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I woke up this Sunday and I had a terrible nostalgia for the days where my morning question was not:
“What have the politicians done to entertain us today?”
All around the world politics has become far too similar to a reality television show. The politicians, the media and our focus is on the daily conflicts, dramas and stupidities. The media environment and the demand of the media audience is far less concerned about leadership (other than the theatre of a leadership contest) than the entertainment of the political show. We have forgotten that the exercise of power for the betterment of society is more important that a following.
Politics is not alone in this confusion. Thought Leadership and other forms of punditry also shows a similar confusion. The accuracy or effectiveness of advice to better society now matters less than the ability to entertain and accumulate an audience. Platitudes and gross simplifications play better than difficult messages or a call to hard work.
Here We Are Now, Entertain Us
Conflict has always entertained humans. Conflict is the key to all our storytelling. Threat based narratives help us understand our tribes and bind together in times of adversity. We can see why politicians and pundits rely on them heavily. Inspirational narratives tend to appeal to our ego, our desire for ease and the uniqueness of our community and suggest the inevitability of our future success as long as we continue to follow the advice of the storyteller. We are suckers for entertainment as the makers of content for our mobile phones are well aware. Politicians, thought leaders, media commentators and even corporate executives are just meeting the market demand.
Increasingly, in the age of mobile devices, entertainment is a solo activity. We have lost much of the collective experience of entertainment that was the standard experience of previous generations. That lack of collective context weakens the foundations of community and hinders collaboration. We need shared context and trust to come together to make change happen. Trust is an outcome of the work and the experiences we share together. If we are each following our own personal entertainment guru, there is a fragmentation of that larger shared community.
As social technology and far better media tools creep into corporate life, we have also seen the rise of the executive as entertainer. Senior management can now engage and cultivate a following internally through collaboration tools and externally through social media and even traditional media roles. For some the dynamic changes from leading to entertaining. Rather than advocating for change and conflict within the organisation, it is easier to demonise an Other, such as a competitor, an external stakeholder or abstraction like errors or waste and demand the attention of a following without pushing people to change themselves. These executives are far less likely to demand challenging change of people themselves for fear that they lose part of their following or that they lose status to someone who promises a more compelling external enemy or an easier life.
We Need Power
We need to do more than meet a market demand for entertainment. We need power to push us beyond the limitations of our own efforts and our own imagination. We need the power to step outside of our individual potential and collaborate with others. The exercise of power in this way is called leadership.
A comment in a recent article on the often hidden role of power in design practice put the issue in a way that helped me see the connection:
The definition of power: the ability to influence an outcome
This quote starkly highlights the connection of power and leadership. We can often confuse power with its past abuses or the privilege that vests it undeservedly or unevenly in others. We can prefer our power to be responsive to the needs of the community. However, as Adam Kahane has pointed out in Power and Love, it is wishful thinking to wish power away or to demand that leaders are only responsive.
Leadership is about influence. Leadership is about achieving outcomes together with and through the work of a community. Without any resulting outcome, all you are doing is entertaining the community with a show. Bringing people together to help address complex social issues is going to take the exercise of power.
We need leadership because we need the action of small self-governing communities of change. That work is the power that matters now. We cannot rely on the politicians, the thought leaders, the senior executives or the experts to deliver us. We will have to do the work of change ourselves.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – Martin Luther King Jr
I don’t fear for safety
From the simplicity of evil
or complex works of good.
Beyond the neat edge
of my experience,
security is a privilege.
Fears that I don’t share
are still unendurable,
My enclosed experience hints
at other works and wheels,
a shared system of society.
All that produces this world,
the light and dark, actors, victims
and passive accomplices.
We are interconnected –
This condition, this system,
this change is mine too.
Collaboration and other future work practices require investment from organisations to foster community and support the changes in practices. The potential value from this investment is better work organisation-wide.
Speaking at Intranets2016, I had the opportunity to see a showcase of presentations from organisations large and small on how they have leveraged value from new ways of working, better communication and collaboration with employees. I also got a chance to speak to many of the people attending the event and discuss their challenges and concerns.
Reflecting after the event one thing was striking: Each of the case studies had invested time and resources into helping their organisation get the most out of collaboration and community. They had spent time and money on strategy, on design work, on employee engagement, on training and community management. They had ongoing resources devoted to realising the value of community. When I spoke to many members of the audience winning the support of their organisation to invest in these elements was a major challenge. The success stories were successes because their organisations supported their team to realise the value of changing work.
Many organisations have not yet realised that the potential value creation from their new intranet, their new productivity tools or their new collaboration software far exceeds the investment they need to make to support change and adoption. These tool are part of the furniture in an organisation and while from time to time we invest in the latest version to stay effective, not much more is expected from their use.
Organisations that invest in community and collaboration know the value creation opportunity is far greater than a more effective tool. The value creation opportunity goes to the heart of their organisation by making work better, more productive and more effective. What little resource they choose to invest will deliver benefits that are multiplied by all the work that they do in the organisation. Scrimping or not investing at all in this capability leaves the tools to miss their potential and the community of users to miss the benefits.
Champions of social collaboration and new productivity solutions need to do more than fund the technology. They need to help the organisation see the strategic value of the new tool in new ways of working. When that value is clear then the business case for ongoing investment and in community and change is much more obvious.
Human behaviour at scale can be daunting. Drive in any traffic and you will see people trying dangerously to get a personal advantage at the expense of others. Spend time in a crowded place and you will be pushed, passed and jostled as others seek to achieve their own goals at your expense. Crowds driven by transactional self-interest can be unruly and dangerous. Some organisations forget this as they seek to leverage self-interest for higher performance.
Surprisingly these moments are rarities in much of our life. These moments depend on anonymity and lack of community for self-interest to overcome the common consideration that underpins society. Only when community breaks down such as in failed states, war zones or pure market transactions, does this become the norm. Even in the worst of these crowds you will still see people letting others past, helping others and standing up for the rules of common decency. Anonymous transactional self-interest bends to consideration of human relationships.
I was reminded by Henry Mintzberg’s post on community & commons that our relationships are part of the shared commons of a community. Trust, consideration and thoughtfulness are all shared in community and used daily in our work and our relationships. Like any commons over-exploitation leads to depletion. To preserve the difference between anonymous transactions and relationships, we need the continued contributions of the considerate to restore the commons and show us the way.
“The guys in the white hats win in the second half of the movie” – Anonymous
We have two responsibilities: to stay in the quest for change and to draw others to join us.
Change is hard. We all get disappointed and consider bailing on change. That can be the right move when it is required for personal preservation or when we need time to create a totally new approach after a big failure.
However, the bigger need is to give change time. Our instant success culture sees many people seeking to bail when the momentum towards success is around the corner. We need to stay engaged and keep pushing for change. Finding the right path and the right experiments takes time and effort.
Cynicism is easy and ever so tempting. Cynicism doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Worse abandoning change or turning cynical sends a message to others to stay out. Bailing puts change back because others get the message that change can’t be done.
Something made you believe change is needed. If that still stands, then stay the course of change.
Bring Others in
Change succeeds when people are moving towards it, not away. We all need to help others to engage with our changes.
Global connection has made it easier to find people who share your views and to define sharply the other. We see increasing polarisation in many debates and stereotypes and generalisations to demean or denigrate opponents. A little sense of the other helps to define a movement. Too much is counterproductive.
Change does not happen from within the safe community of your supporters. Change happens when others join in and opponents finally meet you in the middle ground to move forward together. We have to find ways to bring others in. We have to find others who see the need for change.
Stay the course and when you are in your darkest times seek to find others to join you and help you sustain the change.
We may have begun to move from an adoption conversation to a value conversation. However our hierarchical mindsets can still hold us back. A responsive organisation needs to shape how value arise from collaboration, not try to specify it top down.
More and more organisations are focusing on how to create strategic business value in their organisation through the use of collaboration. They are seeing the value that can be created as a community journeys from Connection to Innovation. They recognise that adoption & use should reinforce the strategic goals of the organisation and is not an end in itself.
The Temptation to Specify
When an organisation identifies the way that it can create value in a community, our hierarchical tendencies begin to kick in. We start to specify how a community shall work to create value. This is how most organisation’s strategy planning processes usually work. We end up with a plan of what other people have to do.
Some guidance can be useful at the beginning of a community’s life when people are sense making. However, too much instruction will become a constraint on the value creation if the goals of value creation remain externally imposed on the community.
The best value comes when a community can use its knowledge, capabilities and ideas to create value in new ways. That won’t happen if the community has specified usage cases and a limited focus on the value that it can create.
Coach the Community to Create the Own Value
A large part of the difference between management and leadership is the difference between direction and coaching. Responsive organisations demand leaders who can coach teams managing highly adaptive situations, rather than direct.
Organisations need to coach the members of their communities to create valuable new ways of working using collaboration:
- Coaching begins by clarifying goals: How do you help your communities understand the alignment between organisations strategic goals and the goals of their own work?
- Coaching should enable action & experimentation: How do you help people to translate the opportunities that they can see into work that they can do alone or with the support of others?
- Coaching should build capability: What skills do people need to manage this process for themselves? What barriers need to be cleared? How can they learn to create, deliver and coach themselves going forward?
The Value Maturity Model Collaboration Canvas is a coaching framework to help community leaders, champions and managers to shape the creation of value through collaboration. The tool asks members of the community to think through the questions that will enable them to create their own value. Spreading this coaching mindset through your organisation is the most powerful way to transform the value created by collaboration & communities. Spreading a coaching mindset through your organisation builds capability as it builds alignment and creates value. Enabling people to coach themselves helps your organisation become more responsive. It is the only way that you will get the value you didn’t plan and to adapt to the challenges you did not forecast.
Are you running with the pack called sentiment?
Zappos is an amazing exemplar of new styles of organisations. Zappos is implementing Holocracy. Holocracy is the future. Zappos is losing staff over Holocracy. Holocracy isn’t what you think it is. Zappos is damaging its culture. New organisational models are flaky and cultish. New organisational models can’t deliver. – 3 months of recent opinions.
Sentiments in a networked world change quickly. In our reinforcing bubbles of information, we can see views accelerate rapidly down directions and reverse direction quickly on the slimmest pieces of news.
I am not sure what is going on with Zappos. If I had been to their offices I could claim to be an expert. No matter how many visits people have had to Zappos’ offices I am not sure many of the commentators know a lot more about their current transition. Given the changes going on and the implementation of a very different way of working, I am not sure Zappos do either. What I do know is that I would like to give them room to experiment and solve the obstacles of change for their sake (and our sake). We know there can be upsides in the downsides of change.
The pack called sentiment can make it very hard to experiment. No manager likes to engage their stakeholders in an environment of negative sentiment. Staying the course and making big choices is hard when you are behind. Disappointments are rarely learning experiences in the maelstrom of public opinion. Even successes can burn you when outcomes fail to meet expectations that have raced ahead. When everyone has to stake a view and when many build on collective opinion for support and distribution, it can intimidate everyone from taking a chance.
Because Zappos has been lionised as the one big transformation, many others seeking to make change have become dependant on its success. Just think of the change agents in organisations who shared Zappos’ example with their colleagues who are now fielding the push back. We need a diversity of examples, opinions and approaches to help change happen and to ensure that the ecosystem of change survives adverse outcomes. We need lots of people to leverage others but also go their own way.
Of course, managers and organisations need to manage their communities when change is high profile. Emails will leak. The commentariat you leverage on the way up needs to be fed all the time, even when news isn’t as comforting. However, the level of engagement is ultimately a choice for each manager and organisation. People outside the system of the organisation can find it hard to judge the needs of changes in process. We can’t always require people to disclose more of hard change simply through shifting sentiment.
We need people to take different choices. We need people to state different views. We need people to go a different way. Some will work. Some won’t. Lets judge the outcomes when there are outcomes to judge, not by the pack called sentiment. Our ecosystem of innovation in ways of organising will be richer for the diversity.