Thursday, December 10, 2009

When realtime is not enough - recap on Leweb09

As Billy Flynn says in the musical Chicago, "it's all show business". And I did enjoy listening to keynote speakers deliver their messages, watching some cool new ventures like Stribe or Tigerlily
and having the feeling to belong to one great family. I got a number of insights and the general impression that, whatever Gary Vaynerchuk says about not caring about money, it was all business.

As I gather some thoughts from these two days, I wonder whether realtime is related to content shrinking. It's an idea from Sean Percival: as mobile devices become the first access to the web, content is adapted in size and content consumption time is going down. I would add that status-oriented applications like Twitter or Plancast are also making content shrink. But then, Sean says, some day we will have fat birds instead of tweets, or, as I understand it, dense tweets, that will convey more information. Twitter and other status-oriented services remain basically information/relation transport facilities. Content is indeed shrinking, but mostly in the mobile world.

Considering it from an individual point of view (I do not like the word user), some people like to pass information through, some others like to indulge into some deep thinking. Mobile is fine for passing or obtaining situation-related information. But fixed platforms with huge screes still have a use for deep thinking. Even for passing information. Everyone was connected to his laptop, at LeWeb, probably because there were other things to do than just twitting. Realtime is not enough, not yet.

The second idea I find interesting is Facebook Connect being the social glue of the internet: the service that allows you to bring your social information with you wherever you move. The idea of the glue is interesting, and I find it very similar to what some services do with your credit card numbers, for instance. If Facebook is the social glue, I would say that companies need to make their own glue, and become the insurance glue or the banking glue of the internet. Just as your social data on Facebook follows you everywhere, so should the other, less fancy but probably at least as useful data about your insurance policy, banking accounts, social security status and so on. It's a good approach to your personal identity on the web.

The lasting impression I get, though, is that business is maturing quickly. Applications, for instance, are a grown-up business: 300 have more than a million users on Facebook. But applications are not for developers, they are for well equiped companies, that can deliver them for free and make money out of the business these applications link you to. Applications are like websites, and you do not make money through a website, you make money by delivering a customer experience.

In this maturing business environment, some strategy seems to be needed. I liked the argument between Brian Solis and Matthias Luefkens about ROI. While Matthias argued that you can only try to understand "Return on Involvement", Brian stressed how, today, you need to understand the inverstments your are making in this realtime web.

Jeremy Owyang was the one that really got my attention. This post's title is taken from his presentation (When Real-time Web is not Fast Enough). You need to look at his slides about the web moving from Asynchronous to Realtime (today) to Intention (what I plan to do). And understand about corporations, today, not being able even to keep up with the Asynchronous web. That is why he recomends to personalize social technologies, engage an army of unpaid volunteers and build information systems. A really interesting approach.

I would humbly add a "human factor" slide to each of the three steps in the strategy Owyang proposes:
  • Personalizing social technologies, and basically socializing your whole customer experience is the way to go. It's important to remember, though, that there are real people behind the social technologies that a corporation can implement. And as I see social personnalization as rather straightforward, I think motivating and training people to the uses and behaviours that are needed in this realtime web is the key issue;
  • Engaging an army of unpaid volunteers is the second step. In other words, you want your clients to work for you, in exchange of reputation, fun or a particular experience. The best way to get there, obviously, is by having been as lucky as Apple, that has developed a strong customer community throughout the company's life. Other than that, what we are really saying is that we want our employees to work with customers, because advocacy programs will not work for every business. If employees work with our customers to, say, design a compelling experience, they will be building a real community, that could transform into an army of advocates. Advocacy programs may work for large companies, but for smaller ones, I have the feeling it will be employee generated customer communities;
  • Last and certainly not least, the systems. Nothing to say here, I basically agree that you need to integrate your social media data with the CRM data. There is one system, though, that you need to change before the three steps do work, and that one is management system.
Social web fuels real-time web is one of the last quotes from Jeremiah. I go back to Gary's presentation, when he says it's all about relations, about people. I agree with that, and say that for most companies the challenge lies in changing mindsets. Only, this time, it's not about driving change management programs through the ranks of your company. In the social web, you do not meet company employees, you meet real people.

Realtime is not enough. Corporations need to worry about engaging their real people.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Beyond "enterprise 2.0": age of the builders

I finished my former post worrying about the corporation as a bot ... Was I ahead of mysef ? As Google Wave keeps me thinking about changes to come, and this time not in society, but within the corporation, I contend that change will outpace most corporations that do not put collaboration platforms at the center of their strategy. Because, in so doing, corporations might be evolving into something different from what we are used to.

Those that do will be entering the age of the builders, and for them profit must become a second priority.

Changing ways of working : entering the "I have to automate it" era

And what is Google Wave if not the first premium-priced corporate collaboration platform available ?

It’s easy to assume that the impact of collaboration platforms like Google Wave will first be felt in our ways of working, that these platforms will replace email. That will be good, because, in corporations, mail is a poor IM tool, but a huge collaboration platform (think about MS Outlook). Bankers and consultants have been using email like IM for years and this has now become a general trend. In our mails, we add files and links, and sometimes invite people to collaborate with us using versioning applications. But, as everyone knows, that is not what it was intended for in the first place.

This first change then, could be welcomed. We would go from fighting misplaced usage of email to adopting a convenient tool for a company gone realtime. I am not saying this will be adopted easily, but it should not be very difficult.

When a platform like Google Wave is adopted, the difficult thing will be to adapt to bots, to make them more friendly, and then to develop new ones, adapted to real needs. At that point, people are going to start discovering that many of the tasks or activities they do could be better delt with through a bot. If the corporation is clever enough to have a pool of wave developpers at hand, anyone could feel like a software product manager ...

As a matter of fact, we already have bots all around us, we just did not know they were bots until someone (Google) called them by their names. But those old bots were cumbersome and difficult to develop and maintain. In the new corporate platform, bots will be created all over. Because, the objective of the platforms is to give everyone the skills (and the programming power) to build bots. We thought platforms were just for developers ... for them to make cool apps for most social networking sites ... wait until corporations widely understand what's at stake if you want to see real change !

This evolution will probably take some more time. We will be changing our current ways of working and also our understanding of what work is. We will be slowly entering a new era, the «I have to automate it era».

In this «I have to automate it era», we’ll go from solving problems to designing systems that solve problems. And, thinking about it, that is just what every successful entrepreuneur does. Designing a system (business model) to solve a problem or meet a demand. Absolutly. Create the right platform, and you’ll have a perfectly automated corporation. A corporation where entrepreuneurship is the dominant culture.

It seems to me that English (or Chinese) are going to be replaced as the must know language. Tomorrow, we need to learn to talk to the machine. Technology skills will be basic skills for the future blue-collar or white-collar worker.

Workers : from users, to contributors, to builders.

Let’s now deepen into what happens to these blue and white collar workers, as it is them that will suffer the changes in their ways of working.

If we go back in time some years (say, 1970) everybody was a user. People had to learn how to use machines, and then typing machines, and then Wang, and then a word-processor, and then Microsoft Office, and then ... Microsoft Office again, and again once more ... and so on.

That, of course, is still going on.

But slowly, in some enterprises, Enterprise 2.0 is gaining speed. In these workplaces, people are still users, but they need to get ready to continuously master new usages. Not learn them once or twice. Continuously change usages. If they succeed, the next challenge is to become contributors. In a world where reputation is a pillar for influence and where influence is a key professional asset, being a contributor to the collective knowledge of the corporation is key to professional development. Blogs, microblogs, internal wikipedias, folksonomies, we have all kind of systems to contribute through.

Mastering the usages, though, and the systems, is not enough. As the number of contributors grow, corporations are going to find ways to identify and select the best contributions - actually, HR systems have always done that (or tried). They will now look for different contributors, and selection will probably be collective, not individual, but it should keep happening anyway.

Now let’s think forward. Project some years ahead. When these corporate collaboration platforms are widely spread, we are going to become builders. We will be users and contributors but we will need to become builders of the future corporation: identify a problem; find a solution; build a bot. That’s it, builders of the intelligent corporation.

Of the deep mind.

This "I have to automate it" era is going to last for some years ...

And eventually, having entrepreuneurs increasingly quickly solve most issues that arise will push us to the new era. Because, once there are bots all over, we’ll be in the «what do I do next era». Not convinced ? Look at this short video from SalesForce. I love the part when the bot decides whether or not to call a human assistant ... And more seriously, we already are experiencing this: how about this assumption, "people loose their jobs quicker than before because what they have to bring takes less and less time to produce value". Projects are done quicker; corporations are built quicker; success is almost built over night. Have you checked lately how old Google is ? Right.

Training is the answer today to people obsolescence. Not enough. Because not everyone can be trained at the same pace, and training is still an industrial process, based on a mechanical view of the corporation. Adoption of collaboration platforms should also lead towards changing our mindset as organisation and value are concerned.

Organization and value : making profit a second priority.

Let’s consider the user - contributor - builder evolution. Of course, at any given moment in time, there are users, contributors or builders in any corporation. What is interesting is how the majority shifts from one category to the other. And how this impacts how value is created.

Users build value by executing tasks and activities through systems that are conceived in advance. Value produced by users can be easily evaluated, as it is expected by the system. The best example is the assembly line.

Today, most corporations have become automated. Anything that could be conceived in advanced and automated has been automated : and these machines include assembly lines, obviously, but also the ERPs, CRMs, BIs, and most other business softwares. Office work has had its MS Office automation too ...

The issue with this approach is that conceiving in advance is less and less efficient. The economy has gained speed. The systems do not deliver the value they should for very long. Not do the users ...

Contributors build value differently. They are helping the corporation built another key system : if we assume the IT network was built for users, now we needed the knowledge network for contributors. And, of course, not a Knowledge Management network. Who ever said knowledge had to be managed ? Anyway, once they can collaborate and use the existing knowledge network (think of an internal, business focused web 2.0 environment), they can start reacting to fast appearing issues. Something common these days ...

Just an observation. Contributors trust each other. They feel responsible for what they do. And dollar compensation is just one of the rewards they expect. Far from a user perspective, don’t you think ?

Value built by contributors is more difficult to evaluate, as it is not assumed in advance. You can always price a car and from that derive worker compensation. But now, how do you do that when you are selling, say, service, that comes from the collective contribution of a 1000 people firm ? Are you compensating based on position ? Not so easy, when positions are all but dissapearing in the new, knowledge network based corporation.

What about builders ? We have builders all over in our corporations : leaders, researchers, managers, ... But they are still in the minority side of the company. That’s why there is a chasm today (at least in France) between people above and people below a very difficult to define line.

When collaboration platforms are adopted, more and more people will be considered as builders, because building will be expeced of them. By building bots, corporations will be automating knowledge activities and problem solving. Many of the «tasks» that people do in a knowledge-network based corporation might disappear.

Consider what happens when the majority changes. When users become a minority in the corporation, and afterwards, when contributors become a minority ...

Users are left with a difficult choice : become a contributor or go be a user to any other, lesser, corporation; similarly, contributors are left with the choice to become builders or go contribute some-place else. Even builders, once they have put all they had in a bot, will have to learn to build bots for something different or go build solutions to other, lesser corporations.

Productivity gains are here to stay, it seems. It might be that being an entrepreneur will become a real option for more and more people ...

For corporations, value then (at least, financial value), will come from productivity. When everyone is a bot (I mean, when every problem or issue is solved by a bot), more value is produced with less people. How many workers does Facebook have ? Or an investment bank ? There are already companies, I believe, were builders are the majority ...

Or maybe not most value will come from productivity ... maybe, as some companies already do, people development will become the central process of the corporation. Because, in this age of the builders, if every copany concentrates on productivity and does not invest in people development (meaning long term human capital investment), what happens to global demand ? Is it not based on worker compensation, somehow ?

With all the changes we are living through, there is one thing that has not changed : leadership. It is high time it did. In the time of the builders, they will need to become builders themselves. Forget about delivering quarterly earnings to shareholders and begin concentrating on what the corporation is becoming. Think about value, about values, about the social impact of the corporation.

Corporations are not bots. They are machines from hell. Whatever is expected of them, they do. Today, leaders expect quaterly earnings from corporations, at whatever cost. It will be good to challenge this short term vision.

At this point, one thing is clear to me: leaders are needed to define what the corporation needs to become. Otherwise, the disparity in household income that we consider high today, will have just been the beginning of a sad story.

I started this two-post series thinking around Blade Runner. A sure thing: for corporations, waves will not be lost «like tears in rain».

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do Bots Dream of Electronic Corporations ?

I was watching Blade Runner when it struck me that, much like androids in that movie were dangerously close to humans, bots in Waves (Google Waves, that is) are, potentially, dangerously close to employees.

Think about it : why all the hype about Google Wave ? After all, it is just another platform, and the fact that platforms are the key component of any corporate strategy is already (widely) understood (this article, for instance). There is great technology in Google Wave, that, I agree with, but we are used to living with increasingly great technology.

No, the more I think about it the more I believe that calling bots its applications and giving them participant status in conversation is the killing idea. Thinking further, while it is a fact that Google people are masters at buzz marketing, there are, I believe, deeper reasons behind the hype: 
  • As a social platform, Google Wave is born at the crossroads of two major social evolutions, that have been dubbed «the end of the guttenberg parenthesis» and «the coming of the singularity»; analyzing bots helps better catch the meaning of these evolutions;
  • As a business platform, it pushes platform strategy into daylight, and provides the first «mass market» platform for corporate revolution.
I have argued before that the emerging virtual environement (web 2.0, web squared, ...) could be likened to the emergence of a global Quick Brain, in which thinking (or influence), for any given group of people, or for any given company, would rest on becoming a Deep Brain. Google Wave provides me with another opportunity to explore how companies are becoming deep brains, and also to point out the risks that come with using technology without changing our management principles. But I will deal with that in a future post. First, let’s look at our quick brain from a historical perspective.

After Guttenberg ...

Culture production in this new environment, in this Quick Brain, is becoming very different with what it used to be. Thomas Pettitt of the University of Southern Denmark (his document) has intelligently simplified the debates by stating that we are coming out of the Guttenberg Parenthesis, a long period in which culture production became individualistic because of the nature of printing press. In the web 2.0 environment, production is definitely more collective and dynamic : a blog, for instance, is not only interesting in itself, but also as part of the network built by incoming and outgoing links. As the blog evolves, so do the other blogs it is linked to. In this ecosystem, we are continuously adapting our own individual reading and learning processes.

Two or tree years ago, we used to build our paths in the blogosphere, identify our preferred bloggers and thinkers, and usually go back to them for reference. Unlike the ones presented in a book, the ideas that we found there kept evolving, because posts were updated, because its links were changed and mostly because other links had been created. Today, even our preferred thinkers and bloggers are not our only references as the realtime web accelerates connexions between ideas (see what Brian Solis has to say about contextual networks).

I would like to argue that, by providing a platform for collective thought, Google Wave goes one step further, which could prove to be a giant step.

In the first place, a wave is a dynamic conversation. I tell my clients that forum conversations are key learning objects that should be built carefully (from an individual point of view) as they will help others quickly catch up with the thought process of the conversation. To my mind, conversations are key building blocks of communities.

A wave brings another dimension to the conversation. It is at the same time horizontal and vertical. Horizontally, the conversation can linger for ages, as new people or ideas come in. Vertically, every step of the conversation can be deepened. This is something that could be done before in Q&A forums, for instance, but it somehow appears more natural in a wave.

If Twitter, for instance, is a tool for improving the Quick Brain and creating endless contextual networks, then I would say that Google Wave is a tool for building deep brains all around. It has the potential to exponentially increase the thinking power of the web. Other tools and applications had a similar potential maybe (think about social networks), but none of them gave participants to the tool the same power that I think wave participants can have. Through bots.

Yes, secondly, and more important to my mind, a wave brings in bots. The bots in itself are interesting, but not a revolution : after all, we live in a world where more tasks are executed by automated machines (mecanical or virtual) than by humans. As I said before, the point with bots is that they are given participant status in the conversation. Here is where we go back to the androids of  Philip K. Dick.

Let’s push further : with basic programming skills, almost anyone can create a bot (an avatar) to add a permanent value to the conversation. That has mind-boggling implications: a person with a brillant idea that can be transformed into a bot could be participating in countless conversations. Well not him, his avatar. Or his bot. Or  is actually his bot really his bot ?

Google Wave strikes me because it provides a platform for building deep brains all over, and deep brains in which humans, some day, will not be needed to keep adding value and meaning to the wave (if bot development takes on, then new bots could go back to existing waves and keep adding value to the existing conversation).

And so it is that, in this post-Guttenberg era, we go back to a dynamic, continuously evolving culture. In this cultural environment, books still provide starting points for conversations but, for that matter, so can a blog post or a tweet. And, compared to the pre-Guttenberg era, we have reached a speed level in culture production that was not conceivable before. Why ? Because today, we are not only a human society, we are also a technological society.

... and before "the singularity"

Ollivier Dyens has argued (and brilliantly in my humble opinion) in his book La Nature Inhumaine, that we have reached such a step in our technological development when we need to look at society with new eyes. Biological reality is only a vision of reality. Our key principles (what it is to be alive, human, conscious) are based on that biological reality. It is time to question them.

If you read that book, you will be prompted to change your understanding of what technology is (what is built and transforms matter or perception). For Dyens, we live in a world that is more technological than biological, if you admit that everything we have built, starting with the language, is a technology.

Assuming Dyens position, you may actually wonder whether a book was not already a bot. A participant in any conversation. After all, what it is we are doing when we quote a book (or someone) if not bringing him/her/it in the conversation ?

It seems then, Google did not invent anything. Bots were always here. We used to call them books, or songs, or paintings, or ....  Just vehicles for smart ideas. And then, the Guttenberg Parenthesis was not really a parenthesis. Just the time it took us to admit books in the conversation ...

I have to admit it then. Google people are masters at buzz marketing. They just helped me understand the society we have been living in, and that we still look at through our old, romantic, pre-industrial revolution eyes. Just the same eyes many of us still use to look at our professional environment, at our good old organizations.

An, in my opinion, if there is a bot that we should worry about, it is precisely the corporation. I have little doubt that the best ones will take advantage of cheap, easy-to-install and easy-to-program platforms like Google Wave is. Why, if you think about it, why not replace maintenance-intensive FTE with easy-to-develop and maintenance-light bots ?

I’ll be writing about that in a future post.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dépasser le capital humain ?

Dernière journée de travail sur le capital humain, organisée par RH&M, qui a regroupé un ensemble de personnes passionnés par le sujet, comme Jean-Marie Descarpentries, Philippe Masson, Wilfrid Raffard, Catherine Kettner ou Sylvie Cresson, entre autres.

Très belle journée, à mon sens, qui m'a permis d'avancer sur le sujet, mais aussi de le remettre en cause.

Avancer sur le sujet, d'abord, parce qu'une journée de travail en commun nous a permis de trouver une approche et une définition du capital humain qui est plus riche que celle que je connaissais jusqu'à maintenant:

Le capital humain :

1 - Est la conjugaison des talents et comportements individuels et collectifs, organisés et développés par l’entreprise pour créer durablement de la valeur

2 - Est aussi une dimension majeure de l’actif et du passif aujourd’hui non entièrement comptabilisée

3 - Il résulte de:
  • L’épanouissement individuel et collectif
  • La performance du travail collectif
4 - Il impacte durablement
  • Les avantages compétitifs
  • La valeur actionnariale
5 - Son développement demande une remise en cause du rôle du DRH.

Remise en cause de cette approche du capital humain.

D'un point de vue très personnel, ce sont plutôt les réflexions d'un groupe sur "pourquoi mesurer le capital humain" qui m'ont le plus fortement marqué, et notamment la réflexion suivante : en mesurant le capital humain, ne sommes-nous pas en train de répondre à une contrainte externe (lisons: financière ou actionnariale) qui nous demande de ramener la dimension humaine de l'entreprise à des notions connues et qui s'intégrent bien dans la vison comptable de l'entreprise ?

Ce même groupe a souligné l'intérêt qu'il y a, dans cette approche du capital humain, à dépasser le cadre de gestion existant aujourd'hui. Je m'explique : si la mesure du capital humain est importante, ce n'est pas pour ramener la dimension humaine de l'entreprise dans les cadres actuels (organisation industrielle et gestion comptable), mais bien pour contribuer à poser les bases d'autres types d'organisations, et d'autres modes de valorisation de la production de l'entreprise.

C'est pourquoi, à mon avis, partagé par plusieurs des participants, ce débat autour du capital humain, qui ne fait que commencer, pose bien la question du rôle du DRH dans la direction de l'entreprise. Et cette question est posée non pas autour du type d'indicateur qui permettrait de "légitimer l'investissement dans le développement des collaborateurs d'un point de vue financier", mais bien autour de la notion même de la valeur produite pour l'entreprise, qui n'est certainement pas que financière et que la communauté des DRH, en s'emparant du sujet sur le capital humain, pourrait contribuer à remettre sur le devant de la scène.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Un capitalisme plus humain ?

J'ai eu la chance de participer hier à la première journée organisée par RH&M sur la mesure du capital humain. Mon impression personnelle: la remise en cause d'une certaine approche de l'entreprise par nombre des personnes présentes. Moments choisis:

L'approche de Philippe Masson sur les péchés capitaux du capitalisme, que je cite
  • L'Utopie de la sécurité au travailleurs contre le profit aux entrepreuneurs,
  • L'Illusion plus actuelle de l'engagement des collaborateurs comme prix de leur employabilité,
  • La Gourmandise coupable de quelques dirigeants, tombés dans un jeu d'égos
  • L'Opacité sur les stratégies et les raisons sinon sur les chiffres
  • La Frénésie qui mène à des performances sans lendemains
L'impossible mesure du capital humain dans l'entreprise, tant que ne sont pas remises en cause les structures de pouvoir existantes, comme le soulignait Jacques Richard, professeur à Dauphine.

La défense, de la part de Martine Clavel, d'APAX, de la responsabilisation des actionnaires sur la stratégie et la gestion RH, comme élément différenciateur et créateur de valeur.

Enfin, tout au long de la journée, les modèles alternatifs à une organisation classique, ceux qui défendent des principes ou des valeurs différents à la seule valeur aux actionnaires ont été égrainés d''une liste que j'espère voir grandir:
  • Mutualité,
  • Franchises,
  • Partnership,
  • Ecosystème de PME,
  • MulitSided Platforms,
  • Entreprises en réseau,
  • Capitalisme familial,
  • ...
Il est toujours remarquable que, dans une journée où l'on cherchait à mesurer le capital humain, nous ayons finalement aboutit à une remise en cause, réelle bien que modeste, du système capitaliste actuel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Séquestrer des dirigeants, ou l'absence de dialogue

Je ne rentrerai pas dans le débat de la justesse ou la légalité de ces faits qui se multiplient sous nos yeux. Je voudrais souligner le fait, plus grave, qu'ils traduisent : l'impossible dialogue, aujourd'hui, entre une logique financière et une vision plus humaine de l'entreprise.

Les faits, tels que je les comprends : depuis un an, se débloquent sous nos yeux les positions de risques extrêmes prises par des opérateurs sur les marchés financiers. Ces opérations ont porté un coup fatal aux intermédiaires financiers, responsables du financement, de la liquidité et du crédit de l'économie, donc des entreprises. Sauver ces intermédiaires est apparu aux dirigeants des principaux états comme indispensable. Cela a été fait et, au premier trimestre 2009, les grandes banques renouent avec le profit.

L'économie non financière s'adapte plus lentement aux bouleversements vécus par les marchés financiers. Devant l'absence de crédit ou liquidité, l'activité diminue; prévoyant la diminution, les entreprises se préparent, déstockent, suppriment les frais variables qui peuvent être supprimés, notamment les frais de personnel.

Pourquoi cela ? Je vais simplifier, mais je dirai qu'il y a deux grandes raisons:
  • Pour des TPE et PME, c'est leur survie qui est en jeu; aujourd'hui, alors que les attaques sur les "patrons" se multiplient en France, on entend les histoires de patrons de PME ou TPE qui ne se payent plus depuis le début de la crise;
  • Pour des grandes entreprises, notamment pour des entreprises cotées, il s'agit de continuer de satisfaire aux critères financiers qui sont devenu la pierre angulaire de leur gouvernance.
Alors, on peut dire que de grandes entreprises cotées qui licencient assimilent leurs salariés à des coûts variables et les licencient pour satisfaire à des critères financiers impersonnels. Je n'ai pas la malchance d'avoir été touché par ces PSE, mais je peux comprendre que l'on isole un dirigeant pour qu'il s'explique; pour qu'il mette un peu d'humain dans la relation entre des indicateurs financiers et des salariés qui en perdant leur job, perdent aussi une partie de leur statut social, de leurs relations, de leur histoire professionnelle, de leur amour-propre et de leur confiance en soi.

Nous ne sommes plus à une époque où les salariés peuvent être assimilés à des coûts variables. Les conséquences sur le tissu social français sont trop graves; les conséquences sur la confiance que les prochaines générations auront dans leurs entreprises et leurs dirigeants sont trop graves; les conséquences de cet état d'esprit sur la société française sont trop graves.

Lorsque la démocratie abdique à la porte de l'entreprise, il ne suffit plus de regarder la loi. A quels extrêmes sommes-nous arrivés pour que des salariés en soient réduits à séquestrer les dirigeants auxquels ils ont un jour fait confiance ?

Monday, April 6, 2009

If collaboration is bad for you, make it better

An interesting article by Morten T. Hansen underlines the need to carefully analyse whether to launch a collaboration project or not. While he underlines important aspects of successful collaboration, in my opinion, he does not delve long enough in how to build the perfect conditions for successful collaboration within an organization. And what collaboration, exactly ?

I am always pleased to see people taking the time to think about how to make collaboration successful and stressing how difficult this can be. The whole E2.0 movement sometimes seems to forget that collaboration in corporations did not start with the arrival of E2.0 technologies, and that companies have developed skills and capabilities for improved collaboration.

This is, to my mind, why the article by Hansen comes at the right moment. He gives precise examples on why collaboration could fail (overestimating financial results of collaboration, ignoring opportunity costs or underestimating collaboration costs), and therefore contributes to a necessary reassesement of collaboration projects.

Still, I found two aspects of his article that would deserve further research:
  • First, when analyzing the projected return of the collaboration project, Hansen seems to concentrate on the cash-flow it can generate;
  • Second, when analyzing collaboration costs, he does not seem to take into account the potential for improved collaboration due to E2.0 technologies.
E2.0 technologies, if conveniently deployed (meaning with strong change management support on new usage and skill development), should greatly diminish collaboration costs. This is something I have seen at most of my clients.

I find even more important to go further into the analysis of the projected return of collaboration, depending on the depth of the collaboration project. Obviously, making two different units or teams collaborate at a given point on a given project generates costs and the returns can only be in terms of cash generated.

But shouldn't Hansen go deeper in analyzing the projected returns of collaboration projects that actually change the DNA of the organization ? Because, in my opinion, when he points that "the collaboration imperative is a hallmark of today's business environment", it is not collaboration as usual.

The hallmark of today's business environment is the development of collaboration as an alternative to hierarchy for a precise number of business situations. We are not speaking about making BUs or teams learn to collaborate transversally (even though this is important). We are speaking about giving the organization a new organization dimension, based of people who are able to identify each other and organize to solve a business problem.

It is about governing and giving responsibility for transversal collaboration that does not need hierarchical micromanagement.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Deep Brain and the Quick Brain

Foundations for social network strategy in a connected world

I have spent the past two years leading internal collaboration-based change management programs. Slowly, the conversations are developing, pushing us to the next issue: how to leverage the internal conversations to find a right voice for the corporation in the social web ?

This is not an easy question, and it does not solely revolve around marketing or PR, because, beyond general conversations (that are not always very well considered), what is just begining to happen within the companies I help is new capability development. And I still do not see that happening in the wider social web, at least not to the same level, unless there is a well identified corporation behind (open innovation, for instance).

In the past few days, a post by Brian Solis (the Micro Disruption Theory and the Social Effect) and a tweet by Ross Dawson (using twitter to build the global brain) inspired me to finish organizing my thoughts.

I understand that a global brain is indeed under construction, that I will call the Quick Brain. To participate meaningfully and profitably in this quick brain, corporations must strive to become Deep Brains and then learn to master a new voice. In this world, strategy would revolve around Engaging, Deepening and Twitting (or socializing).

The Quick Brain

The sheer size of online links, searches and conversations has helped rise many voices that wonder whether we are still able to think by ourselves in this environment (see Is Google Making Us Stupid, by Nicholas Carr). My own thought has been that yes, by linking, conversing, searching, we at least loose some of the time we previously had for deep thinking.

And yet, I for one spend a huge amount of time in this new game, and I would say that the share of global attention being devoted to the web is growing fast. The new skills that I am developing (quick reading, tool switching, quick writing, fast thinking process switch, ...) are key to participating in the conversation. But what exactly am I doing, what am I accomplishing in this web ?

The description that Brian Solis makes of Contextual Networks was very helpful in making me understand that role. As I see it, when I participate in a conversation or just forward some information that was interesting or helpful (RT or liking), I am part of an ephemere contextual network, in which I am bound by topic and time to other people. This network is based on existing connexions (friends, contacts, links, followers, depending on the social platform), yet different from those connexions, and it serves a specific purpuse (forwarding a piece of information and increasing resonance).

It is possible therefore to say that the accelerating linking of people in the web is similar to the development of a new kind of infrastructure, let’s call it the human infrastructure. Its objective is to accelerate the transmission of information from one person to another, using existing links and search engines, but also those contextual networks defined by Brian Solis. The web has hypertext links for individual usage. The human infrastructure has contextual networks that it uses to, yes, think (in want of a better word to call this process).

I could then say that, when I tweet, blog, comment, RT or contribute, I am an individual component of this Quick Brain.

Why do I call this brain the Quick Brain ? Because it seems to me that its primary purpose is to accelerate the rythm of information/knowledge sharing, thus provoking insights, inspiration, learnings, ... in the members that are touched by that sharing. And it also seems to me that, in order to think deeply and organize my thoughts, I need to disconnect (or at least, partially disconnect). This brain goes fast, and it inspires or surprises or helps learn. It does more than sharing but does it think ?

To answer that question I would say that deep thinking rests with individuals and organized groups or communities. In that sense, it is clear that companies, much like individuals, are supposed to think. Or at least think deeper than the quick brain.

The Deep Brain.

I make a difference between corporations operating and corporations thinking. Corporations need to be good at operating their business models and also at advancing ideas and concepts, and later use them either to develop services (R&D) or to solve client problems. Increasingly, it’s their ability to continuously advance ideas and solve problems, and transform new ideas and solutions into lean operations, that makes a difference.

The knowledge economy is not a new concept and corporations are used to developing ideas and solutions. What is then different with the arrival in corporations of social computing, E2.0 or, as I like to call it, improved and people-centered collaboration (I have already said that we are entering a time of People-Centered Organizations)?

The main difference is the soft infrastructure that the companies are developing. Yesterday, and contrary to what happens in the Quick Brain, there was a Knowledge Infrastructure in most companies, but not yet a Human Infrastructure. Companies were (most still are) knowledge-centered. With the arrival of social networks and other social computing tools, the corporations have an opportunity to recenter themselves around people or talent.

I would say the Deep Brain is the new, people-centered, corporate working environment that leverages both the strengths of the organization and of the social networks. Like the Quick Brain, the Deep Brain has in speed a fundamental asset, and yet it strongly differs from the Quick Brain:
  • People (employees) have the ability to create their contextual networks depending on their interest or they can participate in existing contextual networks. Still, many of these contextual networks are long-lived (existing functions or departements), and they maintain strong ties with a number of employees; the attention spams are wider, and people concentrate on a limited number of topics because they have a result to reach;
  • The number of topics itself is limited, and most of them concentrate around the professional field of the organization;
  • People (employees) have developed strong common ways of working. Not only do they share a common knowledge, they are also able to work together very efficiently (today, this is what we call a corporate culture);
  • Most important, to my mind, employees do not engage in conversations or contextual networks only based on their personal interest or attention; they engage in these contextual networks based on their professional responsibility and interest.
When I started thinking about the difference between the Quick Brain and the Deep Brain, I was thinking that there would be a difference in tools: twitter would more useful in the quick brain and blog in the deep brain. Actually, I think now that the important thing is usage, that very often comes after tools. It is how people in a corporation use these tools in consistent ways that will make much of the efficiency of their deep collective thinking.

Engaging, deepening, connecting

How then to leverage your Deep Brain to make a difference in the social web ? That is what I plan to work on for the next months. But I would give a number of insights:
  • It is more important to engage your people than to train them;
  • Only based on a special kind of motivation is there a chance for collective deep thinking;
  • That ability for collective deep thinking will probably be a key skill, and it will be a part of your employees personal reputation, therefore making a strong impact on your corporate reputation.
Your people will be ready to connect, based on skill and reputation.

How do you think this distinction between deep brain and quick brain is helpful for a social network strategy design ?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Social media and governance

I have been reading several posts lately that adress the issue of governance of social media governance within corporations. Opinions range from designing guidelines to defining and deploying policies. To my mind, both are right and wrong, as governance is first dependant on a company’s culture and organization.

To be on the practical side, this is what I do when adressing social media and governance:
  • Linking with the existing governance structure of the corporation, rules, practices, culture and the new social culture (internal and external),
  • Not setting a document (a charter, for instance) but developing a «charter community» to manage the issue in the longer term,
  • Work on a beta mode, both on the contents and the form that will be given to the governance charter and charter community
  • Take time to work on principles (that should not evolve easily),
  • Take time to work on the «how to» dimension, that should evolve more often.
Progressing towards an increased level of collaboration (that I really prefer to the much publicized Enterprise 2.0) is about managing changes and evolutions. I think developing a real governance initiative is key only when:
  • The first pilots are over, before it is too much of a constraint and it is enough to define the few principles that will ensure consistency between pilots;
  • The scope is large enough. Without the proper scope, the need for governance is less obvious at executive level.
Once governance of the social media environment has been designed, once it is operational, it is time to manage relations with key issues: HR driven regulations, communication policies and management practices. How we manage these relations will make all the difference between implementing a social media or transforming the corporation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My connected life changed with Twitter

I am just about to start working on a presentation I will be giving at Netexplorateur next Thursday and as I sit and gather some papers, some thoughts and some coffee, I look at Firefox opening ...

Gmail, Google Calendar, Linkedin, Facebook, Friendfeed open slowly and I also launch Twhirl. I can tell you I am rather tired at this time of the evening and feeling rather slow intellectually.

Then I notice an RT (retweet) from Bertrand Duperrin, speaking about how Michael Arrington was spat on the face earlier today. I read his post, which impacts me strongly.

And I start thinking about how Twitter and my small but growing Twitter world has impacted me since I became an active member about a month ago. I actually, right now, two minutes after my MacBook opened, feel much better, energized by all those guys I see working and reflecting on the same subjects I work on, or just twitting some news about their life, their friends or the latest news from their reader (right now, Andrew McAfee wondering whether executives should know about the cloud, and I'm answering yes, obviously).

The subject I am trying to organize my ideas about is "Management, mobile Technologies, stress and autonomy". Just thinking about Twitter, writing this post, I get at least one insight: To feel autonomous, not only do I need to learn about tools and usages, but more importantly I need to be a member of the correct community through the correct media. And I need to be able to change tools and communities if I change subjects. This is all about increasing intellectual and social mobility for all of us, empowered by mobile and social technologies, and seamless access to the cloud. Managing this is something corporations have not learned to do.

For me, Twitter is the place where I go when I am working or thinking by myself. Yes, not so much by myself, now. I am just beginning to understand it, I think this little tool has changed the way I work.

By the way, for those interested in Twitter, don't miss the great series from FastForward blog.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Web2.0 and profits ?

I was just pointed out this article by the Web 2.0 LinkedIn Community. It basically says that social media ventures will make no money, and be bought by other new start-ups which are trying to increase the utility of the web (location based servides and payment systems), that they dub web 3.0

The comparison with the glorious era of railways development has often been made, and yet it is useful to say it again: social media is basically a new kind of infrastructure that shortens distances and time between people (just as the railways did).

In the end, there will only be a handfull of social media companies around and they will regroup most social media vehicles (blogging, microblogging, video, presentations, podcasts, virtual, ...).

We are learning to "travel" in these new infrastructure and maybe some of the frenzy about blogging or microblogging can be compared to what happened to former generations when they discovered railways, cars or the telephone. I am happy to be part of the frenzy and more than thankful to Facebook and its likes.

I do not agree that money will not be made. But even more importantly, a huge value is just being created, a value that might be difficult to evaluate from only a short-time financial point of view. Strange that Fortune should appear to be this shortsighted.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Collaboration, business and democracy

I am working on a couple of "what's next" projects about corporate networks and communities, and this post by Jon Husband (The New Management - Bringing Democracy and Markets Inside the Organization), really struck me as very accurate.

One of the key milestones for widely and successfully deploying collaboration in an organization is the process for choosing a new governance charter. Basically, in my experience, after some pilot communities and networks have helped identify why and how a specific organization should deploy a collaborative way (to innovate further; to increase individual productivity; to bring its internal culture to the level of its employer brand; and so on), people start thinking about some key issues like:
- what name should we choose for this initiative,
- what rules should we have to organize our collaboration,
- how should HR processes change to take into account this new dimension ?

Bringing an answer to those questions is one of the key milestones to bring collaboration within the corporate culture. And, more than the answers themselves, it is how the organization choses to bring an answer to those issues (how it learns to think, design and decide collectively) that matters.

Why did Jon Husband post stricke me ? Well, I think we are at a time when the rules and governing principles of corporations are going to be built by the employees. That is, to my mind, somehow a move that "increases the democratic level" of the corporation.

Most governing principles used to come from power or from history: corporations internal organization codes and rules are mostly based on hierarchical decisions or on culture (the way we do things around here).

What I see now is quite different. Collaboration projects, and even more so if E2.0 tools are chosen and deployed wisely, can result in new rules and charters that have been collaboratively built and adopted. This is new and can be very powerful.

This is hapening. But we should not be too idealistic. I do not think this is about how the corporation will become a democracy (at least, not yet). I think it is about how the responsibility for the organization projects, performance and social role is more widely distributed and accepted than before.

By asking to build the rules, the employees are asking for more responsibility, and by launching these collaborative projects the organization is getting ready to share it. I could not say what will be the outcome of this. What I can say is that most corporations structure and processes will have to change deeply to benefit from this trend (see Martin's last post on Cisco for an example of change).