Is your organization conductive ?

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Summary : a conductive organization knows how to organize on information flows and turn them not into inert matter but into actionable assets to serve the market and sustain its own success. Information management is not an isolated discipline but a comprehensive approach of how the whole company should operate. In “The Conductive Organization”, Hubert Saint-Onge and Charles Armstrong tell us how they transformed the companies they ran. A good reminder that the evolution of technologies will never replace common sense, logic and courage and that good solutions are neither social nor 2.0 : they are solutions that work. Period.

Experience always win the day and being in denial is useless : the social or 2.0 era did not invent anything but brought back old matters to life, making businesses hope that technology will help to find a non human solution to human issues. As a matter of fact, using tools or not, some found the solutions to organizational performance issues in a knowledge intensive context long before the emergence of the new generation of tools and, inversely, many organizations that have the technology are still struggling to actually change. Bottom line : the answer may not reside in technology but elsewhere.

So I wanted to share with you insights from an “old” book (dating from…2004), a book I consider as timeless since it comes with the right questions and answers in terms of organization. Then, one can found thousands of reasons not to do anything, sheltering between cultural issues or technology complexity to justify renunciation. This book is The Conductive Organization: Building Beyond Sustainability, by Hubert Saint-Onge and Charles Armstrong. I tells their experience as practitioners and the approaches proposed in the book are those they actually implemented in the companies they ran.

The idea behind a “conductive” organization is that in today’s economy, information is a flow going through the organization and that the ability to act upon this flow determines how the organization is aligned with the market and customers. So optimizing information circulation is not enough : the ability to act upon is at least as important. What has impacts on management, leadership, knowledge management etc. As a matter of fact, the authors defines knowledge as the ability to make a decision or undertake an action when needed, what shows that knowledge is different from information and that it’s more than a matter but also a set of capacities and abilities.

I won’t go too much into details about the proposed methodologies and the examples that comes with (let me say it again : it’s not a book on management theories but a return on experience) but only mention some points I found key and worth keeping in mind by anyone.• Information flows are key : beyond conductivity lies the need for allowing information to go where it’s needed and not where some want to keep it. Same rules apply for knowledge, hence the need to consider these intangible as flows and not as stocks.

• knowledge capital : created at the intersection of human, customer and structural capital and not in isolation on each side. This concepts highlight the fact that information, skills, ability to collaborate, customer satisfaction… can’t be considered and managed one by one but through the way all these variable interact, what is the only way to build an asset the organization can mobilize, use and value. Information per se is not an asset.

• Becoming a conductive organization supposes that the organization acquire new capabilities in terms of culture, structure, strategy and systems, lead by leadership. That’s necessary to turn information into knowledge and be able to act upon it.

• Culture and values matter. They started to work on these matters with employees long before the change on organization and practices.

So Saint-Onge and Armstrong offer us a very dynamic approach to knowledge. How it circulates, how one should learn, how to make knowledge actionable, how to make explicit knowledge accessible and allow exchange of tacit ones, keeping in mind it’s all about serving the market. This approach may interest those who’re involved in a social or 2.0 project and struggle to turn what looks like one more overlay into an enterprise project and align behaviors and operational practices. The whole with a customer satisfaction focus.

After that, some may say that’s complicated because it implies to put one’s clean hands into the dirty corporate engine and rethink many cornerstones of organizations as they exist nearly nearly everywhere. It’s true that evangelization and prayers are easier. We’ll see in a couple of ears, if not before, what works and what doesn’t…

But let’s remind that renaming old things with new names does not change the nature of problems that were solved in the past by those who had the courage to do what had to be done. Taking refuge in tools and exhortation-driven change to avoid organizational change won’t make anyone go further that those who failed in the past without having social technology at hand.