Crumbling infrastructure - change or be changed

Change or be changed!

There is a lot of talk about how 20th century organisations need to change to be successful in the 21st century. And when we say organisations need to change, we actually mean people, as they make up and shape organisations.

Change is a process, not an event

Change is a process, not an event. It is underpinned by a learning process, as depicted below:

The learning process visualised

The learning process visualised. (Source: Author)

The end of the process may be fuzzy and thus be without concrete end date. However, the learning process is coming to an end once a person has learned a new skill, behaviour or technology and is first consciously and later unconsciously applying and using it. Traditional IT change management has always been about the changing technology itself. Change requests are raised for new features. Communication is tailored towards explaining new functionality. The traditional change management process is often part of an IT initiative with a defined start and end date. Becoming a 21st century company is not purely about introducing new technology. It is about new work models, new (social) contracts between employer and employees, new behaviours, a different corporate culture and organisational structures. Unlike technology, this is all rather fuzzy.

In the past ten years many organisations have experimented with new (social) technology to address existing business problems. Many of them focused on the technology aspect, some paid lip-service to the importance of behaviour and culture, though few really lived it. Changing technology is something tangible and can often be implemented by a project team. A business case is construed based on the most disputable facts. And of course, a start and end-date is set, ideally within a short timeframe to deliver results and be predictable. Organisations did themselves a disfavour though, as these projects did not yield the promised results. Many of them are now going through the Trough of Disillusionment, rethinking and redesigning the early initiatives. Other companies have been more realistic and strategic (holistic) about their initiative to evolve from a traditional to a social (connected) business. It’s not about implementing a set of technologies but about becoming a 21st century business. A great example is the Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany. Joachim Heinz of Robert Bosch GmbH presented the journey of his company at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris. What is noticeably different to other companies is the realistic and holistic design of the change process. Joachim said that it will take between 7 – 10 years. It may sound like a long time, but again probably realistic for what the company is set out to do and based on what kind of actual change we have seen in the past 10 years.

Change or be changed!

Change or be changed!  When you listen to the conversations between E20 practitioners in general or at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in particular it is often like preaching to the converted. But then they return to Planet Earth and reality kicks in. People immersed in their day-to-day work life don’t see the need for change, are afraid to change, have other priorities. Change or be changed. While it is a true statement, it immediately creates resistance because it is seen as a threat.  Change is a learning process as depicted above. The question is whether we could and should accelerate the process. So I asked this question on Twitter during Joachim’s presentation at the E20 Summit and it evoked pushback from people, whose opinion I value and trust.

Could and should we accelerate change?

Could and should we accelerate change?

With its strategic and long-term programme Bosch is actively facilitating the learning / change process. In a sense, it is also accelerating the process. Maybe it does take 7 – 10 years instead of 10 – 15 years. What we should not be aspiring to is to let change happen, especially when meeting resistance.

A Change Acceleration Programme

We can’t expect people to simply change. At the same time we often can’t afford to wait until people are willing to change. In a recent client engagement I created a Change Acceleration Programme (partly inspired by General Electric’s Change Acceleration Programme) to plant the seeds for change. Based on an overall strategy it comprised a large number of concrete tactics, nudges and messages to help people change. Some of these tactics and nudges were derived by applying the Influencer Framework (Amazon) for specific people (CEO, COO etc.) and roles within the 40,000 employee strong organisation, others based on my own experience from other engagements or inspired by other practitioners.  The initial tactics and nudges were targeted primarily at changing employees’ behaviour from ‘working in silos’ to ‘working out loud’. The better you understand the motivation and ability of single individuals the better (and quicker) you can help them change and learn new behaviours, skills and technologies. (Shameless plug: 21 of my fellow change agents of the Change Agents WorldWide network just published our first e-book ‘Changing the world of work. One human at a time‘). Below is just a very short list of change tactics that were part of the programme:

  • Supporting key company events
  • Reverse Mentoring (Video; Reverse Mentoring at Bosch)
  • Email-Free-Friday / Meeting-Free-Friday
  • Flow of Work integration (Desktop, Mobile, IM, Office, Email, ERP)
  • Ask Me Anything
  • When To Use What Matrix
  • Before/After Scenarios
  • Card decks for specific roles
  • A day in the life of…

Sometimes, your posters, brown-bag lunches, user manuals and other communication and education material is simply not enough. You will need to find more creative ways of nudging people into the right direction and facilitate the change process. The tactics above and their exact content and approach depend on the organisation and should therefore not be simply copied.

To sum it all up, I believe we could and should accelerate change by facilitating the underlying learning process and influencing behaviours. For that we will need to zoom into the individual and group layer, rather than talking about big-splash change that is orchestrated only on the organisational level.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

Introduction of social tools in the enterprise

We just published an article (in German) in the Community of Knowledge called ‘Einführung von sozialen Technologien im Unternehmen – Erfolgsfaktor Mensch‘. It looks at a variety of barriers to introducing social tools in the enterprise and presents strategies on how to overcome them. In particular, it focuses on how human behaviour can be influenced to overcome the stated barriers.

Excerpt:

Today, there is hardly a company that has not already experimented with social technologies. The high expectations, however, have only been met in very few cases. Will this new software category suffer the same fate as the first generation of knowledge management tools? Disillusionment is spreading, but also the realization that the introduction of social technologies is not a typical IT project and that this is not a sprint but a long process.

Excerpt:

To be successful and economically viable social technologies require nothing less than a new form of organization – the networked enterprise. Depending on the size of the company the cultural and organizational change, however, tend to be extremely difficult, costly and above all very tedious. On the other hand, large companies can benefit most from using social technologies because of network effects.

For managers of initiatives tasked with the introduction of social technologies, this results in a dilemma. The success of their initiative depends not only on technology, but depend even more on employees and organizational factors. See diagram below:


Diagram: Corporate struture and culture can only be influenced indirectly, yet are very important for the introduction of social technologies

 

 


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

Should knowledge retention be high on organizations’ agenda?

I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2008. ]

Yesterday I stumbled across a post by Gordon Ross of Thoughtfarmer talking about a client where 50% of its staff is eligible to retire in the next eight years. What a massive brain drain! But we don’t even have to go that far into the future. Times are tough now. The lists of laid-off employees (here and here) become longer and longer with every day. Even though these are two totally different scenarios, the fact that people and their knowledge are leaving an organization is the same.

Most companies have extensive data backup and disaster recovery plans in store. I think it speaks for itself that companies are still more concerned about machines breaking down than people leaving the company. Axing people now may help to cut costs and survive the economic downturn. However, if companies do not take action to retain the knowledge of people leaving, they will face increased transaction and training costs in the long run.

Obviously, the problem of knowledge retention is not entirely new. It has been on the agenda of knowledge managers for a long time. Early efforts included conducting interviews or documenting everything the employee deemed to be important shortly before leaving the organization. I personally have not read any statistics (or even seen an ROI ) on how fruitful these efforts actually are. However, I can imagine that the success is rather limited, since there are various problems with such formal approaches:

  • What is important to one person is not necessarily important to others.
  • Most knowledge cannot be documented but is inherently connected to people.
  • Questions and documents are inadequate to capture informal conversations or to make social connections visible.
  • Given our short time span, it is very likely to miss important pieces of information when interviews are conducted.
  • If an employee is laid off…

In short, relying only on formal approaches like the ones mentioned above will yield poor results when it comes to knowledge retention. I am not saying that these do not bring any benefit, but it should be clear that an organization needs to take a more holistic and especially timelier approach to knowledge retention. Holistic in the sense of being able to capture/transfer informal knowledge and timely meaning starting today and not when an employee is about to leave. Knowledge retention starts as soon as a new employee comes into the office for the first time. In almost every interaction between people, let it be online or offline, knowledge is created and shared. These interactions are vital for knowledge transfer, as most knowledge is attached to people and cannot be captured in formal ways.

Instead of trying to document everything and controlling knowledge transfer, invest your efforts in facilitating knowledge networking. Allow employees to connect and interact with each other using simple tools. By doing so knowledge is naturally disseminated across the organization. In case an employee leaves the company, there are others that (most probably) carry parts of his work-related knowledge or know someone that knows. In the end, this informal approach to knowledge retention could save the company considerable amounts of money, because people do not have to spend extra time for interviews / questionnaires etc. when leaving the company and new people can get up to speed much quicker, as they can rely on the help and knowledge of the other employees.

I believe that the notion of knowledge retention as a one-off activity in a distant future will soon disappear. Instead, organizations will need to find ways to make it part of employees’ day-to-day work – from their first to their last day at the organization.

That’s easier said than done, but here are some tactics that can help to achieve that:

1) Increase transparency

Large organizations are ‘famous’ for re-inventing the wheel, since the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Give employees smart tools that enable them to easily communicate, collaborate and connect with each other on an organization-wide level.

2) Enable free flow of information

Too often gatekeepers and inappropriate tools are major barriers to information flow. Employees should be able to decide what information is important and relevant to their work.

3) Focus on personal productivity

Employees are primarily concerned about their own performance. Give them simple tools that make them more productive, but which at the same time make use of network effects and benefit the organization as a whole.

4) Get out of the way!

Facilitate but don’t control!

Surely, this is by no means an exhaustive list of tactics. If you have any other thoughts or suggestions on how to tackle knowledge retention, please consider leaving your comment below.