The illusion of control is coming back, and it’s coming back with a vengeance, apparently, according to this article from Henry Mintzberg, who has been noticing, how, lately, most organisations seem to have put more tight-in controls within, and outside, the firewall in order to control what seems to be uncontrollable anymore (if it ever was!), that is, the workforce. Whether that may well be rather accurate, or not, you can tell me in the comments below what you think about it, if you wish, I have got this little theory going on in my mind that we, knowledge (Web 2.0) workers, may have to blame ourselves for that to happen in this Social, Digital Age. Somewhere along the way we seem to have completely forgotten about the initial value add proposition from Social Business and Social Software tools (Connect, Collaborate, Learn and Share) and instead we all, collectively, decided to turn it into one of the most massive surveillance operations in our entire history, whether at work or for personal use. We seem to have become just that, pure data, i.e. *the* product, leaving out entirely our networks, connections and relationships.
It’s probably one of the main reasons as to why we keep talking on a rather regular basis about Management vs. Leadership, when they might be one and the same depending on the context and the task at play; why we keep using Community Management (and Community Manager(s)) vs. Community Facilitation when all we are doing is either facilitating or stewarding online communities; why we keep witnessing (some times in the first person) teams being killed left and right; why we continue to talk about hierarchy vs. networks as opposed to thinking that hierarchy is an integral part of wirearchy, after all; why we keep investing in control when it’s been rather well documented that trust is cheaper, way cheaper; and so on and so forth.
Not long ago Carmen Medina once tweeted: ’[…] the worst human instinct is the desire to control others’ and somehow I suspect we may have made it even much worse upon ourselves with all of these emerging (social) media tools where, if anything, we have become masters in showcasing our various different dysfunctional behaviours that, obviously, need to be controlled somewhat, before we may mess up even further, acknowledging, without realising much about it, that, when doing so, we won’t have to, necessarily, be either responsible, nor accountable, for what comes across from our own different devices. It’s not our job to worry about that. Therefore, the imperative need to be controlled. Instead. our main worry, at the moment, seems to be ‘I need to make myself present out there [*wave* *wave* *wave*], hopefully, noticeable enough I get my own 15 minutes of fame in that media pedestal, regardless’. No wonder the powers that be would want to curb those inevitable urges a fair bit and try to re-control things back into place. If only for their own sanity, before they start questioning what’s really going on.
If anything. It’s probably one of the main reasons, if you look into it a bit deeper, as to why (social) analytics, in whatever form or shape (big data, small data, or just simply data), has surpassed, in terms of attention and commitment from the business, the Social Business transformation journey. Carmen herself put it in much better words than I could have ever in a different unrelated tweet to the one above:
Controlling behavior is what you do when you can’t think of any better solution.
— Carmen A. Medina (@milouness)
The struggle for control is real. Very real, I would probably state it’s an integral part of our human nature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we just can’t fight the urge to control things AND, specially, people, and look out for potential better solutions, specially, when they have clearly demonstrated that they work really well. You see? Control has always been an illusion and whether people would care to admit or not, we just can’t control folks because we may want to. We just can’t. It’s that simple, yet so complex at the same time. In fact, I would dare to state it’s way more demanding (think in terms of €€€) and resource intensive to control than to trust (your) people. Trusting your people is always cheaper, as my good friend Lee Bryant once wrote and I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement, even more so if we are ever so keen on transitioning into social networks and communities as the new operating model.
This may well be a bit too obvious, but both networks and communities don’t respond well to control. They never had, they never will. Quite the opposite. It’s a whole lot more about how you inspire to provide the right conditions in facilitating the conversations to flourish naturally, to help enable people to network, connect, collaborate, learn and share what they are doing for work and in that context learn through plenty of hands-on how to work smarter, not necessarily harder. So instead of spending time in front of your Digital Dashboard watching over what people are doing, or saying, in whatever the digital platform and try to make some sense of that firehose of data, better think about how you, too, could dive in and be also part of the conversations. Most of the times, it’s far more effective to relinquish control and trust your people to do the right thing to only realise, after a while, you will be getting it back twofold in terms of value add, instead. Remember the good old mantra of leading by example?
It would be a good time now to put it into practice, by all means, before it’s all too late and your knowledge (Web 2.0) workers revert back to making extensive use of one of the most harmful and damaging siloed tools within the business world that has ever existed, i.e. corporate email. Where will your organisation knowledge go after it dies in their own Inboxes? To put it in other words, think about it, after all, when was the last time you embarked on designing for loss of control? Perhaps it’s a good time today to start thinking about it, and figure out how you could make it happen, in case you may not have, just yet, because as my good friend JP Rangaswami wrote nearly 8 years ago:
‘It’s about relationship and covenant and caring and respect as the motivators to do something, rather than command-and-control and more-stick-than-carrot.‘
He then pretty much nailed it with this other short, but rather thought-provoking sentence: ’Collaboration is not an option, it’s an imperative.’ In this day and age, at long last, we may well need, then, to start putting our actions behind our words, if we would want to make that happen, because, somehow, (open) collaboration and control don’t seem to work well together and if control is really coming back again we ought to re-think again what we are doing with the so-called Social Business transformation journey? Are we doomed yet?
Hopefully, not! Please do tell me we aren’t going back again to Henri Fayol’s ‘Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling’.
Please do tell me we may all have learned something, after all, over the course of the last 100 years…
Control? No, thanks! We don’t need control in this Social Era, do we?
15 thoughts on “The Illusion of Control”
I am a proponent of collaboration and I would heartily agree with you, if there would not be another side of the medal.
My father had a company and he was a big opponent of the whole constant control idea. He once said to me “I do not care, how our stock is organised, as long as it is organised and they find the stuff they need”. That went for the whole company and people were generally happy and stayed for a long time. Sometimes their whole life. Others came back, because even though the other job was better paying, they could not organise their work in the for them most effective way. That is part of my background. Another part is, that I worked in aviation, where everything is about control. Sometimes the paperwork takes more time, then the work itself. Four eyes are the norm and the inspection of every step is imperative. Is that wrong? No, it saves life. In aviation we learn the hard way, that people make mistakes that may cost lives. Imagine you are an airplane mechanic who makes a mistake that kills people? Horrifying isn’t it? Therefore Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling is the way to go and it is here to stay, because it works. We have written these rules in blood and still do.
OK, this had nothing to do, with Social Business itself but it shows that in some organisations the whole controlling mindset isn’t bad at all.
Another point aviation teached me, is that the whole controlling aspect is not necessarily disruptive to the sharing and collaborating idea. We do this all time and have done it for years before anybody ever mentioned social software. Knowledge is going round and round in that business. It has to. Everything that goes wrong (or sometimes right) has to be reported and will be published in one form or the other, to enhance safety. We know, that all that control is there, to save us from ourself.
Another danger I would like to mention. The first time I encountered this, was also at my fathers company. He was hiring more people and some of his employees endorsed certain people they knew. After a while there was a clan forming and this had a very negative effect on the moral of many people and the company. Wasn’t a happy situation. After this episode, my father refrained from hiring friends of employees.
I have seen this many times again during my career, that sometimes groups or strong individuals become dangerous to a company. Social Software makes it much easier to form such groups or for some individuals to become informal leaders. We can not blame companies for trying to overcome this problem by controlling conversations and groups in social networks. The problem is, how far do you go. What are the rules? How do you enforce them?
In my fathers company life was good for most of the employees. They enjoyed a freedom that help them to rise above them. But not everybody wants that. Some are quite happy to do exactly as told and do not like responsibility at all. That was hard to believe for me, but it does exist. Some people are just happy to do their job as ordered. They are not bothered if you control and micromanage them. They just do not care.
Coming back to aviation. I have been a member of PPrune for quite a while now. I like it, because we have moderators. And strict ones for that. Compared to other aviation forums, we tend to be quite nice to each other. Not that we do not have heated discussion. Many god-like pilots are hanging out there. But whenever one of the stars of our profession (mostly test pilots) comment on something, even the demi gods calm down. But once in a while the moderator chips in and slaps some wrists or even bans members. Which is why our forum really works and others I have seen are full of trolls and inappropriate language.
After all what I have seen during my live I come to the following conclusion regarding controlling employees inside and outside social networks.
Do we need control?
Yes, to protect other members and the company from disrupting groups or individuals. The problem is how much control and by whom. A psychopathic maniac manager with a pathogenic need for control isn’t probably the right person.
Does control hinder people to live to their full capacity?
No, this depends on way more factors, than being under constant surveillance or not.
The key around all this is … who would have guessed … company culture.
Social Software is just a tool and it will only have an impact on a company, if the culture is right from the start. Today after all what I have seen, I truly doubt, that social software is a key factor in changing a company culture to a more collaborative culture. My money is on other factors (but that would be another loooooong post). Social software might ease the way, but otherwise I doubt the hype about its effect.
Hi Christian, thanks ever so much for dropping by and for sharing along such wonderful feedback comments! I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share such extensive thoughts. Thanks a lot for that! 😀👍🏻
RE: your commentary about aviation, I couldn’t have agreed more with you that, depending on the context and the task at hand, control might be more necessary than anything else, and I won’t deny that when the job is accompanied with risking other people’s lives, however, that doesn’t mean we need to control 100% of all of the interactions that happen in ALL industries, where there is a risk of losing lives or not, and that’s what I was referring to with this blog post. That over the course of last 100 years we seem to have taken it to the extreme those principles around Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling. I think it’s a good time to point out there needs to be a balance between when to reinforce that controlling aspect and when to relinquish it, and right now that balance doesn’t seem to exist anymore, if it ever was there, as you also well stated on the first part of the story about your father’s work, which I also appreciate very much. Thanks for sharing it across!
RE: ’the whole controlling aspect is not necessarily disruptive to the sharing and collaborating idea’, I am really glad you have mentioned this, because, in a way, you have just reaffirmed the ever growing need for Knowledge Management in *any* organisation at this point. Yes, knowledge sharing is critical, as you well stated, but then again controlling those knowledge stocks only restricts how they flow across the organisation and in most cases that control is inductive towards the creation of silos, which, in a way, is a pretty pervasive of committing (some times fatal) mistakes. If there is one thing that all of these social software tools have done is understand that silos that have a need to exist will exist, regardless. However, for the rest, they will be torn apart and dismantled because, if anything, knowledge needs to, and should!, always run free, specially, if over the course of time we would want to make better decisions with the information & knowledge available to us, specially, to avoid those risks / mistakes from taking a higher toll.
RE: ‘Social Software makes it much easier to form such groups or for some individuals to become informal leaders. We can not blame companies for trying to overcome this problem by controlling conversations and groups in social networks. The problem is, how far do you go. What are the rules? How do you enforce them?’, well, that’s the magic of all of these social software tools that all of these informal networks and informal leaders become much more open and transparent for everyone to notice their own formation and act accordingly if they become toxic. I bet when those clans came about at your father’s workplace there wasn’t an opportunity to use social tools to expose such ties and informal leaders, which made it much more difficult to even be aware of it. The thing is that with or without social tools they still gathered together. However, with social tools we’d be able to see that coming and act accordingly to either tame it or stop it accordingly.
Not sure whether you’d agree with me on this other point or not, but I find it quite distressing and depressing that we are going through times nowadays where we have got the least number of friends at the workplace, making us all detach from the work itself, with no connections, no ties, no emotional involvement and people, specially, in HR, keep wondering as to why most organisations can’t retain their talent to be productive enough. According to latest research on the topic younger employees stay, an average of 2 years in any company, and HR considers them fully integrated into the workplace being productive at 3,5 years in the business. See the problem? The massive attrition rates are forcing organisations to lose massive amounts of knowledge, just because we no longer have friends at work.
Yes, of course, I’m not justifying the need for clans to exist. I’m justifying the need for networks and communities of people coming together with a strong sense of belonging and being part of the work they do with their peers. Where social software tools help a lot is in inspiring a culture of openness and transparency, so that everyone knows what the deal is when they belong to one other network or community and what not, something, that from the example you shared above, I suppose didn’t happen much and why I understand the tough decision your father had to go through. This is what I meant in the original blog post that trust is way cheaper than control. And for that trust to happen autonomy, mastery and purpose need to kick in as well and when all of that happens in the open, transparent throughout the organisation, it’s way more challenging to build clans, at least, I can vouch for that in my 20 years long working experience with social software tools inside the workplace.
RE: ’They enjoyed a freedom that help them to rise above them. But not everybody wants that.Some are quite happy to do exactly as told and do not like responsibility at all. Some people are just happy to do their job as ordered. They are not bothered if you control and micromanage them. They just do not care.’, BINGO! You will understand now why the levels of employee disengagement across the world are sky high through the roof, even in Switzerland where, according to this Gallup study from 2013 , 84% of the employee workforce are disengaged. Yes, you are reading it right, 84%.
You have pretty much hit the nail in the head when you said ’They just do not care’, indeed, that *is* the biggest problem we have got nowadays in whatever organisation and business alike: people just don’t care. The challenge here is how do we help them to care again for the work they do, for their own colleagues, for their own ability to autonomously master their jobs? I don’t think control is going to cut it, it hasn’t done it in over a 100 years and I suspect it’s not going to start now. However, I do strongly believe that social networking tools can help re-engage the workforce through those networks and communities where work happens nowadays more often than not. I do strongly believe that social tools will help us re-engage the workforce, because there is a stronger sense of belonging, of connection, but also of better decision making when all of that knowledge that was in the hands of the few becomes the knowledge of everyone. That’s why they don’t want to make decisions or care for their work, because if it doesn’t work all right they would be the ones to be blamed for and since we live in a culture where failure is not tolerated, not even embraced, they prefer to relinquish their decision making processes to their managers, so they control the situation for them and they just have to execute and get paid at the end of the month. 100 years later, is that the future of work that keeps awaiting us all? I am hoping not! We have seen where it’s taken us, so I suppose it’s time to try something new, and see how it would play out. Help people get enabled to make better decisions through the knowledge that’s available in networks and communities is going to be critical and, once again, I don’t think control is going to help much on this one. On the contrary…
RE: PPrune, well, you see? What you call ‘Moderators’ is what I would call ‘Facilitators’, folks who may have been identified for their skills set to look after the well being of the forum, so that a civilised discourse happens where everyone learns. It’s not necessarily about control, but about abiding to a number of guidelines, which I am pretty sure you folks have, and, if not, it’d be interesting to challenge why not, and their role is than one of being more of a facilitator than a command and controller that moderators typically carry along with them. Instead of having such power, it’s more about enticing good dialogue to take place, which means they themselves would be even more powerful over time, because of what you have just said above as well: respect and trust. They are all very well respected and trusted for doing their job all right. In this case, look after the place they also hang out in. I wish many other media tools would have such mentality of online facilitators vs. just moderators showcasing their power or even not having anything at all. I think we would be talking about something completely different altogether, don’t you think?
RE: ’Do we need control?’, under the right circumstances and for the right context and task at hand, we probably need it, but for the rest I’d prefer to think we can all be treated like the hard working professionals we were hired for in the first place, because, you know, if you treat people like sheep there is a great chance they will behave like sheep. However, if you treat them with respect, trust them, give them the ability to do work and compensate them accordingly, I’d suspect you’ll have the hard working professionals you first spent huge amounts of resources and money to hire them. Yes, the key to it all is company culture, and if there is anything I have learned in the last 20 years is that social software tools have got the ability to challenge, in a healthy, productive and constructive dialogue, that corporate culture to decide what kind of company they want to be, and what kind of knowledge workforce they’d want to have. The 84% disengaged? Or the re-engaged one to whatever other %, because, you’d have to agree with them there is plenty of room for improvement in trying to address these issues and, again, I don’t think control won’t cut it. I think it’ll keep hindering things further along as we are starting to see with the massive state of surveillance we ourselves are creating. Why? Well, because somewhere along the lines we forgot to trust people and that’s perhaps where we need to start working on first …
Again, many many thanks for the wonderful commentary and I do hope one of these days we would have the chance to meet up face to face to carry on with these fascinating conversations over a drink or something. If you are ever coming to Gran Canaria, let me know 👍🏻
I have the annoying habit (my wife says) of not being able to let go of discussions easily. I tend to lecture and I am already sorry about it, should I go on your nerves, but I have a few points to make.
First, I don’t mean we should control all interaction a 100%. Even in aviation is room for informal knowledge.
What I doubt is the effectiveness of such tools in knowledge management. I have been interested in electronic knowledge management for a long time now and I have seen failure after failure, beginning with forums, going through the Discovery Server up to Connections or SharePoint. Forums, the most used knowledge management form of today, are frustrating things. We often find information only after a long search or not at all. Mostly because the search terms we use are wrong. Sometimes we have to read trough a whole lot of posts, just to find that tiny little bit of information required.
Let’s take Wikipedia as an example for knowledge at your fingertips. I followed some articles (yes, sorry, about helicopters) from the beginning and they evolved from horribly wrong, to very informative and profound. The point I want to make is, that even though there is a discussion going on in the background, it is one article that changes and there is a set of rules and a higher authority that controls changes and references. That works well enough, while not perfect. In different languages you can get different informations and sometimes the control instruments do not work and some very strange people write very strange things. It would be very difficult to introduce such a tool in a company, because it takes time and some very dedicated and knowledgeable people. Many tools I have seen in companies never really got of the ground or were abandoned after a while, if not someone just gave orders to fill the silo.
About the clans in my fathers company. Yes, my father did not have the social tools, because they did not exist at that time. So the clans had no advantage either. But that is besides the point. My fathers company was a small company and everybody knew everybody else. Other employees complained to my father about the situation and he had to step in. Again a higher authority had to take action. The employees themselves could not solve the situation and I think that is true for today’s social tools, too. We can not deny the fact, that everybody has also a dark side. Sometimes we are just wrong and can not admit it. Now things become toxic and most contributors to a forum will just sit back an watch, while the biggest roosters start to fight. Again, now is the time a controlling authority has to step in otherwise the toxin will spread and kill the body. Self-control just isn’t going to work.
About those people who do not care … frankly, they don’t want to care. Don’t take that as negative. They are happy with their job. Even if you present them a better situation on a silver plate, they don’t want it (really, I have seen this). But this is just the bottom line, there are all stages of interest in a company and loyalty and it would be extremely difficult to define an average.
The Gallup study does not surprise me at all, neither does it shock me. It absolutely fits what I experience (BTW I have the suspicion that there is something wrong with it. It might have a language problem). It has never been different. Even in the stone age, I am pretty sure most hunters just went out there in lousy and cold weather to hunt down a rabbit, because otherwise they would starve. Sitting around the fire was much better. It wasn’t fun and is isn’t fun today. Look at the jobs some people do. Do you want to work day in day out in a car factory attaching the number plate? Neither do I. But people do it, in hordes, because it gives them job security and something on the plate, but don’t ask more of most of them. It is not, that they hate the job or the company, it is just that they do the job to pay the bills. That might be not enough for you and me, but it is for many. And they all count as not engaged. I think, small companies are better in this respect, but I am not sure. (Aviation is certainly better, but you have to be insane to work there anyway.)
I do not believe, that social tools will change that. Not 87% of the companies in the world have bad management and do not care about their employees. That just isn’t true. We have to face the fact, that not being engaged is the norm. All we can do is catch the rest and go forward with them. The others will just follow.
There is one situation, where I see a very good chance, that social software is a key factor for success, and this is in self-organizing companies. Here we relay highly on the collaboration of everybody. This is a very interesting and forward thinking way of leadership. But these companies are view and far between and again, this isn’t for everybody. I just happen to have such a company near by, that a good friend of mine is counselling. The boss had a burn out and decided to give his employees more room and it works. Unfortunately, his second in command does not believe in this and as soon as the boss is not there, he pulls on the reigns. We must not forget, some people just like power and no software will change this. I am sure you have seen social software implementations where just this leads to a failure. I have the impression, this is more common than we think and I am personally completely helpless if it comes up.
Well, you are probably spot on with PPrune.
There is another point that has bugged me for years. I do not find the social tools I know very appealing. I think there is a lot to improve. I have an idea what a tool for my company should do and none of them that I know, do that. Probably from there comes at least partly my frustration with social software.
And then there is big data. More information does not lead automatically to better decisions. As we have also learned in aviation, you can easily get an information overload which can be crippling if not dangerous. The same happens with big data. We have now the tendency to base decisions on correlation instead of causation. I do not see this as a good idea. The next step is, that we let the computer make decisions for us and who is taking responsibility? I.A. is something we should be very cautious of.
While we can agree on the principles of the benefits of social software, we differ in our view of the real life benefits. I personally think, the the current social software hype does not take in account enough human nature. Not everybody wants to connect or should. Some are quite happy in their cubicle others need the interaction to grow. The number of people who engage in their company is from my point of view, neither critical nor very important. It must not ignored, but not overrated either. We deal with humans here.
During my Structogram training, we were told, that about a third of the population perceive it as draining to be in large groups and engage with others continuously, others need that to fill their batteries. Some like proximity, others don’t. I am one of the first group. I enjoy to be with people but it drains me. I do not like to be in big groups, neither do I like people who come to close. In the same way we perceive social software. While I can use it and see the benefits, it isn’t something that I enjoy to use, apart from the fact that I don’t think that they are very good (that has nothing to do with not wanting to share knowledge).
Yes, I do not have a Facebook account anymore, but that is another story.
As for your invitation, do you know a good windsurfing spot on Gran Canaria? Should you ever be in Switzerland, let me know. Their are always a few beers in my fridge.
And a short note. There is no wonder, why talented people leave companies and look for better jobs. Has nobody looked, how HR is choosing and treating people? It is pretty obvious to me.
Hi Christian, thanks a lot for the follow-up commentary and for the superb commentary! I’m more than happy to welcome your thoughts into the conversation this post is triggering, as they are also helping me get mine straight up as well in terms of what I have been working on myself and exposed to over the course of time. So bring them on! Whenever we run out of comment space, we will go for those drinks! 😀
RE: ’[…] Sometimes we have to read trough a whole lot of posts, just to find that tiny little bit of information required.’, this is exactly the problem and you are bang on with it! We, human beings, have got a tendency to blame the tools for our very own misbehaviours when using them tools themselves. The fact that a good number of those tools you mentioned above haven’t worked, to a certain degree, I would dare say that it’s not necessarily down to the tools themselves, not working well enough, but more our very own bad habits and misbehaviorus that keep getting in the way. If you look into it, it’s all about what kind of approach we would want to give to these initiatives: a) document centric computing or b) people centric computing.
If the focus is in a), which happens in vast majority of the times, we are bound to fail, time and time again, more than anything else because content is irrelevant. It’s obsolete, obscure, cumbersome to document and, above all, out of date the moment we hit Enter. It’s what happens with the so-called explicit knowledge that the good old KM tried to put together, but failed miserably as you well indicated above.
If the focus is in b), content becomes irrelevant, it’s no longer king, people AND their connections are, which means your whole focus should be in providing the conditions for people to connect, collaborate, learn and share by nurturing and cultivating their own networks. Content takes a secondary role because it’s the social networks that kick in and, in most case, once we shift to b) vs. a) the rates of success are enormous. Psychological research confirms that we, human beings, are very bad documenters, from what we think, to what we say, to what we write, there are three completely different worlds. Why the whole existence of social networking initiatives is worth it. Why? Well, because the focus is in the connections & networks, not necessarily the content anymore. If you look into it, this is why people centric ESNs are ever so much more effective and succesful than document centric. The examples you have cited above are all document centric, except, perhaps Connections IF the focus is placed on content created versus the Profiles and their social networks.
RE: ’Let’s take Wikipedia as an example for knowledge at your fingertips’, thanks a lot for this example, it’s just the perfect one to confirm what I have just shared above. Every single Wikipedia page the moment that gets the new edits and you hit save, at that very moment, even before you get people to read through it, it’s already obsolete and out of date. Why? Because there is always something new to add, new updates, new content, new experts coming along and on and on and on. Now, look into the Chat History page of the Wikipedia. Plenty of research have confirmed over the course of the last 15 years that the best thing of the Wikipedia is not necessarily the pages, but the discussion about the updates, i.e. the informal, tacit, knowledge exchanges, the discussions and the conversations, the coming back and forth, because eventually they either generate consensus and, if not, new content. This is a very good example of document centric computing (i.e. the wiki pages) and people centric computing (i.e. the conversations and chat history inside of the wiki pages).
RE: The employees themselves could not solve the situation and I think that is true for today’s social tools, too. , yes, you are right, but that doesn’t necessarily happen in all of the organisations. The example you mentioned about your father business is the typical hierarchical, top down, command and control environment, where, in the end, he eventually had to act for something to happen. But what happens when you transition from a hierarchy-only model of operating to a hybrid one based on wirearchy and organising principle around networks to the point where hierarchies and networks blend together. A good example of this kind of organising could be cooperatives, for isntance. There are a good number of companies that operate this way, and rather successful, where the decisions are made via mutual agreement, discussion and perhaps democratic voting. Take a look into the book Reinventing Organisations where you will find a handful of companies, small, medium and large, already operating this way.
This other article on the same topic is also a wonderful #longread on the topic (For over a coffee or two).
RE: ’We can not deny the fact, that everybody has also a dark side. Sometimes we are just wrong and can not admit it’, oh, absolutely! But it’s a lot harder to showcase and demonstrate your dark side out there in the open networks and communities where everyone can see it. It’s one of the main reasons why I love #noemail because it entices people to stop being jerks via email and instead become more open, collaborative, and overall helpful. I keep thinking we should start thinking that people at work should be helping more than hurting each other. After all, we are all on the same boat and have been hired to do a job, not to make the lives of others miserable. Yes, I know, a bit utopian, but, again, showcasing what a jerk you are in open networks is a lot tougher to get away with it, than, say via email, which is just far too easy!
RE:’Self-control just isn’t going to work’, well, in a social network it does, because if you don’t self-control others will do it for you and that’s when it won’t be pretty any more. Forums, by the way, are not social networks. They are just tools where you get to host Q&A and conversations around topics, never about people. Big difference in terms of the perceptions that come through from both of them.
RE: ’They are happy with their job. Even if you present them a better situation on a silver plate, they don’t want it’, we will have to wait and see then for when an ‘external’ source comes to snatch those jobs because mediocrity will no longer be tolerated in their own workplace. There is up to how much you can continue with that attitude and I suspect that pretty soon that Cult of Mediocrity is going to have its days, at long last, numbered. We shall see… We can resume the conversation on this topic in, say, 5 to 10 years, and see if we would still feel the same …
RE: ’it is just that they do the job to pay the bills. ’, very very true! And again I’d have to refer to the previous paragraph, that’s what’s happening today, but what happens then when automation kicks in and absorbs all of those jobs you described above and, all of a sudden, that job security disappears into thin air and for good! I know this is a whole other conversation, perhaps for another blog post! heh but we would need to start thinking what are we going to do with the millions of people who do these kinds of jobs and who, within the next 3 to 5 to 10 years would be unemployed, replaced. That’s the current trend. I’m hoping instead of replacement we talk about augmentation and help redefine the way they engage at work adding further up a bit of complexity into the mix. It’s a fascinating topic I keep thinking about, and I suppose none of us have got the right answers for it, but at some point we are bound to be thinking about them, because very very soon automation is going to transform, entirely, the social constructs we have been working under over the last 200 years. Fun times ahead, I am hoping! Again, if we think augmentation vs. replacement, because otherwise it can definitely get *very* ugly.
By the way, the 87% is not the number of companies worldwide that are disengaged, but the number of disengaged employees inside organisations, so, at the moment, we’d probably be able to say that the business world is running on 13% of its full potential. And it’s showing, and big time. I think we can all collectively improve that % a great deal and I strongly believe social networks and social software tools can be a great help in here. It’s going to be a slow progress, I know, but progress nonetheless. Otherwise, we may need to think again what we mean about ’Productivity’, in general.
RE: ’We must not forget, some people just like power and no software will change this’, oh ABSOLUTELY!!! Not going to deny it. It’s been with us since the birth of humanity and that’s what fascinates me the most! With all of these social software tools we have got the unique opportunity in our lifetime to figure out whether the network driven power can put up a good fight towards individual power and whether, as a result, something better comes up. There aren’t many companies out there, as you well said, where these new structures are working and while not many the fact they are there working confirm it’s actually very possible to achieve it. Perhaps not all over the place, but if it can be done, why not? I have seen tons of implementations of ESNs where it has massively failed because this battle of individual and network driven power was ignored, but I know of a few others where they have embraced it and in that complex environment they are thriving. Again, perhaps not many examples, but the ones we have confirm it can be done. I guess the challenge is whether we are willing to test the brave waters and get back in our cubicles 😀 heh
RE: big data and A.I., I am totally with you on this one. We should proceed with caution into unknown territory. To me, it’s all data (whether big, small, or whatever) and A.I., if anything, should shift into something that currently only one provider has got it very clear: collect and gather the data, provide some options / conclusions, but leave it down to humans to make the final choice. Most A.I. providers out there have taken the other approach, which is decide for us, and we keep seeing tons of examples where it’s gone awfully wrong! I strong recommend the recent interview Job Ito and Obama did on the topic at Wired. It’s both eye-opening and very thought provoking in terms of where things may, or may not, need to go. I much prefer to be part of the equation than not being, mostly because instead of replacing me, A.I. will augment my human capabilities and I seriously think that’s the way forward. It will help us define a new social construct where both A.I. and humans can co-exist through augmentation vs. replacement. I will keep 🙏🏻 we will be heading in that direction …
RE: ’the current social software hype does not take in account enough human nature. ’, yes!! In full agreement, once more, but please don’t blame social software tools and social networks for that matter once again, but blame us, those working in those implementations, for having done them incorrectly with the focus that everyone should be in it and fully engaged 100% using all of the social tools. That’s utopian and we will never reach it. If you bump into people with that kind of attitude and mentality, please do me a favour and run away. You’ll be much better off without them. This is one of the things why traditional change management is struggling and big time with these change initiatives. They all keep failing on trying to accommodate every single employees’ needs, regardless of what they are and understand that change is personal, it’s a personal transformation journey where the person needs to make the personal decision as to whether they’d want to change or not. It’s up to them. We can’t do anything about it, regardless of what people would tell you on the contrary.
If anything, we can only provide the right conditions to entice people then to make their own decisions and choices as to why they might want to change or not. In short, simply, it’s about answering this simple question: ’What’s in it for me?’ and have an answer for each and every employee. Now, when was the last time you saw that happening in any org.? Again, don’t blame social software tools, nor social networks, but ourselves for our misbehaviours and bad habits. We ought to blame ourselves for that hype and poor adaptation techniques for all employees.
And don’t worry, you are not the only one without a Facebook account. I don’t have one myself either (For over 5 years already), nor do I have a LinkedIn account (deleted over 2 years ago), don’t use email for work, and a whole bunch of other media tools that mistreat me as a product. And here we are, having this absolutely wonderful conversation on such an important matter.
Oh, yes, I know plenty of superb windsurfing places over here in GC. In fact, one of them is about a 10 minute drive from where I live, so you may be lucky! heh (You are on for those beers in CH!)
Finally, RE: ’why talented people leave companies and look for better jobs. Has nobody looked, how HR is choosing and treating people? ’, this, on its own, is a whole other blog post in the making, but I would say that plenty of talented people are getting more and more tired of working in environments where mediocrity keeps getting rewarded regardless while they have a strong sense of being over-exploited, left and right. And, for them, enough is enough, I suppose, and rightly so! The day HR realises about that, change will, FINALLY, happen! I wrote a blog post about this same topic a couple of years back over here, in case you may be interested reading further along …
Again, many many thanks for the superb commentary! I have much enjoyed the different conversations and look forward to the next round!
We do look into the same stuff, it seems. I am well aware of Reinventing Organisations. I be with you there, a fascinating subject and the ideal playground for ESN. We don’t have to go over that. I just don’t think it works in the majority of companies.
My friend, the coach and consultant, and I are often musing about the possibilities of changing existing organisations towards this new concept. Unfortunately, we have yet to find the answer. Mostly because we are dealing with entrepreneurs who would have a hard time to give up the baby, they nurtured for such a long time.
I don’t know if you have the same perception in Spain, but here in Switzerland, family companies lead by “Le Patron” are seen as the ideal form of leadership, compared to companies listed at the stock exchange and their short term view. While “Patrons” more resemble to dictators in every shade of good or evil, there is the “common knowledge” that they get things done much better. And that is in a country where you have democracy in its wildest form. That pure form of direct democracy has it’s down sides. For once, and that is important for a company who wants to use more democracy, it is slow. Very, very slow. And at best you get a pretty good compromise.
Switzerland is very good in refining things. That is where the perception of highly innovating country comes from. We are not inventors (Swiss even makes fun of it. It is called “Swissen” by now).
Would Steve Jobs have invented the Mac in Switzerland? No way. We would first have waited for all the others to find out how it works and then try to make it even better. Jonathan Ive would die of boredom here.
Having said, that our minds here are set on strong leaders and make everything better than anybody else, without making much fuss about it. Interestingly we do not like posers and people who insist on using their titles. You can have 15 PhDs and nobody will ever address you as Dr. Suchandsuch. We live “égalité” even more than the French.
Despite this apparent advantage, to implement a wired organisation in that environment, you have to be pretty bold. On one hand you have that believe in “Le Patron”, on the other hand you have direct democracy where everybody has a voice. But as you can see on our voting behaviour, probably half the people go voting. Some of them just say “No” to everything. That’s about 10 – 15%. By far most of the initiatives we vote on, are rejected (we have initiatives and referendums, two different kinds of decisions). And those who are accepted have most of the time very little impact, except for very high interest from the foreign press court.
In a company with democratic structures we would have to deal with exactly the same problems. The ability to take risks sinks dramatically with the number of people involved in the decision. This is exactly where crowd intelligence fails. Instead of getting an even better product with the influence of more people, you water it down. If you don’t want mediocrity in a company, don’t use a democratic approach. (I have the strong urge to rephrase that, but that would be exactly the Swiss approach: Trying to please everybody. I stay with it, even though it isn’t as absolute as I wrote it).
And some things just can not be done by a committee.
The people centric approach is certainly the key to knowledge management and while I think I do understand the concept, I have still a very hard time to explain it, to any unsuspecting victim. I think this is part of the problem, that the implementation of it so often turns toward document centric in the end.
I think most people have problems to get their head around the situation, that while they write a “document”, which they think is the important part, in reality the sender and the receiver are the centre of attention.
I often think about all those silos aka data cemeteries we store knowledge. “Open them up” I shout, only to get beaten down by lawyers. That is the legal side of the problem that limits the free flow of information quite a bit. Most secrets aren’t even important or not even secrets, but better save than sorry.
Then let us talk about the meagre rest.
There are the tools again. I hate to use Email (still going strong and this is not going to change) and chat and bulletin boards and forums and what not to get my messages across. Not to long ago we had letters, then telegraph, then came the telephone, the telex, then fax, then email, then forums, chat and so on. Apart from telegraph, the rest is still here. During the time we added channels and complexity. Nothing got faster than the speed of light. All it did was giving us more convenience. We fail big time in reducing complexity and channels. Our mindset is completely wrong. We decide first about the channel and then about the content. The channel decision shouldn’t even be there, but at least at the end of the work.
And I will not even talk about the administrative nightmares Connection, SharePoint and others are. I am sorry to say that, it is old technology based on even older storage software.
And these tools where made by developers, not really the persons anyone would chose for organising social events.
How to identify important messages in all the gibberish about the weather? I fear that people who constantly update their status on Facebook, will flood ESNs with complete and utter useless information, just for the sake of being there, ruining the use case by outshining those who probably chip in rarely, but with information that outweighs by far the content of the more outspoken person.
In any company, everyone would click on everything the boss says. Nobody will click on the cleaning woman’s post about the flooding in the basement. Just because it is about the people who write. And that is, where people centric fails. The importance of a message is not only measured by the importance of the author. In the end it is still the content that counts. And now I am going around in circles. Document- or people-centric? What is it really?
And now just a short flight above the new hype Industry 2.0 as it is called sometimes. Those managers I have seen talking about, don’t seem to have a clue what they are talking about. In my role as a economist, I see an incredible lack of knowledge about the most basic tools they even use on a daily basis. I have the strong impression, it is even worse than 20 years ago. And now they talk about what they intend to do, coming from countries where email isn’t a legal document, but Fax is.
I don’t think that any time soon, the worker will be gone from the factory floor. First, we are a cheap set of tons of capabilities. Try to tell a robot to hang a picture. Impossible task for a computer. We can do tons of things with just a hammer. Computer lack imagination to even do a single task without extensive programming. It is a lot cheaper to employ people to do millions of different tasks. While I embrace the work of a robot to free me from the most boring and repetitive tasks, there are many things which will not be done by robots for a long time. And the cost rises with the complexity.
And again we miss human nature. We like things that have a soul and we make a connection with things that were made by a human much easier, than with a product from a production chain. “Hand made” is something we cherish. A hundred years ago that wasn’t even a term. Today it is what we think symbolises higher quality. I think this will become an even stronger movement.
Hi Christian, I agree with you that we may be looking into the very same things in terms of literature on the topic. There isn’t much about it just yet, so we are bound to bump into each other in terms of the stuff we read in the topic. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening, as far as I can tell. It’s just a matter of scale, and so far that’s what we seem to be missing in terms of how pervasive it can get across different organisations in the millions!
RE: ’family companies lead by “Le Patron” are seen as the ideal form of leadership, compared to companies listed at the stock exchange and their short term view.’, Over here in Spain we have got similar organisations and I suppose it’s just too difficult to get rid of the patriarchal organisational structure that’s been with us for the last 3,000 years and counting. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t try out other things, as you well know. In fact, there is a company over here, which is a family business already into the 16th generation, and they are one of the most successful stories around Social Business and Digital Transformation. Yes, 16 generations later they are doing it and walking the talk! So I keep wondering, if they have done it themselves, why can’t others?!?!?! Well, the patriarchal model of operating, once again, is presumed to have done things much better, but then again it’s a perception, because if you look into the levels of employee disengagement, they have done everything, but being successful with their own employees and for that matter with their customers.
I don’t think that those ’patrons’, as you call them, realise that in order to influence the overall experience of the customer you need to start by influencing the overall experience of the employees and if you are pretty bad at it, like you are demonstrating it every day with those massive levels of disengaged employees perhaps you might not be the great leader you think you are. The fact they are not doing much to change the current status quo is an indication of their already rather evident poor leadership skills.
RE: ’that is important for a company who wants to use more democracy, it is slow. Very, very slow. And at best you get a pretty good compromise.’, like I think I have said in another comment, change is hard, it’s incredibly slow. In fact, the massive change and transform we both envision is one that neither you, nor me, not even our own kids will be able to see realised in their lifetime. It’s those upcoming generations the ones who will be enjoying the harvest of the seeds we planted back in the day. Those generations are the ones who are going to enjoy this transformation. Not us, we are just preparing the way, I am afraid. That’s why it’s very very important that for a good harvest to come along, we make, today, the necessary investments in terms of effort, energy, good seeds and what not to ensure it succeeds in the near future.
If you look into it, we have been having social software tools for over 20 years and we seem to have seen very little progress, but that’s also a matter of perceptions, because if 10 or 15 years ago people would have told you there are some organisations today running on wirearchical principles, vs. the traditional hierarchy you would say people would be crazy, yet, here we are, with a good number of examples we can use and showcase to demonstrate that change can happen. It will take time, I know, and I am fine with that. It’s not for me to enjoy the change I envision, it’s for future generations to enjoy what I am planting today. Take a look into this blog post I wrote the other day, specially, the first two paragraphs and let me know if that’s the world you would want for your future generations based on the seeds you are planting today. Something tells me that’s not the world, and yet we have made it a reality today in 2016. This is one of the many reasons why I get up every day in the morning, to help change that, even by a small contribution, it’s the long run that I’m interested in at this point. Short term has never been good, if anything, but the cancer of organisations over the last 50 or 60 years.
RE: ’you have to be pretty bold’, bingo! That’s what it is all about, my friend. That’s where it all begins and why this social business transformation is so fascinating! Some times people would love you for it, but vast majority of the times they would hate you, more than anything else, because you are challenging the current status quo, even as a nation, and challenging the status quo can only come from the outliers, from the edges versus the centre, and why most change initiatives fail, because they come right from the centre waiting for approval from high above, so eventually you are putting more lipstick on the pig, but still a pig. Why I keep telling people the biggest, largest, most massive obstacle towards these change initiatives around Social Business are (senior) managers, because they don’t want the status quo being challenge and then having to lose whatever ‘privileges’ they may well have. It’s just silly, because in that brave new world, they’d be thriving even more than they are doing now, but since they are not willing to challenge their own status quo, here are we, stagnating more and more by the day to no avail.
Ohhh, without getting too much into detail, since that’s a subject I decided 20 years ago I would never touch on while being online, but here’s an open reflection for which there is no need for an answer just a reflection: we have seen, just this year, in multiple different occasions, how direct democracy doesn’t seem to work very well in the best interests of the common people, and I keep thinking, if anything, we ought it to our education systems for that to happen, so plenty of room for improvement on that regard as well. Again, take a look into the second paragraph from that blog post to see what I mean.
RE: ’In a company with democratic structures we would have to deal with exactly the same problems. […] And some things just can not be done by a committee.’, well, it depends, doesn’t it? We know of a number of companies where this is working really well, and perhaps in that democratic structure three of my favourite examples would be noteworthy: Morning Star, VALVE and Semco. All three of them are run through democratic principles, and they are working incredibly well. Cooperatives would also be great examples that prove it can be done. If you are interested in this topic and you may not have read much about it, Mondragón, over here in Spain, have done a superb piece of work over last couple of decades about how to run a massive cooperative through democratic principles of crowdsourced decision making. And it works. I think one of the reasons as to why it works is that they have invested enough time, resources, energy and what not in helping educate and enable their worker population to understand the dynamics. It’s exactly also what Buurtzorg has done in The Netherlands, and they went from several dozens of nurses to over 10,000 in a matter of months. That’s why I keep telling companies I work with when they embark on this social business transformation journey to never underestimate the power of education and enablement, not necessarily in just using the tools, but also in modelling a new set of behaviours and mindset that, currently, aren’t just happening. That’s where the shift needs to happen at this stage.
RE: ’the implementation of it so often turns toward document centric in the end.’, of course, because that’s what we have been taught all along. To produce tangibles, documents, stuff that we own, because we love to own things and if it is hundreds, if not thousands, of documents all the better. It’s easy to default to document centric, more than anything else, because that’s what we have done for decades. It’s pretty much the same thing as to why people keep using email more than these social tools. Because they think they own it, i.e. the conversations, the documents, etc. etc. when in reality, they are just trapping their own knowledge in silos no-one cares about and then we keep wondering what are we doing with all of this organisational knowledge that’s currently private, opaque, available to a few and to benefit a few. It’s hard to break such model, but it’s possible. Like I said, that’s the whole point of social networks and social networking tools, that they do understand what matters is not necessarily the content, but the connections and relationships that come along through conversations, if anything. In fact, conversation becomes the new currency, which for document centric people it’s something hard to comprehend, yet, it’s our new reality in terms of how we get work done in vast majority of the times.
RE: ’That is the legal side of the problem that limits the free flow of information quite a bit. ’, that’s their inner urge to want to control things, once more, to the extreme, because that’s what keeps them employed in the long term. The gatekeepers of knowledge, when, in reality, they are the knowledge hoarders. I wish the business world would understand, once and for all, one kind of damage those knowledge hoarders are doing to their own businesses by just wanting to control the environment where knowledge is created and put a lock down on it. They are not doing themselves a favour, specially, nowadays as we move into that knowledge economy, where data is the new oil, and both information and knowledge flow free, whether they would like to admit or not. It’ll be happening anyway, and perhaps even worse, to some extent, because it will be happening, anyway, in an environment they can’t even control anymore, nor the organisations themselves either for that matter!
RE: ’During the time we added channels and complexity. ’, you know, it’s hard to let go, specially, it’s hard to let go of those tools that have given you a (false) of power, where you think you control the conversations, the content and knowledge you possess, only to realise at a later time that you had everything, but power when using those tools. Yet, it’s hard to let go, because of the unexpected, the unknown, the what will happen next if I don’t use those traditional tools?, and because we are not very much willing to explore, to play, to stay curious, we keep reverting back to same good old bad habits. Why? Because we think they still work, when it’s clear they don’t, otherwise our productivity levels would be sky through the roof vs. having stagnated since the early 80s, as can be seen from multiple charts that demonstrate how the world has progressed, our productivity hasn’t. Perhaps we should start asking ourselves why is that happening and what can be done about it, because so far what we are currently doing isn’t helping much, I am afraid.
RE: ’We fail big time in reducing complexity and channels.’, reducing complexity in this day and age is going to be impossible, I can assure you that, we would need to figure out how we can adapt in order to make it, but we can definitely do something about the channels. Because, right now we have an input overload that’s not helping anyone, and I suspect part of the problem with that is defaulting and going back to what we know and think might work, but we can’t prove it just yet vs. getting the context to define and decide the channels that should be put in place. Again, I don’t think it’s an issue with the tools, but more with our habits, behaviours and mindset. Those are the ones that need to change, and unless we continue working in them nothing will ever change, as we have seen over the last two decades when we had the first instances of social software tools. Again, like I said, it’s hard to let go, but some times, it’s the only chance we have got in order to survive in a complex environment and the sooner we learn to do that, the better.
RE: ’I fear that people who constantly update their status on Facebook, will flood ESNs with complete and utter useless information, just for the sake of being there, ruining the use case by outshining those who probably chip in rarely, but with information that outweighs by far the content of the more outspoken person.’, in my experience that doesn’t happen, to be frank. And there is a reason why it doesn’t happen. In Facebook, and other media tools, we have got that tendency to overshare (useless) information, more than anything else because no-one knows us and we need to clearly identify ourselves and what we do so that others learn about us. In finding that identity we kill the interactions and because we are so obsessed with being accepted and in our own selves conform with everyone else we destroy the interactions from those media tools. I tried to explain this very same thing on this other blog post around vanity.
However, the whole thing changes when you are using an ESN, because that mostly happens behind the firewall, where everyone knows you very well, they know who you report to, how to contact you, what you look like, what you do for work, what you are good at, what communities you hang out in, etc. etc. and that means the need to identify yourself disappears and because all of the interactions happen out in the open people would think about it twice, before they share anything, because everyone knows you now and they know what you may be about. That openness and transparency will mitigate the urge to overshare, more than anything else, because at this point you will notice how most folks would start questioning to themselves what kind of value add I’m trying to put forward vs. sharing silly, mindless stuff no-one cares about. I have seen that happening all the time and surprisingly people adjust accordingly. We, human beings, are incredibly good at adapting to new environments and that’s exactly what will be happening over time, if we let it grow that way, that is.
RE: ’everyone would click on everything the boss says. ‘, oh, yes! but EVERYONE else would be able to see that and I can tell you it kind of sucks to be seen by everyone out there in the open as the brownie nose of the team. Now, would you want to work with that person? Probably not 😉
[To be continued…]
[Continues from the above comment…]
RE: ’Nobody will click on the cleaning woman’s post about the flooding in the basement. Just because it is about the people who write. ’, ahhh, but we don’t know that, do we? You seem to have forgotten that we, human beings, are very curious about stuff, specially, about people and I would vouch to state that people may well respond to the cleaning woman. I think we have seen even weirder things happening in places like YouTube with YouTube stars. When designing social initiatives curiosity is an element that needs to be there, because it’s the basic element that helps start up a conversation. What happens is that, in most organisations, we just killed the curiosity, because, with it, people have a tendency to ask questions and we know that in these patriarchal orgs. asking questions, specially, tough, challenging ones is often a no-go. So people stopped being curious. We must bring that back within the firewall. It’s the initial spark of any conversation and without it we are going to struggling when putting together these change initiatives, I tell you.
RE: ’In the end it is still the content that counts’, no, never. It never does. Let me share an example across. About our (ab)use of mobile phones. We keep hearing and reading how obsessed we are with those little devices we take *everywhere*, because we are glued to the content and information that we can find in there. Wrong, we are glued to the people who share that content, whether coworkers, family or friends. We want to know about them, about what they do, about what worries them, about how we can help them, not necessarily about the content they create. That’s secondary and, most of the times, redundant. Think about it next time you pick up your mobile phone. Are you using it to grab content or to find out what your peers, family and friends are doing. I suspect the latter, confirming that content is, and has always been, and will be, irrelevant. Connections and relationships is what matter. We are social, tribal beings with a need and urge to always connect and with a strong sense of belonging, not content marketers or content digesters. That’s what marketers have sold us for the last 50 years or so. We need to stop that. Just look into the sheer millions of useless content out there on the Internet. Why should we need more? We don’t. We need to slow down and focus on what we know is going to benefit us all even more so: those personal (business) relationships, what the status quo doesn’t want you to focus on, because that’s when you become incredibly more powerful through mastering the art of conversation.
RE: ’Those managers I have seen talking about, don’t seem to have a clue what they are talking about.’, that’s happening for a very good reason, because, to most of them, it’s just another green check on the spreadsheet to talk about it, but never do it, nor understand it, but because no-one is up to the task to challenge in a healthy, constructive manner, the BS they have got with themselves, we just keep tolerating their ignorance on the topic, mostly due to the lack of true hands-on where they themselves can experiment. Peer pressure at those levels is massive, so the last thing they would want to do is appear as silly people who know nothing and struggle with simple technology social tools everyone else masters.
It’s hard to be a manager nowadays when you have to pretend to be who you are not in order to keep up with your status, power, influence and financial bonus, for sure. Somewhere along the way, both honesty and authenticity have been left out of the equation resulting in embarrassment after embarrassment, because if they would come forward showing their vulnerabilities to their own networks they would become stronger as a result, but, of course, they won’t do that, because they don’t want to showcase their weaknesses, so they instead pretend to know what they don’t and decide to embarrass themselves a fair bit more. Sad, really, because if only they would open up a bit, they would learn so much it would totally transform the way they manage and lead their teams. Yet, here we are debating why they don’t. Like I said, they are the major obstacle towards any Social Business and Digital Transformation journey. It’s time for the rest of us to realise they are the problem and start doing something about it. We shouldn’t have to wait for them to come on board. In fact, if after 20 years with social software tools available out there, you, as a manager / leaders don’t understand well the dynamics I think I’m going to start questioning their overall leadership skills. Remember, these are the so-called leaders who always have to be one step ahead of curve, so when they are 20 years too late, what does that say about their and their leadership skills? Nothing good, I am afraid.
RE: ’While I embrace the work of a robot to free me from the most boring and repetitive tasks, there are many things which will not be done by robots for a long time.’, this is an interesting one that we are going to witness and very soon, but I’d dare say that it’s already happening. Look into Foxconn, McDonalds, Uber, Toyota, Adidas, transport companies (lorries), hotels, etc. etc. where they are replacing the manual workforce with machines and no-one has said a single thing about it. Christian, whether we like it to admit or not, it’s going to happen, sooner or later, if not already. Yes, it may seem a bit too complex at the moment, but nothing than technology won’t be able to do over time, as we have learned over time with multiple other instances. I’m seriously hoping I’m wrong and you are right on this one, because otherwise, very very soon we will need to start asking the ugly question: what are we going to do with all of these millions and millions of workers who are now, suddenly, unemployed and for a lifetime? Well, that would be the topic for another blog post, I would think, but it’s a fascinating one, because no-one is asking it just yet and the automation process has already happened. It’s only a matter of scale before it swipes the entire business world as we speak. Time will tell…
RE: ’And again we miss human nature.’, oh, boy, I am 100% with you on this one, and this is where the irony kicks in big time, because, very very soon it’s our very own use of technology and automation the one that’s going to FORCE US to rethink what being a human being really is in this world, what role we play in and how do we fit in, etc. It’s, indeed, very ironic, how we are going to have technology forcing us to rethink about our own humanity, but that’s a fascinating journey I’m incredibly excited about, because it will confirm whether we have learned something over the course of the last 10,000 years or whether we are still same old… humans.
The conflict between trust and control starts when children are in school. If we are to design more collaborative trust based work we should consider how we are teaching our children to act.
Here is a post of mine from on trusta couple of years back http://wp.me/s1gWAk-trust
Hi Joseph, many thanks for dropping by and for the terrific commentary. I have just gone through your blog post on trust and control at schools and I think you pretty much nailed it on the head with this particular quote, which I like quite a bit!: ‘If I trust people to act appropriately what can I do with the time I save, to help them succeed’. That quote alone confirms that both the business world and the education system are not much different at the moment, and I suppose that one of the challenges we would have in terms of making that transition happen is eventually that those who put together those tight-in controls may not necessarily much about what to do once they should decide to trust their employees or teachers.
Perhaps we should design different types of enablement for either teachers and managers / leaders in order to help them prepare for what happens when they decide to trust their employees. I suspect that a good reason why that tight control is happening in most orgs. and schools is because it’s the easy way out, which you pretty much confirmed it with this other brilliant quote: ‘In worse case scenarios teaching becomes crowd control trying to keep students quiet and focused on the task in hand’. Bingo!
That’s what trust entitles in both the workplace and schools. It’s about learning to let go, to tell your peers and students it’s ok, and even more so, it’s encouraged, you all go your own way to get work done more effectively, and if you get stuck how can I help you get unstuck? Alas, such kind of mindset is just not happening, at least, as often as it should, and that’s where the problems begin and why we go back to that state of control of both people and the situation.
I couldn’t have agreed more with you that helping people learn to let go, to trust others to do the right thing needs to start happening at a very early age, i.e. in schools, in most cases because by nature kids already have that ability to trust their peers or to sort out potential mutual issues on their own and it’s only when we grow up we seem to have lost that ability to trust others and collaborate more effectively. Instead, we seem to keep thinking control is going to save us. No, it’s not. It’s just taking us to where we are, i.e. not utilising to the highest potential of every single person in the room. Somehow, it reminds me of this other quote, perhaps far too representative of the current issues in both the workplace and schools: ‘If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.’
It’s rather tough for some people to learn they need to either embrace or leave the room …
Thanks a lot, once again, for the great comments! Greatly appreciated!
Well, Luis, I think we should write a book.
I will now just pick up a few points to comment on, otherwise the rest of this week will be lost.
Content or connection? Alas in my case, and I suppose I am a minority here, it does not work like you describe it. I do admit, I do not use my iPhone 4 (yep, that old) to be aware what everybody else is doing. I do not use it to strengthen my connection to my tribe. Actually, you have way more chance to get me on the phone by land line, than by my mobile number. Sorry about that. I constantly forget where I put the darn thing. I do not take it everywhere as by far most of my friends do. I do not have the urge to check my mails or messages every five minutes (and as you might know, I do not check if I am still alive with it). If I am with friends or family or even somebody I do not know, I deliberately leave it at home or in my car, because the person I meet, will have my whole attention. And since I do not require constant entertainment by YouTube, because I use my brain to do that for me, I am pretty happy without it. What do I use it for then? Get messages that have content that helps me to master my current situation. My kids have sent me smilies and stuff when they got their first iPods, but realised pretty fast, that this does annoy me and leave me alone now. No selfies either.
I do not fit the mould, I know, but such is life.
Regarding Industry 4.0: I do like to admit it, that it is coming. I have no problem with that, I even embrace the change, because I see quite a bit of good in it. My point is a different one, I don’t believe in the horrific scenarios that are popping up. We have the same situation every ten years or so. Every time millions of people are soon living under bridges, but a few years later it just did not happen. There a few of our weakest in society, that are left behind, but it is our responsibility as a pretty rich society, to take care of them.
Let’s look at just one example in manufacturing, that is right now a hype and everybody is dreaming about the possibilities: 3D printing. This started in the 80’s of the last century. Thirty years in the doing and it is still considered a pioneering technology. There are several technical reasons for it, but there is one that makes 3D printing a niche technology, that is the small advantage in economics of scale. If you look at conventional casting, things are easy. Once you got a mould, you can cast hundreds of pieces and each one of them is quite a bit cheaper than the last one (it flattens out though). Not so in 3D printing. Every single piece is a prototype. That’s why 3D printing used so often in rapid prototyping. Other manufacturing processes that do not require the unique features of 3D printing are just so much cheaper. There are applications where 3D printing has huge advantages over traditional manufacturing, but it is still a lot cheaper to mill a iPhone case than printing it. Sometimes even for a prototype. There are a lot of examples for hyped technologies that do not make it of the ground and were considered “disrupting” (a new word for bullshit bingo) in the press. Another example would be Graphen. Cool stuff, but very, very difficult to produce. We are nowhere towards mass production and its probable existence was published more than 60 years ago.
On the other hand, every day people all over the world make small advancements. Step by step we build our future (I am inclined to call them the real quantum leaps, the, as you know, smallest possible step a particle can take).
Trust or control? The more and more I think about it (while not watching my iPhone), the more I am convinced, that the question is wrong. I believe it does not work like that in real life.
Let me explain it, by my favourite subject, aviation, which somehow again fits the bill perfectly.
In this world, we have a whole lot of control, but at the same time a whole lot of trust either.
When I show up at the airport for a flight, I see my ship standing on the ramp, fuelled and ready to go. I trust the engineer (mechanic where I live), that he made the daily checks and corrected any snags that could influence the safety of the flight I am soon to begin. I trust him, that he made the appropriate log book entries, who are required by regulations and he is trusted by me, the administrator and his employer, that he actually did, what he certified. The mechanic trusts me, that I will handle this flight in a manner, that will not bring harm to his precious ship or anybody on board, sometimes the mechanic himself (despite common believe, pilots do not own their toys. Mechanics do. As a pilot one sometimes just gets the permission to touch it, but not in a inappropriate manner). He and my boss also trust me, that I learned and got certified in a way, that makes me capable of doing a job and bring the ship back without even a scratch. They trust me, that I prepared everything important to the flight by the rules and that I am healthy and sane enough to not bring any unnecessary danger to persons or property. Otherwise they will hate me in a passion, you can only dream of (which is true. In aviation we tend to really despise pilots or mechanics who f**** up). And that is not only because they now have a whole bunch of paperwork to do, but I also did not live up to their trust. In this small world, the pilots are those who make by far the most mistakes. Which means we can not be entirely trusted. On the other hand, employer, administrator and passengers must trust us with their lives, because we are the ones who finally get the job done (well, at least until we are replaced by drones. The mechanics will still have work, though). And if things go awry, I am trusted to know, how to get out of this situation, or even better, have a way to not getting into trouble in the first place. This trust is vital, because I am alone at this best seat of the theatre and normally the first at the accident site. Nobody can quickly jump in to save the bacon. Therefore I must be highly trustworthy and at the same controlled to a very high degree.
Having spilled the beans (oh, beans and turbine engines, another fascinating story) I am getting more convinced, that the whole story is about the degree of trust and control.
We all know control freaks. They drive everybody crazy and are probably the source of this kind of debate. The thing with control freaks is, that they make up the rules as they seam fit and on the fly, without telling anybody. It is highly frustrating to hear, how something should have been done, after you did it. By the way, it is highly unfair, too.
You can trust somebody to get the job done, if everybody knows the rules, and also have a common understanding what they mean. We can not blame somebody for doing stuff differently, than we would have done it, if she (or he) did not know the rules.
If everybody sticks to the rules, we only need a minimum of control, if at all. We all cherish control, if the rules are somewhat ambiguous (which may even be intentional). Everybody in a normal state of mind would ask anybody who knows something more about it, if they have interpreted the rule correctly (they might call it “seeking advise” elsewhere, but it is some sort of control, maybe self control).
The more we gain expertise, the more we will be let of the hook of control. This means we gain trust. We actually build careers on this. An expert in any field has more trust, because we should never forget, one GAINS trust. You can not buy it nor order it. It is gained from your colleagues as a gift. And the trust we are given, can be taken away from us and this is the sort of control we have to accept. This might not be an institutionalised set of rules we ignored, but just because we did not live up to the expectations of our friends or colleagues. The later is as much a control as is a set of rules.
We do get the occasional rotten egg in the basket. The new demigod manager, who does not have a clue about the industry he enters but still insists on his way. The young hot shot engineer fresh from the university, who knows less than most of the mechanics have already forgotten. The lawyer with too much money. The doctor with too much ego. The PhD who still lives in the last century. And all of them make the mistake to not listen and ignoring the existing rules. They do not gain our trust, but in the worst case our fear. They are toxic and they make the headlines of all those papers about toxic workplaces and disengaged people. But I truly believe, this is not the majority. It may still be a much too high percentage, though. Partly due to the fact, that university trained economists (I am one, I know what I am talking about) are a “self-content” pack. Organisations where this kind of leader can thrive, are definitely not based on trust, but on fear. There is no wonder, people working under this kind of leadership are disengaged.
On the other hand, we have a lot of organisations, where everybody trusts everybody. I believe, that my fathers company worked exactly like that, without being a wired organizations, it was even a patriarchal organisation, but build entirely on trust. Some employees were his life long friends and one couple even were my surrogate grand parents. Therefore I believe, that the trust factor is completely independent of the form of organisation.
I can not imagine a way how trust builds, wouldn’t it be framed by a set of rules, which not only serves as the frame-set for control, but also to judge anybodies achievement. This is also true to wired organisations. They do also live by rules and they are as much written in stone and controlled as any other organisation. The control might be more subtle, more based on trust, but real. The difference might be, that the wired organisation is based on trust and any demigod entering, will either leave very soon, or change it’s attitude. It does not give fear a chance.
To sum it up, I view is, that the wired organisation has a clear advantage over the toxic hierarchical organisation, which will function good enough to survive, but not thrive, due to the “I do not care” attitude of its employees. On the other hand, I do not see a big advantage of the wired organisation compared to traditional organisations, where trust is pervasive, regardless of the position in the organisation. One might argue that the informal organisation in both cases are quite similar, and this is probably true, but the formal organisation isn’t nullified by this. But regardless which form organisation one chooses, trust is gained with time and achievements and a set of rules is vital to any organisation which automatically brings some form of control, formal or informal.
The key to a non toxic environment and trust is politeness, good manners and the ability to say:”You are right and I am wrong!”
Hi Christian, thanks a lot for following up and it certainly looks like we are on that path towards putting together the book with multiple different chapters! Fun stuff!
RE: […] I do not fit the mould, I know, but such is life., good on you, Christian! You are probably one of the rare exceptions that has definitely mastered JOMO vs. FOMO (Joy Of Missing Out vs. Fear Of Missing Out). I suspect we may well be in the minority, because I pretty much behave in the same way when I make use of my mobile phone or when using some of these media tools. What I think is rather interesting is that there will be a time where we may not longer be the rare exceptions, but folks who everyone else might aspire to be, because it confirms the ability to switch off when we can and want to, something that’s increasingly becoming more difficult for most people, understandably. I still think though it’s connection, as opposed to content, except that in our case our connection happens in the real world, offline, in the moment, with those around us in the physical world, giving them our full attention as they deserve it, but, still it’s connection, not content. For us, the mobile phone is no longer the intermediary. The physical connections would overrule such intermediary. There will be a day where that would apply to most people as well as they start shaking off FOMO to transition into JOMO.
RE: ’On the other hand, every day people all over the world make small advancements. Step by step we build our future ’, And rightly so! That’s what matters the most, that we keep moving further along with those small, but significant advancements. Like I think I have said above already, we are all in this for the long run, not just for one or two decades, which is why 3D is taking so many decades to get it right from one iteration to the next and the next and so on and so forth. Look into email itself, as well, as an example. It was first put together in 1971, that’s over 45 years ago and here we are still having email as the de facto communication and collaboration tool within the workplace despite its many flaws. Then people tell me why it’s taken so long for ESNs to try to eat a chunk of the email kingdom and I keep telling people it takes a while to debunk a technology that’s been with us for nearly 50 years! But change, as you well know, is inevitable. It will happen no matter what. It happens no matter what, actually. Only thing we can do is delay it. And the longer we delay the more pernicious it may well be, as we have seen with the case of email, for instance, specially, in terms of the original theme from this blog post: control. Email is pretty good at helping people control others vs. freeing them or enabling them to become more open, collaborative and trustworthy. And I suspect it’s going to take us a few more years before we are finally rid of it, but, again, I am certain it will happen eventually. Just a matter of time, patience and perseverance.
RE: ’Let me explain it, by my favourite subject, aviation, which somehow again fits the bill perfectly. […] the whole story is about the degree of trust and control.’, this is just PERFECT, indeed, Christian, because aviation is, indeed, quite a special industry with a unique setting that, if anything, would confirm we are both on the same boat, after all, and we may just need plenty more of that. What I mean with this is the need for organisations to have crews, like the aviation industry does. The more other industries, organisations and businesses would embrace the idea of organising themselves as crews I can tell you the world would be a much much better place!
And not only for the wonderful description you have shared above about how crews really operate, but more because of what crews would entitle altogether. My good friend, Dave Snowden, Knowledge Management & Complexity Theory guru (literally), wrote about crews as follows:
’One of the radical alternatives I and others are working on here is the concept of crews as a way of ritualizing, and formalizing cross silo activity.
A crew works because its members take up roles for which they are trained, and where their expectations of the other roles in the crew is also trained and to a large extent ritualised. This means that people can assemble into a crew without the common forming, norming, storming & performing cycle.
A crew has cognitive capacity beyond the sum of its members, members occupy their roles for limited time periods, with people swapping between roles to allow for continuity. In addition crews can delegate power in context outside of the normal hierarchies.’
Like I said, the business world needs plenty more crews to be able to operate not only more efficiently, but ever so much more effectively! So, as you can see we already have got a number of different examples of how things could be improved, and for the better, with this alternative way of organising. It’s just a matter of scale, that is, have many more millions of them operating in that way. Something tells me the world would be a much better place altogether 😀🤘🏻🤘🏻
’The more we gain expertise, the more we will be let of the hook of control. This means we gain trust’, exactly! And what I meant with the original blog post in terms of helping people understand how to make the most of this new dynamic of using social networks and social networking tools as the new operating model without putting in any additional constraints to try to control the environment. In this case, through the (ab)use of analytics, which looks like it’s the way we seem to be heading in terms of the growing obsession with trying to measure everything that happens inside these social software tools instead of finding correlations to business impact metrics, which is what we should be caring about in the first place. Why I wanted to blog about the fact of how we seem to want to focus on the low hanging fruit of controlling the use of these social tools, and therefore of people, vs. trying to find ways that would help organisations work more effectively with new ways of working with their customers and business partners. The quote I referenced above is just spot on in this regard! Thanks a lot for sharing it along!
RE: Rules, you know what? I keep saying that in order to change the nature of work and find and discover new ways of working with the emergence of these social networking tools we should probably also change the narrative we have been using over the course of the last 150 years as I suspect we would all be much much better of as a result of it. This is why I no longer use the narrative of rules and having them in place, but of guidelines or guiding principles where there is plenty more room for flexibility to hold those guidelines as we move further along, mostly, by the specific contexts we work in. I think there is a lot more to learn from the narrative of guidelines than from the one around rules. As a starting point, I’d question that rules are usually imposed by a few, whereas guidelines are proposed by a few, but can be influenced by everyone else based on how people adapt to new ways of working and so forth. So I’d agree with you in terms of the role you envision for rules, but instead of rules I’ll call them guidelines, if I may. 😀
RE: ’I do not see a big advantage of the wired organisation compared to traditional organisations,’, I don’t see much of a difference either, in fact, I would venture to state that wired organisations are pretty much like traditional organisations, but without the toxic hierarchies and with the right degree of trustworthy leadership to get the work done more effectively as you kindly shared with us over here with your father’s business. In fact, this is what I, too, find the most ironic of this social business transformation journey, that it is the extensive use of these social technologies to help us build on our social capital skills, as well as our trust in others that’s helping us dehumanise the workplace to what it used to be at one point in time before toxic management took over, caring more about the profit and pleasing of shareholders than the well being of both the employees AND their customers. It’s through these digital tools we are unlearning and relearning what we once were good at to remind us it’s still very much possible to run a meaningful, purposeful business where networks and communities blend with the traditional hierarchy to re-engage the workforce and eventually delight our clients, just like you do when you land the plane safely and people leave the plane with a smile or two. That’s what we need to get back! For every single business out there!
Again, Christian, thanks ever so much for the wonderful conversations. It may well not end up in a book, or it may, but they have been fascinating and I have enjoyed them all very much! I appreciate a great deal as well you taking this extensive amount of time to share your thoughts and insights so generously! Many many thanks for that, too! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
Well, I think we should leave it at that. While I we have similar views on the subject, there are a few points we do not agree. In your last post, I have another view regarding crews and rules vs. guidelines. Still, I learned quite a few things during this conversation, but a reader might get bored to death.
I might pick up the subject on my blog one day, but I am not sure about that.
Hi Christian, thanks a lot, once more, for dropping by and for sharing those insights. I don’t think we are disagreeing much in terms of where we see organisations moving further along in this so-called Social Business and Digital Transformation journey, but it’s the different nuances that I have enjoyed the most. In fact, in my 14 years of blogging, I think this would be pretty much within the Top 3 blog posts I have put together where the conversation has been more interesting and enlightening than the original entry itself, and I thank you for that, Christian! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
I will be looking forward to reading further along on those thoughts about crews, rules & guidelines, whenever it comes up again. Remember, this is a blog post, so there is no pressure on timelines or feeds or audiences and what not. It’s just a conversation and, as such, it comes and goes. I have had numerous occasions where a blog post or two I shared across 5 or 10 years ago has come back with new insights and additional commentary, so, like I said, whenever you feel you would want to keep on adding into the conversation I shall be looking forward to it.
Again, thanks ever so much for the wonderful dialogue and if you pick up the subject in your own blog, let me know as I will be very keen on reading further along. This is a topic that fascinates me big time, so quite happy to keep up with the conversation as we may see fit.
Have a great one and thanks again for the stupendous conversations. Much much enjoyed altogether! 😀👍🏻