The conversational enterprise : opportunity or dead end ?

If we listen to what’s being said here and there, the future of business is conversation. A concept that’s not so easy to get for many organizations for two reasons :

• Intuitively, conversation makes think of chat…what means waste of time

• In the management ideology, there are those who talk and those who do. So, having conversations is the opposite of doing.

That’s not so hard to understand. Let’s imagine what imagining his whole team having conversations all day long would make any manager react. And, even when he can intuitively get the value, it’s hard for him to explain how it may improve his team performance because it is his main focus. As for the staff, they may wonder what to converse about…and, most of time, they don’t want any of their conversations to be heard by their hierarchy.

SO, buying the concept is very difficult.

But even so that’s a dimension that organization have to develop in a near future. For instance, in a Social CRM approach (which as a very clear and understandable value proposal), conversations are essential to create the needed engagement. Globally speaking, there are known things that have to be reached and the ability to seize opportunities that are, by definition, unknown at the start. In this second situation, everything starts from these famous conversation that have, most often, a topic but no purpose for participants, and that are essential to make purposes emerge. Conversations are the fertile grount where action grows up.

Even at this point many managers say “that’s nice…but that’s not for me”. And they’re right.

Conversational logics are minority activities for managers in charge of a team. Because a team is a formal structure, with people who know each other, and only exists because it has a goal to reach. No need to converse to find others. Of course, at the enterprise scale, team members may participate in conversations, but it happens out the team scope, in cross functions communities, without quantified objectives and due date in terms of production.

I already explained the differences between community management and “socialized” management. This is quite the same paradigm.

Like communities and community management, conversations are a dimesion that has to be developed because it’s very deficient in most organizations at this time. But thinking it’s the only possible 2.0-ish thing to improve organizations and that it may even replace everything leads to the misunderstandings I mentioned above.

Teams need to improve interactions while communities need to improve conversations.

What’s the difference ?

• Interaction is a means to coordinate in order to do something. Conversations helps to make emerge what to do (at the end of the conversation, the result is often assigned to a team in charge of delivering it….with interactions)

• People participate in interactions for contractual reasons, because it’s a part of the job they signed for, because the constract they signed with a client implies they have to work together. People participate into conversations because they want.

• Interactions are actionable because each element of an exchange may make one the protagonists undertake something. Conversation are not actionable by definition since people can converse for a while without making anything appear that has to be turned into axtion. Moreover, all the protagonists in an interaction may take an action, in a conversation only the organization may, not individual participants.

• Interactions happen because a known and shared objective exists beforehand. Conversation happen to make this objective emerge.

• The driver for interactions is coordination, decision making, problem solving. Conversation may be used for problem solving but what motivates people is to talk about something they are passionate aboute without any hidden agenda.

For instance, a project team, a work group, are places for interactions. Conversations will take place into communities that can involve employees but also customers and, sometimes, anyone.

Every people in charge of a project, of a team, is interested in interactions and how to fluidify them to improve collective performance. Conversations are more likely to interest marketing, communication or innovation department for sourcing or engagement purposes. But when they have to work as teams, these departments will swith to the interaction mode.

Communitis and their conversational side apply to some needs and interest the people in charge of these needs. For the others, interactions will be more relevant, with their own levers and practices. The mistake is to think that conversations will become mainstream in work groups what is, in my opinion, an utopian view and would not improve so much things.

So the last question is : “is it possible to think “2.0” or social management in a scope that’s not community and would be as old school as a project team, a department ?” Of course, and it will be discussed in future posts.

Meanwhile, let’s keep ont thing in mind : conversations have a great potential value provided they are applied to the right context, with relevant objecives…and are turned into action. For the rest, there are other solutions (with which they’ll have to articulate) each applying part of the 2.0 model to a given context.

This answers the question in this post’s title. Conversations are hudge opportunies to aggregage and engage one’s ecosystem to listen and start a long term partnership. Applied to a group that is commited on delivering something it makes few sense and may lead to a dead end.

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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