Organizations don’t (only) need builders

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Summary : it’s a shared assumption that enterprises need doers. But, pushed to its limit, these logics do not always mean improvement but, paradoxically, stagnation if not regression. As a matter of fact, “doing” and “building” often means adding things to what exists without taking time to unravel it even when it goes against what has to be implemented. It has a well known consequence : a pile of orders, rules and contradictory processes that cause the opposite of what’s expected : lost, employees do anything but what they’re expected to, don’t take initiatives because they always go against an existing rule or, on the contrary, make failure to respect the rules the new rule. Before building, instead of adding, organizations need people who clean things up. Tomorrow’s organizations are organizations that remove things more than they add.

I recently wrote a post on the myth of “superman manager” that was a barrier to any significant evolution of this role. My intent, in this post, is to go further in the reflection. Behind all that, there’s the idea according to which the only people that matter are the “doers”. At first sight that seems obvious. But it highly depends on what we mean by “doing”.

I won’t elaborate once more on the fact that, for many, “doing” means acting in a visible way and micro-managing.

“Doing” also means leaving one’s trace, one’s mark. And that’s not only an individual issue but also a collective one because the whole organization is acting the same may. Managers’ job being to make things work, they try to take the necessary steps. At the organization level, all the managing body is heading in the same direction : taking steps to solve problems and move forward.

That’s where things often go wrong.

Is something doing wrong ? No problem, a new layer of tools, procedures and rules is implemented. Should things dysfunction a little time later ? The same method will be applied. Organizations have been piling layers of tools and rules supposed to make the organization more efficient for decades. Each time with the satisfaction of having done things well for those who have “built” the solution. In fact they often added their own repair patch to the patches others added before them.

At the moment enterprises are making a move toward enterprise 2.0 or social business there’s no doubt they’ll use the same old good methods. New tools and rules that will make sure that the right usage (because it’s all about usage) will be adopted.

So employees will have to sort tools and arbitrate between 15 layers of procedures that prescribe them 15 different behaviors in a given context. The result is often farcical situations where, having to comply with many conflicting obligations, employees do not respect any of them.

For example, I’m often asked “how to be sure this community will work”. My answer is often miles away from the expected one that establishes community managers as the saviours as dying community systems. Sticking to a very strict definition of what a community is, I’m convinced that a facilitation system may help when things makes sense but can’t make miracles. In other words :

• If the community really exists, it will work by its own. A little facilitation can improve things to some extent.

• If the community exists but is not alive, there’s no reason to add systems that will make people go against the systemic and corporate rules, even against their own interest. In this case, the solution is not to add anything new but remove the barriers tha prevent people to make a move from intention to action.

• If the community does not exist there’s no reason to set up a system that will create it. What has to be created is the interest toward a topic, the “community feeling” will follow and we’ll end in one of the two above mentioned cases.

To state things in a more simple way : what prevents new models from working and from solving today’s problems is what has been implemented to solve yesterday’s problems and seldom makes sense today. Examples are more than numerous.

So, lets have a quick tour :

• Adding new tools ? In fact it’s a new integrated layer that’s needed.

• Adding new programs to bring communities to life ? It’s rather what prevents communities to live that has to be removed or lightened.

• Adding rules to bring social into existing processes and workflows ? The need is rather to revisit what already exists in order to bring this new dimension in the flow and remove irrelevant rules than adding new constraints that will go against the current ones and will product, in the best case, nothing.

Doing means building, adding. Organizations have been trying to deal with their problems with this sate of mind for ages. Maybe it’s time to realize this approach is obsolete and that doing also means removing.

We often hear that lots of organizations are heavy, the opposite of agile, that there’s fat to remove. But this words are too often used to mention people instead of the environment that constrains their work and prevent them from doing their best.

But there’s still a big gap between acknowledgement and action. “What’s your project for your new job ? What do you plan to do ?”. “Do ? Nothing. Undo ? A lot”. Admit that we’ve been so used to idolizing action men, builders that such a discourse would make anyone look like lazy, without vision.

However, what’s specific to enterprise 2.0 or social business surely is their ability to remove, to simplify, not to add and build for the sake of adding.