Sunday, May 30, 2010

These are the times for explorers

In a few years from now we will see more clearly that the real paradigm shift we are experiencing right now is that we are leaving the hierarchical, static and sequential approach to designing organizations, processes and systems for more organic, dynamic and network-oriented approaches.

The currently dominating way to organize an enterprise stems from the early 20th century and is by design not well suited for today's ever changing, global and dynamic business environment. It was designed for scalability in a stable business environment, not for agility in a constantly changing and sometimes disruptive business environment. The premise on which this model was built has been the fact that the cost and complexity of communicating and thus also the cost and complexity of organizing labor and other resources has been high.

The technology development during recent decades has changed this by radically reducing the costs of communicating. As a result of this, we are also seeing new ways of communicating and collaborating emerge. This has changed the assumptions on which the industrial enterprise has been built. What we are experiencing now is a disconnect between this new emerging reality and the way we are used to designing and running enterprises. This can be seen as either a threat or an opportunity. It is a threat to enterprises which are pretending as if the old reality is still valid and choose to do nothing about it (or just redesign themselves based on the same old principles). It is an opportunity to enterprises which see this new reality as a way to design and run their operations and management in a way that will make them thrive in the new business environment.

Nobody knows what, when and how things will change. The only thing we can be sure of is that things will change, and that those of us who are able to quickly find out (or rather guess) how and how to adapt will have a clear benefit. 

These are the times for explorers. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Microsoft: "We're all in" but our partners don't have a cloud computing strategy

The cloud computing hype has just peaked, but behind the hype is a real a paradigm change in how software is distributed. Enterprises are moving beyond the firewall and they are doing it faster than most have predicted.

For business users, SaaS is just a click away. If you look at it from their perspective, SaaS presents a way to bypass a reactive or passive IT department that hardly ever delivers what they ask for, and certainly not when they need it.

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a business developer from Microsoft talking about their "We’re all in” cloud computing strategy. The strategy basically means that they will move their entire product portfolio to the cloud. Their offering will extend beyond SaaS and include both PaaS and IaaS.

To me, Microsoft’s sudden “We’re all in” cloud computing strategy breathes a similar kind of desperation as when Bill Gates in 1995 declared Internet to be “crucial to every part of our business” and “the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981.” They had suddenly realized that they had no Internet strategy and that the Internet was going to change "everything". (If you don’t remember, then spend a few minutes reading his mail to Microsoft employees in this This Day in Tech article)

Microsoft believes cloud computing will radically change their current business model, a business model which is based almost entirely on selling licenses for on-premise desktop and server software. In this sense, they have a very dramatic journey ahead of them compared to competitors such as Google and Amazon who started their businesses in the cloud. At Microsoft, they also recognize that they face a big challenge in transforming their business and making sure that their own people understand what this change means. So, what does the “We’re all in” cloud computing strategy mean for Microsoft’s partners and their current business models which relies heavily and sometimes entirely on implementing on-premise software from Microsoft? Well, very few have even tried to answer that question. According to Microsoft, only 5% of their partners have a cloud computing strategy.

For enterprises, cloud computing will be just as much about improving business agility as about reducing TCO. Being able to only pay for the capacity they need when they need it will likely reduce TCO, but I'm convinced that the biggest potential business value lies in the possibilities for an enterprise to get access to the capabilities they need much faster than they can without cloud computing. Every enterprise struggles with this today and constant failures to deliver the required capabilities have created a gaping void between the business and the IT department. That is why we can be sure that any remaining concerns about cloud computing, such as security and identity management, will be solved. The business drivers for cloud computing are just too strong to let things like those be seen as anything more than pebbles on the road.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What every manager (and parent) should know

If you are a manager in a knowledge-intense business, then you'd better read "Drive" by Daniel H. Pink. Most of it is common sense in my world, but it is always encouraging reading something that - with scientific evidence – enforces one's own view of both management and parenting. Seeing myself as a passionate knowledge / creative worker, I know pretty well what motivates people like me - the task itself is often its own reward. Not that rewards aren't important, but they aren't our drive. Passion (for what we do) is our drive.

Although I recommend you to read the entire book, here are some key insights and advice from Daniel Pink:
  • The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road…//…most of the scandals and misbehaviors that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts…//…When the reward is the activity itself there are no shortcuts. The only route to the destination is the high route.
  • Goals may cause systematic problems for organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when applying goals in your organization
  • In environments where extrinsic rewards are most salient, many people work only to the point that triggers the rewards – and no further.
  • Greatness and near sightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.
  • For routine tasks, which aren't very interesting and don’t demand much creative thinking, rewards can have a small motivational booster shot without the harmful side effects.
  • Any extrinsic reward should be unexpected and offered only after the task is complete.
  • Repeated “now that” bonuses can quickly become expected “if-then” entitlements – which can ultimately crater effective performance.
  • Consider non-tangible rewards. Praise and positive feedback are much less corrosive than cash and trophies. Positive feedback can have an enhancing effect on intrinsic motivation.
  • Provide useful information. The more feedback focuses on specifics – and the more the praise is about effort and strategy rather than about achieving a particular outcome – the more effective it can be.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The right and the wrong way to approach employees’ use of social media

Are there a right and a wrong way to look at how employees use social media? I am inclined to say there are.

Below is how Swedbank, a leading Nordic-Baltic banking group, reasons according to an article in Computer Sweden (translated from Swedish with Google Translate + some grammar fixing):
We see no reason to stop the use of social media at our workplace. Just as when an employee is talking to a lot of private phone, or come late for work, it is a management issue when someone spends too much time on the internet during working hours. There is nothing new.
- We do not measure what employees are talking on the phone and we don't check what they do online. It is equally okay to surf for a while online to go out and smoke or have a cup of coffee. We don't encourage staff to be out on the Web, but we don't stop them. We are positive and assume that they will use their common sense.
The main advantage of transparency is that employees can easily work and communicate with customers.
- With good communication, we build trust. We are where the customers are and see what they are saying and thinking. This is a huge advantage.
The message couldn't be much clearer; if you trust your employees with phones, why not trust them with social media? If employees overuse social media or use it for the wrong reasons, it is up to management to deal with the situation.

There are basically two approaches to approach employees' use of social media at work. But I won't say which one is the right one and which is the wrong one - I leave it to the common sense of management to choose which one is the right one:

  • The No Trust At All Approach: Eliminate the risk of employees overusing or misusing social media by eliminating all use of social media (thereby also eliminating all potential value that might come from using social media)
  • The Trust By Default Approach: Give employees the freedom with responsibility to choose for themselves and deal with any situations (exceptions) when their common sense fails (thereby also allowing all potential value that might come from social media to be created).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The new role of the Communications department

Recently, I developed a concept for “socializing” the online work environment at a large company. They came to us because they had invested a lot in a very capable platform and needed to get more value of their platform investment by increasing the usage rate. Their goals were to build employee engagement by increasing online participation, enable easy and freeform knowledge exchange between their employees, leverage the use and value of the corporate content on their intranet, and create an online environment that will help them attract talent. Our assignment was to show them how existing components could be extended and redesigned with the use of 2.0 design principles to better support these goals, and provide them with a roadmap for a step-by-step transformation ("socialization") of their online work environment.

One of the new features that we presented to them as part of the new concept was a blog portal that would allow employees to explore and discover what was happening within the internal “blogosphere”. They already had quite a lot of active blogs and bloggers, but it wasn’t really possible for users to discover new blogs (and thus for bloggers to find new readers and audiences), to know what was currently being discussed, or explore blog posts by popularity, subject, and so on. Hence, this feature was given top priority in the implementation roadmap. It was seen as a “quick win”, building on existing technical capabilities and leveraging existing content.

It is hard to imagine that less than a year earlier, this feature would have been impossible to suggest. Why? Well, because employees were simply not allowed to blog. The Communications department had decided not to allow blogs, claiming that blogs are productivity killers.

So what changed during that year? Well, management became more knowledgeable about what blogs can be used for, and even started blogging themselves. Instead of seeing blogs as just something employees would use to broadcast personal non-workrelated stuff, they accepted that blogs really are communication tools (just as email, phone, IM, and so on) that can be for work-related communication. They also accepted that their role is not to control the messages communicated via employee blogs as these are used for “employee to employee” (E2E) communication and that open E2E communication can be really valuable.

A Communications department is, as Bertrand Duperrin writes in an excellent post, a “business to employee” (B2E) department that usually communicates with employees in "a vertical and one way fashion". The main concern for them is to ensure that any corporate message they are to create and communicate is understood by the employees. In a way, their ambition is to create the perfect message, one that is understood by all and impossible to be misunderstood.

Social media is not really their media as social media allows anyone to create and communicate a message to anyone, in a two-way, freeform and equal manner. It is perfectly understandable if some folks at the  Communications department feels uneasy and skeptic towards social media such as blogs; they have all been educated and hired to create - or at least control - the messages, and with social media their role is simply to provide a media for "employee to employee" (E2E) communication. Their role is no longer to ensure that the messages communicated via blogs, wikis and so on are understood by all. Rather, it is to ensure that anyone can create and communicate any message, given that the message and how it is being communicated does not violate any policy. This means, as Bertrand writes, that “it should be an employee-driven process, for their own problems and, necessarily, practical-things-oriented on subjects on which, logically, and HR or Com dept does not have neither any hold nor any expertise or competence since that’s local management’s call."

With this in mind, it is perhaps easier to understand why blogs can be such a hot potato for at some people at Communications departments. Their profession is to create and communicate important messages in a precise and timely manner, not just providing employees with a media that they can use (more or less) as they want for virtually any purpose.