The Future of Collaboration Lies in Human Resources AND Management’s Hands

A few weeks ago I put together the attached article for CMSWire where I tried to reflect on what I feel is the number #1 challenge for today’s corporations in terms of embracing a much more open, transparent, knowledge sharing culture through the emergence of social technologies behind the firewall. Indeed, Human Resources is right in the eye of the hurricane in terms of trying to figure out whether it stands, that is, whether it would want to continue sustaining a rather sick, corrupted and disturbing system of mismanaging resources commanded by senior management or whether it would finally want to transform itself into what it should have been in the first place: (facilitating) Human Relationships.

Here we are, 2014 and still wondering what the future of collaboration is — as if we didn’t know already.

Despite all efforts to trump it or get rid of it altogether in favour of other noble concepts like cooperation, the hard truth is that collaboration has always been here. And it will continue to be here for many years to come. It’s a human trait. It’s our capability of getting work done together. Effectively.

So why is it that even today we are still questioning its inherent value within the business world? Is it because of technology? Or certain business processes? Maybe it’s the people after all? In reality, it’s none of these. It’s because of Human Resources and its inability to get it right by empowering knowledge workers to excel at what they already do: collaborate sharing their knowledge more openly and transparently.

We human beings cannot deny helping others when in need. It’s in our genes. It’s part of our DNA, always has been. Yet, in a business environment, knowledge workers typically keep hoarding and protecting their own knowledge as an opportunity to not relinquish their own power (i.e., that very same knowledge), thinking that the less knowledge they share, the more indispensable they become.

But it’s not really all that. It’s because all along, knowledge workers have been encouraged to compete with one another versus helping, caring or collaborating with one another. It’s easier to manage individuals than to facilitate communities and/or networks working together towards a common set of objectives. And that changes the entire game, because when both technology and business processes are no longer a barrier, there is still a bigger hurdle: incentives.

An End to Unhealthy Competition

That, to me, is the biggest challenge of the future of collaboration. And HR is at the forefront of determining whether collaboration will keep flourishing with the emergence of social technologies or whether it will bury it for good. I am not saying that to be an effective collaborator you need to be incentivized. I am saying that for collaboration to be effective within the workplace HR needs to fast forward into the 21st century and understand that the only effect of recognizing the performance of the individual versus the group is to evoke unhealthy competition.

We have had that for decades. And it’s probably the main reason why we are still questioning collaboration today and its inherent value. Yet we all understand we can’t get work done anymore by ourselves. We will always need the help and support of others, and this is where political games, managing up, bullying or even extortion (to a certain degree), amongst several other issues, keep playing a key role in terms of how and why we do not collaborate as effectively as we could and should. And because it’s happening inside the firewall, the vast majority of knowledge workers don’t notice. Or care. HR is at a critical crossroads in terms of figuring out how it’s going to transform itself to recognize people for doing their work collaboratively. And while that takes place there is an even greater pressure out there that’s going to help accelerate that shift: your customers.

A Challenge, An Opportunity

With the emergence of social networking tools the good old concept of the firewall is becoming thinner and more porous than ever, because more and more customers are demanding (and rightly so!) to participate actively on the collaboration AND co-creation process with other knowledge workers. And all of that corporate kabuki around internal politics, the constant stabbing between teams, the always awkward hoarding of one’s knowledge are now becoming — at long last — a thing of the past.

Why? Because it’s all exposed beyond the limits of the firewall not only to their clients and business partners, but, more importantly, to their potential competitors. And eventually knowledge workers understand that in order for them to be more successful to meet and address their customers’ needs, open knowledge sharing and collaboration is a must. No longer a nice-thing-to-have but an imperative to getting work done.

It’s that massive tidal wave of co-creation with your customers and business partners in the external world that’s demolishing HR’s stronghold position in terms of how they evoke bad behaviours that, if anything, keep slowing businesses down. It’s no longer the IT department, or sales, or marketing, but HR that needs to be at the forefront of the Social Business transformation journey. HR needs to understand that collaboration is at the epicenter of this journey and this requires a new method and business principles, perhaps a new business ethos, of how evaluation of overall performance and business outcomes would be delivered and recognized by those networks of true hard working professionals.

An interesting emerging (or worrying) trend — for HR especially — is that if it fails to inspire a work ethos of “How can I help you today?” (versus the good old standby “What do you want?”), knowledge workers will start looking for opportunities to move on to greener pastures, the ones where they can focus on providing business value to their customers rather than fighting an obsolete, corrupted system, sponsored by HR, that fosters unhealthy competition that takes focus away from what our goals and mission should be in the first place: delighting our clients with not just better products, but better conversations, too!

It’s a fascinating challenge for HR to embrace. While everyone else keeps watching out for how social technologies and business processes can help collaboration flourish and move forward from its current impasse, I will focus on what I feel is the future of collaboration itself: the tremendous transformation that Human Resources needs to go through to become, once and for all, Human Relationships, because that’s where collaboration begins …

The people.

As usual, the comments have been absolutely a delightful and rather thought-provoking read and worth while going through them (if you haven’t done so just yet). One of them in particular, caught my attention to highlight an issue that perhaps has gone by unnoticed for far too long. The comment was shared by Mike Kennedy and it reads as follows: 

It’s not HR that’s the problem – they’re implementers, like IT. It’s the LOBs that consolidate power and make it hard to collaborate and share knowledge. Irrespective of function, the culture needs to change first or collaboration will never work regardless of process and technology. Its always been and forever will be about the people.

Right there, Mike, perhaps without not knowing, nor realising about it, may have highlighted what’s the main issue why HR still behaves as HR = Human Resources (20th century) vs. Human Relationships (21st century) and why they seem to be perceived as always coming late to the party around the Social Business Transformation Journey. I thought though it’s perhaps a good time to bring up something that has been in my mind for over the course of the last 2 to 3 years in terms of thinking further along why the adaptation to Social Business has been perceived relatively slow at times, or either inefficient or ineffective

It’s a culture issue. Yes, I know what you are all thinking about… it’s always a culture issue, isn’t it? It’s the perfect scapegoat altogether. Blame it always on the culture, since it’s the most difficult one to quantify, embrace and live through. But hang on for a minute, what would happen if that culture issue would be just championed by a single group? A group that has always been rather comforting in terms of supporting, sponsoring and “getting out of the way” when  helping knowledge (Web) workers adjust to the new reality of social collaboration? The whole game changes, doesn’t it?

Mike’s comments reminded me of a recent interview I did for the smart folks organising the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris where I reflected on the following question posted across: “What are the biggest challenges the projects are facing at the moment?” This was my answer: 

“While I know that this may sound as a cliché, throughout my over 15 years of experience with social networking for business, I have always believed it’s all down to a single aspect: corporate culture. And in this case from one particular group: Management / Leadership. They are starting to become, if not already, the main obstacle towards the realisation of the full social business transformation, because the traditional hierarchy and status quo of how things get done at work *do* certainly understand and comprehend what social networks can do for business, yet, they neglect not only supporting and sponsoring the effort, but also their active involvement in the process, mainly because they think the moment they do, they would lose their power, i.e. overall control of the information to make business decisions. Management needs to understand that this is no longer about command and control, managing your employee workforce to make the decisions for them, but it’s about how you lead them, as a servant leader, to make proper business decisions with the information freely available through networks by providing proper counselling and support vs. becoming the main obstacle. The rather high rates of actively disengaged employees would certainly confirm that challenge as the most critical one for the successful adoption of the social business philosophy and mantras.”

That’s why, as we move forward into 2014, I am starting to strongly believe it may well be a good time to begin upping the game in terms of the so-called involvement and true leadership from (senior) management in helping facilitate the adaptation to Social Business and social networking tools for that matter, both inside and outside of the firewall. I am sure time and time again most of you folks working in both Adoption & Enablement of Social Business keep being confronted with the one of the main show stoppers from practitioners telling you that they totally get it, but their (senior) management don’t and therefore need to be educated to get them on board. Otherwise the whole effort stagnates or ends up on a complete stop.

Really? In 2014? Still? I mean, 20 years after the first instances of both blogs and wikis becoming available on the Web and we still need to justify the inability for (senior) management to get on board leading by example on their own social business transformation (even as a personal journey), arguing that they just don’t get it and therefore need to be coached, mentored and educated on the topic? I am sorry, but things don’t work out like that anymore. Their time is running out and pretty quick, if not already!

You see?, as a (senior) manager / executive, who is leading whatever the business and has been doing that for a while, We are going to start questioning your skills and ability to both manage and lead your firm if you are not leading by example on helping your business transform into becoming a successful social / open business. Oh, and please, don’t use the excuse of ghost writing. It lacks authenticity, uniqueness, engagement and honesty.

We don’t want to talk to your hand. We want you to finally understand and embrace the power of open, transparent, engaging conversations through social networking tools, where knowledge flows, both inside and outside of the firewall, with your employees, your customers and business partners (Oh, and don’t forget about your competitors!), and where you get to sense and feel the pulse of your organisation and the ecosystem around it in terms of what’s happening, and what is not! happening, so you can act together accordingly helping solve plenty of the potential business problems you may well have, like a bleeding and rather discouraging percentage (13%) of actively engaged employees, which on its own would probably be a good enough reason to start considering whether social networking tools could help improve the way they collaborate and share their knowledge out in the open. With, or without you.

There is a great chance that both social and open business would eventually help you and your company address those poignant business issues and pain points, like re-engaging your knowledge workforce or retaining your talent, as they continue to flock massively away on to greener pastures, and, eventually, get back on track. Remember that this is not about you. It’s never been about you. This is mostly about the kind of (business) world (and society) you would want to leave behind when you are long gone not just for your children, but for your children’s children. Your legacy.

But at the same time, it’s also probably a good opportunity now for you to stop thinking that HR should continue to be at your service vs. that one of serving the employees you have hired as hard working professionals in the first place. You know, the ones you took the trouble to court and entice over months and months of multiple interviews offering whatever perks to then be hired and join the company because they were, at one point, incredibly passionate, knowledgeable and truly committed to the mission of wanting to change the world for a better place. Through your business.

Something went wrong along the way though and I am starting to believe that it’s got to do more with your ability to put HR to your service vs. the service of the knowledge (Web) workers currently employed by your firm and, that, eventually, is the current business problem (senior) management would need to start addressing AND fixing pretty soon, because at the current pace we are going we may have run out of time already. Remember, only 13% of your total employee workforce is actively engaged at work. That’s a piece of data that you probably shouldn’t ignore for much longer anymore. 

Please, please, don’t get us to question your management and leadership skills by neglecting nor embracing social networking for business. Instead, join us, show us the way, lead by example, walk the talk, start challenging the status quo that got you there in the first place and look behind to those who are continuing to follow you through thick and thin and help them understand how if they would want to see the future of collaboration shine through, both inside and outside of the firewall, thanks to social networks, you would need to become the new leading shining stars. With them. For them.

After all, the future of work (not just collaboration) is the future of Leadership. And it’s up to all of us to define it, live through it and make the most out of it

Work is a human task. Leadership is the work of mobilising others to action. Leadership is how we help people to realise their human potential. Much of our network and collaboration technology is just an infrastructure for the work and leadership required. The network can magnify the culture of the organisation, but we need the right leadership models for managers to realise the potential of a network era of work”.

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Take a Seat – Make a Friend?

Prague - Charles BridgeIf you have been reading this blog for a while now you would remember how every year that goes by I always try to incorporate a new theme or topic that I would want to explore further along during the course of the year and see where it would take me, specially, if it aligns with the core subjects I get to cover over here from all along like Social Business, Social Computing, Enterprise 2.0, Online Communities, Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing (a.k.a. KM), Learning and, since last year, Open Business as well (Which, by the way, still remains as one of the Top Reads from this blog for 2013 overall and surely am very pleased about that one. Thanks much everyone for co-sharing that same interest!). So what is it going to be this year then, you may be wondering, right? Well, this time around, and to make up for the couple of extended breaks I took from this blog in the last few months, I am planning on making it up and, eventually, incorporate three different new themes, two of which I will be announcing in the next couple of weeks as we move into 2014, and a third one that I will be kicking off today with this particular article. The topic? Humanise. The what? Everything!

Indeed, over the course of the last few years, as I have been getting more and more involved with internal social networking in a business context, one of the many reasons that, specially, social computing evangelists have been sharing all along in terms of the clear benefits for Social / Open Business is the ability for all of those social technologies to socialise the workplace, to democratise it, to flatten it, to make it more personal and up close, to demonstrate how organisations are no longer that faceless corporate brand you just can’t engage with in a meaningful two-way-street open and direct conversation. And that’s all good. But I think we need to start aiming a bit higher than that, and perhaps become a bit more ambitious as to what we would want to achieve, beyond that social savviness. I want to aim higher myself and state how all of these social networking tools help humanise not just ourselves, as knowledge Web workers, but also the organisations we all may be working for, whether large or small.

Why? Well, essentially, because they are helping re-surface what we, human beings, have been all along and that the business world has managed to demolish over the course of the last 50 to 70 years in a very effective manner: our very own humanity. Our very own need to connect, to bond, to find that common spark amongst humans that helps us generate a connection, a link, a chemistry, a conversation, a smile.

Trust, really.

But what if humanise would be something bigger? What if humanise wouldn’t have much to do with social technologies after all, but a wake-up call to realise who we really are (and what we have been all along!) in terms of our behaviours and rituals. What if humanise is all about demonstrating, time and time again, how we cannot neglect anymore, nor ignore, our very own human nature of wanting to connect, to collaborate, to share our knowledge, to tell stories, so that we have got a perfect opportunity to relate to others based on just those connections?

Well, that’s exactly what I am hoping to achieve with this new theme that I will be incorporating into this blog over the course of the next few days, months, year(s). An opportunity for us to challenge our current way of thinking; to also challenge the status quo of how things work in today’s (working) reality, including perhaps in our own personal lives; to understand, finally, how, in most cases, we probably just have to let things go and focus on embracing the unexpected, the uncertain, what we just can’t control anymore, or don’t know the answer for; that is, embracing fully the magic behind serendipitous knowledge discoveries (of whatever kind!) that, just by not being out there, we would have missed out on them either way.

Want an example? Take a look into this one video clip then. Courtesy of the wonderful, rather smart and witty folks behind SoulPancake. It’s a 5 minute long clip under the title “Take a Seat – Make a Friend?” where the main premise is all about opening up. In this case, opening up to total strangers (in pairs) inside a ball pit to talk about “life’s big questions” and, eventually, figure out if there would be a connection in the making.

Now, I am not going to spoil the fun for all of you folks out there wanting to see the outcome of that humanising experiment . Instead I would encourage all to take a look into the embedded code of the video, hit Play, sit back, relax and think “WOW! What would happen if we run this at my workplace?

See? Sometimes you don’t even need to make use of any social technologies to help demonstrate that human, basic characteristic of always wanting to connect with others by just opening up to the unexpected and let the conversation do the rest. Flow naturally.

Magical.

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Adaptation: The Key to Become a Socially Integrated Enterprise

Gran Canaria - Artenara in the SpringEarlier on in the week, my good friend, Eric Zigus, put together a rather thought provoking blog post that surely has got me thinking big time about the whole topic of adoption of Social / Open Business and about the different techniques that fellow practitioners get to employ to help other knowledge workers embrace new technologies, whatever those may well be. In Adoption via Peer Pressure? Eric comes forward to suggest that driving adoption through peer pressure, if done properly, could surely help out in the long run. Well, at some point in time in the recent past I may have agreed with him that would be the case, but, if I judge from my own experiences in the last year or two, I am not so sure myself anymore about it. I am thinking we may need to aim bigger, and better, perhaps even more effectively, from driving into inspiring and from adoption into adaptation, if we would want it to be successful. 

Over the course of the last couple of years there has been plenty, and rather extensive, literature (along with some pretty interesting and insightful frameworks) shared across all over the place about the whole topic of social networking for business and its wider adoption beyond just the initial wave of early adopters, even behind the firewall with social intranets. We have seen lots of very interesting reflections about its very own adoption as a new kind of digital literacy we all need to start getting comfortable with (to the point where it seems to justify everything to no end, some times even ignoring what matters the most, i.e. business performance); or about its own transformation journey even for managers and leaders (who, if not engaged properly, could surely slow things down tremendously); or about plenty of rather interesting and relevant trends on digital adoption

Perhaps, even, how social / open business adoption may stink (if done incorrectly); how it may well all be about removing certain roadblocks and plenty of other obstacles, never mind the ever growing list of rather intriguing challenges; how it may well be all about putting people first (technology second); how certain big words like culture,  empathy are back into the game (the only game, for that matter, if you look deep enough into it), along with looking into the soft side of things to make it work; how incentivising practitioners may well do it (More on this one later on, I am sure, since it’s been one of my major pet peeves on the topic for a long while now, and I am really glad I am not the only one…); how building it and they will come is no longer going to be good enough at this point in time in order to keep up the momentum making it self-sustainable; how it’s all about perhaps defining a good number of personas to establish some specific roles and responsibilities, to the point where it’s been highlighted how even community managers may be critical for that successful adoption (or rather the opposite); and eventually how social business adoption is a whole lot more organic than what vast majority of people may have thought about all along. 

Phew! Social Business Adoption is, indeed, a topic that truly fascinates me to no end, since forever, as you can see from all of the various areas it covers as mentioned above with the different links to plenty, and rather interesting, reads I have gone through over time. And I am pretty sure there are plenty more materials about it out there, all over the place, that I would certainly love to read on more about them, if you care to leave your favourite picks in the comments. I have always felt though it’s right at the heart of the matter in terms of helping businesses provoke their own transformation in order to survive on the Connection Economy of the 21st century, where, as I have mentioned in the recent past, we are transitioning from having lived through the scarcity of knowledge stocks into the abundance of knowledge flows.

But I am no longer certain that (social) peer pressure would eventually help much with those adoption efforts. In fact, lately, I am inclined to think that we may all be much better off if we stop talking about driving adoption and instead we switch over to inspiring adaptation, because that’s eventually what we, social business evangelists, have been doing all along: inspiring / modelling new behaviours, a new mindset, to help fellow knowledge workers adapt to a new way of working by becoming more open, public, transparent, engaged, collaborative, in short, trustworthy, in what we do. And, I am starting to think that peer pressure, if anything, is not going to help much. Rather the opposite. It will re-introduce a behaviour that we are all far too familiar with from previous decades and that we all thought we had left behind for good: (unhealthy) competition. 

Over the course of the last few months, specially, since I moved into this new job role as Lead Social Business Enabler, I have come to realise, big time, that adoption is hard, specially, if you move beyond the initial first waves of early adopters and you get a deep touch with reality. Adoption works in mysterious ways. It’s a tough job. It’s an art in need of craftsmanship. You know, acquiring new habits is not an easy thing to do, specially, when your natural inclination is that one of defaulting to what you are used to, what you have been doing over the course of the years, through traditional collaborative tools, whatever those may well be. And on top of that, never mind the massive work pressures most knowledge workers are currently going under, here comes another one: peer pressure, specially, the higher you go into the organisation, that’s preventing those practitioners to experience the main benefits of social networking in a business context. As if they didn’t have enough already!

Fear is a powerful factor that should not be ignored, nor neglected, more than anything else, because it’s the main element that gets added into the mix when embracing peer pressure. Practitioners would always be a bit reluctant to want to enter the digital world, if they would be fearful to try, to play and learn, perhaps even to fail or make mistakes, in case of being ridiculed by that social pressure of their own peers. So what do they do? They switched off, before they even try. 

That’s essentially the main reason why I don’t think that peer pressure would help much in our adoption efforts. What you would want to inspire within your organisation is an opportunity to explore, to reflect, to challenge the status quo of how certain things happen at the workplace in order to make things better and improve. You would want to figure out whether you can apply some of your already existing day to day use cases, i.e. your tasks and activities to a new mentality, a new mindset, a new set of behaviours with a not too steep learning curve, so impact of change would still be meaningful. And, as such, I just can’t see how peer pressure could help. I am starting to question whether even healthy peer pressure would help much in the long run, specially, since that innate connotation of competition will be lingering around quite a bit. 

Lately, at work, I have got a tendency to attend a whole bunch of meetings, well, not really meetings like these ones, or these other ones, that my good friend Bertrand Duperrin would love to ditch for good (He surely has got my vote, too!), but different gatherings (I am still trying to find a name for them… any suggestions more than welcome, please!) that would be classified as education and enablement sessions, where I spend a good amount of time trying to understand people’s challenges and inhibitors, potential technical issues, business concerns, daily work habits, productivity pain points, use cases they would want to explore further and what not and all along I have noticed how I have shifted the conversations myself away from adoption and into adaptation, because that’s essentially what I am aiming at: helping other knowledge workers adapt to a new way of doing business by opening up and becoming more transparent and engaged to help accelerate their own decision making process to innovate.

And it’s been a fascinating journey all along, because, eventually, the focus is on modelling new behaviours, new ways of interacting, of conversing, of opening up, of helping and caring for one another getting work done, understanding we are all in this journey to provoke our very own transformation, and, certainly, harmful items like competition, knowledge hoarding, corporate politics and bullying, gamification (in whichever form and shape), busyness, extenuating work / peer pressures and whatever else are not very helpful in getting people to adapt to a brave new world: becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise.

A few months back I wrote about transitioning from Adoption into Adaptation in order to achieve maximum impact to become a successful social / open business. I surely am glad that I am no longer the only one talking, or writing, about it anymore. Fast forward into the end of 2013 and, to me, walking the talk, leading by example, learning by doing, narrating your work, working out loud, challenging the status quo, etc. are plenty of the new mantras that matter in terms of helping inspire such transformation. It’s essentially right at the heart of it, and I am no longer certain that carrying potentially bad habits from the 20th century (like those pressures or harmful items I mentioned above) into today’s business world is going to help us achieve our goals. Let’s leave out all of those different types of (work) pressure(s) and get down to work

We still have got a lot to achieve and somehow I am starting to sense, rather strongly, that adaptation will be much more effective than adoption. It’s just a matter of adjusting accordingly, because, you know, language matters, after all.

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