Anthony J. Bradley, group vice president, Gartner Research, and Mark P. McDonald, group vice president and Gartner Fellow who I had the honor of serving on a panel with last week at MIT, are co-authors of The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees.
One of the things they argue is that, “people are not your greatest asset.” We can all agree to the overuse of the phrase, but they go a bit further to say, even great people are not your greatest asset. In fact, they say, great people can be your greatest liability. To make their case, they point to Enron, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Countrywide as organizations that employed “some of the smartest business people not only in the room but in the world, and yet those same folks took their firms to ruin (or near it) and came close to causing a collapse of the U.S. economy.”
I think that logic is a bit tortured, but it makes the point that there has to be something more than just an assembly of great talent… something that is able to mold and direct that talent to become a useful asset. I hope that’s what they’re saying – it is definitely what I am saying, and something we believe in very deeply.
So what do they say is your greatest asset, if not your people? Well, Bradley and McDonald say it is, “how you empower your people.”
In an era of everyone-gets-a-trophy-for-showing-up (or a 3 on the dumb performance appraisal), empowerment is an idea that is becoming a bit tedious for many. Here is how they describe it:
“Think about it. What is the primary purpose of a business organization? To assemble a group of people, who previously may have had no association, and empower them to accomplish productive work toward the organization’s objectives. More effective empowerment typically equals more productive work. As leaders and managers, we are familiar with empowering people. We organize them into divisions, units, groups and teams. We provide goals and incentives to motivate them. And we enable them with authority, tools, resources and processes.”
OK, I can get behind that. At Knowledge Infusion, we describe this as having a strategy. Or, more poignantly, managing the workforce to a set of clearly defined business outcomes, where each individual clearly knows how they contribute to the organization’s success. I think that’s saying the same thing as “empowering,” but empowering feels a little passive to me, where as having a talent management strategy is much more deliberate.
Empowering seems to imply we can simply set up an environment, provide a set of tools, or associate employees with the right group, and they will knock down walls on their way to executing the business strategy. The missing ingredient, for many, is the clear communication of that business strategy as it changes over time (and it will change), and even more critical the connection of the employee’s day-to-day actions with the desired business outcomes.
The point Bradley and McDonald make in their book is that social media can dramatically enhance the ability to empower, or as I would say, communicate your strategy because of it’s incredible agility and scalability. They studied hundreds of corporate social media implementations and were able to identify a set of key mass collaboration behaviors that they contend are critical to understand to successfully engage and empower you people. These are worth sharing, but will necessitate an update to your social networking jargon handbook. They include:
This is the meaningful assembly of relatively small and incremental community contributions into a larger and coherent accumulation of knowledge. Collective intelligence is not new, but the mass collaboration enabled by social media provides it at scales never before possible. Even the most modest individual contributions can be tremendously valuable when meaningfully combined at scale. Wikipedia, YouTube and Flickr are all social Web examples of collective intelligence. Each Wikipedia article by itself is relatively insignificant, but a million articles collected and linked together is highly powerful.
Expertise location involves seeking and finding specific expertise in the masses of people and the often-staggering amount of available content. One view of expertise location is almost the opposite of collective intelligence. It is “selective intelligence,” where the goal is not to collect numerous small contributions from many, but to find just what is needed. Crowdsourcing is an example of expertise location.
Emergent structures are structures such as processes, content categorization, organizational networks and hidden virtual teams that are unknown or unplanned prior to social interactions, but that form naturally as activity progresses. The goal of emergent structures is to gain a better understanding of the true “nature of things” to more effectively organize, guide or interact with a community or its efforts. Social media, applied with transparency, can surface these structures.
Interest cultivation is the forming of communities around a shared interest, with the goal of indirectly deriving enterprise value. Social media facilitates the mass sharing of interests like never before. Enterprises often pursue interest cultivation with the aim of engaging customers to enhance product/service utilization and enjoyment, improve delivery and indirectly spur sales.
Flash coordination involves rapidly organizing the activities of a large number of people through fast and short mass-messaging, often spread virally. By effectively employing flash coordination, enterprises can more quickly marshal a powerful and sophisticated response to an important occurrence. We are now seeing the emergence of a new set of business sense-and-respond systems inspired by social-media-enabled flash coordination.
Relationship leverage is the practice of effectively managing and deriving value from a prodigious number of relationships. Relationship leverage strives to maximize the strength of numerous weak ties and the power of unbalanced relationships. Facebook is all about relationship leverage. We can keep numerous people up to date on what we are doing and thinking with minimal effort. We only need to respond to those who choose to interact around something we exposed. We may sacrifice intimacy for scale, but that is the trade-off with relationship leverage.
As always, consider how these concepts either already affect, or could be applied in your organization to improve how you communicate strategy with employees in more effective and agile ways
The phrase, “employees are our greatest asset” doesn’t get a bad rap because it isn’t true, it gets a bad rap because the organizations making the statement don’t live up to the declaration in their actions.
If you believe people are truly your greatest asset, creating a talent management strategy is one big way to prove it.
Another infusion of knowledge…