E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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The Pursuit of Busyness by Starting to Measure the Art of Group Performance

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Continuing further with the weblog posts that I created a couple of days ago around the subject of adopting social networking within the corporate world, here is this particular article that Andrew McAfee shared not long ago and which touches base on some of the different issues that are actually slowing down, quite a bit, that same adoption of social computing within the Enterprise. The Pursuit of Busyness surely makes for an interesting and revealing read as Andrew states how people "who use the new tools heavily will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs". Yes, I know, a really worth while read, specially for those folks who have been exposed to social software for a while and who are trying to convince others to jump into the social software bandwagon.

Andrew has been collecting lots of different feedback comments from his students for some time now and surprisingly most of that feedback seems to reflect on the fact that the more you get exposed, and make use of, social computing, the less busy other knowledge workers would think you are. You may say it is ridiculous that this may be happening still, while we are already in the 21st century, but the thing is that, after reading his article, I cannot but agree to a certain extent with what he says, because I have  as well been exposed to quite a lot of that myself over the course of the last few years.

However, there is one particular quote that I am not so sure I would agree with. This one:

"Companies in these sectors usually have results-oriented corporate cultures, but they also prize effort as well as results. They value hard work, long hours, and the appearance of progress toward bottom-line improvements. This tendency is probably particularly strong in consultancies, given their focus on billable hours."

Yes, I can accept most of those sectors would be very much results-oriented, focused on hard work, long hours and the appearance of bottom-line improvements, but that is not the whole thing. All of that is, indeed, rather accurate, but there is one missing aspect from Andrew’s assumption, and that is the fact that for a good number of years there has always been a huge focus, and push, for measuring and rewarding individual performance. Knowledge workers were (Still are, in most cases!) rewarded for their own individual performance regardless what teams or communities they belong to. Their membership to those different groups was never important, nor relevant enough.

Hanging out within those teams or communities has always been looked at  as lazing about, because you are hanging out with other knowledge workers, instead of doing your "real" job. So that negative connotation of belonging to the group is what is causing most of the harm. And here it comes social computing into the corporate world, trying to change things, and failing to some extent, but, lucky enough, not for all businesses. Social software really relies on the interactions with others, your team members or the rest of the community members. In order to make social networking work you need the group and since that connotation is still there lots and lots of knowledge workers have got different reservations about participating in "group activities" using whatever tools.

So to try to fix that I am wondering, what would happen if the enterprise world would start recognising the performance of the group (A team or a community), as opposed to the performance of the individual knowledge worker? What if businesses would start rating the performance of knowledge workers based on their interactions with the group, using whatever the tools the group has decided to make use of, in order to get the job done? What if the corporate world would start realising, once and for all, that "There is no I in TEAM" because "Together Everyone Achieves More". Yes, you may say that is a lot of corporate speak, but is it really? I mean, Andrew’s weblog article seems to indicate quite the opposite, doesn’t it?

In fact, even what he suggests as a potential solution to the problem is still based on the same fundamental mistakes we have been making all along: focusing on the individual performance is not going  to get you anywhere anymore, specially in such world as today’s where everything is inter-connected, inter-related and interwoven in such a way that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to survive in the marketplace on your own.

And this is where the adoption of social computing within the Enterprise will become increasingly more and more important, because the way I see it I bet that it will mark the beginning of the shift towards a much more collaborative, interactive and innovative workplace (While sharing knowledge across the board) and therefore it will be demanding out loud new methods of measuring the performance of not only the individual knowledge workers, but also of the teams and the communities they belong to, because through those different interactions they will manage to get the job done better, faster, cheaper and with plenty more quality.

Thus stop being frightened by what they may think about you and your own performance. That is no longer relevant. Now it is the time though when you need to get ready to start working smarter, not harder, become better at what you do and at the same time be able to keep up with your various relationships and connections with other knowledge workers, because those are the ones that will make you better at what you do. And no matter what people would tell you, social computing is going to play a huge role in helping you work much more effectively getting the job done while you and your team, or your community, will have moved already into the next challenge: keep on innovating!

It will be up to you now to decide who are you going to be listening to and I, in the mean time, would wonder who that would be… Remember that, after all, it is your choice, but chose wisely.

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2 comments

  1. no link to the annez bursty vs busy debate? http://webworkerdaily.com/2007/04/19/busyness-vs-burst-why-corporate-web-workers-look-unproductive/

    I am sure you would also johhnie moore, who loves to debunk the pursuit of “targets” rather than results
    http://www.johnniemoore.com/blog/

    And finally Jonathan Becher, CEO of Pilot Software, now acquired by SAP, has a blog dedicated to debunking the pursuit of the wrong metrics.
    http://alignment.wordpress.com/

  2. Bonjour,

    This post is interesting because I regularly have to figth that kind of comments and I confirm how much they prevent social tools adoptions. It addresses a fundamental element of the management: measurement.

    Organisational efficiency is based on an economic perspective. Business analysts are keys because they transform/translate real activity into figures that are easy to report, assimilate and benchmark. They provide a clear and synthetic vision to people who either are not directly in the business (e.g. investors and shareholders) or far too high in the hierarchy to grasp the details (e.g. senior management).

    This quantitative approach has proven being efficient in an economy where physical elements, not knowledge, were the core elements of activity.

    People still have a difficulty to grasp the change of a knowledge economy, web 2.0 or social computing or social tools (call it the way you wish) being only one tiny thing into this economical shift. Trick is not social vs individual (elements to evaluate collective works exist); trick is the knowledge economy some of us live in. Because knowledge is a non-material asset and being non-material it does not play by the quantitative rules: knowledge is not measurable. The European vision of the world crafted by Galileo Galilei and its cohort of followers is not that relevant.

    Metrics are keys, but loads are out-aged and incomplete. They have difficulty, by definition, to grasp the entire activity. No surprise why Taylorism was so badly welcomed by people and why so many disastrous side-effects appeared (among them stress, burn-out, professional diseases).
    Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Score Cards are one way to follow to manage this shift because they potentially allow a reporting that takes account of multiple / qualitative elements. Potentially means a lot of creativity is to be needed.

    From there, no surprise you get comments like “who use the new tools heavily will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs”. Coffee machine and remote work have come under fire too.
    The coffee machine probably is the most simple and effective knowledge management tool invented ever. It allows breaking organisational silos, developing conversations (well before blogs) and socialising.
    A 2006 Dutch survey showed that home/remote-based employees are actually more efficient (and not “productive”) than office-based one. Findings are because senior management has the preconceived idea that when people are not at the office they just chill out, remote-based workers over-compensate.

    It’s no surprise that a Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor and his students think that way. The research methodologies at HBS are quantitative, the recruiting of HBS is based on quantitative skills (have a deep look at GMAT and you’ll see the biased conception of intelligence that lays behind).

    The point you underline is a point a lot of people have difficulty to understand. That is a point that only management specialists, not IT specialists can and have to address. Unfortunately, the elements you have underlined in McAfee’s post tend to suggest that not only tools have to go 2.0, mentality too.

    Cheers,

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