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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Let The Next Adventure Begin – The With Whom (#CAWW)

And, finally, the last blog post of the series of entries where I’ve been detailing what I would be doing from here onwards, as I begin my next adventure as an independent chief emergineer. Earlier on in the week I blogged about the why, then the what and now I guess it’s a good time to talk about the with whom, as part of that mantra of “use systems too boost your odds, passion to get energy and luck to change the game“. In short, the system of we! That’s why it’s a great pleasure and true honour for me to announce I’m now part, as a charter member, of the Change Agents Worldwide network with a simple and rather clear mission: change the way we work!

That’s right! In a now more than ever hyperconnected, networked and complex systems driven working environment I pretty soon came to the conclusion, as I went solo and independent, that my odds to make a bigger difference out there would have been more notorious by being part of a network of rather talented, passionate, engaged, inspiring and rather thought-provoking knowledge (Web) workers, with whom, if anything, you sense you aren’t anymore the smartest person in the room, the network is.

And being able to tap into that unprecedented brain power to share ideas openly, to learn from one another, to collaborate by sharing your knowledge in a rather open and transparent manner, to innovate, to co-create, to continue walking the talk on redefining the workplace of the future and, for that matter, the future of work, I felt it was just too much of an enticing opportunity to ignore that I haven’t just been capable of getting rid of from my mind over the course of the last few weeks. Of course, without a single doubt, I had to join Change Agents Worldwide (@chagww).

I know, I know. At this point in time I am pretty certain most of you folks out there would be wondering what Change Agents Worldwide are all about, after all, right? Well, here’s one of the elevator pitches we are using I quite enjoy as it describes, pretty nicely, what we are all about:


Remember when I just mentioned above being part of a network of folks who walk the talk, leading by example, on redefining the workplace of the future? Well, that’d be it, in all of its splendour. Perhaps this other definition may help some more as well. A bit more wordy though, but worth while sharing across:

“We built our network based on the principles driving the evolving Web. We believe in transparency, sharing, collaboration, authenticity, and trust. Operationally, we function as a cooperative. Value is realised by every node in the network. As the network grows, the benefits to our client grow exponentially”.

You can probably notice how excited I am for being part of such an amazing network of incredibly knowledgeable and generous people all around. To me, though, the beauty and mind-boggling privilege of joining #CAWW is something bigger, more massive than whatever I could have anticipated for. From here onwards I’m going to be working together AND networking with … friends, in the true sense of the word “friends”. That’s right, plenty of the folks from the #CAWW network are people who I already know for over 10 years, way before Social Networking for Business or Social Business were the new buzzwords. The breath and extensive knowledge they all have got around areas like Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Learning, SNA, ONA, Org. Change, Org. Design,  Management / Leadership Consultancy, Corporate Communications, Digital Workplace Transformation, Social Computing, Social Business, Social Learning, and a rather long etc. of skills, experiences and knowhow make me feel like my learning curve all of a sudden has gone sky through the roof!

Life(-long learning) in perpetual beta FTW!!

And the excitement gets bigger and bigger, by the minute, when, early next week, I’ll be meeting up about a dozen of them, face to face, in Paris, at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit. Check out the overall agenda for Day One and Day Two (Along with the Masterclass Workshops) to get a quick glimpse of the massive brain share that will be taking place over the course of the next few days with everyone involved in Social Business flocking to what’s, by far, one of the best events in Europe around this very same topic… It’s going to be a fun event, I can tell you!

I bet at this point in time you may be wondering what are the various different names of that lovely global network of Change Agents, right? I tell you, if you have been in the space of Social Business and Social Networking for a good while you probably know already vast majority of them. But, as an additional teaser, allow me to share over here first a couple of testimonials from themselves about their own experiences of being a member of the CAWW network. Let’s start with my good friend Harold Jarche:

Change Agents Worldwide is a new type of consultancy, which functions as a transparent cooperative. It includes solo change agents (like me) and enterprise change agents who are trying to bring about change in their respective workplaces. This is a network of progressive and passionate professionals, who really want to bring about substantive change in how work gets done.

How about the always inspiring Kevin Jones:

Imagine a company without managers or employees but a ton of leadership. One that has a physical address only because, by law, it needs one while it uses the world as its playground. Where the status quo does not exist. Nor does a hierarchy or a vacation policy. Where teams who work together may have never met, but their collective ideas and expertise melt together to create the most innovative solutions to business’ most vexing problems. We have recruited the best minds in a mere matter of a few months. Their experience is vast. The collective knowledge and wisdom frightening.

Or, perhaps, these few words from the only and only Marcia Conner:

Without a doubt the smartest, most insightful, on-the-ball group of people I have ever worked with–and by ‘working with’ I mean ‘learning from, and at a distance no less’ because most everything any one of them says or writes or does is nourishing to my soul. Together and individually we’re all committed to creating a better world, where organizations can have dramatically better outcomes because they value the capabilities of people. We’re just getting started, but it’s a long time in the making, so many of us working on our own on this for years, dreaming of finding people who we can work on this with together … because it’s time!

I could go on sharing some more additional testimonials (You could read them all over here in this link, if you would want to), but I guess you are all dying to know who the entire CAWW network of members are, right? So, here we go, then. Without much further ado, and in no particular order, this is the network of people who have made it possible, for me, the system of we!: 

Susan Scrupski 

Jon Husband

Christoph

Ernst Decsey

Patti Anklam

Marcia Conner

Kevin Jones

Harold Jarche

Lois Kelly

Sharon Richardson

Ayelet Baron

John Stepper

Thierry de Baillon

Carrie Basham Young

Peter Vander Auwera

Jane McConnell

Clark Quinn

Catherine Shinners

Charles Jennings

Jim Worth

Ian Thorpe

Harald Schirmer

Simon Terry

Bruce Galinsky

Danny DeGrave

Rob Caldera

Dennis Pearce

Bryce Williams

Eric Ziegler

CheeChin Liew

Frederic Chauvin

Jonathan Anthony

Dom Burch

Rainer Gimbel

Chris Carpenter

Josh Dormont

Celine Schillinger

Heidi de Wolf

Alvaro Caballero

Richard Martin

Kari Pearlson

Paul Andersen

There is a Twitter List out there already currently being curated by Celine herself, if you would want to start following what we are all up to. After all, one of our key main areas of joint work is, eventually, working out loud and I am sure I will have plenty of opportunities to share with you folks over here what we have been up to lately, including the publishing of an upcoming eBook under this rather suggestive heading: “Changing the World of Work. One Human at a Time“.

And you know what is really cool about Change Agents Worldwide? Well, that it is not a closed network, so you, too, could join us! And start walking the talk today, actively participating on what it is like being at the forefront of the future of work: The Socially Integrated “Enterprise”.

 

Let The Next Adventure Begin … Welcome to Change Agents WorldWide! (#CAWW)

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Should CEOs Blog?

León - San MarcosEarlier on this month, my good friend, Euan Semple wrote a short blog post on the topic of how tough it is to put together that initial first blog entry, if you are new to blogging, and even more so if you are an executive. It’s just like the whole world is watching you for that first article and you just want to do things right. You certainly don’t want to look like a fool, never mind that feeling of being ridiculed by your peers if things don’t work out. You just can’t afford to go through that and that’s where most of your reluctance to blogging comes from nowadays. You know how it goes, the longer you leave it, the stronger the pressure on you and when you, finally, decide to get things started with your own  blogging you realise it’s not going to be as easy as you thought it would have been, but will it be worth it? Well, for the sake of bravery, authenticity, honesty and openness, yes, it surely will. Even for you as a CEO. 

Blogging is coming back, in case you may not have noticed. Even for senior executives it’s becoming one of the most empowering opportunities to engage in an open, direct dialogue with your audience(s) about whatever the subject matter you may decide to write about. The thing is nowadays most executives feel like blogging is something that their communications & PR teams should be doing for them. After all, it’s just another publishing platform, right? Well, that may well not be the case, perhaps. Euan defined it as a “slippery slope” and I couldn’t have agreed more with him. To quote: “First they help you, then they start to write the posts for you, then you get busy or bored, and the next thing you know it is not your blog but someone else’s“. 

That’s probably one of the best descriptions of why I have never believed in ghost writing myself either over the course of the last 10 years that I have been blogging already. It just doesn’t work. And that’s probably one of the main reasons as to why blogging is so tough. It requires lots of energy, hard work and good effort to make it happen and for that you may need more time than just posting a tweet, or a short message on LinkedIn, Google Plus or whatever the other social networking tool. And we all know how tough it is nowadays to make time for your social interactions, even for blogging, in between your ever increasing workloads, right? Where is the balance then? 

The balance is on trying to figure out whether you really need a blog or not for yourself. Remember, blogging still is the most powerful key element on the Social Web out there to help you build, sustain, nurture and develop your own personal (digital) brand. So should you, as a CEO, or a senior executive, for that matter, start blogging? Most probably. 

The good thing is that those folks who may decide to jump into the blogging bandwagon do have it relatively easy in terms of the huge amount of resources, helpful how-to articles, pragmatic blog posts, lessons learned, hints and tips, productivity hacks, numerous user guides on blogging that surely help address the potential technological barriers, even for guest blogging. Even more so The Next Web has put together a stunning article where they have detailed “The 15 Best Blogging and Publishing Platforms on the Internet Today. […]“.

So there are plenty of choices and helpful support / resources out there, no doubt. Why is it so tough to get things going with your own blog then? Well, I think Euan pretty much nails it with this particular quote which pretty much summarises some really good and practical advice: 

Be brave, say what you really think, say it in your own words. And I mean your own words – the way you would talk to a friend. Not falsely informal nor nervously official. Your real voice, the real you. Surprisingly this is what makes it so damn hard. We are often not usually our real selves at work. Often we have forgotten how to speak normally! It feels raw, you feel vulnerable, it an’t natural. But it is. It is the most natural and effective way to truly communicate with someone. To make a real connection. If you can remember how to do it, and write like you mean it, then things can only get easier and real magic starts to happen.” [Emphasis mine]

Indeed, at the end of the day, it’s all about a couple of things, really. It’s about whether you, as the blogger, may be able to find both your own blogging voice and your own blogging style, no matter how high you may well be in the organisation. And stick around with both of them. Being afraid or fearful about what others, including your peers!, may say about your own blogging style / voice is not going to help much. In fact, it will manage to keep you in your cave for a good while, so that you, too, can conform with their own inability to leap forward and get their own blogging going. That’s where Euan’s commentary on bravery is so accurate. We just need to be braver out there and share more of what we know and what we are good at and what we would be able to keep writing on and on and on for years as if it were still the first blog post. 

Yes, absolutely!, blogging, eventually, is all about sharing your passion about that subject matter. About making it contagious for others. About being open, transparent, trustworthy enough to comfortably share your thoughts out there in the open, understanding that they may be incomplete, imperfect, awkward, at times, perhaps, but they are still your thoughts, your passion, your blogging voice and style coming together. Now, I am pretty sure we don’t have an issue with finding our passion, do we? I think we all know pretty well what it is that drives us not just at work, but also in our personal lives.

I think we all know how we can, once again, become more authentic, transparent, honest, open, engaged, more our selves, really, on the Social Web out there while we interact with others. We just need to bring it back and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Let’s not forget the play factor, please. Will your peers continue to make fun of you and ridicule you? Most probably, since that’s how they would want to keep hiding themselves and fight their own uncomfortable circumstances by deviating the attention elsewhere. Should you care about it? Definitely not. Remember, after all, you have got a passion hidden inside wanting to burst out and be shared with the rest of the world. Yes, that’s the moment you know you are now ready to start your own blog.

Yes, we know, we have been waiting for you all along. Don’t worry, the waters are lovely.

Welcome to the Internet Blogosphere!

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