Willing to become a truly digital and collaborative business ?

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Social and collaborative enterprise

No matter the words used, nearly any business wants to become digital and collaborative. Digital because it’s the current buzzword, even if there’s no agreement on what it means. Collaborative because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to respond to the complexity of their environment without better cooperation and collaboration.

But bad habits die hard. Even if it’s not always easy, businesses manage to move forward, be more or less successful but even a small issue is enough to bring them back to the starting point. An inspiring leader leaving, a manager getting a new position, hard economic times that causes a change in focus….and the organization goes back to its old habits.

Even if I’m not claiming that it’s going to solve everything, but here are a couple of good practices without which considering a deep and sustainable is a dream. It’s certainly not enough but it’s mandatory.

Stop hiring the clones of the people you want to make change

The first issue is about recruitment. It’s been a running one since businesses realized that collaboration was key, that one can’t manage knowledge workers the way he did for industrial workers and, more recently, that a new way of thinking and operating was mandatory in the social era. Businesses complain (often wrongly) that employees are a barrier to their digital transformation, they spend a lot to make them change and, in the end, they’re still hiing the same profiles as those they’d like to change and exclude those who personify the future normal, not the current one.

The story that lead to issuing the digital agility test (TANU), is a perfect example of such behaviors. Today, a minimum digital base is as mandatory as knowing how to turn a computer on, read, write. Collaborative capabilities are rarely assessed too. And, anyway, most businesses will prefer hiring a diva without any diigtal culture and with poor collaborative skills. In the same way that businesses used to say that “no one got fired for choosing IBM or Microsoft”, no one is getting fired for hiring standardized profiles that won’t question the status quo and make waves.

Once the right people are hired, the point is to put them in the right context so they will deliver on their potential. But that’s another story.

Recognize and reward the right behaviors

Then comes another topic : performance measurement and evaluations. Yves Morieux said that “cooperation is a sacrifice“. That’s true for two reasons. First because cooperating or collaborating means giving, sharing, accepting to  lose what consider as a piece of power or and individual competitive advantage in favor of collective success. Then because everything is done in the workplace to make cooperation difficult : from management to processes, including, and that’s the key point, evaluations and rewards. Adopting the right behaviors has a price, a high one.

It’s not only about bonuses, which are known for having downsides, but it’s at least a matter of recognition and appreciation. But no one can expect people to go in one direction when the way their success is measured tells them to go in the opposite direction.

Set goals to build the future, not to protect the past

It’s all about the objectives and roles one is assigned. “‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” (Upton Sinclair). Or, in other words, “Never try to sell a meteor to a dinosaur. It wastes your time and annoys the dinosaur” (Hugh McLeod).

At the beginning of the 200S, Sony had everything in hands to invent before Apple a system similar to iPod+iTunes. But since everyone wanted to protect his own revenue line and P&L, Sony wasted its assets. But we should not blame the people for that : they did the job they were asked to. Other objectives would have lead to other behaviors. “Burning one’s own boat”, canibalizing one’s own business has never been something easy but if you’re not going to compete with yourself others will.

Of course, all these things are mandatory but not sufficient. But what is sure is that if

  • you’re hiring the clones of those you’d like to make change
  • you’re favoring behaviors that favor individualism and personal ignorance in a world where the customer is developing his collective intelligence
  • ask employees to protect the past over the future

don’t be surprises if nothing happens.