Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Think for a minute about how you used to book your holidays, buy your music, find an address or select insurance – 10 or even 5 years ago?  Do you even bother to search for things these days or do you just rely on the recommendations from your network via Facebook, Twitter, Zemanta or even Amazon?

These prolific and radical changes are not limited to social and consumer interactions on the internet.  They also impact the nature, shape and conduct of business both internally and externally.

Companies are increasingly working in networks, whether they be loosely coupled or tightly integrated because of technology and the globalisation that technology has brought with it.  Those networks are essentially virtual entities, and this trend will accelerate over the coming years.  To be in or join a network, people need insight and connections, as well as appropriate processes capable of supporting various business needs across the virtual entity.  That signals fundamental shifts in the way people do business and the underlying business models.

This was one of the issues Leo Apotheker (co-CEO and a member of the Executive Board of SAP AG) and Andrew McAfee discussed during an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week.

It echoes the message from Pisano & Verganti in their article Which Kind of Collaboration is Right for You? (Harvard Business Review December 2008):

In an era when great ideas can sprout from any corner of the world and IT has dramatically reduced the cost of accessing them, it’s now conventional wisdom that virtually no company should innovate on its own. … [But] greater choice has made the perennial management challenge of selecting the best options much more difficult. … [How] open or closed should your firm’s network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will tackle and which solutions will be adopted?

Those opportunities and challenges are equally applicable within organisations, with changes affecting the way people are now able to work together and the nature and style of management. Everything happens and needs to happen so much faster just so businesses can stay in the same (market) position and not loose ground to competitors.  But whilst the technology is there to expedite work processes and help people work better and smarter, often barriers in the form of cultural, organisational and behavioural changes are stifling.

As McAfee points out, it’s in this ever-changing technology context that management is being pressed more than ever to rethink the boundary between (i) control -> dictating how things will be executed and by who and (ii) autonomy -> allowing people to organise themselves and seeing what emerges. Frederic Baud explores similar themes in his interesting post Will Enterprise 2.0 ever enter big organisations? More particularly, he considers whether an organisation viewing itself as an internal market where resources can freely recombine to pursue emerging projects can greatly augment the output by loosing control of the nature of that output.  The ensuing discussion is also worth a read!

In any case, the ‘control’ model prevails in many orgaisations, where decision-making processes are closed or simply pay lip-service to employee involvement, the few decide for the many based on their view of what people want, and networking of information and expertise occurs in very localised instances.

Yet when we look around for examples of successful businesses to emulate, who do we look to?  Google?  Proctor & Gamble? Toyota?  Hubbards? Headshift 😉 ? There are plenty more.  And what do they tell us?  Well, to quote Eric Schmidt – Google CEO (The Mckinsey Quarterly November 2008):

There’s a lot of evidence that groups make better decisions than individuals. Especially when the groups are selected to be among the smartest and most interesting people. The wisdom of crowds argument is that you can operate a company by consensus, which is, indeed, how Google operates.  …

One of the things that we’ve tried very hard to avoid at Google is the sort of divisional structure and the business unit structure that prevents collaboration across units. It’s difficult. So, I understand why people want to build business units, and have their presidents. But by doing that you cut down the informal ties that, in an open culture, drive so much collaboration. If people in the organization understand the values of the company, they should be able to self organize to work on the most interesting problems. And if they haven’t, or are not able to do that, you haven’t talked to them about what’s important. You haven’t built a shared value culture.

For me, those views are examples of organisational learning theory in practice.  I’ve described the themes within that theory before, and for present purposes would just like to reiterate a couple of those themes:

  1. Learning requires challenging existing mindsets that form the basis of (possibly out-of-date) behaviour.
  2. Managers should encourage the generation and spreading of new ideas and practices about purpose, values and vision.
  3. That vision requires the maximum number of people to contribute to and share a picture of the where the organisation is going, and how personal and business goals coincide.
  4. Feedback is central to this system as it is critical to learning and adaptation.

Those ideas have been around alot longer than much of the technology that has caused such radical change to the way things are done in the public domain.  That same technology is steadily entering and disrupting the way things are and can be done in organisations.  But for that technology to be of real value, progress needs to occur simultaneously in respect of each of those ‘organisational learning’ elements.  And if you’re reading this thinking that this type of change doesn’t apply to your business or your industry sector, best you start with #1 on that list.

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Oliver Young has kicked off an interesting debate with his post “Web 2.0 Represents A Fundamental Rethinking Of Business, And The Theory Of The Firm.” Young believes that “[o]ver the next 10 to 15 years, on the back of social software, we will go from a fundamentally closed value creation system to a fundamentally open one”.

Andrew McAfee considers this to be an exaggeration of the current situation. He indicates that:

Most of us who study the new technologies of interaction, collaboration, and collective intelligence agree that they have great potential to enable more open systems for creating economic value. But we need to be very careful with our claims about how closed things are at present. It’s not useful to present our current system a fundamentally closed one in which firms work only within themselves to create value. That’s not a helpful strawman; it’s a counterproductive caricature.

Here are a couple of my thoughts on the matter:

Certainly, new social technologies have the potential to reduce barriers to participation and create value for businesses at the same time as they deliver value to customers (e.g. aggregating and connecting content, ideas, behaviours and resources to create personalised buying recommendations, and new product and service offerings).

However, familiar longstanding challenges remain and are compounded by the effect of those technologies. Namely, that people still need the skill to spot opportunities for creating value, and must now do so from increasing flows of information and interaction. Furthermore, a more open value creation system means companies must relinquish (to a certain degree) control over the creation process. Traditionally this has been very difficult for companies to do. The technology may be there, but it needs to be accompanied by the right mindsets and skills to be truly useful.

Originally posted as a comment by PennyEdwards on Andrew McAfee’s Blog using Disqus.

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During my research I found that the majority of wiki implementations have resulted from grass-roots initiatives (67.65% of businesses surveyed), which relied heavily on high levels of grass-roots facilitation and self-learning and motivation to use the wiki. However, 17.82% of survey responses reported no significant wiki growth, with key barriers to use being content maintenance, wikis being too unstructured and appearing chaotic, and lack of integration with other tools. Interestingly, the survey responses also indicated that no content maintenance occured in 18% of cases – a direct reflection of the figure regarding no significant wiki growth.

Given that 47% of the wiki implementations survey were under a year-old, the responses may suggest that people are still discovering their uses, how to integrate them into work processes and existing systems, and how to cope with issues regarding content maintenance. More particularly, whilst the user community in the majority of cases indicated content maintenance was being undertaken, in light of the key barriers noted above, its skill/diligence in doing so may be inadequate, suggesting that even ‘technical users’ may not yet have effectively learnt how to adapt their behaviours and the wiki to best suit their needs. In other words, even people who are highly motivated to self-learn and adopt wikis struggle to maintain the wiki and overcome barriers to its use. Consequently, to overcome these issues and to encourage the spread of best practice in wiki usage throughout the different stages of wiki adoption by different adopter categories, grassroots activity should be balanced with directed usage/active managerial promotion and support.

During my discussion with Ross Mayfield, he considered that a key determinant of wiki’s success is the investment made in up-front ‘training’ of the wiki community, not just regarding technical wiki features but also in the generation of a shared understanding of the practices required to support the collaboration goal (including distributed responsibility for content maintenance) and imbuing those practices in the community. He went on to describe how wiki’s growth and maintenance is inextricably linked to its incremental roll-out to an initial core group, who through such ‘training’ establish how the wiki can be used to best suit their needs and build the community to support that use. That group should then be encouraged to ‘invite’ others to undertake the same process, and so continue the cycle, growing the wiki across the organisation with each group establishing their routines/norms to suit their needs.

Apparent in that process are:

  • elements of grass-roots determinism regarding the wiki’s use so that it best suits people’s everyday needs, and the community practices to be developed to support such needs, coupled with
  • managerial facilitation to assist people’s learning and the spread of such learning.

Euan Semple highlighted another factor to be aware of during that process, namely the importance of engaging a broad cross-section of people who will (voluntarily) fulfill different roles in the wiki “since some people are naturally drawn to create ideas, others to write and some to refactor/garden”.

In summary, managers should be more involved in the adoption and growth of wikis by giving people time to become accustomed to, experiment with, contribute to and maintain the wiki, being responsive/alert to how the wiki should be integrated with work processes and new areas for its use, and leading by example and reminding (e.g. placing information and tasks on the wiki). Consideration should also be given to the benefit of providing initial adaptable structures to guide users and the support/training necessary to encourage people to be responsible for the wiki. In that way, people will be encouraged to capture tacit knowledge (which could be otherwise lost in casual/social problem-solving encounters) that is valuable to them in their everyday tasks and which they care enough about to make it worthwhile maintaining.

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Since a wiki does not replace discrete pieces of software or processes whose use may be highly structured and/or obligatory, thought needs to be given to:

  • the wiki’s purpose;
  • its relationship with existing work processes;
  • how the wiki should be designed (e.g. should be unstructured or should some basic structure/templates be provided to guide users);
  • the level of openness, and whether permissions should be used to restrict access to certain pages/areas;
  • how users will be encouraged to use the wiki and move away from more familiar less efficient tools;
  • how people will learn how to use the wiki – not just the technical features but the practices required to support their collaboration goals; and
  • how and who will maintain the content,

all of which can help ensure the wiki provides a substantial positive impact on people’s ability to work efficiently/effectively, and thereby facilitate its uptake.

However, to what extent does such ‘thought’ equate to ‘planning’ and how much latitude should be given to allow the wiki’s use to emerge? In other words, can the wiki implementation be ‘managed’?

I discussed this issue with several consultants advising on the introduction of Web 2.0 technology. Euan Semple indicated that a different mindset is required for the implementation of wikis in organisations, where implementers encourage and repond to emergent uses and users with different expectations, rather than trying to preconceive/control how the wiki should be used. Ross Mayfield indicated that clearly defined goals/targets can help guide emergent behaviour and provide parameters for later evaluation. Jeff Weinberger indicated that in his experience during grassroots implementations people were making good use of the wiki from the outset, despite their being unplanned. However, he noted that the lack of planning may have stymied the wiki’s adoption in other parts of the company and the spreading of best practice in respect of its use.

In practice, I found that the majority of current wiki implementations have resulted from grass-roots initiatives (67.65% of businesses surveyed), so it was perhaps unsurprising that people also characterised the ‘management’ of the wiki as more emergent than planned (38.24%) or indicated that no wiki management activities were apparent (19.61%). These implementations relied heavily on high levels of grass-roots facilitation and self-learning and motivation to use the wiki.

However, such approaches have resulted in a myriad of barriers hindering wikis’ use and growth, including lack of clear purpose in using the wiki, reliance on email and chaotic/badly maintained content. Consequently, to sustain wikis’ use by these early adopters and grow it to other groups, emergence should be balanced with more up-front direction to ensure those barriers are circumvented from the outset.

Such ‘direction’ does not refer to ‘management’ in the traditional sense of ‘command-and-control’. Because wikis are different from other IT implementations, and represent a reaction to existing technology shortcomings, their management requires a different mindset, which actively engages and supports people in their use, structuring and maintenance so as to best suit people’s work needs.

Interestingly, Jim Highsmith has recently shared his thoughts on this type of ‘management’ style (which he coins ‘light-touch’ leadership) in the context of self-organising teams and the agile community. He indicates that:

“Light-Touch Leadership means that decision making is delegated to the lowest level possible and as many decisions as possible are delegated to the team. However, delegating decisions in an organization isn’t a simple task; it requires tremendous thought and some experimentation. To me, Light-Touch conveys the right mix of delegation of decision making to teams while retaining appropriate decision-making authority with the leader or in other parts of the organization.

While Light-Touch Leadership may be “light” in terms of decision making, it is heavy in articulating goals, facilitating interactions, improving team dynamics, supporting collaboration, and encouraging experimentation and innovation. These characteristics of a leader are more critical to success than delegation of decision-making authority, but decision making is still an important piece of the leader’s role. When a good Light-Touch Leader is working, she or he is nearly invisible. Things seem to happen smoothly and the teams operate seemingly without a leader.”

Whatever label is placed in the ‘management’ needed during a wiki implementation (or development of an agile community or self-organising teams), the themes are clear – the leadership style needs to embrace both planning and emergence to encourage and direct a deep broad set of people in their consideration of how they currently work, what their needs are, how things can be improved, setting goals and making decisions to those ends, and supporting them throughout the process.

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In an earlier post I indicated that during my research on ‘Managing Wikis in Business’ I was interested in finding out how themes of the ‘learning organisation’ can aid and be reflected in the management of wikis in business, and the extent to which such management can in turn encourage organisational learning and foster collaborative behaviour. Whilst there is still some lack of clarity regarding the distinction between the ‘learning organisation’ (end form) and ‘organisational learning’ (means), interwoven themes are apparent and common to both.

John Moss Jones (OU) summarises those themes and their relationship as follows:

“In order to perceive the [learning organisation] concept the organisation needs to be perceived with a systems perspective. The leadership group is the prime mover in establishing vision and identity, and modifying the internal culture. The vision must give high priority to people issues to maximise learning, for people are the vital element in learning. The ongoing learning needs to focus on challenging existing mind-sets, and developing creativity, adaptiveness, effective team working, and feedback. And taking all these together, it is argued that the whole organisation needs to develop a culture which promotes all these themes continually.”

‘Systems thinking’ is a cornerstone of the ‘learning organisation’. It encapsulates the idea that business behaviour like complex systems. As such they should be viewed holistically in terms of their subsystem connections, and how changes to one sub-system affect or can be affected by other subsystems.

‘Leadership group’ refers to the new view of leadership, where managers are designers, stewards and teachers, and are vital for encouraging the generation and spreading of new ideas/practices about purpose, values and vision. ‘Vision’ requires the maximum number of people to contribute to and share a picture of where the organization is going in terms of its external context (e.g. target products/clients) and internal design, development and operation. ‘People’ includes the principal and often “massive undeveloped potential” that exists within every organization, and raises issues about creating and sustaining cultures/processes to tap that potential.

‘Learning’ refers to double-loop learning which requires challenging existing mindsets that form the basis of (possible out-of-date) behaviour and affect perception of feedback. It probes the cause of things going wrong at a system level rather than simply identifying and correcting errors within existing organizational routines. The ultimate goal being to spread such learning from individuals and teams throughout the organization, ensuring that work experiences are captured, consolidated and disseminated so as to create new capabilities as a whole.

Within that learning process, ‘teamwork’ involves working across organisational boundaries, questioning routines and providing feedback. ‘Creativity’ and ‘adaptiveness’ are required to cope with rapidly changing environments and act upon learning by altering behaviours. That requires generating attitudes, processes, skills and knowledge, and translating them into more effective organisational practices. Finally, feedback is central to systems thinking, and critical to learning and adaptation, because “current perceptions of what is going on must continually be as close as possible to ‘reality’” (Moss-Jones (2005)).

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In my previous post I introduced the idea of using a process framework for managing the wiki implementation. Here’s some more detail about the concepts behind each of the framework’s processes:

Wiki Management Cycle

  • Identify ‘needs’: This requires focusing first on the business needs, collaborative behaviours and capabilities to be developed, then on identifying the technologies which can support those needs/capabilities.
  • Plan: Having identified a wiki as a suitable technology, its implementation and management must be considered. This should balance planned and emergent approaches to foster learning and allow patterns of use and self-sustaining behaviour to evolve over time, whilst providing direction/purpose to co-ordinate and guide efforts towards a shared vision of what is to be achieved. Consideration should also be given to the practical applications and purpose(s) of the wiki, how it will fit with existing technology systems and work processes, and the nature of facilitation (e.g. initial structuring and seeding of the wiki) to support and sustain use.
  • Adopt: Wiki ‘adoption’ refers to the stages through which users typically progress before committing to a new technology, with different adopter ‘types’ progressing through the stages at different times and speeds. Rogers’ Model of Technology Adoption Categories below illustrates the characteristic responses of adopters to technology innovation:

Rogers’ Technology Adopter Categories

Typically, those users become aware of a technology’s potential and then develop an understanding of it, which can lead to testing through trial use, and if successful, to its application in everyday work, before full adoption across the organisation as a key element in work processes. Whilst that path may not be linear, recognising the different stages may help to identify support/transition mechanisms to ensure each user-category is more likely to adopt the wiki, and help avoid its rejection, which may occur during any stage of the adoption process. In particular, the issue here is how to strike the balance between voluntary grass-roots adoption and directive use to encourage participation, raising considerations about the nature of training, teamwork, use of facilitators, support for different communication styles and unlearning of old habits regarding overuse of inefficient/ineffective technologies.

  • Maintain: Closely related to adoption is wiki growth and propagation of good practice throughout the organisation. Issues here relate to managerial support, content management and wikis’ integration with other systems and work processes. Of interest here is whether managers have in fact absorbed the advice from industry and academic literature indicating they should be directly involved in the implementation by leading by example, mandate and reminding, reducing barriers to use, encouraging experimentation with the wiki and monitoring its use for ideas and best practices then propagating them throughout the organisation. Content management is also a key issue. Since wiki content should become more useful, structured and navigable over time if people are updating, linking and tagging, consideration needs to be given to the mechanisms which best encourage that type of behaviour.
  • Evaluate: Of interest here is whether, and if so how, businesses are evaluating their wiki implementations. Such evaluation can be a mechanisms for encouraging feedback and learning from the implementation process, and allowing for revisions to implemenation plans, and wikis’ design, usage and maintenance. Measuring users’ progress through adoption stages and how often people are using wikis will provide some elementary figures on wiki diffusion and infusion in the organisation, and may provide grounds for investigating any barriers to the implementation process. However, more difficult issues relate to evaluation of wikis’ impact on bottom-line performance and development of organisational learning practices. Measurements focusing solely on bottom-line performance improvement in terms of accelerated project cycle times, reduced email overload and search costs may provide some hard data to support ROI, but they do not consider more important effects of wiki management/usage on organisational learning and collaborative capability development. Not only is it more difficult to establish direct causal connections between wiki management/use and improvements here, any evidence would be in the form of people’s opinions/perceptions.

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The original wiki design principles (Wiki Design Principles) encourage emergent work and do not impose structure, process or rules, contrasting applications characterised by a top-down command-and-control mentality. That can allow people to work together in self-directed ways, encouraging levels of openness, autonomy and knowledge sharing which other systems (i.e. all systems in the organisation including cultural, managerial, structural and operational systems) could not well support. Consequently, a wiki implementation should be viewed as a change process rather than the introduction of a new technology per se.

Since cyclical process frameworks have been suggested for technology management in general – i.e. as means to aid consideration of technology’s role, effects on the organisation and nature of managerial activities/involvement, from existing literature I derived a wiki management framework to help assess how in practice businesses are managing wiki implementations and the utility of such a framework for managing the change process.

That framework includes the following processes: ‘Need’ Identification, Planning, Adoption, Maintenance and Evaluation. During my research I posed a range of questions to interviewees and survey respondents regarding their practices in respect of each of the processes. I’ll be discussing the responses in a later post.

Wiki Management Cycle

Wiki Management Cycle

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