Serendipity doesn’t preclude control : a few rules to manage fate within informal networks

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Everyone is conscious of informals networks’ power within an organization. But their informal nature causes of lot of (sometimes) legitimate fears because seen uncontrolable. We never know what they will bring. The concept of serendipity is perfect to illustrate this. We all dream of driving a Ferrari, provided we can control accelerator, wheel and brakes. If not, a smaller but more controlable car is a better solution. That’s the same for managers : they are looking or performance but don’t feel like pushing their company off the road..

This squaring of the circle was highlighted by one reader on my french blog on a note about innovation portfolio. I think the equation can be solved provided we forget the “let them do and wait to see what happens” rule. By the way, it’s one of the reason why entreprise 2.0 isn’t like web 2.0. It’s supposed to have the same consequences, with the same tools, the same dynamics, but with different lever and rules : same starting and ending point but different processes.

Some rules that have to be followed….

1°) A “business need” before all

You would like to use informal networks to give a boost to your company ? It means that, behind that, you have a clear and identified purpose for your business (best practices sharing, innovation, peer to peer learning, business intelligence…) . So say it loud. It will makes to things possible :

– be followed in your project because it will legitimate the time people will give to those networks. Without that, network is useless in their day to day job and people will keep on with their old habits without consideration to whatever you’ll want them to. It this possibility to do things in a different way doesn’t make job in their daily job, there are few chances it woks.

– avoid to wander off the point,which is the consequence of the “what do they want me to” question ? Without knowing it, people may do what you don’t want them to or, more probably, won’t do anything.

2°) Build links between informal and formal

What are your informal network worth if they don’t serve the company’s goals ? Creating dynamics, ideas, informations is good. But only if the organization can exploit them. Example : it’s no use having one thousand good ideas about new products, processes improvement, if the people who are in charge to decide to launch products or implement those improvement don’t seize them. And how to make sure people are mainly focused on what matters if they don’t know what the organization needs ? Read this you you wan to refresh your memory.

3°) Don’t forget informal is a mean, not a goal.

It’s similar to what I wrote above but it’s an idea you must always have in you mind if you don’t want your Ferrari to get off the road. It’s about a wise use of your networks.
Example : at a given time, Ford wanted to depart from “classic and rustic” image to challenge their Japanese competitors. They began to innovate in (too) many directions, forgetting the basis : you could sell the most innovative car, people won’t buy it if quality isn’t there. By trying to do too many things at once, Ford experienced a dramatic quality drop. The point is not you have to choose between foundations and novelty, but appetite for innovation mustn’t make you forget what’s essential.

Once again, if you forget this rule, your networks will get you off the road. But if you forget your networks, those who can use theirs will send you off the road too.

4°) Don’t mistake your goals for their side effects

Some say, and I’m convinced they’re true, that this way of doing things has many “off business” effects (even if, at the end, it also impacts business but not mathematically) : strenghtening links between people and between people and company favoring dialogue thus reinforcing motivation and implication, recognition of everyone’s contribution to the team work, struggling isolation and lonelyness…

But all these points are consequences. If informal networks are encouraged, you’ll get the above mentioned effects after a certain time. But if you set them as primary goals, I’m affraid you will fail. Those consequences are due to a new kind of interactions, but as seen in the first point, those interactions must be business-driven. Without a business purpose they don’t develop and their consequences don’t come either. The business content is the vehicle that will cary the “human dimension”, so it must prevail and pre-exist.
By the way, why do an enterprise need to harness its informal networks ? The answer is here.

Communautés, Entreprise 2.0, Innovation, Management, organisation, réseaux-informels, réseaux-sociaux, stratégie, web-2.0