Reaching for the Organization as a Network

1. Change is hard.

2. Change is really hard when one is pursuing uncharted territory…. We know a lot about what doesn’t work with respect to traditional management and HR practices.  Historically, business has institutionalized mechanical, linear, simplistic, activity based practices and processes. The processes typically serve the needs of the least capable people in the organization and therefore limit the contribution of the most capable. The processes are often designed to increase predictability and minimize variation, which also minimizes innovation and creativity. The traditional model doesn’t work in a world where problem solving and human interaction are unpredictable and require innovation and creativity. In the context of a collaborative, knowledge centered, human network that must dynamically create capability and capacity, we have to enable and serve the needs of the most capable. And, we have to leverage all the skills and talents of the people in the network.  Capable people need leadership, not management. Lead the majority and manage the exceptions.

3. Leadership and beliefs. It takes courage and strong, effective leadership to break with tradition. The inertia of the status quo is irrationally strong. A clear vision and strong beliefs about the possibility of a better way to organize and enable people is a critical ingredient. Holding the belief that, given guidance and opportunity, people can and will figure it out is also important.  Leadership is fractal. That is, it has to happen everywhere in the organization: individuals, swarms, teams, divisions, company.

4. Happy people! Fun, passion, and joy in the workplace are highly undervalued attributes of a healthy business. Happy, loyal employees are a prerequisite to happy, loyal customers as well as contributing to productivity and creativity.  Creating an environment that fosters happy people is the leadership challenge.  The good news is the things that make people happy are the same things that make for an outstanding service culture.

5. A comprehensive program. There are a lot of moving parts in the transformation to a networked organization. A network structure is more complex than a hierarchy. The task of coordinating and aligning all the parts can be overwhelming.  Integrating skills mastery, resource/financial planning, performance assessment, and training/development helps address the complexity.

6. Try it and tune it (iterate on new ideas). While innovative ideas are often big, the implementation or realization of those ideas seldom come as a big bang. Lasting change is iterative. The more innovative the idea, the less likely we will get it right the first time. We have to try it, learn and then try again, learn and then… iterate on it.

7. The role of the 1st and 2nd line managers. Managers need as much focus and support in making the transition as the support engineers (in some cases, more). We are finding that managers’ understanding, positive attitude and behavior towards a new set of practices is critical for success. Managers need some new skills and therefore some training and development around employee engagement, communications, how to coach, and how to have a conversation with employees about value creation that focuses on employee understanding, buy-in and behaviors (without talking about numbers!).

In summary… change is hard. If you’re working on any of this stuff, we’d love to hear from you!

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