Change or don’t change..but don’t stay on the middle of the ford

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Summary : as any strategic project, a social business or enterprise 2.0 one need deep changes in the organization to be successful. One the most common causes of failure is that not all the consequences are drawn, that what has to be changed in order to make things coherent and beneficial for both employees and the organization are not changed. An old truth applies here : either a project is strategic and everything should be aligned accordingly or the necessary adjustments are seen as optional and so does the success of the project. In this case, it’s better not to start anything.

When any enterprise wonders about its evolution, about what it should become to stay or become competitive again, it builds a vision of its future in order to reach it. It’s often the transcription, according to what the organization is, its culture, past, constraints, of the theoric concept of enterprise 2.0 or social business. Objectivity makes us admit that many of these projects fail or, at least, are very relative successes.

Why ?

– because the “social” or “2.0′” things went with a tool approach and that the goal became to make people use the tools instead of making people serve the project with the tools. A good example of useless changes in behaviors when the system is in question.

– because the project was launched without any idea of what the goal was. Who does not know his destination often goes nowhere and fears trying new roads.

Deploying the tool that will support the new ways of operating and serve as a catalyst is the easiest part of the project, to such an extent that’s it’s often what’s done firs. In the other hand its integration in the existing IT and its choice depending on key criteria that can only emerge after a deep work on operational needs may suggest that it should be the last part of the project. An essential part, but not the first : who does not find logical to align tools with needs instead of forcing needs to meet what the tools can do ?

That said, an enterprise 2.0 project is not different from any kind of project from a reasoning perspective. There is goal. To reach it, some things are needed what are as many requirements. Each of these requirements has its own ones. All this breakdown can be sumed-up in a tree that shows what has to be done. I’d rather say should be because this step seems to be often overlooked.

Let’s have a look on one of the most famous cases : CISCO. John Chambers radically transformed his organization. He had a strategic goal and aligned anything with it : the way employees were evaluated, the leadership model, the recruitment criteria etc.. When he became CEO at Alcatel-Lucent, Ben Verwaeeyen had a plan in his mind and it needed more exchange, collaboration, a flattened organization. His first initiative was to set up an email address so any employee could email him, being sure he would read the message personally. Years ago I remember of one of the first enterprise 2.0 project in the sales department at Dassault Systems in France. The sales director made anything to make social networking the way people did their work by changing the content of work and adopting a new management style. In fact, the role of the tool was to support the form of management he wanted to use (and not the reverse).

But situations like the following ones still happen too often :

• The leadership teams things this move is highly strategic. “But we won’t bother them with that, will we ? Change is not for them.”

• People don’t collaborate because all the measurement and reward system tells them to fight one against the other. “Be serious. We won’t change the performance measurement system. No way !”.

• We need people who have the right behaviors at work…but hire the opposite. “He’s a brilliant applicant…we can’t let him go. Even if his state of mind is not aligned with the values we want to promote and he’s so selfish that he does not care about his colleague or the rest of the company”.

• We hire brilliant, creative, curious and open-minded people, we like their ability to behave like “intrapreneurs”. Once they’re hired it’s rather like “shut up, low profile and follow the party line”. “It’s essential to hire such potentials…but if we let them express themselves it may harm the internal order”.

• Nothing will change unless the content of work changes. “Change anything in people’s day-to-day work ? Don’t even think about it !”.

• Value is created when social meets business applications. “Don’t touch to business apps. Social is communication, not work. Right ?”.

Anyone can have his own opinion on the concession-less line adopted by Chambers toward his executives (in short : either you change and we help you or you don’t want…and you leave !) but behind this, there was something obvious : that’s the corporate strategy, it’s vital for our future so it’s not optional. SEMCO and his CEO, Ricardo Semler, are often mentioned as a model for HR and culture 2.0. Don’t forget that he did not leave any choice to the leadership team in place when he took over his father as the company CEO. Why ? The Corporate Project is not optional : it has to be rolled out and any consequence that has to be drawn from it should be. What takes us back to Chambers who admits that this “new” Cisco is not the management model he’s comfortable with. But he forces himself because the future of the company is at stake.

What I wanted to point at here, even if it’s common to any project, is that if an initiative serves the Corporate Project, everything has to be aligned with it. If the necessary adjustments are thought being optional it means that the initiative won’t support the strategic project…so that doing nothing may be a better solution. Why investing and doing efforts for something that won’t improve or change anything ?

When driving on a road and a junction’s ahead, there are not many options. Either you stay on your current road or you move to the other. If you slowly change your direction while staying on the same road, you’ll end in a tree or the verge.

Staying on the middle of the ford means loosing the security of a known and comfortable situation (even if it’s at risk on a long term) without getting the benefits of the promised land. That’s the place where one starts to loose a lot without winning getting anything in return. That’s not a median way but the place where the danger is higher.