Succeeding by leveraging non-proprietary intangible assets

In short :the adoption of new organizational models is made necessary by the need for optimizing the way businesses leverage their intangible assets. Beyond this complex matter there’s another emerging reality : businesses should learn to mobilize and devalop assets that are not theirs. What raises questions about engagement models and the relevance of current management and resource allocations models.

If we stand a little back towards social business or enterprise 2.0 approaches and try to go beyond the surface, beyond the use of new technologies (that support new models but are not the model) and catchall concepts like collaboration, sharing and transparency, we can summarize the point in once sentence. Its a problematic linked with the need to mobilize, where and when needed, of what we usually call enterprise’s intangible assets. Intangible assets being employees, their knowledge, their relational capital, their image and reputation as well as the enterprise’s, each one’s leadership etc.

Business models designed to leverage intangible assets

By the way, even if the words I use may change from to time to time, that’s often the way I define social business and enterprise 2.0. It’s businesses that develop the capabilities to leverage…blah blah blah. These capabilities are much more specific and subtle that the usual and catchall “adoption” : strategy, skills, systems, values etc…. are the cornerstones of the approach rather than voluntary and counter-natural adoption of individual behaviors going against the actual system. These are things any business should care about before thinking of technology, possibly at the same time but never after, what often results in opening the Pandora Box.

But beyond the difficulties linked to the invention of new organization models designed to leverage assets that used to be neglected by Taylorian or Post-Taylorian models that did not give them room in their valuation and resource allocation systems, what lead to irrelevant decisions and arbitrations, lies another very sensitive issue.

As a matter of fact when I talk about the ability to[…..] one’s intangible assets, I make a big mistake and introduce a bias in the reasoning. It’s not about a business’ assets but about assets. What is still hard to get for many organizations is that they also have to leverage intangible assets that are not theirs and even have to develop those assets. A real challenge.

Of course, lots of these assets belong to the organization. Even if it can be discussed. That’s in fact the major issue of applying a model designed for tangible assets to an economy of value lies in intangible ones. A machine has a button to be turned on and off and its production pace can be adjusted. It obeys. Today key assets own their workforce : they can decide to deliver more or less and even leave the company. That’s how businesses discovered the importance of motivation, engagement, leadership and, more recently, well-being at work.

The art of leveraging non-proprietary resources.

But many other assets don’t belong to businesses. Their customers or the average internaut. People who are asked to carry the message, participate in innovation processus, in support communities etc… Not only it raises questions about motivation and engagement but it also supposes these people are given the right level of information and knowledge. Give them enough so they will understand the company, the product, the strategy. Even making them benefit of some exclusiveness to make them feeling like playing a role in the company’s life. It’s also about sharing problems with them if they’re expected to solve them. These points about assets development raise another question : these assets are also used by competitors, customer and fan communities being often shared by all the competitors in a given market. So if developing community assets can make the relationship more exclusive, it may also mean than competitor will also benefit from more savvy people if one day they manage to mobilize them.

Developping employees through social intelligence and networking also implies the multiplication of “win-win” exchanges with peers. And peers may also be external. We can see it every day : you emplouees progress…with their competitors and they also make them progress.

Another case even if it’s less likely to become a matter of conscience : market analysis through sentiment analysis and the use of Big Data to make strategic decisions. When a business or event a government uses millions of signals scattered among social media to understand their environment, needs, in real time and make sense of what looks like a huge puzzle, it means using external assets, exploiting a common good. In this case accessing the asset won’t decide who’ll win or loose but que quality of exploitation will. Maybe some will invent approaches to “lock” these assets into private communities to have an exclusive access to their sentiments.

Last but no least : mobilizing assets in the workplace. I recently had a talk with someone working in a famous large company who gets it very well. They identified a strategic topic and began to identify their best internal assets (and even hire some from outside), make them progress together, rely on them to spread best practices and build a high level task force to manage internal transformation projects. Remember when I wrote above of mobilizing “when and where needed”. That’s where their system failed. Being a global company implies the task force has a leader but that its members are, for administrative, legal and accounting purpose, members of many units and departments. And mobilizing the task force raised a big issues in terms of costs because their actions won’t benefit to their business unit. So even if globally productive they are unproductive for their business unit so local managers try to staff them as possible on local projects and reluct to “share” them.

If the knowledge economy is an actual and observable reality, it’s still not an operational one and that’s a problem. And developing human assets makes no sense regarding to management and measurement tools. This company, despite of being more advanced that the average in social practices, discovered what I think is the major issue of upcoming transformations : the need for accounting models adapted with a networked/social/ 2.0 organization. “Cost allocation kills collaboration” said Goldratt. He was right.

Leveraging and developing non-proprietary assets raises many “soft” issues : engagement, motivation, trust and overcoming the fear of developing assets others could use one day because if you don’t do, your competitors will. These assets being “common assets”, what will make the difference won’t be property but the capability to make the most of them from an organizational standpoint. What leads to “hard” and technical issues : processes, engagement models allowing to derive more value than the competitors from the same assets and a management and cost allocation mechanism that makes it possible to leverage them.