Is it possible to manage what can’t be managed ?

If enterprise 2.0 is based on a model of spontaneous interactions and autonomy it may seem paradoxal to try to manage it because the very gist of the model is the freedom that’s allowed to anyone. Saying that we may be tempted to ask ourserlves whether to try to manage unmanagable things. But I’m not sure this debate would be very useful.

A priori, “managing social computing” or “managing the enterprise 2.0” seem to be to perfect examples of oxymorons.

If we have a closer look, it appears that all that is about management granularity and, by the way, depends on what you really want to control.

You’ve noticed that, in the previous sentence, I consider that manage and control mean the same thing although I keep on repeating the opposite. In fact we have an oxymoron as long as we mistake control for management. If we change the way we see management, both will appear to be complementary. It’s also the right time to remember what Peter Drucker told us about knowledge workers productivity and keep in our mind this “proverb” that’s not so far from truth :”there are two ways to manage a consultant : the wrong way or no way at all”.

Get back to our purpose…

By the way we’re back to the debate on the difference between process and method. A process allows you to repeat invariably and endlessly a defined task…and is (partly) unadapted to enterprise 2.0. A method allows you to solve a problem. When applying a process we’re supposed to always have the same result, when using a method we’ll always obtain a different solution which will fit to the problem we were trying to solve. The first is useful in production, the second is useful to solve problems. So the method is much more adapted to the complex problematics employees have to face today.

In practical terms, if we consider that managing is giving a list of tasks that have to be repeated endlessy we have to conclude enterprise 2.0 can’t be managed and, by the way, performance in face of complexity can’t be managed too. If managing is also giving methods (implying autonomy in their application) everything is possible.

Please notice that I said “also”. Both are not exclusive, expect if you want your company to be turned in a big circus. Organization challenges, today and for the upcoming years, is to use both process and methods. How to deal with this paradox ? You just have to consider that the enterprise is structured by processes (structure / security) which make intervenue people using methods (autonomy, flexibilty, response to complexity).

In this case, managing would be building both a framework and a method. And would make us wonder about switching from or OR culture to the AND culture which allows to take benefits from concepts we thought being antinomical.

We’re not very far from the 3M case…

NB : this post inspired by two very interesting notes from Mark McAllister here and here

Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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