We’ve known for some time that there are better organizational structures out there. That collaboration and knowledge management systems when executed properly can bring about both efficiencies and innovation (a rare combination). That the motivators of the new workforce (Millennials specifically) have changed. That the pace of change has steadily increased and is only getting faster.
People roll their eyes at those proclaiming how businesses need to ‘act now or be left behind’ because as they rightfully state “these individual factors are nothing new”. And while that may be true enough, what they are missing is that we’ve arrived at a critical juncture where these factors (and more) are being pushed from a point of ‘luxury’ to ‘necessity’.
A perfect storm is taking place where economic, societal, and technological factors will no longer abide a business which decides to ‘wait this one out’. The scales have tipped to the point that the effort and risk of large scale change no longer outweigh the benefits. Enter Social Business.
Evolution Ignores No One
We have successfully operated our businesses in a model based upon the hoarding of intellectual property. A model that says “Find a way to do something better, or know something the other guy doesn’t know and then build a fortress around it using either the law (patents, lawsuits, etc.) or secrecy”. We then leverage and monetize that advantage for as long as we can. Regardless of your point of view, this has been an incredibly successful model for well over a century. The problem is that, as the pace of change accelerates, the amount of time available to monetize a business based on this model decreases. The only solution when intellectual property lifetimes decline to the point of commoditization is to a) accelerate your rate of innovation or b) differentiate yourself through other means. Ideally, both.
Predictive Loss Vs. Dynamic Gain
Today’s rapidly changing business environment means businesses must learn to thrive in these conditions. To be agile, creative, alert, adaptive, and spontaneous. Highly structured organizations with their top-down hierarchical fiefdoms serve to stifle these attributes. Yet the notion of decentralized, self-organizing, emergent structures have always scared the pants off of enterprise executives. And rightfully so. After all, their responsibility is to maximize investor returns…sort of. What that really means is “maximize how well you can predict investor returns”. The vast majority of CEO’s would prefer to be able to say “we will achieve our forecasted revenue this quarter” even if that revenue was a *loss* than to say “I can’t really forecast this quarter very accurately” even if the long term growth outlook would be more positive. There are some exceptions to these executives, including a few who refuse to do quarterly forecasts at all, but you’ll notice they tend to exist in the more progressive (and successful) companies.
The Journey, Not The Destination
The reality is that none of us should nonchalantly berate those organizations who haven’t yet seen the light. There is risk involved in making these shifts and when you sit at the head of the table of a multi-billion dollar corporation it takes an incredible amount of will and confidence to tackle the cultural changes necessary to bring these shifts about. Our job as consultants in this space is to demonstrate we understand those risks, to provide clarity on the impetus factors that demand these changes be made, and most of all to produce a clear path forward that arrives at the destination but makes the journey as safe as possible along the way. The human equivalent of adding a GPS and airbags to the organization.
A Culture Of Enablement
A Social Business is embodied and brought about by items like Collaboration, Culture Development, Knowledge enablement, and Innovation empowerment.
The most difficult, and most important, aspect of a Social Business for an executive to come to grips with is moving from a culture of ‘control’ to a ‘Culture of Enablement’. At their core most business and management models are structured around control. Controlling risk, controlling people, controlling outcomes. In a truly evolved Social Business the mentality has to shift. Now you enable people. You enable outcomes (even the unpredictable ones…also known as innovation). You enable access to risk by demonstrating and educating on the companies shared values. You don’t ‘lead’ a company to success, you enable it to succeed. These small mental shifts are difficult at first, but have a massive impact on how you approach your decision making within an organization and the culture that evolves. With the new batch of people entering the workforce, and their value systems, this becomes more critical than ever.
Are you ready to enable your company to succeed? Are you ready to be a Social Business? I think you are.