Cost and talent allocation : should HR build internal markets ?

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Summary : most of the value proposition of the new organization models organizations try to implement is about emergent collaboration. That is nothing more or less that making it possible to mobilize the right resources where and when they’re needed and let them self organize to solve a problem. This is a goal that’s still hard to reach even when the best and most flexible networking and collaboration tools. There’s a reason to that : even if markets have become conversations, enterprises are not markets. Collaboration and conversation won’t have their place there until organizations built talents and resources internal markets.

One of the promises of enterprise 2.0, beyond improving collaboration, was to make it adaptive. In other words that’s not anymore about a structured collaboration where tasks are scheduled and shared out but a collaboration that emerges and organizes itself where and when problems appear, whith those who are the most relevant to solve them. That’s what the “emergent” point was about in McAfee’s original definition.  I won’t elaborate one more time on the benefits of joining such an approach with more vertical and structuring things, both from an usage and a tool integration point of view, in a single tool context. This is also an allusion to all the upholders of the LEAN approach, since that’s nothing more that putting the famous “in the gemba” to the power n.

In my opinion that’s what’s really key when applying the 2.0 concepts to the enterprise because, with a closer look, no matter it’s about innovation 2.0, recruitment 2.0, social marketing, social crm etc… that’s always the same principle that’s put at work, in different ways.

And even for those who prefer lighter approaches than a process-oriented one, even open innovation or exchanging best practices within communities is nothing more than bringing the right people in the right place on the right topic. The only difference is that when people participate into communities, it’s to be able to use what they learned one day…or not, while, in the process orientation, that’s to do things right here, right now. So these two approaches are not competiting but rather complementing one the other.

That said, emergent collaboration need some prerequisite. Among them :

– the resources may be able to know they’re needed or being identifiable and mobilizable.

– the resources should feel like participating (or at least feeling a kind of moral obligation…)

– the resources should be able to participate. What implies having time to do so and, in some cases, the implicit or explicit authorization to go beyond their assigned work. That reminds us that despite of people’s good will, people are always constrained by the system.

 

And that’s where often lies the main point of friction.

Our traditional forms of organizations, vertical and taylorian, are characterized (among all) by the optimization of people’s time. We all know that, today, in many jobs, value and productivity are not tied with the time spent anymore but since no operational conclusion is drawn from this fact, things won’t be likely to change.

In other words, a good manager (good because he plays the right game regarding to how he’s evaluated) makes sure that 100% of his staff’s time is used (even 12°%…just to make sure productivity will increase and that no employee who’s more effective than the average would have idle time). That does not mean that employees could not spend 80% of his time for his manager and 20% on tranverse activities for whom needs it, since in the end the company will take benefits from that (typically the famous Google 20% are a way to make the system work). But, managers being responsible of “their” resources, helping other departments or team in the organization is bad for him even if would create more value at the enterprise level than keeping their staff’s time for them only.

In short, as Goldratt used to say (very recommended reading by the way), we have one more time the evidence that resources and cost allocation not only kills productivity but is also a major barrier to the emergence of new work practices organizations enterprises try to implement (except if a large majority of employees and managers are likely to adopt behaviors that don’t make sense for them and will even put them at risk).

Any discourse on these new approaches mentions the Cluetrain Manifesto and the most famous of its 95 theses : markets are conversations. What made many people come to the conclusion that the future of collaboration is conversations. That may be right (cf. above), except there’s a problematic detail : enterprises aren’t markets (for the above-mentioned reasons).

So, what an internal market would look like ? That’s still work in progress and I’m not claiming I have the perfect, absolute, definitive definition. Rather some food for thought.

– closed market : any individual can mobilize himself or be mobilized on a topic related to his job and responsibility. Ex : within a sales process, the salesperson can mobilize experts and support team to answer any of the customer’s specific concern. That’s “a priori” the simplest way to implement emergent collaboration since, with the help of relevant tools, it’s made easier for people to do things they are expected to but seldom do. That’s also why bringing social in the flow of work may be the easiest thing to do even if that’s the last the social industry cared about.

– Framed market : an individual participates on a matter he’s close to but without being assigned to it. Ex: a member of a team/department on a project his team is in charge of but but on a task/matter that’s not his. Another example : someone from marketing will help the above mentioned sales person because his past experience or any other reason makes him relevant. Or someone in charge of employer branding who takes a stand in a discussion related to internal communication. The person is close enough to the matter that the benefits of his participation and the time spent can be justified.

– Open market : anyone in the organization can take the time to participate on anything because of his relevancy, no matter what the relevancy comes from. And, most of all, the benefits of his participation will impact a team and people he has nothing to do with : in other words his own team and manager won’t get anything out of it. If the first two cases seem to be easier to implement, it’s clear that in this one management and cost-related concerns are key. In a lot of cases, employees who behave this way do it at their own risk, often against their manager’s mind. That raises the question of the economic model for participation as well as the irrelevance of current accounting systems in an economy where people are an asset and not an expense.

– Competitive and even paid market : people who have a specific need, don’t have the resources they need and have to do with little or no budget. They launch an appeal to mobilize anyone who can help and accept to give a little of his time. For example, for a small event, there’s a need for someone to set up  blog with a nice template, design a logo… An internal marketplace may exist to list such offers with, why not, the amount of money the internal customer is ready to pay. If I have 1000€ for the event blog, I can give 200 to the one who’ll esin the logo, 300 for the template while if I ask to an external agency… Those who participate in those projects are rated by the internal customers what will help them to be chosen for more internal deals in the future. Many benefits : the enterprise does “better and more” while spending less, hidden talents are harnessed and given the recognition they deserve and they can slightly improve their monthly pay while the enterprise spends less for that if it has hired external professionals.  If this idea makes you smile, please know that I saw the prototype of such a platform, designed to integrate with a social networking solution, a couple of weeks ago. Such a marketplace is obviously a challenge for corporate cultures that will have to evolve (maybe it’s even more national cultures), and, depending on the country, the legal context may be a barrier. Such a perspective will be horrifying for some and exciting for others. The only thing I can say is that it’s about to come and that such systems will have a deep impact on costs, engagement and recognition…at your competitor’s if it doesn’t happen in your organization. If it works for others, you’ll have to follow or find ways to balance.

– Internal job market : another possibility is to use everything that can be found in the previous points and use it to improve internal mobility, Discovering hidden talents, expectations, be proactive about employees’ willingness to change. Recently a CHRO told be that it will be unavoidable in 2 or 3 years but that culturally some organizations will need 10 years to be ready.

I guess that such perspectives and what they’ll force us to reconsider won’t please everybody in the workplace. That’s another side of the “Pandora effect” : enterprise social networks we supposed to prevent from such tackling such issues by making everything spontaneous. People being always brought back to reality by the system, we’re back to the starting point and the root causes that organizations may deal with with logic instead of addressing consequences with exhortations.

To end, I can imagine all the risks and pitfalls that come with such approaches. We may even question their relevance regarding to the risks in question. I’m not claiming that such systems are either perfect or bad. I’m only saying that they are necessary if one wants to move in a given direction. If they’re judged too risky from an human, social or HR standing so just forget them but assume it once for all and consider that it will be impossible to go further in terms of emergent collaboration, knowledge transfer and collective efficiency and stop making employees become schizophrenic by asking them to contort themselves between a world the organization wants to leave and another it knows it can’t be reached.