Friday, August 15, 2014

Is email more secure than ESN?

Some (quite a long) time ago, Marisa Peacock wrote an article on CMS Wire about the Garner PPC session “The Social Workplace: Rethinking Communication and Collaboration in the Age of Social Networks” by Nikos Drako. Despite an otherwise interesting and great article, I got the hiccups when reading the following:
“…before companies can begin to find value in social networks, it’s important to look at what platforms are currently the most valued and why. It’s email, of course! Email messages are safe, secure, ubiquitous and for the most part, accurate. In contrast, messages broadcasted across social media and networks are speedy, encompass a wide audience, and can be reused and shared more easily. By determining your goals for messages and information created, it’s important to see how they align with the appropriate platform”
I agree that email is ubiquitous, but “safe, secure”? No way! I shared the article on Twitter and had the following conversation with Olivier Amprimo:

  • Olivier: Gartner rides on general confusion between consumer social networks and enterprise ones. ESN are closed systems by default.
  • Me: surprised me as well - because it is wrong. Risk of external leakage is much higher with email due to forwarding & mistakes
  • Olivier: Transparency mechanisms are the differentiators between the two that creates an illusion of control.
  • Me: exactly, and internal security you can manage with policies, NDA's and awareness + training
  • Olivier: Correct, but it's easier for techies to downgrade features than write a governance and policies that are understandable by all
  • Me: though even techies should know about technical drawbacks of email, such as content duplication, lack of traceability, etc
  • Olivier: Yup + the same technologies are now available for ESN so that helps them too (facilitate their adoption ;-))

Since I wasn’t present myself at Drako’s session, I can’t tell if this the article correctly reflects what Drako actually said, or if there has been some misinterpretation along the way. Regardless, letting such a statement pass by without getting scrutinized is dangerous. By positioning e-mail as a safe and secure communication, it is implied that social networks are not. It provides fuel to people who use the security argument to keep social networking from entering the enterprise. What is worse, it doesn’t help to dispel the myth that email is a secure communication tool. There might be some truth to this argument if he would be comparing email and public social networks, but for enterprise social networks? Really? Nah, I don’t think so.

In the comparison chart that apparently originates from Drako’s presentation (see above), one of the dimensions being compared is “protection”. Protection in this context is being defined as: “certainty that only intended recipients will receive it”. From the diagram, it seems that email offers foolproof protection and that enterprise social networks offers always no protection at all. As I will show in this blog post, this gives a false picture of reality. Furthermore, protection with the definition used is not the same thing as security. Information security is about avoiding sensitive or secret information to be disclosed to a third party. Protection, as defined by Drako, has more to do with precision of the communication process. It sure has impact on security, but protection and security are not the same things. Being able to select who shall receive you information doesn’t automatically mean that the information is protected and secure.

Security is a "people problem"
First of all, we need to remind ourselves that security is ultimately about what people do with the information they have access to. We can invest large amounts in designing and building “secure” IT solutions, but that doesn’t change the fact that people will always be the weakest link in the security chain. In most cases the greatest security risks lie not in the technology itself, but rather in how we use it. If there is anything we need to improve, it is how we use communication tools such as email in a secure way, and how we design tools and services in ways that make it easy for us to do things right (for example, in a secure way). Rather than putting straightjackets on people that prevent them from getting their work done efficiently and effectively, they should be educated and trained in how they can work with information in a secure way.

The use cases for email and ESN are different
There is (or should be) a difference in the use cases for email and ESN. Although email is used for virtually any kind of communication in organizations today, including many-to-many communication. Email is best suited for sharing information that is only intended for a specific person or group of people, and for having one-to-one conversations. ESN is best suited for sharing information that can be useful for a wider audience inside your organization, and for having many-to-many conversations. With ESN, as opposed to email, you don’t have to know in advance who could potentially find the information you share relevant.

Since most ESN support not only conversations but also private group or one-to-one conversations, the remaining use case for email is actually only external one-to-one and one-to-many conversations. If all internal communication could be done over an ESN instead of email, it would reduce the likelihood of accidental information leakages.

Avoiding accidental information leakage
It is true that on an ESN you don’t always know or have control over who will read what you share. You can however often choose to restrict access to the information you share to specific groups or sub-networks, but this goes against the idea to be open by default and only protect information that really needs to be protected. There is no value in information that is not – sooner or later – being used. Information that might be of use sooner or later holds a potential value, but that value is not realized until it is actually used for something. This means that in order to maximize the value of a piece of information that is shared it should be made available to anyone who might have use for it.

Email, on the other hand, makes you think that you have control over who will read what you share since you select specific recipients. But this feeling of control is just an illusion. Email is a tool that allows you to communicate with precision, and for that it is excellent, but the information you share isn’t protected from falling into the wrong hands. One important difference between ESN and email is that only employees have access to the ESN, while an email can be sent to anyone in the world that has an email address. It is quite easy to share information in an email with a third party by mistake. All you have to do is to put the wrong email on the recipient list. A simple typo or misspelled name can do the trick. To share information that you shared on an ESN with a third party, you would have to copy the information and paste it in either in an email that you send to the third party, or post it on an external social network such as Twitter or Facebook. It would be pretty hard to do this by mistake.

When an accident happens
So, an email can easily get wings and fly away. And once you click the send button, there is no traceability in what happens after your email. Yet most of us use email to share quite sensitive stuff.  With email it is virtually impossible to find out who have actually got access to your information. There is no (easy) way to tell if your message has been forwarded or included in another email exchange in which you are not a recipient. An ESN, on the other hand, collects data about who has viewed or interacted with the information you have shared. Any activity performed with it is tied to a user identity in the system.

Furthermore, the information you share via email is copied like a virus to each recipient. If your message was unintentionally sent to the wrong recipient, you have no way to revoke your message. Nor can you change it if there is something wrong with it. All you can do is hope the recipients won’t read it, or send a new email and beg them to delete the previous email. On an ESN, the information you share isn’t copied. You can revoke it by deleting it. Some ESN platforms also offer you to edit information that you already shared.

So what do you think is: does email offer much better protection than ESN? Which is most secure, email or ESN?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The only use case for ESN that you will need

If you are the average knowledge worker, you spend 25-30 percent of your workday on email related tasks (McKinsey). 7 percent of the emails you receive at work is spam or junk mail. Another 11 percent is personal or non-work-related. 66 percent of all emails come from colleagues, and a large amount of those emails are most likely irrelevant or of little importance to you and can be categorized as occupational spam (Mimecast). In addition, you spend about two hours per day on being interrupted and trying to refocus (Intel). The time you spend on managing all these emails, or looking for information that you cannot find, is often said to amount to a day or so per week. It is safe to say that email has become the no 1 productivity drain in a lot of organizations today.

Let's look at just one way, one use case, how enterprise social networking can help to change this situation.

There is a Swedish proverb that, directly translated, goes like this:  “A place for each thing and each thing in its place.” The rather obvious meaning is that to keep things in order, you first need to have a place for each and every thing, and then you need to put each thing in the place where it belongs.

Although originally meant for physical things, it is also highly relevant when it comes to communication within enterprises. With massive amounts of occupational spam, people complaining about information overload and to be drowning in their inboxes, we can’t just blame it on the sheer volume of information. Something must be wrong in how we try to keep things in order.

Just as this Swedish proverb states, there are two sides of the coin that we need to address:

  • The tools, ensuring that we have one place for each thing
  • Our behaviors, ensuring that we put each thing in its own place

We obviously need to work with both these if we want to break the tyranny of email, but let's just take a look at the tools for now.

As I have previously written in the post “Email is the biggest productivity drain”, the combination of email overuse and the way email is designed that makes the effort of keeping things in order overwhelming. All sorts of emails end up in your inbox and there is no easy way for you to filter out what is relevant and what is not, or what context an email belongs to. It is entirely up to you as the receiver of an email, not the sender, to add structure to the communication (see illustration below). It is also you who will need to deal with the chaos in your inbox that this lack of communication structure leads to when you get emails from all kinds of people about all kinds of things. As if that is not enough, this work has to be done by every individual in your organization, generating enormous amounts of waste.

Let’s contrast this with how you would communicate and share things with your colleagues on an enterprise social networking platform. Then, you would either associate the communication to a social object, a space such as a group or community, and/or tags that in some way reflect what the communication (information being shared) is about. Any further communication and information shared will then keep this association. It will have a context, a home. Other people can choose whether or not to take part in the communication process, thereby getting the chance to improve the signal-to-noise ration as they can avoid receiving a lot of irrelevant information and can pick and choose from relevant information flows. Since it is the sender that associates the information that is shared with a context, it is the sender that applies structure to the communication (see illustration below).

As you can figure out, huge amounts of waste can be eliminated this way. If you need a use case that motivates an investment in enterprise social networking, this is the only one you need. It will also help you focus your efforts on making people change their existing habits and adopt a smarter way of communicating. You can build your business case entirely on this use case, and perceive all other use cases that you can find as a bonus.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

9 Ways To Boost Knowledge Worker Engagement

In my previous post, “3 Reasons Why Knowledge Worker Engagement Is Decreasing”, I discussed the increasing pressure on organizations, the changing nature of work, and different reasons why employee engagement and thereby also productivity and innovation are eroding, especially in large and distributed organizations. I grouped these into three overall themes: complexity, inflexibility, and disconnectedness.

Now what can an organization do to reverse this negative trend? It could strive for the opposite, of course, towards increased simplicity, flexibility and connectedness. Here are 9 things your organization can do to get moving in the right direction.


1. Adopt a user-centric approach

Study after study shows that people-centric organizations are more productive and profitable, and that being people-centric is a mindset that is instrumental to building a high-performing organization. This applies to all aspects of an organization, not the least information technology. Instead of leaving the people out of the equation, information technology must be designed in a way that it extends people’s abilities and senses, allowing them to make the most out of their collective expertise, talent and engagement. We are seeing this happen on the commercial web, but it is yet to be seen at work. The solution should be obvious: you need to adopt the thinking, approaches and methods that are used when designing customer experiences and use it when designing the internal work environment.

2. Simplify interaction between people

In a knowledge-intense work environment where the work people do is highly inter-dependent, you need to reduce the complexity in the interactions between people. It requires you to study these interactions in detail - why they are needed, when, who interact, what they lead to - so that you can identify typical interactions and then simplify those interactions. Key in this is to understand the people, their tasks and the situations they find themselves in. Ultimately our digital work environment should be invisible, helping us achieve our goals without any friction at all.

3. Make it easy to perform basic tasks

Most knowledge workers still struggle with basic tasks on a daily basis, many of which are not creating value. Therefore, you need to make it much easier to perform those tasks. Although the tasks of knowledge workers come in all shapes and sizes, many of them rely on a number of basic capabilities, such as finding information or locating expertise. By improving these capabilities, your organization can empower its employees to perform their tasks more efficiently and effectively. By removing waste and friction on task and capability level, you will also be able to see substantial improvement when all these small improvements are aggregated on process, departmental, and enterprise levels.


4. Embrace flexible working

Research shows that what employees of all age groups want is the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how they work, and that increasing workplace flexibility has a positive effect on employee engagement and thereby also on employee productivity. Your organizations need to support this, not only to increase efficiency by reducing lead times by enabling people to do their work when it needs to get done, but also to make people more engaged at work and thus more productive.

5. Support mobile working

New mobile technologies enable you to get your work done anywhere, at any time, with anyone. The tools and information you need to get work done can now be made available to you anywhere and anytime. Yet your organization's culture, management practices, performance systems, organizational structures and priorities are keeping you from exploiting this opportunity to the fullest. Therefore you identify necessary changes and implement those so that mobile working is truly supported.

6. Make it easy to perform tasks in different situations

Your digital work environment should follow us wherever you go, helping you to get your work done, in different situations. This means that you will need digital services that are designed to fit typical situations. These services should all be tied together in a coherent user experience, providing access to all information you might need, allowing you to work seamlessly together with your colleagues from anywhere. You will need to establish a shared vision, strategy and governance model for the entire digital workplace.


7. Connect people 

Achieving operational excellence today and tomorrow starts with having the right people on board and then connecting them to each other. With better connections, your organization can solve problems and act upon opportunities in a fraction of the usual time. And it can achieve it fewer resources and by activating underutilized resources such as expertise hidden in distant corners of the enterprise. When people become more connected, they will feel more engaged. They will be able to build their personal networks and access the social capital they need to get their work done. So, you will need to provide systems in place that allow people to connect and use those connections.

8. Embrace social principles

Your work environment needs to be designed according to the principles that make people engaged and empowered to be more productive and innovative. There are five principles in particular that should guide the design of your organization and work environment:

  • Openness. People need openness to get access to information and other resources they might need to get their work done.
  • Transparency. People need transparency to be able to find and discover the information and resources, and to trust it.
  • Participation. Anyone needs to be able to participate, because that’s how we can deal with any kind of problem or opportunity.
  • Conversation. If people can have conversations it will increase the likelihood that their communication is effective, allowing them to quickly can reach mutual understanding and take the necessary actions.
  • Recognition. People need to be recognized for their contributions if they are to remain motivated and continue contributing.

9. Create an open and transparent work environment

To avoid sub-optimization and other negative effects of organizational silos, you will need to create a more open and transparent work environment, one where you can see and interact with your colleagues within and across organizations. You need to increase visibility of people, information and other resources. You will also need to create mechanisms that allow people to find and discover relevant people and information, without drowning in a rising sea of information. Once you have created a more open and transparent environment, people can start making themselves visible, participate and engage in constructive conversations. Doing so, they will discover new people with similar interests, experiences and goals. They will connect, get to know and build trust in each other. When they do, when they feel connected and feel part of a community, cooperation and collaboration happens naturally. Not because someone tells them to, but because they want to.

At the end of the day, it is about creating the necessary conditions for employees to become engaged and empowered to do their jobs as good as possible. Remove all friction. Love synergy, hate waste.

Friday, April 25, 2014

3 Reasons Why Knowledge Worker Engagement Is Decreasing

Due to the technological development with the Internet and social media, markets are no longer created and controlled with broadcast marketing. People can now find and connect with people like themselves all over the world – and no longer limited to the people in their close proximity and to existing ties such as family members, friends, colleagues or neighbors. They can connect with anyone, and they all influence each other, immediately and with multiplier effects. The power is shifting from companies to consumers. It is a radical shift, but it was predicted already in the mid 90’ies by marketing guru Philip Kotler as a consequence of the Internet. So we shouldn’t be too surprised. Yet a lot of companies are. And they haven’t prepared at all for this. Companies and organizations are waking up to a new reality, and the wake-up call can sometimes be harsh. A number of things are changing, and I will mention four of these here.

1. Change and uncertainty is the new normal
To start with, today’s business environment is anything but static. It’s changing faster and faster, and in new ways. It’s becoming more and more unpredictable. This means that companies and organizations can’t do long-term planning like they used to. Instead they have to be prepared for change, to quickly adapt to new conditions and situations, such as changing consumer behaviors, new competition, new innovations, and so forth.

2. Diminishing return on optimization efforts
The second big change is that the return on optimization efforts is diminishing. The companies that lead the development in their industries, and get all the profit are those that are able to create new value. They don’t do that with optimization. They do it by innovating new product and services, by creating and developing relationships with consumers and others, by collaborating internally and externally, and by constantly learning how change theirs strategies

3. Growth and efficiency is not enough
Thirdly, being able to grow in terms of production volumes, market presence and market share is not enough to be successful, neither is it to produce and market products or services as efficiently as possible. Instead, continuous innovation and high responsiveness to change and customer demands is becoming more and more critical. This obviously can’t be addressed solely by streamlining and optimizing transactional processes, as we have done for the last few decades with the help of information technology. Innovation and responsiveness requires empowered people that can collaborate efficiently and effectively. That is why collaboration is the new productivity frontier.

4. Non-routine knowledge work is increasing in importance
Finally, we can see that work is shifting from manual work to knowledge work, but most importantly from routine work to non-routine work. Computers and software are taking over repetitive and routine-based knowledge work, just as robots have replaced workers doing repetitive and routine manual work in the factories. The work that is remaining and increasing is the non-routine knowledge work that is often highly interdependent such as problem solving, product development, sales and so forth.

Knowledge work is something completely different than most of the work that organizations have tried to improve and optimize during the 20th century. It’s fluid, dynamic, unpredictable, and non-repeatable. Knowledge workers need to look beyond the standard ways of doing things, to question information, rules, and ways of working. This is something completely different to how it is to work at a production line in a factory, where workers follow predefined and highly repeatable processes and procedure. Most organizations have been designed for efficiency and economies of scale, not for empowering people enabling collaboration, innovation and responsiveness.

Too often, knowledge workers feel like they are just cogs in a big machinery. And unfortunately, in most cases, their feelings are motivated. We see all over that employees are increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs. Employee engagement is falling. It is especially bad in large and distributed organizations. The consequences are many and severe. Innovation is stifling. Productivity is, if not falling, not improving. People are leaving, or they want to leave, their jobs. It is hard to sustain and improve quality. And it’s not possible to recruit and retain talent by the quality and numbers that are needed.

So what is causing this? I have grouped a number of causes into three overall themes; complexity, inflexibility, and disconnectedness.

1. Complexity
As knowledge workers we often find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Workload and complexity at work is increasing, while we at the same time are expected to produce more, faster and faster. And adapt to new conditions. Not only that, we are expected to be creative and innovative as well. Still, if we look at an average day in the life of a knowledge worker, we struggle a lot with finding answers to basic questions, such as what is happening in our work environment, who is doing what, where I can fiend a piece of information, when it is my turn to contribute, and so on. This means that we spend a lot of time on things that are not creating value, just getting ready to create value. For example, Intel estimated that their employees spent one day per week on trying to find information and locating the expertise they needed to do their job.

Although the tasks of knowledge workers come in all shapes and sizes, many of them rely on a number of basic capabilities, such as finding information or locating expertise. These capabilities are vital to knowledge worker productivity, but also to innovation, and it is evident that poor capabilities generate a lot of waste.

Of course, we constantly get new tools and features that are intended to make us more productive. But when these are introduced, there often is no guidance, and they are rarely customized to fit our needs. In addition, we already have this huge pile of complex products to deal with, and we need to make the new ones find their place in this already complex environment. This technology-centric approach adds complexity instead of reducing it, instead of making things simpler for us. A study by Oracle UPK and Neochange found that productivity of enterprise application users had fallen almost 1/5 over a period of only three years. It’s like giving everybody Friday off. How can that be? I would argue that it’s the increasing complexity that is hampering productivity.

2. Inflexibility
The second theme is inflexibility. By this I mean that our organizations and the systems that are there to help us get our work done are designed in a way that makes change, creativity and improvisation hard. Instead of empowering knowledge workers, our organizations often constrain and prevent us from being productive and innovative.

First of all, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what organizations do when it comes to how they try to motivate knowledge workers to perform better. In most organizations, existing performance models are built on extrinsic motivators, or carrots and sticks if you like. These models worked pretty fine for routine, left-brain, rule-based work of 20th century, but they are not working very well for right-brained, creative, and self-propelled people performing non-routine and highly collaborative conceptual tasks. For example, bonuses and commissions don’t work for this kind of work. As a matter of fact, science shows they have the opposite effect than intended; the higher the extrinsic rewards, the worse the performance gets.

Organizations are apparently making important decisions about their future based on the wrong assumptions. The left circle in this venn diagram represents things that have been considered important for trying to maximize the productivity of manual routine work. The right circle represents things that are important for motivating knowledge workers doing non-repetitive work. There is still little understanding and experience of how to do the things the right circle, so organizations and managers tend to stick with the things they know how to do. Those are the things in the left circle.

Furthermore, knowledge workers need to have flexible working conditions. When it comes to knowledge work, work is not a place, it is something you do. Most knowledge worker tasks can be performed from any location, even those that require close collaboration with others. Organizations need to support this, not only to increase performance, but also to make people more engaged at work. Research shows that what employees of all age groups want is the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how they work, and that increasing workplace flexibility has a positive effect on employee engagement and thereby also on employee productivity.  A Virgin Media Business study found that 40% of the surveyed organizations often overhear employees complain about being tied to their desks and 7 in 10 organizations believe flexible working would make their employees both happier and more productive, boosting employee engagement.

3. Inconnectedness
Finally, we have a theme that I call disconnectedness. It is about people and information being disconnected from each other, and thereby unable to share, cooperate and collaborate as is required to be productive and deal with the challenges organizations face.

Collaborating isn’t as easy as it sometimes might sound, especially not in large and distributed organizations; there are too many barriers to collaborate naturally across an organization and across locations. In a complex and constantly changing work environment, it becomes even harder to find time and energy to overcome these barriers. It is only natural that we tend to share, cooperate and collaborate with people in our close proximity and that we already know and trust, failing to help and collaborate with others or share information that they might have use for. People work in silos. Silo thinking is a typical phenomenon in large organizations. Teams tend to focus on the parts they are responsible for and specialize in.  They sub-optimize and focus on their own goals. They become organizational barriers that limit communication and impede sharing, collaboration, and innovation within the enterprise.

Organizations have also created digital work environments to optimize personal productivity and teamwork, but doing so they have neglected the fact that knowledge work is increasingly relying on collaboration in networks across locations and organizations and stretching far beyond teams. It might seem as a paradox, but the modern and increasingly digital work environments have in fact made people more isolated and unaware of what is happening at work.

This disconnectedness means that people become less engaged. And in a rapidly changing and complex work environment, this has serious implications, such as lost productivity and innovations. Or worse – talent is wasted and people leave.

What do to about it?
So what should organizations do to avoid the negative consequences of complexity, inflexibility and disconnectedness? The simple answer is that they should start working towards increased simplicity, flexibility and connectedness. What they should do and how, I will return to in my next post.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

“...we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature” 
Metalogicon, John of Salisbury, 1159
A modern interpretation of the western metaphor about the dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants is that each new discovery that is made builds on previous discoveries. In the context of enterprises and collaboration, one can say that each person who creates value builds on the value created by other people. Each individual and team is a dwarf, and the giants whose shoulders they stand upon is the workforce as collective, past and present. The stronger the workforce operates as a collective and the better it keeps any past contributions alive, the taller and stronger are the giants, and the more value an individual and team can create. This certainly holds true not only for the performance of individuals, but also for the performance of teams and collaboration efforts.

The Collaboration Pyramid that I introduced a couple of years ago is a model that is intended to show what areas need to be addressed for an organization that wishes to become more collaborative. The model consists of 8 layers, but another way to use the collaboration pyramid is to divide it into three bigger layers: community building, cooperation, and collaboration.

Let me briefly walk you through the three layers.

Starting from the bottom of the pyramid, we have the community layer. The community is the enterprise seen as a group of individuals that share the same purpose, vision and values. It is about shared attitudes and behaviors within the enterprise, or the culture if you like. It is also about the individual’s ability to be seen, participate and be recognized, all of which are fundamental for developing a sense of belonging, identity, and self-confidence.

After that, we have the cooperation layer. Cooperation is about people enabling each other to do something, for example by providing a person with information or other resources that make the person more able to perform a task. Cooperation can be seen as the opposite of selfishness and competition. People help each other out for some mutual benefit.

At the top of the pyramid, we have the collaboration layer. It is about a team of people that work closely together to achieve a certain goal. It can be a permanent team, like a production unit at an assembly line, or temporary team, like a project team. The team would most likely have a formally appointed leader, someone who is responsible for the planning, coordination, follow-up, and communication within the team as well as the world outside the team.

There is a strong dependency between the each of these layers, and it starts with community building as illustrated in the onion diagram above. For people to cooperate well, they need to belong to the same community. For people to collaborate and perform well as a team, they need the cooperation of other people in their community.

It becomes more obvious that the performance of an individual or team depends on the cooperation by individuals and teams from the community as a whole when it takes place in a dynamic, unpredictable, and complex environment. There isn’t necessarily a much weaker dependency in a more static, predictable and simple environment, but under those circumstances many of the dependencies can be anticipated and managed, something which is done by creating and maintaining structures such as a bureaucratic organization, processes, and systems. Even if something out of the ordinary happens, there is likely a procedure to follow and structures in place to ensure that the procedure is followed in the right way. But when the environment that the organization is more dynamic, unpredictable, and complex, then more and more of the work that needs to be carried out cannot be anticipated. The appropriate structures cannot be defined and set up in advance, and they cannot be as rigid or introduce a lot of transaction costs. The structures have to quickly emerge as needed, and then dissolve just as fast as they emerged.

For enterprise-wide collaboration to happen, the community building and cooperation must stretch beyond any barriers such as organizations, time, and place. Groupthink, organizational silos, and structures cannot be allowed to limit the ability for one or several organizations to collaborate efficiently and effectively as enterprise. If the enterprise as a whole is not one single community, and if people don't cooperate freely within and cross organizations involved in the enterprise, then enterprise collaboration will fail.

I would be happy to hear what you think. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

What Is Wrong With The Hierarchy?

In a world where things changed less frequently and when there was plenty of time to react on new information that emerged, where markets did not emerge by themselves and change shape by themselves, it was possible to centralize planning and make long-term detailed plans and execute the plans over a period of several years. Organizational hierarchies and command-and-control style management were the solutions implemented to get the information from the top to the bottom of the pyramid and ensure that execution plans were followed. Things are different today, as organizations have to be prepared for the unexpected, and readily adapt to new conditions. They might still have an overall strategy and plan, but they need to be prepared to change it at any point in time. They need to accept that the only feasible strategy they can have is to respond to change fast enough and good enough, and that it requires them to level out information asymmetry and distribute the power of decision-making to everyone who might ever need to make a decision.

A Major Problem With The Hierarchy

In a hierarchical organization, most of the information that answers key questions about the management and operation of the enterprise (what, why, how and when) is typically produced and aggregated at the top and then distributed downwards throughout the different levels and branches of the hierarchy. The information must often pass each level of management on its way down until it reaches the intended receivers. Each such level is an "information tollgates" that have the responsibility and mandate to communicate the relevant information to appropriate receivers further down in the structure. In doing so, they can often select which persons they think should receive the information, how they should receive it, when they should receive it, and what they should receive. A major drawback of this way of distributing information is that the probability is quite high that information needed by an individual further down in the pyramid does not reach her. There can be many different reasons behind such a consequence. Management might be unaware of the need of the individual co-worker, which means that she does not receive the information she needs at all. They might have misunderstood her need, which means that she receives the wrong (insufficient, incomplete, inaccurate...) information. Or perhaps for some reason they might not want her to receive the information she needs, which means that important information is filtered out, or that information gets distorted along the way.

It is also quite obvious that this is not the shortest or most efficient way for information to travel and that even if the coworker receives the information she needs, it is likely that it is not received in time. All these things can be avoided if there is a more direct communication and interaction between the sender and the receiver. But the hierarchic organization allows management to maintain control of the information and how it flows. The information asymmetry gives each level in the hierarchy power to influence and manipulate the decisions and actions of others, much like. It wouldn’t pose a problem if everybody always has the greater good of the organization before their eyes, putting all personal interest aside. But anyone who knows human nature also knows this is nothing but a fallacy.

The Power of Networks Is Being Distributed

Since the dawn of time, primates have relied on social networks to help the whole group with their environments. This of course applies to organizations as well. First of all, information disseminates easier and faster through networks than through hierarchies. This makes it possible for us to gain access to and act upon new information faster. We have the ability to be more responsive. Second, the lack of bureaucracy and hierarchy encourages communication and interaction. This makes it easier for us to share more information continuously. If we put these two things together, networks can help both individuals and groups of individuals make better decisions faster — decisions that benefit the whole group.

Informal networks have always been important, if not to say critical, for accessing information, making decisions, and ensuring commitment to implement the decisions in organizations. They are different to the formal structures that perform these functions in organizations as they lack structure, arise spontaneously, and develop and change organically as people interact with new people and build bonds of trust between each other. Informal networks are often seen as problematic as they by-pass the formal structures for communication and decision-making, in a hidden way that cannot be controlled by management. Still, without those informal networks most organizations would not function.

Until recently the power to build and maintain strong personal networks and become part of informal networks has been possessed by the people within an organization who held formal positions in the hierarchy, such as managers, or people who had as their jobs to meet a lot of people, such as sales people. Their positions allowed them to allocate the time and resources to build their personal networks and be part of informal networks within their organizations, influence the decision-making. Enterprise social networking platforms now offer anyone in the workforce to build stronger personal networks inside the organizations they work for. The power of networking is available to anyone who finds it in their interest to build and maintain their personal networks by providing open spaces for starting and joining conversations across any barrier such as organizations, locations and positions. This power that was previously only available to the "business elite" consisting of sales people, managers and experts, can now be utilized by the anonymous and disconnected worker.

A Threat To Middle Management

What we are seeing now is a shift from hierarchy to the network as the primary organization system for an enterprise. In the light of this, it is easy to see that middle management is becoming irrelevant and displaced, and that it is there we will find the greatest resistance to change, trying to maintain status quo. To understand this, one needs to understand the force they are resisting; social networks. To start with, social networks are flat. Everyone in an enterprise social network solution is typically presented as being on the same level, even though there is often a reference to an individual’s position in a hierarchical organization. But these titles are less important in a social network than in real life. What is more important in a social network is the person behind the title and whom that person is connected to. This, together with the fact that people often are more comfortable with contacting people they do not know virtually than in real life, makes the barriers to contacting someone higher up in the hierarchy of an organization much lower. It enables important information to be communicated from grass-root level to top management and vice versa in a fast, undistorted, frequent and in a timely manner. This is also the "threat" of social networks to hierarchical organizations, and middle management in particular. It is not a threat to the business itself, rather an opportunity, but it is threat to those in the middle of the management pyramid who build their positions on their formal right to make decisions and distribute information from the top and down, and vice versa. This is pretty much the primary function of a lot of people in the middle of the pyramid. As this function is becoming less important and sometimes obsolete, it poses a threat to those managers who are not really good coaches, mentors, visionaries, sales people, networkers and so on.

An Big Opportunity For Top Management And The Organization

Top management, on the other hand, can benefit from social networks in many ways. By bypassing the cumbersome hierarchical communication structure and communicating directly with individual coworkers, they can practice a much more agile and proactive leadership. They can get access to vast amounts of uncensored information from any corner of the enterprise and interact directly with coworkers from which you need additional information. The information that is made available to them is unfiltered and undistorted, and with the help of information technology they can access and filter out important information that is flowing through the social networks to spot trends, capture important signals, and increase their awareness about the health of the business. In a sense, the emergence of social networks, and the means to distribute and aggregate information within those networks can be seen as "social business intelligence". Social networks put content in context of other content, but what is even more important is that they put content in context of people. And it happens in real-time, allowing top management to take the temperature of the organization. They can act on problems or issues before they escalate and grow worse, and spot and take action on opportunities they otherwise never would have known existed.

There are definitely great opportunities for organizations to capitalize on social networks. But an organization has to find out a way to deal with those individuals in the middle of the pyramid that do not like being flattened out.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Most popular posts and articles from 2013

Photo: Lund University Main Building, December 2013

Yes, it's that time of year are my most popular (read and/or retweeted) blog posts and articles from 2013.

Top 3 posts this blog

  1. 3 major trends in knowledge work
  2. Designing a Social Business
  3. The 6 Pillars of The Digital Workplace

Top 3 contributions for CMS Wire

  1. The Enterprise Collaboration Tipping Point
  2. Time to Break the Habit of Internal Email
  3. 6 Things to Expect from Your Intranet

Syndicated and republished posts

My blog posts are syndicated and republished with my permission to a few places, such as the following:
Zyncro republished the post “The 6 Pillars of The Digital Workplace” on their blog and also translated it to Spanish and French: