Weave the social fabric with leadership

‘Judgement & discretion are not features of software. They are the product of human socialization & experience’ – J Seely Brown & P Duguid

The biggest gap between strategy & execution is often found in the social relationships in an organisation. Decision making, learning, negotiating and alignment of people are rarely well done by machines. The human elements of strategy such as alignment, capabilities and the decision making of execution let us down.

John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid in their classic The Social Life of Information discuss the challenges that this ‘social fabric’ pose for our visions of legions of autonomous bots exchanging information. They note:

‘For humans, rules and goals bear a complicated relationship to the social fabric. Both may shift dynamically in practice depending on the social conditions that prevail’

That shifting is a sophisticated form of responsiveness. Much of the lament about the failure to execute top-down strategy can be explained by the diverse actors of an organisation needing to adapt the strategy to the social fabric of the organisation and its networks. Employees need to change the goals and the rules to retain relationships in their networks.

Top down strategy is rarely iterative enough to learn from these adaptations. Much top down strategy is short term, transactional and fails to account for the social relationships. They are assumed away or assumed capable of surrender to the higher order needs of strategy.

Simply asking why employees must changing the strategy to suit their relationships can reveal significant insight and opportunities to fine tune performance or realise greater human potential. Often it brings back in more stakeholders and more systemic and longer term issues the initial strategy assumed away. We ignore the adaptability of human social relationships at our peril.

Many evangelists of big data propose it as as a solution to the challenges of strategy. They see it will allow for better data and deeper analysis to overcome the inability to execute analytical dreams. Big data analysis already brings great power and insight. Yet it cannot overcome the social fabric of an organisation executing a strategy. Big data at some point must interact with this social fabric whether it is the assumptions and hypotheses programmed into the system or the decision maker who must use the output.

Big data will often make the challenge of integration into social fabric greater as its black boxes may not account for such simple things as human needs to trust, to learn, to explain, and to understand. Knowing where you are falling short is rarely the corporate challenge in strategy. The challenge is enabling human resources to respond.

We need to stop seeing the inherent humanity of the social fabric as a barrier to the perfect execution of strategy. This idea demonstrates echoes of the industrial era thinking that dominates management. A corporation of automatons would be beaten by human ingenuity simply because our social fabric is the engine of learning, creativity, collaboration, trust and adaptation.

The social fabric of an organisation is the source of competitive advantage. Social factors distinguish responsive organisations. Culture eats strategy for breakfast because of its ability to shape learning, creativity, collaboration, trust and decision making. Organisations need to work with and on the social fabric to optimise their performance. The more human organisation will sustainably outperform.

The technology we need to engage with the social fabric is leadership. Leadership can shape learning, creativity, collaboration, trust and adaptation in an organisation. Leadership is the engine of human potential.

In 2015, organisations need their leaders to play to the role of helping work with and on the social fabric of the organisation. Social factors in strategy can no longer be ignored or assumed to be overcome. These very factors are the heart of the human potential & adaptation that will differentiate successful strategies.

Dear CEO: This Enterprise Social Network Doesn’t Work For You

Dear CEO

Re: This Enterprise Social Network Doesn’t Work For You

The purpose of this note is to clarify our most recent discussion in the executive leadership team about our enterprise social network. Thanks to your help we have now clarified that the enterprise social network is the last thing we need.

However our discussion on executive engagement in the network was again challenging. Initially there was a great deal of division in the executive leadership team as to how executives should use the network and their willingness to be involved. We did not get to explore your perspective on the role of executives in using our network when you left the room for another commitment declaring ‘this enterprise social network thing doesn’t work for me’.

We must admit we were initially disappointed by the comment. However, the remaining members of the executive team spent some time considering your insightful remark. We set out below the outcomes of that discussion:

Employee Engagement will deliver our Strategy

We realised that employee engagement, leveraging new ways of working in every role and discretionary effort to achieve our strategy is what will deliver better results. We believe that building a community in our enterprise social network will be another way for our employees to connect, to share, to solve problems and to innovate. The critical question we should consider is ‘Does this new approach to work deliver value for employees?’. The views of executives are less important than the value created for this community of value creators. All the evidence to date is that the network does work for our employees. Employees are more engaged and working more effectively.

This helped us understand that this enterprise social network doesn’t work for you but it works for our employees.

Leadership Helps Create Employee Engagement

We realised that employees need help to make sense of how to use the network, need help to solve problems and make change occur. That means employees need the support of leadership in networks. Importantly, that leadership does not have to come from the most senior executives. Leadership is a role not a job. We had hoped our most senior executives would play that role to ensure that the activity in the network aligned to strategy and best realised the potential of our people. However, we are already seeing new leaders rise up to fill the gap. The senior leaders who are involved can do more to foster this.

This enterprise social network doesn’t work for you. A strong community works for leaders who will help it achieve its potential and the community will surface new leaders to help shape and foster engagement.

Attitude & Capability are a Question of Leadership

We realised that much of the discussion in the room about lack of time, doubts about effectiveness of managing in networks or lack of skill were problems of attitude or of capability. These issues can be solved because they are the kind of challenges our executive leaders solve every day in other domains when required. People learn new skills, they work in new ways to fulfil the strategy and we ask people to be more efficient and better prioritise their time to do what matters. We ask exactly the same from our employees when we want them to achieve more. We don’t accept their refusal to change.

Towards the end of that discussion an interesting question was asked ‘If engaging in the community that creates value in our organisation doesn’t work for you, why are you a leader here?’. We wanted to share this question with you. 

Conclusion: Our Enterprise Social Network Doesn’t Work For You

We didn’t see at first. We now have come to agree with you that this enterprise social network won’t work for you. 

As a result, we have started a thread in the network asking our employees to contribute to the choice of who should takeover as CEO. That conversation is currently favouring the CMO. The community value her authenticity, respect her authority and trust her leadership. We aren’t surprised that the board seems to agree. Sorry leadership of this organisation’s community did not work out for you. We wish you the best in your future endeavours. You may find some useful suggestions as to what to you can do next in the thread that has started with advice on that topic.

Thanks for contributing so much to our efforts to engage the community, realise our strategy and improve performance.

Engage an executive in your enterprise social network. A great chance for executives to get involved is International Working Out Loud Week from 17-24 November 2014. Help an executive to see the leadership potential of working out loud. Find out more at wolweek.com

The OODA Loop of Blogging

Work out loud and accelerate the benefits of blogging.

The OODA loop is one of my favourite strategic tools because it highlights the competitive advantage in speed and learning in a Responsive Organisation. I have also found OODA a useful mindset for my blogging and a way to ship posts consistently.

What is the OODA Loop?

Developed by a U.S. Airforce strategist Col. John Boyd the OODA Loop is the concept that strategic advantage goes to the party who can best navigate the decision loop through observing the situation, orienting themselves, deciding what to do next and translating that decision into action. Through transparency, autonomy and experimentation, a responsive organisation moves decisions to the edge of the organisation accelerating its OODA loop to deliver better business value.

How does OODA accelerate my blogging?

Observe: My blogging is built on a foundation of being constantly on the look out for insights. Every day as we work we are exposed to great ideas, wonderful learning and exciting conversations that challenge our thinking. The more I capture the more I learn and the more I have to share. Are you tuned to observe and capture these opportunities to share through a blog? Managing your attention to observe these moments and building a system to capture notes at the moment helps.

Orient: A blog is an expression of your cumulative knowledge and experience. Finding a way to orient a new observation against your current knowledge matters to building a consistent philosophy. You need to know how a new post fits into your blog. Once I have an insight I try to quickly connect it to other ideas on the blog and elsewhere that extend the thinking. Building this system of links helps reassure you of the value of a new post. Ultimately I would like these links to provide an ever evolving network structure to the ideas on my blog.

Decide: Struggled with a white screen? Found your 500 word post is 2000 words long? These are challenges of deciding what you are writing about. Decide to share one small simple idea. Keep it simple. Stop when it is done. If the idea gets complicated break it into a series. If you have oriented well then the decision on the role and scope of a post is a little easier.

Act: Write. Just start. The best way to solve a problem in a post is to write. You can always throw out and start again later. Only by writing and posting do you generate the interactions that create new insights. Embrace permanently beta. Ship the post and let others help you learn more. This focus on action in blogging is the power of working out loud.

Accelerating the OODA cycle on your blog reduces the risk of a writer’s block or a monster post that can be finished. Work out loud one idea at a time and invite others to share and accelerate your learning.

International Working Out Loud week is from 17-24 November 2014. For more on #wolweek check out wolweek.com. International Working Out Loud week is a great time to put OODA into action in your working out loud.

Integrate at Goals, not at Process

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How do you integrate open network conversations into closed linear processes? Integrate social conversations by integrating at the purposes and strategic goals. No organisation wants its collaboration constrained by processes or systems.

Organisations, vendors and analysts are touting the advantages of integration of enterprise social networking into legacy processes in organisations. Enterprise social networking needs to be come a part of the everyday work in organisations as it is another set of tools to foster conversations and collaborations that create value. Without connection to the daily work of individual employees, enterprise social conversations won’t deliver the value we need. However, far too many of our existing work processes aren’t set up to accommodate creative, agile and productive social conversations. Patterns of allowed conversation in a process based integration rarely changes that.

Don’t Integrate through the Current Process

Existing legacy processing systems are designed for efficiency. They constrain choice. They automate steps and narrow discretions. The goal is to simplify tasks, remove errors and ensure repeatable activities can be achieved with the minimum in investment in human talent.

These systems achieve significant efficiency gains with a cost of human potential, agility and effectiveness. However, they are not designed for conversation about work. One only has to reflect on everyday poor customer experiences to see that these systems gain efficiency by handling poorly the exceptional, unusual case or situations requiring a response to change. Conversations, change and collaboration do not fit the industrial model of work that these process systems are designed to fulfil. They are not designed to leverage the potential of talented knowledge working employees connected in networks.

Collaboration is not a layer that can be integrated into existing fixed processes designed for efficiency. Collaboration offers the opportunity to enable people to change and improve the process and the work. Collaboration creates choices with a view to increasing agility, improving effectiveness and realising human potential.

A conversation that must integrate into a process system will become a conversation about the constraints of the system at some point.

Integrate by Creating a Purpose-oriented Conversation

Offer people autonomy, purpose and an opportunity to develop mastery and you will offer them an ability to fulfil their potential. If you want to integrate social conversations into your work, integrate the conversations at this level. The key to reinforcing human potential is to offer people a way to discuss how their work aligns and creates value for the purpose and goals of the organisation, not its processes.

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An employee who is challenged to integrate his or her work at the level of the goals of the organisation has an opportunity to stop, change or transform the process. That employee can respond to the situation before them, use their discretion and use the talents of their colleagues. The employee can look to deliver greater value than the current process allows. That liberty reinforces their accountability and validates the organisations confidence in the potential of the employee. A key barrier to engagement in many organisations is that an employee can struggle to find the connection between their work and the goals of the organisation. Goal-oriented conversations can play a critical role to surface that connection.

Another advantage of reinforcing a connection at the level of enterprise-wide purpose and goals is that it acts as a reminder that collaboration is an enterprise-wide experience in work. Collaboration is not constrained to the customer management systems or work process systems. A collaborative ecosystem and the social conversations that support it should reach throughout the organisation to achieve its goals and purpose.

Leverage human potential to help realise goals

Telling people what to do and shaping how they might be allowed to have a discussion seems easy and seems efficient. However, it comes at a significant cost of human potential. Leadership in networks demands more of employees, leaders and their organisations. To maximise the opportunities for networked ways of working, allow people the opportunity to find integration of their social conversations at the level of the organisations purposes and strategic goals, not constrained by its processes.

If you would like to create greater value in your enterprise social network or discuss how the Value Maturity Model applies to assist your organisation to create strategic value through enterprise social networking and other forms of collaboration, please get in contact. I am available through @simongterry or Linkedin or www.simonterry.com

The Last Thing We Need is an Enterprise Social Network

Dear CEO

Re: The Last Thing We Need is an Enterprise Social Network

The purpose of this email is to explain why the last thing we need is an enterprise social network.

This email is in response to the conversation about enterprise social networking in the executive leadership meeting yesterday. We thought it best to summarise the position of the leadership team, because yesterday’s conversation got derailed by anecdotes about social media, technology terminology, fear of change and discussion of abstractions like collaboration, future of work and new organisational structures. Before you left the meeting, you remarked “Based on this discussion, I think an enterprise social network is the last thing we need”. We agree.

We don’t want faddish technology. We need execution of strategy.

As CEO, you’ve been rightly suspicious of all this discussion of social inside the organisation. It is bad enough that your teenage children never look up from using social media on their phones. Whatever that involves, it can’t be needed activity in our organisation. We are a place of work.

What made this country great was well-run organisations, hard work and increasing effectiveness in creating value for customers. That takes focused strategy, disciplined execution and a willingness to do the hard yards. Great organisations aren’t built by chasing technology whims. They come from executing strategy to create better value. When we need to create better execution on strategy, the latest fashionable technology is the last thing you need.

We need better strategic value creation

Times are tough. Industry is more competitive than ever and change keeps increasing. We know customer and shareholder value needs to go up and costs need to come down. We have a strategy that is about meeting these new customer & stakeholder expectations, improving the organisational efficiency and delivering the returns that shareholders demand. We all wonder from time to time whether everyone in the organisation gets the imperative of the new strategy and whether they are all working hard enough to find new ways to create value. We know that we perform better when we have better conversations to make sure that our employees are aligned to the strategy. What we don’t need are distractions when there’s doubt that people even understand the strategy.

When we need strategically aligned value creation, the last thing you need is an enterprise social network.

We need new more effective ways of working

To fulfil the strategy of the organisation, we know as a management team that we will have to start to work in new more effective ways. There has been too much wasteful duplication of work in the organisation. Too many of our processes & policies don’t line up across the silos, aren’t agile enough for the environment and don’t meet customer needs. Both our customers and our employees complain about how badly we do this. We need to start working in new and different ways to identify, solve and improve this on a continuing basis. We have to focus everyone on find and using better work approaches that help us to fulfil the strategy.

When we need working in new and more effective ways, the last thing we need is an enterprise social network.

We need to change management and leadership in every role

Working in more effective ways will likely require us to change the way management works. We are going to need to push decisions down to people closer to the customer and give our people the ability to fix problems. We will need our managers to move from command and control to a coaching and enabling role. We need to ensure that all our people are realising their potential and able to work to create new sources of value. Of course in this new role, middle management will need to be trimmed and the new flatter organisation will need to change more often as we respond to further changes driven by our customers. Employees will need to step up into a leadership role in these changes and with customers, the community and the organisation.

When we need to change the culture of management and asking every employee to play a bigger role in leadership, the last thing we need is an enterprise social network.

We need different conversations

Changing the culture of management is going to demand very different conversations in our organisation. We are going to have to find ways to make sure that conversations are efficient and effective. We need to leverage the contributions of more people from across the organisation. We won’t be able to rely on long meetings, workshops, speeches, video and emails. Did you see the budgets for communications, off sites & roadshows in the forecast for next year? We have to do something different. We will need to involve our people more in making decisions. If that’s going to happen our people will need to be better informed and better able to channel their contributions. Our people will need ways to inform themselves, learn by pulling what they need, share ideas of how to work better and collaborate to solve work problems. We are going to need to encourage our people to join conversations that use their capabilities to innovate, to create value for customers and create new forms of working.

When you need to change the conversations, collaboration and culture of an organisation, the last thing you need is an enterprise social network.

We need more from our people

We wrapped up the last executive leadership meeting reflecting on how big these demands will be on our people. We will be asking for a lot of change in them, their work and the way the organisation exists around them. We will be asking our people to play an increasing role in the success of the organisation. We will want them to lead new conversations to create the future for this organisation. We need our people to be more engaged because we will need much more from our people.

Conclusion: What we need

After you left the executive leadership meeting to catch up with the board, we realised that we are clear what we need as an organisation:

  1. we need to succeed by fulfilling our strategy to create greater value in a rapidly changing market; and to do that
  2. we need to be able to work in new & better ways that create a more effective, agile and responsive organisation; and to do that
  3. we need a new culture in management and more leadership from our people; and to do that
  4. we need new conversations that enable our people to discuss and act on creating better strategic value; and to do that 
  5. we need more engagement and a better ability to leverage the potential of our people to contribute to and lead this change; and to do that
  6. we need an enterprise social network to support the first 5 steps.

If you are surprised by point 6, think back through the needs again. After all you were the first to say that an enterprise social network is the last thing we need. We don’t want an enterprise social network because it is new technology or because it is good for some abstract goal. We need one to help our people to execute on the changes necessary to achieve the goals of our strategy. Enterprise technology only makes sense when it enables us to work in new ways that deliver strategic value. As your management team we can see that the value creation opportunity is compelling. We couldn’t see it when you made your remark, but we have come around to your perspective.

The paperwork required by our old process is already on your desk, but a number of our people have started experimenting with solutions to see what value we can create. (Interestingly, their first suggestion is a better procurement process.) When you get back from the board, your assistant will show you how to log-in and join us discussing how we implement in the new enterprise social network.

Thanks for challenging us to come up with a better way of working.

Please think of the environment and don’t print this email. We’d encourage you to discuss it on our new enterprise social network instead.

If this post sounds familiar or if you would like to create greater value in your enterprise social network or discuss how the Value Maturity Model applies to assist your organisation to create strategic value through enterprise social networking and collaboration, please get in contact. I am available through @simongterry or Linkedin or www.simonterry.com

Manage an ecosystem or it will manage you

Traditional management focuses on an atomised view of the relationships in a business. Relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, competitors, partners and the community are treated as mutually exclusive, individual & discrete transactions. We put all our relationships into a simple hierarchical structure.  

This convenient fiction is a classic example of organisational stupidity. Linear hierarchical choices are easier for us to use through than complex networks of relationships. Networks get messy quickly. We chose these simplistic view to make organisations easier to manage.  

In this simple model, relationships beyond the bounds of the organisation and its interactions are rarely considered, except under the categories of risks. In our disruptive networked world, every organisation exists in an ecosystem of complex networked relationships. We all need to adjust to making decisions in that ecosystem. If we keep managing to fictions, the ecosystem will take our influence and decision rights away.

So where’s the networked ecosystem?

No organisation is an island.  If you have one employee and one customer you have already begun to build a complex network in their relationships.  

We are increasingly experiencing the dynamic of a networked ecosystem as a result of following principles:

  • All the agents are connected: customers, suppliers, employees and the community are all much more able to connect, share information and collaborate. Importantly, they will connect share and collaborate whether your organisation exists or not.
  • Any agent can play multiple roles: An employee can easily be a customer, a supplier, an influential member of the community and even potentially a competitor simultaneously. The same could be said for any other agent in your ecosystem. Traditional linear thinking struggles to manage this. Just look how many organisations attempt to stifle their employees’ ability to connect with each other or play a role as customer or community advocates.
  • The pace of innovation brings down barriers: Traditional barriers like control of information, power or resources that kept agents isolated are coming down with the accelerating pace of innovation. It is far easier to shift between roles than ever before or to get access to information or connections that you need. If your organisation depends on barriers for its success, there is a great chance someone is working now to circumvent them.  
  • The tools of disruption help us see the system:  increases in networking technologies, data analytical tools and communication technologies increasingly help all participants see and manage the system

A social and natural ecosystem too

When we start to look beyond our traditional linear categories of relationships we can see a wider ecosystem around our organisations. This broader view of relationships helps us see the ecosystem in a fuller light:

  • We can see that our connections and our organisations contribute to social goals
  • We start to see the positive and negative environmental & social impacts of our organisation and its relationships
  • We see new ways to contribute
  • We can look to the relationships that occur beyond our traditional thinking and wonder what contribution our organisation can make or how we might leverage these relationships to add new value

Start Leveraging the ecosystem

With a new more complex view of the ecosystem around your business start asking new questions:

  • How does the wider view refine your organisation’s purpose?
  • What should you do more, better or differently?
  • How do you go faster if you leverage others?
  • What changes in the wider system benefit or harm you? What can you do with other players to have more of the good or less of the harm?
  • How do customers, suppliers, employees and others help you grow your business?
  • Where are the sources of value, the conversations, connections and opportunities in the system that you have been missing?

If you don’t ask these questions, somebody in the ecosystem else will.  There’s a good chance you won’t like their answers.

Exploit Their Strengths

Turn your competitors strengths into a weakness.

History is full of example of how clever strategists turned an opponent’s strengths against them. A military strategy list includes Alexander at Gaugemela, Hannibal at Cannae, Marlborough at Blenheim and Napoleon at Austerlitz. Ali’s rope-a-dope in the Rumble in the Jungle and many martial arts disciplines use the strengths of an opponent. In a time of rapid disruptive change, there is a long list of ever changing business examples to add.

How do you make your enemy’s strength your opportunity?

Study their strengths: acknowledge your competitors have strengths and you will be better than many. Study them intently and understand their strengths well, if not better than they do. Don’t rely on your own views. Research their history. Ask others and get a rounded view. Their strengths are also your greatest risks. It is better to understand them well

Encourage overuse: a strength overdone can be a weakness. Overuse of a strength can blunt its impact and even become counterproductive. In many of the examples above the successful strategy was to encourage an opponent to overuse their strength either to create a moment of weakness or to constrains the impact of the strength on the result.

Weaken their focus on facts: a big danger comes from any organisation’s biggest past success. That big success and the strengths that drove success tend to become mythical. Myths are rarely bound to reality’s harsh competive landscape. Leaders can go on trying to recreate a past success leveraging myths when the strategy no longer applies to the situation at hand. Past strengths are often first used and the hardest things for organisations to give up.

Let your competitor be predictable: using strengths is often very predictable. Predictability doesn’t offer any strategic advantage.

Focus on the next competition. Let your competitor win the last competition: strengths are usually built for the last victory. An agile opponent who seeks to change the game can make those strengths a liability in the next competition. This is particularly true where the strength may take a big investment, involve big scale and limit an organisation’s ability to adapt to new competition.

Take calculated risks: every one of the examples above involve calculated risks to go head to head with an opponent’s strength. Many were ‘a close-run thing’. However given in most cases the underdog triumphed against more powerful forces a close competition was already a district improvement in strategic terms.

Persist and ignore doubters: make sure you don’t defeat yourself.

Plan an exit: because these battles involve risk, allow for mitigation. Be ready to flee and fight another day if need be.

If you want to disrupt an opponent, don’t run from their strengths. Focus instead on finding a way to use that momentum against them.

Adaptability – Purpose, Context and Enablement

The traditional models of leadership focus on clear instructions and measurement of specific actions. Hierarchical command and control was developed in military organisations intent on bring order to the disorder of large numbers of people on complex battlefields. In a rapidly changing world, there’s a danger that this command and control model completely breaks down – too slow, too rigid and too ineffective to achieve its goals. In many cases, the first people to change their thinking have been the military

Years ago, I heard a talk by Lieutenant Colonel James McMahon who was at one time commander of the Australian SAS forces in Afghanistan. His advice to a group of aspiring business leaders was always explain what was known of the situation and be clear on the purpose, but never dictate how the mission should be achieved. Highly engaged, skillful and creative teams will find ways to deal with complexity and change that will achieve the mission and surprise you. His stories of the resourcefulness of Australian troops in a complex and changing environment were remarkable.

The role of leaders is to set a purpose and a context and to enable people to act fast and effectively on their own decisions to achieve success. US Air Force Col John Boyd described the concept of the OODA loop. The OODA loop highlights that there is strategic advantage in being faster than competitors at observing, orienting, deciding and then acting. Organisations that are quicker round this loop will be harder for their competitors to predict, have a better view of competitor’s actions & intentions and be better at execution.

Clarifying purpose and context accelerates teams through the Observe and Orient stages of the OODA loop. Activities like briefings, induction, Scenarios and role plays are great to help people to build understanding and skills in anticipating what might be encountered. They know faster where they are and where they want to go.

Building enablement will accelerate the ability to Decide and Act. However, you need to choose and skill people for their ability to decide and act to achieve success on their own. You also need to leave decision making in the hands of the individual to act and respond to the changing circumstances that they see.

There are always trade offs. Maybe the observation and orientation won’t be perfect on the ground, but it is rarely better at a distance. Maybe the decision making and action won’t be as sophisticated as it could be, but speed and adaptability is usually more important than perfection.

Give up a little command and control. Focus instead on providing purpose and context. Then enable your teams to adapt with maximum speed and effectiveness.