction of value to an ROI calculation, which is both notoriously ambiguous and beside the point. The role of value in this discussion is not to justify investment accounting. The role of value is to shape the adoption actions, the use cases and the norms of the community that an organisation is seeking to create. The second reason for my reluctance is that value means something different to almost every organisation at every time. How an organisation and its people need to create additional value is highly dependent on their context.
In this post, I want to share my key drivers of value creation, which I find useful tools for anyone seeking to guide collaboration adoption in a wide range of contexts. Ability to leverage the drivers of collaboration will help you to identify the opportunities for value creation from collaboration, shape use cases and communicate to individual users about value in a simple way. To explain the path to these drivers, we must talk about what value and break it down to everyday topics of business conversation.
Understanding What We Mean by Value
Value is in economics is a measure of the benefit to be gained from any activity. Vibrant and sustainable organisations create a surplus of value, using their resources in a strategic way to create more benefits than the value of their intial resources. Value add is the difference between the benefits generated and the resources consumed. The goal of most strategy is to sustain and increase the value added by an organisation.
At an individual level employees also want to experience purpose and meaning in their work. They want to deliver greater benefits to themselves and others than simply the time value of their work.
Value can be monetary but it can also come in wider non-economic forms. Therefore as we think about value for individuals and organisations we need to keep in mind:
- Economic value add – the dollars and cents; and
- Non-Economic Value – any other meaningful sources of value (i.e. meaningful in the eye of the beholder)
If we break down how both economic value add is created and non-economic value we will find some common drivers. If you are short of time or not interested in the background to my approach, you can skip to the answer in the section entitled Four Drivers of Value Creation below.
Economic Value Added
Economic value add can be defined for an organisation as the excess of the net operating profit after tax of an organisation over its cost of capital. An organisation deploys financial capital in its operating activities, that capital has a cost and the activities need to generate more operating profit to be sustaining.
A value driver tree enables us to break these concepts down to more everyday topics of business strategy, activity and conversation in green in the table below. Sales, Cost of Sales, Other Organisational Costs, investment in assets and working capital are key elements of how much economic value added a business creates. If the adoption activities in your organisation are not changing these sources of value in some way, then they are unlikely to be creating economic value, especially after the cost of adoption is taken into account.
Non Economic Value
We can similarly breakdown some major categories of non-economic value, such as Social, Environmental, Governance and Generational value considerations. Because non-economic value is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ to some extent, this list is inevitably a partial one. There are likely more categories that are omitted, such is the richness of human life as expressed by individuals in organisational communities.
Economists will argue that some or all of these can be captured in or flow through to economic value, but the average person sees many of these sources of value as richer for lacking a direct monetary equation. Many of the sources of value in green are key elements of creating an organisation or living a life that is rich in human potential.
The green categories of non-economic value listed below are those most commonly discussed in any project of adoption of collaboration. These may be the starting points for any project. Non-economic value add is usually critical in the ultimate user and organisation success of any collaboration project. There is however a danger if this value is defined only in terms of these Capitalised nouns and they are not translated into specific measures of success and intiatives that users and the organisation can embrace. Projects that set out after the mystery of ‘Culture’ or ‘Engagement’ without further support or without considering other categories of value, especially economic value, will likely fail because users rightly question their point.
The Four Sources of Collaboration Value
At the beginning of my career in financial services we had a simple mental model, derived from the Cohen Brown Sales framework, of how we delivered value to customers from the vast array of products and services that a large diversified financial services organisation offered in banking and wealth management. That model was “Save Money, Make Money, Save Time or Protect Money”. Reducing the complexity to these four options guided bankers and other advisors through a great deal of complexity.
As similar guiding structure can be used for value creation generally. When we look at how collaboration can deliver value to each of the green elements of value in both economic and non-economic value we find that value is created by four key drivers. In simplest terms those drivers are:
- More: Growth – how can we have a bigger impact? how can we help more people? Many organisations want to grow in customer relationships, in scale of operations or in other ways.
- Better: Effectiveness – how can we ensure we do the most we can do? how do we do more of the right things? The literature of Lean has enriched our understanding of the value of effectiveness in economic value but effectiveness is also a concept that works for non-economic values too.
- Faster: Velocity – how can we take less time to do our work and to get to our goals? Time is a valuable and expiring resource. Let’s use it as well as we can and remove the traditional work frustrations of delay and waiting.
- Safer: Protect – how can we avoid risks and better manage consequences? Risk is a part of any life or organisation. We can however improve our management of risk.
As you can see in the tables above, I have highlighted in amber, how each of these drivers commonly creates value for the elements of value in driver. For example costs and working capital can create value if they are used more effectively or with greater velocity.
Here’s a little more detail on what these drivers each mean in organisational terms:
One of the advantages of framing adoption conversations in these terms, is that it helps make the value of activities clear to users and senior leaders in simple terms. The key benefits that they are likely to see are:
- Individual and Organisational Growth
- Increased Individual and Organisational Effectiveness
- Improved Velocity in activity, opportunity and leverage of potential, both in an employee and organisational view
- An environment where individuals and the organisation have better Protection against risks
We Create Value Because We Are Human
If we are to make work more human and more rewarding through shared leverage of human potential in collaboration, then these key drivers should guide our projects and guide our value conversations with stakeholders. We should set our metrics and our use cases around these drivers so that we have the widest impact on value creation. If we need to increase value creation we can come back to these drivers to search for a way forward for users and the organisation.
Every organisation and every user needs to define the value of collaboration to see effective adoption. Understanding value is critical for anyone seeking to accelerate adoption of collaboration in organisations. The four drivers of value can help us to keep conversations and the actions focused on how collaboration can have its greatest impact on value.
Appendix: Recapping All Value Creation Together