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Social networks will displace business processes, not socialize them - Stowe Boyd via GigaOM Research →

from the report’s Executive Summary

“Socialized business process” — the idea of adding social tools to traditional business processes — is unlikely to work in the long term. The enterprise is now transitioning to social network–based communication as introduced by social tools, and there is a fundamental conflict in communication models with business-process-centric business. The attempt to make the socialized business process work may be part of the adoption problem reported in the social-business industry.

The shift to social network’s pull communication, where individuals more or less subscribe to information sources, will run counter to business process push communication and eventually invalidate it. Push-and-pull communication styles won’t jibe, and pull lines up with the transition to social network–based communication. Most notably, this will undermine business processes and the collective-collaborative organization that evolved in parallel with business processes. The shift won’t take place in the way that email led to organizational flattening. Rather, it will invalidate the rules and roles of business processes and turn the process logic into just another kind of information passed along through the social network.

It may be obvious, but companies that are more oriented toward a connective-cooperative style of work will get more benefits from social networks than those that are less so. Stated more strongly, those wishing to get the boost that many believe is inherent in this lean, self-innovating, fast-and-loose model of work will have to actively move away from the cultural principles of slow-and-tight, twentieth-century business.

In order to better explore these rapidly changing dynamics, this report presents a psychodynamic cultural model for business called the 3C model. The name is based on three sorts of business culture:

  • Competitive: wheel-and-spoke organization, decision making by edict, feudal or clan culture
  • Collaborative: pyramid-and-processes organization, decision making by elite consensus, slow-and-tight culture
  • Cooperative: network-and-connections organization, laissez faire decision making, fast-and-loose culture

We also explore various archetypes of individuals’ psychosocial matches with the various flavors of companies. The freelancer and follower archetypes, for example, do well in cooperative settings, but they are poorly matched with entrepreneurial organizations (which may explain Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent edict excluding remote work.)

High-performing companies of the near future will be operating based on looser ties among individuals in and across businesses. Many more of them will be supported by next-generation cooperative tools. Individuals in these companies will have more autonomy, and there will be more opportunity seeking when compared to the largely slow-and-tight, risk-averse companies that are dominant today. The value of consensus is falling in a rapidly changing, unstable world where there is a higher premium for business innovation and more uncertainty than ever before. And this leads to a devaluation of business processes, in particular those business processes intended to direct human agency and to act as a surrogate for management directing employees’ every move.

You can sign up for a seven day free trial of the GigaOM Research service, and read the entire report.

Upping My Efforts At GigaOM Pro

I’ve taken a new role at GigaOM this week, writing regularly for the Pro service in the Social   topic area. It’s not a great departure since my work at GigaOM upt o the present has been social tools and the future of work, but I am now a regular contributor — a Curator, in their terminology — as well as writing a number of reports this coming year.

It’s a great group, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the collaboration of working with David Card, the VP of Research.

I have recently written a report on team task management tools (in production), and earlier this year I wrote the Work Media Roadmap (subscription required), tracking a number of leading work media tools — enterprise social networks — and most importantly, the forces that are causing companies to adopt them:

The old architecture of work was based on process-centric, collaborative work. That is, all the people involved in a business process — for example, new customer acquisition for a consumer-products company — would work exclusively on that process, and the process defined everyone’s work. In principle, each member of the consumer acquisition team would spend 100 percent of their time on that process, and all the members would be co-located (in cubicles or offices) so that the process could be as efficient as possible. Considerations of what would be best for the individual would be deemed irrelevant. Collaboration was the byword, and web tools were designed around symmetrical projects, where members derived their rights by being ‘invited’ — in other words, assigned — to process-based project groups.

A new architecture of work is now emerging. “White collar” work first became “knowledge” work. Now it is known as “creative work.” The transition from process to networks is not just a recasting and not just a different style of communication. Work is increasingly being styled as information sharing through social relationships, where following takes the place of being invited. People coordinate efforts but work on a wide variety of independent projects with different co-workers. A new degree of privacy and autonomy animates cooperative work, in comparison to collaborative work. 

Individuals cooperating hand off information or take on tasks in a fashion that is like businesses cooperating: They understand the benefit in cooperating but don’t have to share a common core set of strategic goals to do so. They don’t need the complete alignment of goals with everyone they work with that defines old-style business employment.

We are moving into a world of work where individuals will act increasingly independently but still need to work closely and intensely with many others, in various forms of asymmetric and intransitive relationships. Business software will need to provide a much greater degree of fluidity in this new era than ever before.

I’m looking forward to continued investigation into the business of social business, and the future of work.

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