Three themes came through strongly on Day 1 of Intranets2016:
– focus on the work, not the technology
– consider your intranet in conjunction with your external internet presence because work stretches outside the organisation
– your organisation is human so engage them and help them with change to new ways of working
Work, not Technology
No intranet should exist as a cool piece of technology. No intranet should exist solely as a channel of communication.
We come together to work. We want out tools at work to help us to do what we need. We need to connect, share, solve or innovate together. These use cases should be the focus and the source of value of any work tools.
Work goes Outside
Intranets need to connect with Internet assets because work goes outside and involves external communities. Examples were everywhere consistent navigation between internet sites and intranet to encourage architects to update the external status of projects, Australia Post using a public intranet to engage all its communities and the integration of external social content and other content into intranet experiences.
Our work involves stakeholders inside and outside the organisation. We need to have consistent conversations and share the same information to work effectively in a transparently connected world. Importantly, it makes no sense to be recreating materials and managing distinct solutions with the same information. Transparency in this way is a great way to address remote working and mobile worker needs.
Great tools need to be used. We need to help people to adopt the tools and use them in their work. Importantly change starts before the tools are designed. Using collaborative design and deep data analysis we should understand the work, the challenges and how use cases can align to business needs.
Organisations then need to invest in ongoing support for leaders, champions and users. New ways of work are not launched they are fostered, role modelled and rewarded.
We can go into the weekend fulfilled.
We look back on a week that is a celebration of purpose and meaningful achievement to benefit others.
We know we cannot have done better this week and that our efforts were well directed to effectiveness.
We have enjoyed a week of the freedom to do the best work we can supported by our peers.
We can rest tonight comforted by the fact that all our work is up to date and the open issues are next week’s work.
We aren’t waiting for decisions and we have made all the decisions that we needed to resolve this week.
We are excited about the opportunities to learn, to experiment, to create and grow next week.
We have the transparency of our performance, our peers’ performance and our organisation’s outcomes to be confident on what is ahead and ready for the new challenges that the next week will bring.
We know that our accountabilities are clear and that the culture of accountability means colleagues won’t send a flurry of last minute emails dumping problems on others.
Our week will finish with the thanks and congratulations of a team and an organisation that understands, respects and values our commitment and efforts.
We know this is not a dream. We know this is possible. We will make it happen. Thank God it is Friday.
As your organisation adapts to the future of work, your models of leadership need to change. Leadership needs to be as adaptive as the the organisation you are seeking to create. Otherwise the potential of your people and the business will be lost.
You can’t command experiments. You can’t control networks. You can’t command customer collaborations. You can’t command engagement or purpose. You can’t control transparency. You can’t command autonomy.
Organisations that implement new agile ways of working need new leadership models. Activity based working, digital workplace tools, collaboration solutions, innovation hubs, agile projects and product management and lean continuous improvement all require leaders to work in ways that build the capability of people, manage the whole system and value the contributions of others over a leader’s rank and expertise.
As you change to the future of work, change what leadership means in your organisation. Build the leadership capabilities in leaders and the whole team to prosper in new ways of working. Make your leadership as adaptive as your organisation.
Intranet projects are still popular these days. There is great new technology platforms & many new features available. Internet designs have moved on a lot so your old intranet is starting to look a little tired. Now your employees have new devices so your intranet needs to be mobile first and responsive. Think of the opportunities for new branding, a new name, better search and a refresh of all the content. Finally the intranet could be at the heart of the knowledge management and collaboration in the organisation. Delivering a new intranet is a signature career achievement.
Stop. Are you sure you need that new intranet?
New intranets don’t come cheap. Even after the technology solutions is acquired, the expenditure has only just begun. All that wonderful new design is going to cost money. You will need personas, card sorts and then branding advice. Getting the information architecture right can make all the difference so you will need a lot of time spent on the taxonomy of content, hierarchies of information, businesses and users. Glossaries and other reference materials will need to be reviewed and updated. Search will need to be tuned to make sure that it delivers the right options. All your existing content will need to be reviewed to fit into the new design. Throw in a policy and product information refresh and the costs and time skyrocket. Then there is the maintenance costs of all that content. Add in personalisation, collaboration and social features and the work never ends.
What is the Intranet really for?
To senior managers, an employee communications or HR team, an intranet is a showcase of the organisation, its business strategy and its knowledge. It is the one source of truth. It is the hub of collaboration and a critical place to share messages with all employees. This perception can create a whole lot of politics that disrupts the effectiveness of your new intranet. People become focused about the need to control the design and the content. User focus is swapped for the desire to meet the needs of the hierarchy. That control has real consequences when it disengages users. Worse still it can force one template on everyone and make everyone into ‘content providers’. The costs of this control are in content that gets out of date and grey market sites that spring up to break the shackles. Soon the efforts to get around the intranet are drawing investment, effort and attention away from the platform. Confusion escalates and the intranet site is on its way back to being a stale reservoir of knowledge.
To an employee an intranet is where all the links in corporate distribution emails go. Usually the intranet is the last place they go to look when they and their colleagues don’t have the answer to hand and local searches have turned up no relevant ideas. Often the intranet is the place where knowledge is tied up in clunky processes & policy that don’t reflect their day job. Everything is anonymous. The context and authority that comes from human connection is lost. An employee does not care about single sources of truth or showcases of corporate messages. They care about findability and usefulness. Nobody browses an intranet willingly.
I know many organisations who have built elegant product sites on their intranet to explain all the features, process and policy relating to their products. Too often they discover that their teams use the customer facing website for product information. The structure of customer facing product information is usually better suited to employee’s roles in explaining that information to customers. It is indexed for Google search. Legal requirements ensure that product teams keep the external information that matters up to date. Also the employee can send the customer a link if they need to explain lots of detail. The pretty intranet is a showcase but the internet is the workhorse. How much of your intranet site could you do away with by directing employees to external sites?
Are the behaviours going to change?
In our work, we create value through our actions. If the behaviours aren’t going to change, then don’t change the intranet. Changing only the technology alone, will foster only cost and confusion.
If you do want to get better at collaboration, communication and knowledge management, start with a clear understanding of the value to the organisation and the value to the user. Look for ways to achieve your goals that involved changed behaviours and community, not technology. When you are clear on the value of changed behaviours, you will be clearer on what your technology needs to look like to support that work. Now you won’t be forcing an intranet as a solution and you will be able to look at the breadth of options from social collaboration, to working out loud more, to using external internet sites and other tools of helping employees to find what matters most to help them do their job.
You will also have built a case for the whole organisation to align to working in new and better ways.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion on how blockchain technology will revolutionise our approach to trust. Most of these pieces glide over the design of blockchain, the distributed ledger at the heart of bitcoin. Blockchain is designed to be trustless. Human behaviour in high trust scenarios is very different to behaviour in trustless ones.
Enthusiasm for blockchain as a technology solution is growing. Bitcoin has a thriving payments ecosystem and many clones. Global financial services and professional services firms are exploring the potential of blockchain as a transparent distributed ledger system. There are potential applications for blockchain to further reduce the friction in payments systems, to support smart contracting systems and to provide registers of asset ownership. At the same time there are issues that need to be addressed, particularly how the computing power demands of a distributed blockchain ledger will be managed without a currency like bitcoin to be mined in payment for processing.
Transparent distributed ledgers may revolutionise our approaches to recording and exchanging assets. Because the intermediaries who help us exchange assets today often rely on trust to sustain their intermediary role it is common for people to see blockchain as revolutionising trust. Banks, brokers, registrars, accounting firms, and trustees all depend on the market’s trust to provide a viable service. Changing to a trustless distributed ledger will have a significant impact on these industries.
Putting aside technological considerations, trustless exchange is not necessarily an improvement in human relationships. Bitcoin is trustless because it was designed to be anonymous. That has encouraged its use in capital flight from controlled markets like China and also a currency of choice in black market transactions as well. Because the system does not rely on the identity of the owner of bitcoin, once it is stolen or defrauded the currency is irrecoverable.
Perhaps the new applications of blockchain will factor in new less anonymous usages. However, trustless behaviour in human society is generally poor. The institutions blockchain distrusts were social innovations to address the flaws of the trustless exchange before that point. Stock markets were easily manipulated when shareholdings were a mystery. Property ownership disputes dominate the history of legal affairs because of the mystery in ancient ownership systems.
Many organisations creating new global frictionless markets have found they need to implement new systems to reduce anonymity and create trust proxies to balance exploitative human behaviour in an anonymous trustless world. Auction and ecommerce sites’ seller ratings are an example to cut down on fraudulent behaviour. The trolling problem on social media sites is another consequence of trustlessness. Look at any failing state and you will see the banditry, violence and corruption that comes with breakdowns in social trust. Solving the technology challenges of blockchain is only one part of the challenge. We will need to address the social innovations to support a trust based economic exchange as well.
We need to remember that trust is a human decision. The trust algorithm stays in the human brain and works on human relationships. Technology can support but will not replace that decision. The future of trust is likely to remain independent of blockchain, but it will provide useful insights into how far we need new social behaviours to manage in a trustless commercial world.
Traditional management is designed to suppress tensions. The future of work demands we embrace tensions to create new ways of work and to create new value.
Many of the elements of traditional management suppress tension. Hierarchy, silos, decision making rights, carefully managed flows of information, narrow roles, tight process are all efforts to reduce uncertainty, variation and tensions in the coordination of people. You only look to the loom-smashing, violence, strikes and street riots of the late 19th century and early twentieth century to see why we may have preferred to manage in a predictable safe low tension environment. However, practices designed for low information and high barrier to communication start to break down in an era of greater connection and greater visibility of the surrounding systems.
The art of management in the future of work is leveraging the generative potential of tensions. The tension that comes with uncertainty and doubt is a signal to learn more through experiments and engagement. Customer tensions are insights to improvements in experiences, products and value. Employee tensions are sources of insights into new ways of organising and working. Community tensions are ways to shape a new role for the organisation and to engage with its purpose. Supplier tensions are the platform for new partnerships and new approaches to the entire supply chain. Conflicts between these stakeholders is the ground on which truly new value is created. At an individual level, flow occurs when the rising challenges of our work meet our rising capabilities. Generative tension creates new human capabilities.
Leveraging tension requires new practices in management and new ways of leadership. We need to surface, engage and explore these tensions in conversations and in our work. If we aren’t working against some tension, then we are going through the motions. That is now or soon will be the work of robots and not worthy of the creative talents of humanity. In customer experiences, employee experiences and community engagement, an absence of challenge and debate is a sign of entropy. We are most comfortable passing over the peak to decline.
When we step into the discomfort of tensions, value, learning and growth await us.
PS. Thanks to David Holzmer for prompting this piece on his comments on yesterday’s post. Thanks also to James Altucher for the reminder “Don’t Be Easy”
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future – traditional Danish saying often attributed to Nils Bohr
The interest in A Simple Visual History of Digital Transformation prompted some to ask about where do we go next. Make any predictions on digital transformation and you can be sure that someone is currently working to undermine your credibility. The following suggestions for the future of digital transformation are offered on the basis that these are ideas that exist “but are not yet widely distributed” to borrow an idea of William Gibson.
As the costs of digital connectivity and computing power fall, these capabilities are being added to more and more devices. The internet of things has reached our homes and our workplaces. The increased ability to gather and use information in real time will drive new innovations in our businesses and our lives.
Add enough digital connectivity and computing power and you have created the potential for a mesh of sensors, connectivity and processing power to fill our environments. Now our digital things and our communication devices can be in constant contact and new applications will be developed to take advantage of the rich digital environment.
The digital mesh will help accelerate digital automation as many traditional roles of knowledge workers, such as the gathering, digesting and processing of information now flow from an ambient mesh and are managed through algorithms and their managers.
A digital mess also enables the greater leverage of bots, digital agents that can navigate the mesh and achieve outcomes for their owners, clients and masters. These algorithms take on the role of making local decisions or acting as advisers or facilitators across the breadth of the networks. Digital Agents help manage the scale of information and the real time demands of the mesh.
Distributed and connected computing power also enables us to revisit concepts of how we record, store and share information on concepts like ownership, identity and history of transactions. Instead of a single ledger located in one location, the transaction history can be distributed and validated across the network, as in blockchain. Innovations will build on these capabilities into new domains.
The digital mesh increasing can enable individuals by supplying capabilities need for individuals to have greater awareness, connection or to do work that was previously beyond the capability of a single individual. If an organisation is a solution to transaction costs as Coase suggest, there are new implications for the role and future of our organisations and the growing capabilities of the digital systems will shape the work individuals will do (or don’t do).
We have not yet begun to explore the potential of extending this digital mesh and its capabilities to the entire world. We can already see new approaches, such using e-commerce villages in China, video in education in India, market pricing data for farmers in the third world or mobile payments in Africa. As the costs of digital technologies fall and reach expands new entrepreneurs will solve new problems for those beyond the reach of this technology today. Perhaps then we will truly experience the power of the Internet of Humanity.
Since the Mosaic Browser helped introduce the internet to the world, we have experienced a digital transformation of business. We had digital activities in our organisations before. We had already spend almost 50 years computerising processes. However, the digital connectivity of the internet began more radical change. Here’s an overly simple graphical reminder of elements of that journey.
We began by creating digital channels to connect our organisations to their customers. The website began with simple digital brochures and basic contact information. Very quickly our websites became richer and more valuable. Innovation began outside the organisation that showed the way for all subsequent phases of digital transformation.
We added processes to support the customer interactions. In many cases these processes were new, partial and designed solely to support the new digital channels.
We saw potential in these digital processes and started to apply them more widely. These processes worked in the midst of our legacy process and often in unconnected ways.
As the breadth of our digital channels expanded and we needed to manage new social and mobile channel needs, we needed a dedicated digital team to manage the expanding offering and to help integrate the core digital processes and infrastructure required to support growing digital ambitions.
With a digital team to advocate and lead the way on growing digital opportunities, we saw digital interaction takeover much of the electronic communication in the organisation and new integrated digital processes develop in supply chains, shareholder & community management and other forms of stakeholder engagement. APIs began to standardise digital communication formats in an increasing way for organisations. Organisations could leverage vast amounts of data on interactions and increasingly on activity across the organisation.
With digital interactions dominating & pressure to focus on core business activities, organisations began to become more aware that they operated in digital networks, connected to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Importantly, it became increasingly obvious that these networks connected all stakeholders reducing transaction costs and increasing transparency. Most dangerously these networks & data flows gave competitive advantage to those most able to leverage digital technologies in disruptive ways.
Seeing potential in connectivity, new and existing organisations saw the ability to focus on platforms that connected system players, creating new value and disrupting the traditional business of intermediaries. These platforms were increasingly agnostic of whether they ran on a computer, a phone or another device, giving them greater geographic and temporal reach. We began to connect all processes & devices into networks to leverage the power of information. Concepts like employee, contractor, supplier and customer had less secure meaning in a networked world as chains of connectivity ran in all directions & right through the organisation.
With platforms and networks running through and beyond the organisation, people began to explore the opportunities in new ways of working using digital. The boundaries of organisations no longer constrained the boundaries of work. Seeking to retain talent, leverage information more effectively and create greater agility, organisations experimented with new digital ways of working and organising work.
This digital transformation has only just begun. There are many more phases ahead. The innovations and experiments of organisations will take us even further into exploring the potential of globally connected digital networks.
Humans are inherently messy creatures. We accumulate history and the entanglements of human relationships and emotions. As a manager this human mess can interfere with the joy of the unrelenting execution of your will. A cluttered organisation shows no respect to a manager’s inherent expertise and power.
My life as a manager was transformed when I discovered the life-crushing magic of hierarchy. Your life and organisation can be neat and orderly, if you follow these simple organisational principles.
Firstly you must understand the principle behind all hierarchical organisation. A manager must constantly touch everything. Dump all your expectations about independent action by your team on the floor. Subject everything to your hands-on micromanagement power.
You must feel free to touch any activity in the organisation at any time, throw it into a disordered pile and then use your superior management skills to put things back into the places that best suit you. Do this until your organisation shines with respect for your management skill.
Look at any activity if it sparks joy in your employees, discard it from your organisation. You have the power to exclude these activities that divert from the joy of experiencing unfettered authority. Crush the activities and discard any employees associated with them. The more meaningless the work the better it will demonstrate your management expertise. If too much meaning arises in work, intervene and make changes or better yet reorganise again.
Process not People
When organising your business it is traditional to be concerned with individual business units, alignment to customer or business outcomes and the people involved. Put aside this nostalgia.
Focus instead on process. Ask yourself only whether the process brings you joy and crushes the freedom of your people. Make sure your processes are inflexible, opaque, compliance-oriented, end-to-end and untouched by nostalgic human considerations. The more abstract the outcomes that your processes create the better.
Organise your business one process at a time and follow each process to the end before proceeding on to the next until you have completed your arrangements process by process. This may increase the mess and confusion in the meantime but you will find an organisation that is far easier to control and manage in the end.
If at any time you are not getting joy from this process, reorganise your people to make their arrangement more appealing. Over time your people will begin to appreciate the recognition that they get from being dumped into reorganisation. They will shine around you for the fear that next time you may get them.
Everything in its place
Everything must be in its place before you go to work. Only you will be best able to determine the sweet spot for an employee. Don’t let them create mess by making career choices. Fold them carefully into their small box alongside their peers in the process. Never let your employees feel that they have a place to which they can go home.
Arrange your remaining employees in tightly segmented silos and narrow process defined roles. It is essential they are visible and accessible to you at all times. You will need the ability to grab them from their important work at a whim and put them back easily at your pleasure. Measure them continuously to keep them aware of their need to maintain your respect and bring you joy.
When interacting with your employees discard any that show too much spark. Remember to share your unfettered opinion and discard theirs at every opportunity. Finish every interaction with one of your employees by remarking gently ‘Thanks, I’ll take it from here.’
Stacking can crush employees at the bottom and damage their self-respect. This is an activity which should be reserved to bring joy to you. This is why it is so essential that employees are carefully folded into a place in process. Therefore do away with any unnecessary intermediate managers who may have the time to create fiefdoms to challenge your own. Keep the other managers moving quickly to satisfy your directives so that they have no time for their own thoughts, action or joy. Make everyone subject to your direct instruction and make all the decisions with your unique, shifting and often emotional rationales.
A category of employee that requires particular attention in removing any other forms of leadership are your change agents. They are an unnecessary source of independence and activity. You will find no spark of joy in your dealings with them. Instead they may even challenge your authority or make unnecessary suggestions. Implement an enterprise social network in your organisation. This will enable you to identify those employees who still hold opinions and may act on their own outside of your chosen process. Gather your change agents. Hug them and thank them for their service. Then bundle them out the door
Follow these principles closely and your hierarchy will be neat, tidy and much smaller. Be sure that it will bring you, and you alone, great joy. Other managers will look on your shiny, svelte & compliant organisation with new respect.
Apologies to Marie Kondo. Thank you to those who gave me encouragement, ideas and suggestions for this post. May it spark some much needed joy in your work. If anyone reading is still in any doubt, don’t do this.