The new leadership style of enterprise 2.0
Last year I joined a group of prominent business thinkers brought together by Gary Hamel for two days to discuss the future of management. We found consensus on two broad points. First, that the practices of managing large organizations have evolved relatively little over the past 75 years and second, that these practices are poorly suited for today's dynamic and turbulent environment.
We participants were asked to suggest solutions, and I was struck by how consistent most of them were. We stressed that organizations needed to become less rigidly hierarchical, better equipped to handle exceptions to business as usual, and more able to tap into all available sources of knowledge and expertise. There was also widespread agreement that managers themselves would do well to abandon command-and-control mindsets and concentrate instead on finding ways to get the most out of their people.
I study IT's impact on businesses and business as a whole, and I pointed out that the technology toolkit available to help accomplish those changes has gone from lousy to fantastic in just a few years. "Web 2.0" is not a meaningless buzzphrase; it's useful shorthand for the profound changes that have taken place on the Internet recently. Web 2.0 resources like Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have become some of the most popular online, and they all share a few basic characteristics. They welcome contributions from everyone, they treat all contributors equally, and they remain easy to use, search, and navigate even as they get huge.
I use the phrase Enterprise 2.0 to describe organizations' use of Web 2.0-style tools and approaches to accomplish their goals. Examples of Enterprise 2.0 include employee blogs, corporate wikis, personnel directories that look and feel like social networking software, and internal Twitter-style "microblogging" tools.
Enterprise 2.0 technologies have no inherent sense of existing boundaries and hierarchies; they're indifferent to the org chart. They also don't care much about standard operating procedures.
This makes them sound like a recipe for chaos and disaster, but they're not. They don't lead to chaos because like Web 2.0's resources they have the wonderful property of emergence -- the appearance of patterns and structure over time in an initially free-form environment. Emergence is the reason that the huge public Internet is easier to search and navigate than almost all organizations' Intranets; it occurs when lots of people generate online content and link to each others' work.
Enterprise 2.0 doesn't lead to disaster because people know what constitutes acceptable behavior in the workplace, and so use the new tools in appropriate ways. Good behavior is reinforced by the fact contributions can typically be traced back to their author. After four years of looking and asking around, my collection of Enterprise 2.0 horror stories is essentially nil.
It's not surprising that start-ups and high-tech companies are embracing Enterprise 2.0, but the phenomenon is not limited to these sectors. A variety of large industrial-age organizations, including Procter and Gamble, Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. intelligence community, have deployed the new technologies of emergent collaboration, and are reaping benefits from them.
Recent studies reveal how large these benefits can be. Respondents to a survey on Enterprise 2.0 conducted this year by McKinsey, for example, reported improvements in critical areas such as access to knowledge and expertise, customer and employee satisfaction, and rates of innovation. And gains in these areas were not marginal, ranging from 20-45%. How many other corporate initiatives could yield such large improvements?
A wealth of evidence is coming together to reveal that Enterprise 2.0, when done right, yields substantial rewards without substantially increasing risks. The new tools have demonstrated their ability to quickly collect and spread knowledge, to connect people who would otherwise have remained unaware of each other, to let the "best" content become the most prominent, and to harness collective intelligence.
In short, they've shown that they can help organizations and their leaders meet the challenges they're now facing, and do so in a way that engages individuals rather than alienating them.
The biggest impediment I've seen to the success with Enterprise 2.0 is an old fashioned command-and-control mindset throughout the ranks of management. If managers don't trust their people to behave appropriately and be good colleagues, if they want to act as the sole proper channel for information entering and leaving their area, or if they don't see the problem with an industrial-age organizational model, then they're likely to be hostile to the new tools and approaches.
If on the other hand they believe what they've been saying about empowerment, agility, innovation, and people as the most important asset they'll take a long look at Enterprise 2.0. I predict they'll be pleasantly surprised at what they learn, and come to see it as part of the remedy for what's ailing.
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