Assigned. Chosen. Earned. Part 2 – 2 Stories and a Challenge

We shape our impact with our choices of how we respond to our circumstances and the influence we earn in our networks.  Our jobs and the hierarchy do not determine our ability to influence.

That concise message was prompted by The Australian Leadership Paradox, a book on improving leadership in Australia by tackling issues like roles and authority. Geoff Aigner, one of the co-authors, asked me for stories that brought a richer context to my last post. Here are two examples:

A Job. Limited Power.

At the launch of the Academy in NAB, I was asked to become the inaugural Dean of Customer Experience.  The job was tasked with building customer experience capability enterprise wide across a large financial services group.  As a direct report of the Australian CEO, the job was a high profile one in an important initiative.  

However, that description was where the hierarchical power stopped.  The role had no direct reports.  Everyone in learning reported to other leaders in a central learning function or across the many businesses.  There was no reporting on how much learning work was actually going on. The activity and budgets sat in these widely distributed teams. Everyone already had too much work. The Academy was being created because there was a need for better collaboration across businesses on learning. Nobody had seen a Dean before and there was no idea yet what they did.

I had to choose the role that I would play. I could have seen the situation as impossible and quickly failed. I could have chosen to influence the CEO and leverage his power to direct action. However, the giddy sensation of power would be temporary and the businesses would have quickly locked me out. The CEO would have rightly questioned the value I added. My authority would erode if it did not come from my relationships.

I chose instead to share my passion for learning, to advocate for the Academy and to help facilitate a community of the learning professionals across the organisation.  I chose to engage the business by demonstrating new ways for learning to lead change, to solve problems and to demonstrate the value of collaboration. Over time, my authority and my influence increased because of the impact the Academy team delivered.  People began to ask the Deans and the Academy to help solve tricky issues well beyond learning. That influence continued when I left the job.  After all, nobody had told me what role to play, so nobody could tell me to stop just because a job went away.

Why Are You Doing This Again?

The experience of being Dean led to my role in helping sponsor and grow NAB’s Yammer community.  When Yammer began at NAB, it was unofficial with no budget or sponsorship.  There was no place for it in the hierarchy. For the Yammer community to grow, it needed many leaders to choose play the roles of sponsors, advocates and community leaders, because these roles were not in anyone’s job description.  

Over and over again, as we did this, we were each asked a variant of the question:

Why are you doing this again?

Our answer was simple.  The roles were needed and the community added great value to NAB.  It was not our job but somebody had to do it.  We could play the roles and so we chose to do so.

For five years, I worked with other leaders in that Yammer community.  Everyone’s time was volunteered above delivery of the expectations their day jobs which ranged from Graduate to Executive General Manager. We did what was required to build a successful and vibrant community. The roles we played grew the benefits for NAB and the engagement of the community until we ultimately prepared a business case for sponsorship and formal adoption by the company.  

In this process, each of those leaders built their unique position of authority in the community. Many of the leaders got new roles as a result of demonstrating their ability to play different roles and their growing authority. In addition, the community was stronger because its leadership came from within.

Over to you: A challenge – your new role

  1. What problem or opportunity can you see that doesn’t fit in somebody’s job?
  2. What role could you play to draw attention to or solve for that problem or opportunity?
  3. Whose authority & support do you need to make the change happen?

Infrastructure of culture

Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Peter Drucker

Enterprise social networks are a new form of communication in organisations. Culture is the outcome of how we interact. New interactions will change the culture of our organisations over time. Managing culture changes is critical for organisations coping with disruption.

Adam Pisoni recently quoted a comment I made at Disrupt.Sydney that enterprise social networks are ‘infrastructure of culture’. The comment was building on Kai Riemer’s talk at Disrupt.Sydney that technology that acts as infrastructure (of connection, of transportation or of communication) is open to novel uses and depends on users to make new sense of the infrastructure. Kai was drawing a distinction with our traditional tool based view of technology where it exists for a specific purpose. This point highlights one reason why we often have an inability to forecast where new communication technologies lead us in terms of changes in interactions and societal change.

Enterprise Social Networking is an Infrastructure for Culture

The culture of an organisations is a sum of the interactions across the organisation. It is the ‘way we do things around here’ or ‘what happens when the CEO is out of the room’.  Culture runs deep and is the outcome of thousands of interactions. Speeches, posters and announcements don’t determine culture. As social animals, people look for guides as to what is acceptable in the stories of the organisation, the daily behaviours of others as they interact and importantly in how moments of crisis or conflict in the community are resolved. What happens when things get uncertain is at the core of the culture of a company.

Disruptive change tests the culture of organisations. Shaped by purpose and values as demonstrated in action, culture has an enormous influence on how the organisation runs and what is possible. Many organisations need new strategies to respond to disruption. However, if your strategy runs counter to your culture you will face challenges and likely fail. In the face of disruption, many organisations have found they simply cannot pivot their strategy because it threatens some deep elements of their culture.

A common goal of launching an enterprise social network to execute a strategy to ‘change  culture’. Looking for more leadership, authenticity, accountability, openness or innovation, organisations assume that the network is a tool to deliver that outcome. These organisations are usually disappointed initially. Culture changes the strategy. All they see at first in the community on their network is their organisation’s current culture, just much more visible than ever before. The good, the bad and the ugly is on display. Even worse, the much vaunted new values from the strategy are often not on display because the community is not yet comfortable with those novel interactions, is waiting for a lead from others or does not accept that they can be arbitrarily imposed from above.

Communication networks are infrastructure, not tools. The change in culture is in the community adopting new behaviours, not the technology. The potential of enterprise social networks to change the culture of organisations occurs over time as the interactions change. Importantly, social networks offer opportunities to accelerate this change.

How do new interactions accelerate change the culture of the organisation?

  • Build common purpose:  Social networks are a place to discuss and connect around purpose. Purpose is not imposed.  It comes out from interactions and work in the organisation. Too often when organisations have a new strategy, it is the executive team who assumes the right to set the purpose and only they understand the context that drives the need for change. A social network allows others to discuss and question this.
  • Empower change agents:  enterprise social networking often appeals to a group of early adopters, your organisational change agents. This group of diverse individuals have been looking for a way to have a larger voice, to connect and to drive change. These early adopters will drive a lot of the initial interactions & innovations.  Their goals are each different but they are often more comfortable with many of the values that organisations seek such as collaboration, openness, innovation and experimentation. The challenge for organisations looking to leverage these individuals to drive change is to authorise their activities and encourage the new interactions in constructive directions. Senior leaders can use their authority to play a key role in ensuring that your network does not become a sub-culture of the broader organisation.
  • Lead and role model: People look for role models and leaders. They will follow their guide in the behaviours that they demonstrate. Build a group of leaders of the community and let them know that they are responsible for fostering constructive interactions. Make sure your hierarchical leaders are playing a positive role and not discouraging change.
  • Share stories:  We learn culture from stories of interactions. Social networks allow us to share those stories in new ways and with new audiences. Encourage story telling and make sure you are looking to draw out the cultural lessons of the stories being told.
  • Make interactions visible:  Social networks are a new medium to see interactions. Remember the majority of people will watch, read and learn. Your culture will be on display and shared more widely than ever before.
  • Create interactions across sub-cultures:  Large organisations are often frustrated by the number of sub-cultures as communities within the organisation develop their own interactions. These sub-cultures often create unresolved conflicts blocking progress. Connect these individuals in one community and let them learn about each others contexts. Building shared purpose, concerns and understanding will build a greater commonality of culture.
  • Create conflict:  If there are values conflicts or other regular interactions driving conflict in your organisation, they will surface in enterprise social networking. The faster you bring these out the sooner culture changes. How you work to resolve these through collaboration will be key to your future culture. Remember it is better to resolve these internally before they leak externally through employees or other partners experiencing the conflicts and sharing them.
  • Allow the creation new interactions:  As infrastructure, an enterprise social network is open to employees, leaders and other participants to create new interactions.  If you encourage experimentation and quickly weed out failures, you will be driving innovation in your culture as each new successful pattern of interaction develops.  Embrace the chaos and you will see rewards as your culture develops.

Communities change culture when they adopt new interactions through the role modelling of others and the support of leaders. Enterprise social networking is an infrastructure to accelerate this process through new interactions and innovation. Disruption often demands rapid changes to organisation’s cultures that have been built up over many, if not hundreds of years. Networking the community within the organisation is critical to enabling the organisation to manage that change.

S.O.C.I.A.L

Emergent Enterprise Social Networking Use Cases: A Multi Case Study Comparison by Kai Riemer and Alexander Richter of University of Sydney Business School.  

This study includes analysis of a NAB case study.  A great conclusion:

Most notable however is that this network shows an elaborate and more pronounced idea-generation practice than we have observed in other networks. A closer look at the content of these conversations reveals the benefit for the corporation when viewed from an organisational learning perspective. For example, in more than a quarter of all instances employees brainstorm matters of corporate strategy, work philosophy, working conditions and sustainability. Furthermore, people engage in dis- cussions about their immediate work processes, exchanging ideas that can be influenced and implemented by the employees themselves. Interestingly, there are also a number of conversations about improvements to or developments of new products and other customer-related issues. Finally, people discuss ideas for personal (skills) development and workplace learning.

S.O.C.I.A.L

Emergent Enterprise Social Networking Use Cases: A Multi Case Study Comparison by Kai Riemer and Alexander Richter of University of Sydney Business School.  

This study includes analysis of a NAB case study.  A great conclusion:

Most notable however is that this network shows an elaborate and more pronounced idea-generation practice than we have observed in other networks. A closer look at the content of these conversations reveals the benefit for the corporation when viewed from an organisational learning perspective. For example, in more than a quarter of all instances employees brainstorm matters of corporate strategy, work philosophy, working conditions and sustainability. Furthermore, people engage in dis- cussions about their immediate work processes, exchanging ideas that can be influenced and implemented by the employees themselves. Interestingly, there are also a number of conversations about improvements to or developments of new products and other customer-related issues. Finally, people discuss ideas for personal (skills) development and workplace learning.