The first article to which I refer, entitled “Social Media’s Productivity Payoff” is about the advantages of using social media withing organizations for improving performance, published as a blog by the Harvard Business Review. It talks about a McKinsey study that found that social media used within an organization
“may become the most powerful tools yet developed to raise the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers — the kind of workers who help drive innovation and growth, and who are going to be in increasingly short supply.”
They go on to say that
“the potential for value creation when social technologies are used to improve collaboration and communication within and across enterprises is twice as big as the value that can be created through all other uses across the value chain…
Among the benefits of using these collaborative technologies, they cite “a way to dig out the “dark matter” of company knowledge that is buried in email inboxes and on hard drives.” This is something we can all relate to.
They make the point that an organization’s knowledge employees (who are often your most expensive employees) spend “28% of their workdays answering, writing, or responding to email” and “another 19% of the time trying to track down information (including searching through their own e-mail files) and 14% collaborating with co-workers.” They estimate that using these technologies could reduce these same activities by 20-25%. And with some of those whom I have worked I have even seen a savings of over 50%.
Think of that. If you were to tell a business owner or manager “I can save you between 20-25% on average on your total costs” or “I can show you how to be 20-25% more profitable across the company” – these statements will turn an ear. Put it in hard dollars and you would think you are giving them the moon. But if you say, “I can help you be 20-25% more effective,” most will say, “Yes, that’s nice,” and go on their merry way.
What they don’t realize is that it not only saves them 25%, but they are able to turn around and use that 25% for another activity, yielding an effective 50% increase. And you could even argue that the extra 25% is time spent on more meaningful and valuable activities (other than responding to email) and thus the extra 25% is worth much more.
But none of this is new. Even the fact that it is largely ignored.
Then came the second article – again in a blog post from HBR entitled, “How Microsoft & Netflix Lost their Way.” We have all witnessed the slump of both of these companies in recent years. What were the darlings of their industries have become almost backward or tainted.
Their conclusion is that both of these companies (and many more) have faltered because of similar issues. These issues are
“arguably more fundamental to long-term organizational success than the ability to set a forward course. What they have lost, in many cases, is the ability to enable organizational conversation. That’s our term for the process by which key ideas and crucial information circulate within a company.”
“Where organizational conversation flourishes, leaders and employees alike are able to talk among themselves in ways that are interactive and inclusive: Ideas move back and forth between people of all ranks, and leaders empower employees to participate fully in cross-organizational collaboration… Leaders at Netflix behaved in ways that hindered the flow of organizational conversation. The company’s decision-making process reflected a lack of conversational intentionality, as we call it — an inability to foster strategic alignment through rich discussion and brisk debate.
This second article tells us what it is we should do to avoid the fate of those who have or are failing. The first tells us how it can be accomplished.
Yet – as I previously pointed out – when presented in real life terms, these two pieces of advice are largely ignored.
It is because the culture of an organization (or team, or family) is more powerful than rational, logical deductive reasoning. Culture is so powerful it can lull it’s members into acting in ways that don’t make sense or it can propell them to be much more than they thought they could be. And yet the topic of culture is either ignored or only given lip service.
Culture is made up of two major things: processes & values (this, in and of itself, is a lengthy and fascinating discussion that I won’t go into right now).
Culture has the power to destroy or make great in one fell or beautiful swoop. If it has that much power, why don’t we treat it with more respect?
Part of culture is the intrinsic nature to recognize itself – a meta cognition of sorts. Some cultures ignore their own culture and it rules the participants – it becomes the master. Some cultures are very aware of itself and the participants shape the culture – they become the master instead of the servant.
But, largely the former instead of the latter is true. Because of culture most organizations will continue to ignore the benefits of being more open in their communication and increasing their collaboration among their employees. It usually does not fit in with the patterns they have already established. But it is those patterns that are holding them back, yet, ironically, they are the same ones they get frustrated with because they are so ineffective. Think about our frustration with email, or ineffective meetings, or the bloat in a process. But, we continue to follow these patterns of working with frustration, angst and with little change.
Can culture and habits be turned around? Absolutely. How?
Think of someone trying to quit any bad habit. Done alone it is often daunting. But worked through with a coach it is more managable and seems muchg more possible.
And that’s what companies need: A coach to help them bring in what one of the authors called “organizational conversation.” Someone to objectively look at your organization and help you learn how to be more effective, often (but not always) using new collaborative technologies (which, from the first article, shows to be incredibly effective).
Ready to try it out? Or will you contiue to ignore it?