Friday, January 27, 2012

A Surprise!

Today I received a pleasant surprise! And one that also humbled me. One of my Twitter friends notified me about this post: Asia Pacific's List of elearning Movers and Shakers --
I appear in this curated list of the top 10 movers and shakers, and I was delighted. Then as the euphoria settled, I was beset with questions. Do I really deserve to be on this list? How can I contribute more to the industry of elearning? How can I make my learning more transparent?

Even as the Questions buzzed around inside my head, I felt the accolade bring in responsobilites-- a commitment to be authentic, to share what I learn, to continuously learn and enhance my skills, to give back to the community of elearning that is the source of my inspiration.

I want to thank each one of you for the appreciation and wholehearted support, and for being a constant source of my learning.

I hope to keep growing and learning from the community. And to give back!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exceptions are the new normal

“Exceptions are the shadow economies of firms today and is fertile ground for social business solutions, which thrive in an exception-driven environment…” ~John Hagel :
In today’s work environment, exceptions and not rote task rule. You can’t train for exceptions nor create checklists or Job Aids. Exceptions encountered are solved by people bringing not a hammer for the nail but a bagful of toolkits, problem solving skills and an open mind. And very often the expertise of their network. Exceptions are more effectively tackled when that network has diversity built into it.

Sameer Patel in the post Why Exception Handling Should be the Rule writes: “Each exception requires a different set of experts or problem owners, some known but most unknown, and often spread across a global footprint at large organizations.” (emphasis mine)

Rigid rules are the enemies of exceptions and organizations that impose rules with an iron hand are the worst off when it comes to handling exceptions. Exceptions require frontline workers to take discretionary steps. When rules limit these abilities, then we run the risk of inefficiency, unsatisfied customers and unsolved issues.

Sameer Patel in the same piece references an HBR article by Adrian Cott called Are Scorecards and Metrics Killing Employee Engagement? One of the paragraphs in the article states:
“Rules are comfort food for management. When something goes terribly wrong, the first response is to add more rules and policy. Of course, managers have good intentions: protecting the company from bad choices and creating accountability. That's what everyone learns in Management 101. Yet the net effect often shifts accountability to the wrong places. Unassailable rules and metrics shifts accountability away from management and down the chain to the front-line employee. Rules allow managers a surefire way to dodge their responsibility and protect their career.”
Metrics and policies, while necessary for the running of an organization, should not become iron casts for the employees. And in this age of complexity and never-ending change, exceptions will continue to be the new normal. Enabling and empowering front-line employees to deal with exceptions will be one of the keys to an organizations survival in today’s environments.
This requires:
1.       A culture of trust
2.       Transparent workflows
3.       Networked and connected employees
4.       An environment that supports mistakes and encourages learning from failures
5.       A culture of sharing not only learnings but also mistakes made along the way

I am deliberately staying away from over using the term social business. But to me it seems that one of the measures of success (ROI if you will) of social business in an organization should be how effectively does it enable employees to deal with exceptions

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trust, Tacit Knowledge and Social Business

As I read the post on Resolving the Trust Paradox by John Hagel, I was reminded of two things—the talk on the power of vulnerability by Brene Brown and what Morten Hansen says about tacit knowledge sharing in his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. I had written about the latter in my post Molotov cocktail = Weak ties x complicated knowledge.

Hansen explains Molotov cocktail in the context of network building and explains how weak ties can be detrimental to the transfer of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge (by definition knowledge that is un-codified, not visible and sometimes, not “articulatable” in very black and white terms) requires strong ties to be shared. Strong ties—as we know—are based on trust.

With complexity, chaos and constant change taking over and becoming the norm, we can expect codified knowledge stocks to have a shorter shelf-life. A constant state of flux will give rise to ambiguity, uncertainties and questions—all of which will exist in the form of tacit knowledge in the minds of people as they encounter real world challenges, device innovative ways to deal with those, make mistakes and learn from them. We have moved from an age of best practices to emerging practices and no one can be intelligent on their own any more, as rightly quoted by Michele Martin in her post Learning Together. I loved the quote so I have pasted it in its entirety below:
(Socrates) introduced the idea that individuals could not be intelligent on their own, that they need someone else to stimulate them. . . His brilliant idea was that if two unsure individuals were put together, they could achieve what they could not do separately; they could discover the truth, their own truth, for themselves.  ~Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity
The complexity is further compounded by the nature of distributed organizations. In today’s model of a global organization, teams are often scattered, employees work onsite or from home, road warriors are always “on the road”—in short, the concept of teams working shoulder to shoulder every day, literally and metaphorically standing by each other, talking over problems and challenges at their desks are slowly being replaced by virtual teams who interact via social tools and platforms, use Webex for meetings, get into teleconferences to talk over issues and update each other via emails. In this context, how do we build trust? Given that knowledge sharing and knowledge building are much more than an exchange of information and updates and involves the realm of tacit knowledge, it is critical that we build trust first.

Enter social business! Emergent social platforms made communication and knowledge sharing easy even among people residing on opposite corners of the planet, total strangers to each other. We suddenly had access to all the experts whose books and posts we had read with admiration. Twitter changed it all. Seeing how individuals adopted the entry of e2.0 for personal growth and development, organizations decided to jump onto this bandwagon, and with good reason. Adopt, adapt or be annihilated!

But very soon organizations treading the path of social business realize that a “platform does not well-knit organization build”. What is required is a move toward a trust-based, dialogue-driven culture that will facilitate the evolution of new ideas, reshaping of the old and the spread of the new. Collaboration in an enterprise is very different from collaborating with individuals for one’s personal goals. As Hansen explains in Collaboration, organizational collaboration is meant to achieve certain goals—whether it is to resolve a tenacious problem, come up with a new product line, or to make a breakthrough discovery.  However, matters become sticky here. All of these situations require the sharing of tacit knowledge, a willingness to express half-formed thoughts, safety belts that allow people to make mistakes publicly and learn from each other. And the overarching quality that can make this happen is trust.

And in the context of a distributed workforce with workers who have in all probability never met each other, how easy or challenging is it to build trust? Can we engage in meaningful conversations via a social platform with someone we have never met before and share those half-formed thoughts?

Even as organizations invest in social platforms to conduct their day to day to business, online communities are taking over real world teams. This does not automatically make the former more efficient, it is just the way it is going to be. We can no more fight it than we can prevent the sun from rising. And this is where I think one of the biggest behaviour changes is needed. As John Hegel says in the post, “It turns out that the very practices that helped us to build trust in the past are now contributing to the erosion of trust.” If we continue with practices that helped us to foster trust in an environment where we met each other face to face almost daily, those practices are not going to be very effective in an environment driven by activity streams, social tools and apps, and conference calls.

When the very premise of communication has changed, we have to re-think and re-imagine our efforts at building at trust. It will require a great deal more courage to come forth and express our fumbling ideas on a social platform for all and sundry to see and comment on than it did to express it within the safety of a room with five other people of one’s team. 

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Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...