Enterprises far beyond enterprise 2.0

A few weeks ago I amused myself proposing a few tracks on what enterprise 2.0 may be in 2009. But I think pushing the reflection beyond would be worth : enterprise 2.0 is only a side of a much complex reality that is enterprise and will be of any use only in a global framework. Since enterprise, and economy in general, can be defined as the place where more and more numerous interactions melts, believing it can be improved by only cosmetic improvements. Evry initiative that’s not aligned with a macro vision that will take all these considerations into account won’t bring anything worthy.

So, let’s put ourselves in the main player’s place.

• The top management

The less we can say is that top management is very worried. Because of the downturn, CEOs are trying to protect the organization. It’s hard to find more revenue so, in order to preserve the result they want costs to be cut. Or spendings, which is not the same thing. In the other hand they know that if they keep on cutting costs, they will soon be unable to make any cent go in the bank so they try to find how to make work more efficient, to work on costs instead of expenses. And, finally, the idea of business networks comes to the surface. But how to make it happen ?

On the other hand, this crises is about something deeper that worries them a lot. Always promising more has its limits and now it seems that these limits have been reached.  Do they have to stop promising the moon since they know organization’s performance have its limit and trying to balance it with financial performance leads to the situation we now know ? Do we have reached the limits of a system and is this crisis the consequence of a management model failure. Do we have to reinvent the way we do business ?

In brief, an increasing demand for more responsability and sustainability in management, that is not so far from a tendency that brings many companies to think their development together with their human ecosystem’s in order not to ruin their tomorrow’s markets.

Many issues that have a lot in common and that, without forseeing the answers that will be given, will have to be taken into account this year.

• Managers

They heard CEOs’ messages, especially what’s about immediate needs relatives to organizational performance. They understand the interest but don’t want to shoot at their own feet. Networks imply cross-functionnal activities and autonomy for employees. But in the other hand, managers are asked to give account of the way they use the ressources they are given in order to make sure that the invested capital has the best possble return. An autonomous employee may not use his time for the (supposed) right things. Even worse, he can use it for cross-functional purposes and bring value to another department, anoother business unit, and that takes us to the situation Jay Deragon faced and that I mentioned in this note. Managers are between two fires : in the one hand they are evaluated according to their team’s results, not on other’s, and his sense of sacrifice is certainly not big enough to make him wind his indicators up, assume the consequences and be sanctioned. More, managers are human : he will hardly be blamed for lack of results if he pushes his employees to the limit although he may if he gives them too much autonomy.

What is more, they would have to change the way he manages. Saying that they don’t want is not true, but it’s hard to forget all the “good” practices learned during a decades long professional life. Commanding and controling makes them a less easy target than being a helper and a facilitator.

Seen from another point of view, it makes him feel better. His employees have been asking for “blogs” and “wikis”, proposing to create groups on facebook to makes discussions easier. Finally, all of these things share a common logic and perharps it will makes things easier for him.

• Employees

Employees has been asking for years for tools that fit the way they need need to work in an information flows world. Tools, and only tools. Some know web 2.0, some don’t but the label doesn’t matter : they only need tools to do their job. So, if the “network and collaboration” package promised by managers contains the desired tools, they think it’s a good thing.

They want tools to do they current job. But the proposed evolution also impacts the way they work. It’s not  a problem in itselg it will only officialize the informal side of the enterprise, the one they actually use in their day to day life. In the other hand, the institutionalization of this system causes problems since they won’t have the choice : what was the hidden side of their word will be spotlighted. More, they share another issue with managers : it would make them go against what they are wanted to do, or, to be more precise, against the way they are evaluated. They don’t have enough time to do anything that is not “vertical”, the rest being not credited to them and would look like resource hijacking. Lastly, an ancestral reflex tels them that autonomy was often used to put those who actually took it on the hot seat. So they are careful…”let our managers show adopt an examplary attitude first…”.

Collaborate, exchange, share….these are nice words but they can’t see what they does really mean in they daily worklife in terms of concrete actions. They need to be told what they’re wanted to, factually. Since they don’t have such a roadmap describing the expected actions and behaviors they prefer to refrain. Don’t forget this essential rule : employees are, above all, trying to do their job et will conscientiously avoid any added complexity which purpose they don’t understand.

One more thing. In these trouble times, employees need more than ever to be reassured. Knowing they are a part of something, that his employer counts on him, that he has a future and is not a expendable resource. He was never thanked when things were going rigth because of him, he would not like to suffer from the consequences of something he’s not responsible for. They certainly didn’t read Mintzberg but they really feel what lack of community-ship is. On this point, managers and top executives share his point of view but are not at ease : in a period when they’re asked to make quick and quantifiable things, paying attention to qualitative things may be seen as a waste of time and money. And yet…

• Central functions

They are nearly in hysterics. Not only they are aked to “do more with less” but they are aslo impacted by what happens to the operational staff. For instance :

HR departement : they must learn how to motivate, reward, congratulate, make employees go forward without budget nor promotion. They have to reassure them if the situation is not that bad, give support if it’s perilous. More, all they hear and begin to notice about digital natives put them in a cold sweat. With all these network things, they are sure they will soon be asked for new job definitions and profiles to drive things. More, break down the walls that prevent people from exchanging, favor “employee generated content”, even if it makes sense, goes agains all the “good ancestral practices”. They are not agains change, they only want time to understand  and adapt to that.

The IT department, as for it, is aked for many new tools. In the past it was easy to say no, by habit or comfort, or simply to take time to learn, when the demand was coming from isolated employees. Now that CEO and HR officer are pushing too… Here again, they’ve been asked to make heavy systems work, to prevent datas and information from circulating, protecting information and but the whole in a strongroom for decades. Now, on top of that, light applications are needed, with easier deployments, giving a wide autonomy to users. More, there is the “Saas wave” that is supposed to become the norm in the future. So IT people have already understand than, more than a tool provider, they are on their way to become value co-creators with business managers. The methodological and cultural change is huge since it’s not about a new logic but serving two opposite logics at once. So IT depts are also asking for time to learn and being able to fully play  their part. But there again, there’s no time.

I’ll spare you what is about the financial function. If I rely on lasts reports from international organizations, they will have to rethink their basics in order to take intangible capital into account. Some visionnaries think it’s a necessary evil beause it will allow new indicators to emerge, that will be more in line with the real economy and will make it easier for employees to adopt new practices.

I don’t know if you share my thoughts but all these things seems to be a part of an unique and coherent logic, even if seen from a distance it may seem that they all are independand points. Many questions, but one or two deep causes. Three at most. This is logical : in systems that can be characterized by a high level of interdependance there are never more than three or four constraints that determines all the rest.

My purpose, in this long demonstration, was to say that it will be hard to find any solution if enterprises focus on local actions : as we saw, even with the best will, people face organization, cultural, mental barriers that exceeds what one can do.

This means that the answer won’t come from neither the CEO, nor the HR officer, not the IT Dept, nor a manager. Nothing will be solved or improved by changing rules here and there, changing job describtions, developing new values, deploying a miracle tool. Or rather yes but if all of these things are considered jointly as behing a part of a whole and coherent response to an unique problem.

An HR Officer can’t content himself anymore with saying “I don’t care of what’s not HR”, a CIO “I provide people with tools and that’s all”…as for partners, service providers.. It’s not because one has an experitise in HR, organization, IT, that he provides manufacturing machines or software that he can refrain from having a comprehensive vision of the context and the interdependances he’ll face. One may only bring a part of the response but he has to know it will have to articulate in a wide and complex whole where no one can decide to go it alone.

I’ll end with this sentence from the visionnary Antoine Riboud I already quoted here. It dates 1987 but it’s still so true ;

The most successful companies are those that think about technological change, work design and the change of internal social relationships as a whole.

Let me also add that the best partners and providers will be those that will also be able to place themselves in a such a global vision.

A word to the wise is enough

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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