Transparent work

People are now the engine of change and the fuel is communications, says Jay Deragon in Systemic Impact of Social Technology

System outcomes can be influenced by numerous factors such as:

  1. Competitor innovation that attracts the market away from your business
  2. Cost of goods increases and margins shrink. You cut expenses to survive.
  3. Employee turnover which fuels inconsistency and waste.
  4. Customer leave due to dis-satisfaction
  5. Market shifts that you are unaware of and don’t understand

The #1 influence that is threaded through all five examples above is communications.

I’ve attended various meetings over the past six months; meetings with groups that I haven’t had dealings with before. These were professional associations, networks of researchers and administrators, and others. I would say that all the problems discussed at these meetings were, at root, communications issues.

Communication in a network is not the same as what we may have considered as traditional business communications. Sending out a clear memo (email) may have worked before, but looking for that email or document six months later on some kind of shared intranet drive is another issue completely. Sharing the emails of a previous worker in a certain position may make sense at first, but becomes totally impractical when 20,000 emails arrive, all in folders that make no sense to the incumbent [I speak from personal experience here]. Adding an enterprise resource system (LMS, TMS, HRIS, etc) doesn’t help much either, because the enforced knowledge structure makes little sense to the individual worker.

What may be considered a knowledge problem is really a transparency one. If I want to find general information, I search the Web, and quite often find what I need. For more contextual knowledge, I ask my network via text message, Twitter, blog or forum. The reason I can do this is that either the knowledge or the knowledgeable person is visible on the web.

Visibility is the key for knowledge work inside the organization as well. Jay Cross described it in Informal Learning, with the case study of CGI using an “Internet Inside” tool approach.

Just compare informal learning on the web with what happens inside the firewall. Online, we all benefit from others who openly share. We read free blog posts, comments, tweets and wikipedia articles. We watch descriptive YouTube videos and check out wiki-how or a host of other self-help sites. We may do all of this without even thinking about the millions of people who share in order to make our lives better. Meanwhile, inside the organization, we’re trying to find that document that got filed away on some shared drive, but nobody remembers the date or the title (about all the metadata available) so it is lost to us.

When I note how easy it is to find the stuff we need on Google, most people understand and agree. Then I explain that it only works if some people are making the information public. Making the information that results from our daily work visible is a huge step in enhancing communications. The simplest and easiest way is to replicate the tools and processes used on the open Internet – blogs, micro-blogs, social networks, social bookmarks, etc. The problem with enterprise systems is that they don’t act as networks. They were not built with network DNA but rather hierarchical frameworks. Therefore, they cannot scale to complexity the way a much simpler protocol can. Simplicity leads to complexity. Complicated systems just get more complicated.

My advice is to keep the tools simple and replicate the web; it works, and the basic protocols are very simple. Use a DIY approach and let the IT department focus on data security not tools.

Effective networked organizations are those with a sharing culture, embracing a new social learning contract.

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