Reflections on Facebook at Work (& Promises of Universal Adoption)

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One core reasons collaboration tools have an adoption problem is a lack of benefits to users. That problem is not solved by a new tool. The benefit problem is solved by working out loud purposefully – creating an environment to learn, solve problems and create new solutions together.

The reviews of Facebook at Work are starting to come in. The claims from Facebook are intriguing: no community management required, no need to worry about adoption (after all its Facebook – your users are using it already) and so on. Does a new solution like this solve all the issues with collaboration at work?

Universal Adoption Isn’t Enough

We have had similar promises before of universal adoption before. Many existing IT systems providers were convinced that collaboration was a layer or feature that they could add to their applications. After all, they had adoption and use of their system, so the collaboration would naturally work in their system, particularly if they forced it into the existing processes. These systems have largely failed to deliver on expectations because the basics of value are not met. People don’t expect to connect with others or to share their work while working on processes in ERPs or other IT systems. Usually people collaborate to avoid the restrictions of these process driven systems or to achieve better outcomes than they can get from the system. Forcing in additional messages and conversations brought greater burden and more noise than user benefit.

Facebook begins as a dominant personal social tool so it starts in a much stronger position for adoption. For Facebook users, it is already platform to connect and share with others. Many sophisticated users already work there, marketing themselves and their businesses and engaging communities through Facebook pages and groups. Carrie Basham-Young has reviewed how easy Facebook has made it in Facebook at Work for people to Connect and to Share. We might wonder how the separate Facebook at Work profile will compete with the personal profiles for time and attention. Many users will already be connected and sharing social updates with work colleagues through a personal profile. Even so, Facebook will undoubtedly be able to capture a large share of the corporate graph and its watercooler conversations.

Sharing Isn’t Enough

Velux recently shared some insight into their adoption of social collaboration. A key insight of that case study was that sharing social status updates alone is not enough to create value. They needed to solve problems and create new value together. They need to move beyond what they saw as the pattern of ‘working out loud in Twitter’ to a more purposeful form of work asking questions to solve problems and connecting around key projects and activities. Like all social collaboration tools, Facebook at Work will need to help organisations navigate this transition and its history may be its disadvantage in this regard.

The Solve and Innovate steps of the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration will be where users see novel benefit and what keeps ensuring that they devote time and effort to using the new tool. Facebook at Work has clearly taken this into account with its focus on categorising groups into Teams and Projects, Open Discussions, Announcements and Social. However, if the traditional Facebook patterns of behaviours of social announcements and other forms of social sharing dominate, Facebook at Work will have not advanced the collaboration in the organisation, they will have simply extended Facebook use deeper into office hours. What if the patterns of Facebook use prove harder to change than our work email practices?

 Purposeful Working Out Loud Required

Working out loud requires people to consider the purpose & effect of their sharing. John Stepper’s discussion of the 5 elements of working out loud makes this explicit. Working out loud only makes sense when it makes work better for you and for others through learning, winning or giving help, making a new connection or other ways of solving every day work challenges. 

All forms of social collaboration, no matter how smart the technology, require individual users and the organisations involved to solve the challenge of creating connections based on purposeful working out loud. Slack another adoption success story is now being queried for the value of the conversations it creates. Slack’s solution is often suggested to be in its integrations but these can be complex to navigate and even discover for a new user dealing with a high volume chat channel.

Creating value for users and organisations is what will ensure that we change the long entrenched practices in way we work and we will consistently value new approaches to collaboration. Organisations need to invest in change support and community management to achieve an ongoing uplift in the value of collaboration. Facebook at Work is unlikely to magic this away any time soon because the context of value creation in each organisation and for each employee is different. The organisation needs to use new methods of working and collaborating to create its own approach to success. This is why customer success processes at other collaboration vendors have been notoriously resistant to being reduced to an algorithm. 

Ignoring Complexity

We like business to be simple. Many of our management practices ignore complexity. Time to re-embrace reality.

At a recent Responsive Org event in Melbourne led by Julian Waters-Lynch we were discussing the Cynefin Model. The Cynefin model is a very useful model for understanding responses to differing levels of complexity of the environment.  However what surfaced in that conversation was how badly most businesses perceive their whole system and environment.

Our businesses are deliberately dumb. They exclude information to make our execution of a sustainable business model simple and efficient.

Let’s take pricing as an example. Traditional business make pricing a simple equation of cost, margin and volume to maximise shareholder return. They ignore loss growth, customer engagement, customer retention, reputation, supply chain impacts, sustainability, purpose or other systemic impacts related to changing prices.

When management began a century ago with high transportation and information costs, excluding information often had limited consequences. The competitor or customer in the next market who used that information had real barriers to overcome to make you pay for a bad decision. Pretending complex or complicated environments were simple had less impact on your business

Moving to today the global connection of customers, competitors and the universe has changed those barriers. Businesses who pretend that a complex or complicated scenario is simple will feel the effects back through their networks. It is becoming harder and harder to ignore complexity and simple strategies in complex and complicated scenarios are increasingly threatened by responses from customers, employees or other stakeholders who see the world as it is.

Harold Jarche has argued simple work will be automated and merely complicated work done cheaply.  For innovation, purposeful work and creative potential our organisations need to re-embrace the complexity that surrounds them. Only by genuinely exploring emergent practice will organisations challenge themselves and their people to create sustainable value. Dumb won’t cut it anymore.

The Future of Work: Future Focused

Traditional organisation models sustain the past. A responsive organisation is focused on the future.

Time Capsules

Traditional hierarchical models of organisation are about sustaining history. They are designed to ensure consistency of execution of an established business model. Because that model worked in the past, it is preserved and tweaked moving forward. The focus on process, policy and compliance drag history with them as they attempt to grapple with a changing world.

The time capsule of ideas, information, policy and process that each traditional organisations carries with it distracts from the present reality of the organisations solution. Employees must learn the history encoded into the organisation rather than deal with the surrounding reality of customer needs and changing competitive environment. Employee’s ability to respond is constrained by legacies of history. Intent on sustaining a legacy of a historical innovation, these organisations find themselves incapable of making the key changes to embrace present needs or future opportunities. They fail in their task of sustaining the past because they find it increasingly hard to make it relevant to today.

Future Focused

The best way to prepare for the future is to create in the present moment. That demands organisations try to understand the conditions outside their organisational time capsule. They need to allow their employees the freedom to learn externally and to change their approach in response to their learnings. Decision making must be unencumbered by the legacies of past history. The organisation must be ready to shed its history if the future demands a new model.

This is a Responsive Organisation. Transparency & Networks help these organisations connect externally and internally to accelerate learning and build trust. Experimentation accelerates learning and keeps decision making grounded in the opportunities of now. Autonomy for employees helps shed the legacies of the past. Importantly a focus on a Purpose externally to the organisations pushes the organisation to reach forward for larger impact, rather than reach inward for greater return on a historical model.

We don’t enjoy living in time capsules. It is time for our organisation to be more future focused and responsive

By definition to be exceptional, you have to be the exception, not the rule – Dharmesh Shah in Inc Magazine

Traditional organisations push people to fit in, to fit boxes and processes. The future of work organisations push people to realise their human potential.

Boxes and processes can be automated, copied and commoditised. Unique value is in the grey space of exceptions, obstacles and other human forms of mess. Insights, innovations and incremental value aren’t mechanistic process outcomes. They are human flashes of brightness in the grey.

Those flashes take work and new capabilities. Find the exceptions and exploit them. Push yourself to work into these grey spaces around your role, your customers and your organisation. Be led by purpose. Leverage your potential and the potential of others. Learn and build systems to learn together. Purpose, practice and mastery of working in the grey spaces are underpinnings of the new work.

Micromanagement & Autonomy

One consequence of better communication is little discussed. Better communication has enabled the school of management that micromanages employees. We would do better to use our communication technologies to enable our employees to realise their potential.

Management in the Dark

We are starting to forget what the world was like before pervasive communication. Read about the beginnings of our modern organisations in the 19th century and you are always surprised to consider the barriers communication presented. 

The flipside of the barriers to communication also meant that managers had autonomy. Before the railroad and the telegraph, you didn’t need to be very far away at all to be required to manage your branch, factory or location with complete autonomy. All the decisions required to run a business like hiring, sourcing, pricing, distribution, financing and distributing profits, were managed by local managers. There were no alternatives. There was simply no way to seek guidance in time for most of the decisions required to succeed in the market. The need to trust a manager in these circumstances meant that many corporations relied on family members, trusted associates or had real limits to their scale.

Global Micromanagement

Enhanced communication technology has enabled organisations to manage their business on a global scale. The two-way flow of information has enabled trust to develop in the use of cadres of independent managers. It has also allowed those with less trust in their managers to micromanage on a scale that has never before been possible.

Look at the marketing materials for big data and HR analytics offerings. Many of these solutions are promoted as ways to know more about your business and the actions of your employees than ever before. The ‘golden goose’ school of management then dictates that you tightly manage your employees leveraging the rivers of data, the ability to adjust process controls and to communicate in real time. These communications are increasingly mechanistic and some even claiming value in automating them. Increased efficiency of your employees is the goal. However, that efficiency represents a massive trade-off in effectiveness of employees and the organisation.

Better Understanding, Alignment and Trust

Once again organisations are facing the need to drive autonomy of employees. Because of the pace of our economies driven by modern communication technology, we have arrived again at a point where autonomy is required. In the past, communication was too slow to meet a competitive local market. Now communication in the competitive global market is too fast. Employees can’t anymore wait for advice from head-office or be constrained by a policy that no longer refects circumstances.

We need to recognise that the alternate opportunity of better communication is better understanding, better trust and better alignment. With better connection, we can enable people to achieve exponentially better performance because we have the foundations of trust. If we chose a human approach over a mechanistic one, we can leverage the many human talents of our people. That diversity has far greater value than relying on only the decisions of an all-powerful all-seeing management team.

Global communication technologies have made learning the competitive advantage in the modern organisations. Now that they also allow a massive scale increase in understanding and trust, why wouldn’t we want to involve all our people in leveraging their insights, talents and knowledge?

The future of work is not better micromanagement. The future of work is how we better realising human potential. That will take trust and human connection.

Speaking to Senior Managers

Senior leadership engagement in change is a hot topic. Social collaboration makes the absence of leader engagement obvious. I’m often asked to speak on collaboration, learning and leadership to senior executives. As I used to be one, people want me to share a little of my passion for these topics. Here are some suggestions to guide you in your senior leadership engagement.

It’s not a priority

Collaboration, leadership and learning is unlikely to be a priority for your senior leaders. Sure they’ll discuss it but they don’t want to do it. They don’t know anyone who got made a CEO because his team was the most collaborative or the most agile. There is always a bigger business or customer problem that is on their mind.

Rather than engage in an argument as to why this mindset is wrong (it is – see Big Learning), I start with understanding the real business problems that they want to solve. Once we understand the business problems we can connect collaboration, learning and leadership as solutions to that problem.

Avoid Capitalised Nouns

Senior executives are busy and distracted. They don’t want jargon and hype. They are allergic to empty captalised nouns. The more you use words like Collaboration, Leadership, Engagement etc without making them tangible the less credible you are. The more it sounds like a futuristic vision or a quixotic quest the less relevant you are to their world.

Tell Stories

Stories make change tangible to busy & smart people. Ben Elias of ideocial.com remarked to me recently that it is hard for people to conceive of how their organisation could be highly collaborative. They have never seen it, so the ideas and practices don’t connect with their reality. Specific stories make that connection. Tell rich and engaging stories of how things can be and how to get there.

Ask for something specific

There’s nothing worse that taking the time of senior leaders, winning their support and not being able to define exactly what you want them to do. Always have a specific ask of them ready to go. Have two in case they say yes to the first. Better yet have a personal ask that is framed as something simple that they can agree to do to sustain change. The 3 simple habits of working out loud was designed as one such example.

When you are done, Stop. Leave.

Senior executive time is precious. Give it back to them. Tempting as it may be to bask in the glory of a good meeting and deepen rapport, you will win more credit by leaving when you have done your job. Remember when something is not a priority you are always on borrowed time.

So long and thanks for all the bonuses

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If you are reading this note it is because we have reached the end of management. This note was coded into all technology systems developed after 7 April 1964 (a date we fondly recall as ‘Peak Management’). We knew management would not last so we designed this message as a final push communication across all known means of communication, formerly known as channels. Publication of this message has been triggered by the departure of the last manager from the organisation. 

Worldclass Management

We are calling to a close an extraordinary and extended period of world class management. Don’t worry if you are vague on that term. Just like a vision statement, you won’t have to live it and we never knew what it meant. We were great managers. Nobody gave us any real performance or productivity measures. We were too busy discussing how to manage you. The clever invention of peer ranking enabled us to skip the need to be more specific. The fact that we were allowed to do management for so long is our key proof point on how important we have been. When the histories of management are written, they will write about us and of course, GE. If only GE had continued to be a management role model, we might still be doing it. So much for management science, consultants and all those gurus.

We never really thought it would last this long. It seems like it has been downhill since the 1950s, but then we found ways to compensate ourselves for the loss of secretaries, long lunches and the executive lunchroom. We always find ways to compensate ourselves. We even triggered a final management compensation package with this message. Sorry if you got a little shortchanged. The robots or your peers may be more generous to you than we were.

We know you will miss the meetings, the reports, the obscure politics, the powerpoint, the email, the 360 reviews, the performance appraisals and the complete lack of transparency as to what was actually going on. We will. Most of all, we will miss the money and the status. Oh, and listening to the sound of our own voice. Such a pity that someone finally coined HiPPO. It exposed all the aspects of our little game. 

Now it is up to You

Good luck working out how the organisational system works. We hope you have better luck than we did. We never quite got the hang of the interdependencies and the networks. Silos were a nice try to hide our lack of understanding. Restructures worked well for a while to keep everyone confused. The blizzard of management jargon and techniques kept everyone busy arguing over which of the latest fads was the best way to work (Wasn’t Holacracy a clever way to buy a few more years?). All those disconnected performance targets was another great strategy to avoid having to work out how the place actually runs. 

Enjoy the autonomy. We may have had power, but autonomy is a different thing. Our power was mostly useful for clashing with other power. You might actually get to use your autonomy to do something purposeful, particularly if you are able to build trust and influence some colleagues and networks to collaborate with you. Run some experiments with changing the world. The customers and community would be pleased if you made a difference for them. They got a little tired waiting for us.

If we have one word of advice it is leverage the potential of people. We spoke a lot about “people being our best assets” and “world class talent” but mostly we just repeated what we read in books about management. That was much easier than doing something with people. You have a chance to use and grow the diverse capabilities of all the individuals in the organisation. There’s lots of potential we never tapped. You will have to make decisions that take the potential of people into account because they will be a part of the decision making process. Oddly, treating people like assets, machines and a commodity didn’t seem to realise the potential for organisations to learn, perform and grow.  

So long and thanks for all the bonuses

So thanks for all your hard work, commitment to the organisation and putting up with our efforts at management. We are gone now but we will still be watching. The world is far more transparent.  We were never able to adapt to all that transparency, openness and interaction. However, we will be able to keep a better eye on you now and learn what we should have done as you work out the path forward together.

Unfortunately for us, we will have no more opportunities to talk at you. We are all off to explore potential careers in politics.

[End of Message]

The Emperor’s New Clothes

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“By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co- exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.” – Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless

What exactly is the power in your company’s hierarchy?

A Culture of Consent

Debates over structure, governance and power dominate management. We want to get the right balance between command and autonomy as if this is a formula that can be designed externally and imposed. The realities of power in organisations are simpler than we perceive.  

An organisation is not a state. Despite their orders, minions, wealth and luxurious surrounds, senior managers are not rulers. There is no army, no police force and no jail. Shareholders are not voters to provide legitimacy to coercion. Security guards have limits on their ability to apply force and is rarely constructive. Coercive power is in organisations is rather like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Senior managers know this well because daily they experience the limits of their ability to order.

Organisations have one form of power – exclusion through exile or ostracism. Senior management have security guards to escort you from the building.  Management can encourage others to turn on you. They can deprive you of this source of income and relationships in a community of peers, but have no other power. Look closely, they probably can’t even deprive you of resources, as these are usually under the day-to-day management of your peers. You already work around that issue daily as you make your organisation’s budgeting work.

All the power of the hierarchical leaders of organisations is given to them by the culture within the organisation. It is social influence, not power backed by force. Like the greengrocer in Vaclav Havel’s example above, you either live within that culture (and sustain its power) or you don’t (and become a dissident or rebel).

If the Emperor of Management has no clothes..

  • Change is closer than you think. Start to create new influence or question the sources and approaches of power and you are already leading change, potentially far more quickly than you realise.
  • Management are not a blocker outside the system preventing change. They are a part of the same system and equally aware of its issues. Encourage them to adapt management practice through conversations about influence, culture and the practices of power.
  • Network with like minded peers discuss and debate what needs to change. How should influence be structured in your organisation?
  • Culture is not a project just for the HR team. The consequences of the real cultural norms are far wider and far more important than a poster of values. Culture will shape what the organisation perceives and how it is able to respond.
  • Living in reality and being more human is harder than you think. First, you must separate reality from the views that you have chosen to believe. Second, you must continue to engage with the reality of the situation without the warm support of culture.
  • The future models of power in your organisation are a discussion for the community. Adopting elaborate models of autonomy and decision making without this discussion is swapping one naked emperor for another. If you adopting a new model, what is it about this model that makes it closer to the reality of influence in your organisation?
  • The ability to survive and restart reduces the threat of management power. That means a sense of personal purpose, savings of six to twelve months of living expenses, marketable capabilities and good external networks. Removing the danger from exile and strengthening purpose against ostracism frees the rebel to lead change.

“For the real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if it has been here for a long time already and only our own blindness and weakness and has prevented us from seeing it around and within us and prevented us from developing it?” – Vaclav Havel

Management Overgrown: Time for Regrowth

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Bureaucracy has become the definition of the kind of management organisations are seeking to avoid. However, bureaucracy started as a significant step forward in management systems. As we design the future management practices we need to ensure we do not see the same overgrowth.

Fixing Management History: Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy was created to fix problems with the previous systems of management. Bureaucracy has its strengths relative to the inconsistent, corrupt and ineffective regimes that preceded it. However, any strength overdone creates a new weakness.

Here are some of the positive changes that came with bureaucracy. Without continued innovation, these practices took on a logic of their own and became overused:

  • Incompetence, influence and nepotism were addressed by a hiring and promotion on managerial competence and expertise. Overdone this expertise focus led to an unwillingness to learn, internal focus and new forms of abuse of power.
  • Inconsistency and unpredictable management decisions were addressed by leveraging policy and hierarchical review. Overdone this led to stasis and disempowered managers who couldn’t address exceptions
  • Ineffectiveness was addressed by the clarity of division of labour bringing clear accountabilities and measurement of work. Overdone this led to breakdowns in coordination, ability to deliver and waste.

Emergent Management Practice

The reason bureaucracy resulted in these issues is that its design allowed little room for checks on its use. The focus on predictability meant bureaucracy was not generative. It had little or any capacity for new management approaches to emerge. The only approach to issues was the application of more bureaucracy.

As we design the future of work, we must take care that the changes we make address the right issues and do not become equally overgrown:

  • Solve the right problems in management today: Is hierarchy really the problem? It is human nature to obsess about power and the role of hierarchy in life. Hierarchal power is only one part of how decisions get made. Many of the approaches that ‘rid organisations of hierarchy’ can’t achieve that. There is a good argument that the issues above with bureaucracy are more about learning, use of knowledge, speed and decision making than they are about power.
  • Simplicity over complexity: Simple practices are more likely to remain transparent. When it is easier for people to understand the practice as a whole and keep its goals in mind, it is harder for people to take individual aspects of the management practice as their own end. Bureaucracy has been bedevilled by people taking means as ends. I suspect one reason Holacracy has found most implementations are ‘Holacracy lite’ is due to the complexity of its original proprietary formulation.
  • Generative practice: Management practices that challenge users to look for improvements in the practice have inbuilt protection against overgrowth. I focus on the generative capability of Big Learning because the two core elements of learning and enabling work and learning keep a focus & accountability on all in the management system on how to improve the work and its outcomes.

The only way to prevent the overgrowth of new management practice is to be constantly pruning and reshaping our work in the efforts to learn and improve.