Networks Demand Leadership. Make Your Choice. Act.

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Leadership in networks is less about the position you are assigned. The opportunity is the role you choose and the challenge is building authority. The job might be assigned, but the role is chosen and your authority is earned. The networks in and around your organisation are waiting for you to act. If you don’t act, they will move on without you.

Networks solve obstructions

Networks route around obstructions. One potential source of obstruction is the formal roles in an organisation, the hierarchy and the resulting silos.  What results is a wirearchy which Jon Husband has described as

a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology

Think about your organisation. There is a formal process to get a decision made, but everyone knows that the real decisions don’t follow the process. There is informal lobbying. Often someone who is not the decision maker is hugely influential. People chat casually testing positions. Additional information is shared. Deals are done. Trust and credibility play a key role in influencing the ultimate decision, often more than the facts on the table.

These actions are all examples of a network working around the potential obstruction of a hierarchical role or process. These conversations are all examples of how ‘two-way flow of power and authority’ is shaped by people’s actions to demonstrate ‘knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results’.

You are a potential obstruction

If you aren’t results focused, aren’t performing the roles required or the network doesn’t have confidence in your actions, a network of people working together will start to route around you.  Your failure to lead others becomes an obstruction. No matter how fancy your title or your place in the hierarchy the network will start solving for the obstruction that you represent. The network in and around every hierarchy is what makes the hierarchy functional.

To avoid being an obstruction, you need to focus on your authority and fulfilling the roles that advance the needs of the organisation and its networks. Your job won’t save you.

Authority takes Action

Leadership in networks is not an abstract and exalted status. Every person in a network is connected. Leadership is demonstrated when people take on needed roles and others move to action.

Leadership is the technology of realising human potential. Leadership is the technology that inspires and enables others to action. That takes a decision to embrace a role, action, influence and authority.  In networks, including the networks wrapped around your hierarchy, that authority comes from action, not position.

The differences in influence and ability to create value come through action.  Action is what builds authority.  The best way for someone to assess your ‘knowledge, trust, credibility and focus on results is to experience it’.  Authority grows influence with other people in the network and that accelerates further action. 

Networks and Network Leadership is not Bounded

If a network needs to go around or outside the hierarchy to solve a problem it does. All it takes is a connection for your network to extend further. Network leaders need to ensure that their leadership goes outside their hierarchies as well.

Customers, community, other stakeholders all influence your knowledge, credibility, trust and focus on results. Sharing the voice of the customer or the community can be a significant part of influencing change. Try to have influence internally without influence externally and you will find over time that your credibility erodes. Celine Schillinger has described how change agents can find that they need to build credibility externally to be more influential in their internal networks.

Leadership is a Choice. A Choice to Act.

Taking on a leadership role is a choice. It is a choice to help others make something happen and enable them to realise their potential. Whether you are in a hierarchy or a network matters little. The same rules apply. The choices that you make, the knowledge that you gather, the influence you build through credibility and trust determine your authority as a leader and whether others will follow.

Nobody has to follow you. Our hierarchies are a fiction that supports our need for status, order and clarity. The networks in and around your organisation know that and work around the hierarchy every day.  

That same network is waiting for your choices and the actions that follow.

Accelerating Trust

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At the recent DoLectures Australia, many of the attendees remarked on the high levels of trust that had been built between the attendees over the four days. The high trust environment was such that speakers rewrote their talks to share more and some big dreams and surprising admissions were shared on both the stage and around the campfire.

A few key factors helped foster that environment of high trust:

Share a goal: Everyone attended the event to learn and to share in stories of actions that are changing the world. People wanted to become more effective at driving change and often to find a new path in the world. Those common goals fostered connections and trust.

Select for behaviour – especially giving: The event selected for people who were action oriented, passionate and interested in others. These are not abstract values. They come out in action, especially giving. There were a lot of givers in the community. Adam Grant’s Give and Take was a fitting gift for all the speakers (a unexpected gesture by Andy Hedges of Westfield, an event sponsor). From the first night people were sharing ideas and sharing networks in an effort to enable others to move forward. Nothing builds trust like the gift of help.

Strip away the status: when you are camping, sharing communal activities and it gets cold, it is hard to hold on to the trappings of status. Nobody looked their best and everyone’s warm clothes looked alike levelling status that might hold back conversation and connection. 

Build connections: Like any group there were some networks present among the group, but no exclusive cliques. Open networks became a way to accelerate connections as people introduced others and referred people to those who shared an interest or an ability to help. The sense that everyone could talk and understand each other fostered trust. The group left the event deeply connected as a result.

Be present: When nobody has internet or a phone connection, everyone is more present. When almost everyone is staying the whole event, including the speakers, there is time for deeper conversations. People gave themselves over to the event and the company. That presence and the mindfulness it brings gave everyone the chance to truly listen and engage in the event and the activities.

Share stories: Storytelling is a way to learn of others’ experiences, capabilities, goals and actions. Telling stories whether on stage or around a fire enables people to get a richer understanding of the other person.

An environment of trust and concern: Payne’s Hut where the event was held is a place of beauty but more than that it has been constructed and run with a concern to create a wonderful experience. The hosts of Do Lectures added to that experience by taking care to design for the little moments of the event. Trust is reciprocal and reciprocated. When you feel others trust you and show concern for you, you are inclined to follow the role model.

Trust is a critical capability for the future of increasing agile networked organisations. Fostering trust with techniques like these above is critical for the future of work in our organisations.

This post was inspired by a conversation at the event with Col Duthie, the insightful MC of Do Lectures Australia

Distrust in Hierarchies: A Barrier to Trust in Networks

In the future of work, we are going to talk a lot about trust.

We will need to consider trust deeply because it is a critical underpinning to success in our new ways of working. We need to recognise the trust that we choose to grant is a design choice. We are likely to need a new precision in our understanding of trust.

Most of all we need to ensure that the distrust that pervades our hierarchies is not a barrier to building new trust in networks.

Our hierarchical organisations often hide an assumption of deep distrust. Organisational structure, role design, silos assume people must be separated to generate clear performance measures. Performance management and reward schemes assumes people will not perform without extrinsic motivations. Management, monitoring and compliance are often set to treat 100% of employees poorly against a tiny risk of failure. People are assumed incompetent unless proven otherwise. If your processes allow no variations, discretion or exception handling, then there is likely little trust in your organisation. If messages are consistently spun and the real news is on the grapevine, not the intranet, then there is no trust in communication.

Trust will emerge in effective networks. However, trust is reciprocal. If your hierarchy is telling people that they can’t be trusted, then it is getting in the way of the emergence of trust in the networks in and around the organisation.

Remember how you treat your people plays a large part in how they will treat each other and their networks, including your customers and communities.

Don’t expect your people to give and build trust over your distrust in them.

Distrust in Hierarchies: A Barrier to Trust in Networks

In the future of work, we are going to talk a lot about trust.

We will need to consider trust deeply because it is a critical underpinning to success in our new ways of working. We need to recognise the trust that we choose to grant is a design choice. We are likely to need a new precision in our understanding of trust.

Most of all we need to ensure that the distrust that pervades our hierarchies is not a barrier to building new trust in networks.

Our hierarchical organisations often hide an assumption of deep distrust. Organisational structure, role design, silos assume people must be separated to generate clear performance measures. Performance management and reward schemes assumes people will not perform without extrinsic motivations. Management, monitoring and compliance are often set to treat 100% of employees poorly against a tiny risk of failure. People are assumed incompetent unless proven otherwise. If your processes allow no variations, discretion or exception handling, then there is likely little trust in your organisation. If messages are consistently spun and the real news is on the grapevine, not the intranet, then there is no trust in communication.

Trust will emerge in effective networks. However, trust is reciprocal. If your hierarchy is telling people that they can’t be trusted, then it is getting in the way of the emergence of trust in the networks in and around the organisation.

Remember how you treat your people plays a large part in how they will treat each other and their networks, including your customers and communities.

Don’t expect your people to give and build trust over your distrust in them.

Trust

Trust is critical to successful organizations. While it may be an example of our ability to acquiesce in functional stupidity, trust accelerates decision making and reduces transaction costs in teams and organisations. Arguably the boundaries of trust shape the size and structure of our organisations. Without trust there can be no effective engagement of employees, the community or other stakeholders.

A recent insightful analysis on trust in organisations highlights three elements of internal trust in organisations:
– vertical interpersonal trust – trust in direct superiors
– lateral interpersonal trust – trust in peers
– impersonal trust – trust in processes and systems

As we consider changes to the shape of our organisations and their systems to leverage disruption and create more responsive organisations, we must remember to balance the demands of each of these forms of trust. A shift from hierarchical autocratic management may reduce the demand for vertical interpersonal trust, but it will increase the need for the other two forms. Agile team based work can increase lateral interpersonal trust, but will also place demands on impersonal trust through changes required in systems and processes.

Changing the way we work will require us to strike a new balance between these three forms of trust with all the participants in the system. It will have ramifications for trust externally as these three models are reflected in our relations externally as well. Trust can’t be imposed. It must be earned in action, capability and credible intent.

As we adjust our organisation models, we will need to take our whole system into a new balance of trust. Impersonal trust, trust in the systems and processes we use, will be the critical component to that process of engagement and adjustment.

Be prepared for social change

Our mental models of how things work are often a barrier to our adaptation to new capabilities.  Digital disruption will stretch our thinking in many new ways.

When railroads were first invented they were designed to be a powered form of wagon for bulk goods.  Only later did people develop the potential for railway travel, changes in communications and accelerate the distribution of fresh foods and other consumer goods. The introduction of railway travel created significant social change, demands for new resources and infrastructure, and ultimately innovation in business & society. After a start as a powered wagon, innovators changed the mental model of a railway developing its potential and its impact on society as a whole.

We are in the midst of digital mobile and social revolution that is so new and widereaching we can face the same challenges in adapting our mental models. Yesterday I attended the New Economy Conference in Melbourne. The audience and speakers who had chosen to attend the event were very aware of the digital & social transformations beginning to be realised.  

A key theme of the day was the impact of digital, mobile and social processes in creating dramatic improvements in connection and speed of information sharing.  This has major ramifications for markets and for corporations as they see their offerings atomised to services, boundaries becoming porous and competition expanding in speed and global reach.  Even consumers are getting into the act of being producers through collaborative consumption. These ideas resonated strongly because they connect directly with the short-term transactional focus of our industrial age mental models of production, markets and competition.  They involve the exploration of relatively simple changes to current models (who, where, what, volume or speed).

Harder for everyone to grasp are the changes to social systems which come with these new technologies and the need for new physical, legal and social infrastructure.  To run their cross-continental networks, railroads needed and inspired new social infrastructure.  An example was that railroads required society to adopt a precise concepts of time to manage their schedules.  Railroads determined the implementation of the continental United States four time zones and largely became the arbiter of time in the communities that they connected. 

There is already evidence that these broader social changes are being created. Work is shifting rapidly towards creative knowledge work in many parts of the world with new demands for leadership and organisation. The acceleration of social activism was discussed on the day and the consequences of eBay, the many task allocation and collaborative consumption organisations in changing natures of trust & work.  We also discussed the social infrastructure required to measure value creation and waste in a broader more human way than just dollars (and the odd bit of avoided carbon).  We need to innovate as hard in this social infrastructure as in that to support the transactions.

As much as we create new ways of transacting, we also need to create new forms of community to supply the social infrastructure to support the transactions.  We need to support the short term interaction with a social fabric that can supply a longer human relationship.  Just as the railroads need a precise sense of time, our new economy demands new precision in ideas like collaboration, work, trust, community and value. 

When we think of the future of digital disruption, we need to allow both for how it will change the mental models we use every day but also how it may demand of us entirely new models, such as new concepts of organisations, jobs, reputation, social relationships and new measures of success.   Success in the new digital era will take both adaptation to a new transactional environment but also adaptation of a new infrastructure of community, trust and long term relationships.  New models of leadership and new social innovations will be required to achieve both.

We are all dead

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” – Jack Welch

We are all dead.

The rate of change external to each of our organisations is now so great that no organisation can ensure it is changing faster than the external system. Global interconnectedness, the rapid speed of ideas in a digital economy & new means of working and collaborating means that change will only continue to accelerate.

So if we are all dead what do we do? Change the game.

Jack Welch’s quote assumed that the organisation needed to generate enough change internally to beat the system. If you are a massive diversified conglomerate like GE, then that is a real challenge

Don’t beat the system. Become the system instead. Organisations need to design their structure, boundaries and processes to integrate with opportunities going on around them in that external change. Instead of hunkering down to fight off the change, organisations need to rethink their defenses. The best defense may just be a welcome:

Have an outward facing culture: If your organisation is looking inwards for your ideas and opportunities, you are dead. If your organisation, only worries about its competitors, then don’t worry they are dead too. Open your organisation up to look globally (that really means globally including Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa)
– Focus on opportunities to create an ecosystem: Allowing the system to shape your products, services and customers will accelerate your change. This can be achieved in many ways such as partnership agreements, an API or a customer collaboration community. Once you start to see and think about the system in which you operate, new opportunities to change and innovate will present themselves.
– Create agile & open edges in their organisation with the freedom to interact with external changes: hackathons, experiments, partnership agreements and a handful of strategic investments can generate a lot of exposure to change externally that will help the organisation adapt. Make sure your permission and performance processes actually give your people the opportunity to interact. They need to be able to move at the speed of the system and that means trust.
– Speed the sharing of information and execution in your organisation: Copy the system where you can. Use enterprise social. Use agile. Use design. Use minimum viable products. Hack, experiment and test away.
– Kill yourself first: What business model do you most fear losing? What product are you too dependent on? What customer can’t you lose? Tackle these challenges now. Engineer a way to change them or innovate like crazy in these spaces before others realise your vulnerability.

Look for collaboration beneath the surface

Archaelogists have just discovered an ancient city north of Angkor Wat.  Using lidar they saw that they had been walking over the ancient city for which they were searching. It was buried by time and jungle.

Many organisations need a lidar for collaboration.  

Obsessed with roles, structure and the formal processes of work they are unable to see the collaboration buried beneath the jungle of complexity.

  • Organisation charts and hierarchies don’t explain how work gets done or how information flows.
  • Decision rights might be clearly recorded and followed, but the decisions that get made are influenced by complex webs of human collaboration: influence, culture, trust and the flight of knowledge.
  • Performance measures are usually based on an individual heroic model of performance.  They don’t track of assists, team contributions or enablement.  This approach can force people to avoid collaboration or keep collaboration secret so as not to diminish perceptions of achievements or be seen to be wasting time improving the performance of others.
  • Collaboration is simply not recorded anywhere.  It happens on the phone, in hallways and in meeting rooms with no ability to record it happened, capture or share the value.

If you would like to improve the collaboration in your organisation, ask yourself whether you understand well enough what is already going on.  

Build your own collaboration lidar.  Pulse check activity across the organisation.  Go looking for the collaboration that exists buried in the jungle and do what you can to get your teams to make their relationships, knowledge and collaboration open to the whole organisation.

Purpose endures disruption. Discuss.

We know what we are, but not what we may be. – William Shakespeare

In a time of disruptive change, an organisation needs a strong common purpose to unite & guide its people.  

Purpose is a product of the community in your organisation.  It is the set of beliefs that keep your community together, reflecting your values, impact on others and hopes for the future.

A strong purpose is one that grows out of that community within your organisation.  We are talking about deeply personal values and beliefs.  This is the realm of pull, not push. People will have selected and remained with your organisation because of purpose.   A purpose cannot be imposed without pushing people away from your organisation.

Purpose endures.  

Your product, your business model, your competitive position and your returns may all change.  Just look at the changes you face:

  • Every organisation faces continued change in Who does things.  Tasks move.  People come and go each day.
  • How you do things changes equally fast.  That is the point of continuous improvement.  We want this continuous betterment of our work.
  • When big disruptive change occurs, organisations need to change What they do too. If you haven’t moved from buggy whip manufacturer to delivering remote mobile acceleration control services, you might just have been left behind. 

What keeps your organisation together and focused when everything might need to change really fast?  

A purpose that is shared by the community of your organisation is a centre of focus and consistency.  Importantly, the purpose is something consistently worth the investment of your people’s time, passion and effort over time.  Purpose is the core around which your organisation must build its agility to survive.  Purpose is the reason for which your organisation must survive and why it must prosper.  The more things change the more you will come back to your purpose to choose what to do next.

Discovering purpose

Start an ongoing conversation in your organisation around your purpose.   Seek to discover the beliefs that are shared and guide your organisation into the future.   Build a consensus and educate those who are new.  Social tools are fantastic ways to share and deepen this conversation.  

Ask purposeful questions of each other.  What is the purpose of strategies, changes and major initiatives? When is your organisation at its best?  What beliefs and ideas bring out the best in your people?  

The conversations are more powerful when they are not be dictated from the top of the organisation.  The best conversations on purpose will be those that surface the beliefs of those who deliver impact to customers every day, who make decisions in the middle of the organisation or potentially by asking your customers to reflect on your purpose. Discuss these points of view.  You will find that these conversations contribute to trust by building common ground.

Be prepared to be surprised, but most of all be prepared to find a new focus to the why at the heart of your organisation. Clarity of shared purpose will speed the agility of your people.  After all, your purpose is why you are and the best guide to what you may be next.

Trust is a design choice

A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts – Harold Macmillan

At the beginning of any organisation, whether you realise it or not, you are faced with a design choice:

Do I trust my people?

The answer to that question and the culture that grows around that answer determines how so many processes, conversations and other interactions will occur across the organisation.

If you don’t trust your people

Should you be going ahead with your organisation?  Seriously.  Think about it.  They are going to have to act on their own at some point.  Nobody can or should remove every independent decision from another person.  

Can you build their capability to earn your trust?  It is worth investing some money in recruitment and development to avoid the costs ahead in an organisational design without trust.

If you still want to go ahead, prepare yourself for lots of controls, hierarchy, and monitoring processes and people.  A lot of value will be invested in controlling people, managing the lack of trust out of your business so that you can function. You will also be more likely to have silos of power and information separating haves and have nots.  These processes will all impede the agility, engagement, flexibility & potential of your people.  Remember you don’t trust them so that’s what you chose.

Of course, trust may only extend so far. If they are not trusted in one process, do you trust them in others?  Can you explain why the processes differ.  You will need to or the lack of trust will be corrosive to an overall culture of trust.  We all have heard examples of the refrain “I can discuss a $1m deal with a client, but I can’t post a comment on the intranet without approval.”  If there is a reason then you need to be able to explain it. 

Often you hear the excuse “but the consequences of failure are catastrophic, we cannot afford to trust”.  If the consequences of failure are extreme, you need trust more but you might want to think about how you genuinely engage your people in mitigating the risks.  Taking the risks out of their control may be no improvement at all if the result is apathy or lack of responsibility for the risks.

If you trust your people

If you trust your people, focus on the culture of personal accountability in your organisation.  Work to build your people’s capability to that they are better able to exercise that trust.  Give people real meaty challenges to enable them to show your potential.  Ask yourself if you can have a flatter organisation, fewer approvals and put more upon your people.  They might just revel in the challenge and surprise you.

A word about ‘Trust but Verify’

‘Trust but verify’ is a commonly discussed way to enable organisations to loosen the shackles and create a higher trust environment.  In many cases, some verification will be mandated by regulatory or other requirements.  People need follow-up and follow-through to see the reinforcement of their responsibility and to understand that there are consequences of breaches of trust.

However make sure you have the order right.  If your process turns out to be ‘Verify, then Trust’, you have no trust at all.  If someone can’t act on their own and wear the consequences, then you don’t have ‘Trust but Verify’.