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

Open Leadership

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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Situational Leadership in the Era of Open Business

Gran Canaria - Charca de MaspalomasOne of the things that I got to appreciate quite a bit during the course of the summer vacation I took earlier on this month was having the opportunity for doing plenty of reflective thinking and one of the recurring themes that came up over and over again was that one of Leadership and how the role leadership itself is being transformed, in a now more complex than ever (business) world, thanks to the significant impact of digital technologies. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while would remember how much of a big fan I am of concepts like Servant Leadership, but there is one type out there that’s been there for a while now  and which I am finding rather inspiring in terms of describing the emergence of a different kind of leader: Situational Leadership® (Paul Hersey).

Inspired by Kathy Sierra (Who by the way is now back into the Social Web as serious pony with some stunning blogging coming along as well) I put together, what today, still remains as one of the most popular blog entries over here in this blog: Social Business – Where Bosses and Managers Become Servant Leaders, where I reflected on the changing role of management into leadership in today’s complex world. Fast forward to 2013 and that assessment is probably even now more accurate than ever. I am not sure what you folks would feel about it, but I am starting to think we are witnessing perhaps one the most profound, deep and impactful crisis in Leadership in our entire human history.

If you look into the world today, not just the business world, by the way, but the world in general, you would see how there is a massive crisis in terms of both Management and Leadership. Look around you and see where we are with today’s financial econoclypse, the various different unjustifiable war conflicts, the abundance of corruption and fraud (All the way to the top spheres and across the board!), lack of morals and ethics, the so-called NSA protocol, you name it. If anything, you would probably be able to say that we don’t have much of a world leadership going on at the moment. Quite the contrary. I’m starting to think that we got stuck in that 20th century model of tailorism / management (The Hierarchy) in a world that has clearly demonstrated it cannot longer by managed. It never was. If anything, it can only be facilitated and lead accordingly (The Wirearchy).

Steve Denning all along has been talking about how the business world needs to make that leap of faith and push forward for that transformation of today’s workplace with Radical Management. According to him, we are nowadays experiencing the Golden Age of Management. To me, this is bigger. Much bigger. We are probably witnessing, in the flesh, the perfect storm of how Management is going to transition into Leadership provoked, more than anything else, by that massive disruption of knowledge stocks no longer cutting it and instead transitioning into knowledge flows in order to survive into the 21st century. The scarcity of information for better decision making that used to be in the hands of the few is now transitioning into that massive free flow of information and knowledge that’s helping inspire a new generation of leaders: situational leaders®.

Interestingly enough, situational leadership is not a new concept. It’s been with us for 30 / 40 years already and I am finding it rather intriguing how it’s now making the rounds 30 years later, and well into the 21st century, to describe not only the role of the leader, but also the role of the follower(s). In case you may not be familiar with the concept, here’s a short description of what it is like, taken out from Wikipedia:

The fundamental underpinning of the situational leadership theory is that there is no single “best” style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the maturity (“the capacity to set high but attainable goals, willingness and ability to take responsibility for the task, and relevant education and/or experience of an individual or a group for the task”) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. Effective leadership varies, not only with the person or group that is being influenced, but it also depends on the task, job or function that needs to be accomplished

I am pretty sure that after you have read that excerpt the first thought that may have come to your mind would probably have been this one: “Oh, yes, I, too, can certainly be a situational leader (at times)”. In fact, you may as well have been all along a few times without not noticing, right? Whereas if you think about Management the whole equation changes quite a bit. All of us can certainly be situational leaders at some point in time, in a specific context and scenario, but if I were to ask you whether you could be a manager the answer would probably vary. Naturally.

That’s why I am finding all of these conversations around Leadership in today’s interconnected, hyperconnected, smarter world than ever, through digital technologies, more fascinating than anything else. Specially, from the perspective of how every single person out there seems to have an opinion about what leadership should be really all about. So, to that extent, while I was going through that thinking time, I decided that from here onwards I am going to start talking over here, in this blog, about some of my favourite reflections around leadership, that others may have shared across already, and its key paramount role in today’s complex (business) world that I have bumped into over the course of time.

Essentially, what I will try to aim at is to eventually hint, perhaps, a new kind of Leadership. That one that would thrive in an Open Business world. Yes, indeed, you know where I am heading. Just like I have made the transition, earlier in the year, from Social Business into Open Business, from here onwards I will move along with a follow-up transition from Leadership into Open Leadership, where I will try to decipher and reflect, every now and then, how both Servant Leadership and Situational Leadership fit in together in terms of how we need to keep pushing, by challenging the status quo, the traditional hierarchy, understanding that while there may well still be a role for traditional (senior / executive) management  out there in today’s corporate environment, we may have run out of steam with it altogether, because as Don Tapscott quoted a while ago: “Business can’t succeed in a world that’s failing“. And we are failing pretty badly right now.

And talking about Don himself, I thought I would go ahead and share over here a short video interview he did recently around “A New Model of Leadership” where he doesn’t quote situational leadership per se, but he gets to describe it pretty well on what it would look like in today’s business world dominated by the Social Web:

And, finally, I thought I would finish this initial blog post on the topic of Open Leadership pointing out another video clip that I bumped into earlier on this year, and that, although a couple of years old already, it provides a very good entry point in terms of what would be the main differences between Managers and Leaders. The video was put together by Scott Williams and lasts for a bit over 5 minutes. It’s totally worth it and I can certainly recommend you go through it to understand how and where the shift needs to start happening, if not already, as we move onwards and transition into a brave new world of uncertainty, perseverance, resilience, coherence and, finally, complexity. Essentially, a more human world:

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