Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Becoming a Social Business -- Beyond Culture Change

A paradigm shift occurs when prevailing mental model has so many egregious anomalies that it “breaks” and a new mental model of the world is perceived to be a better explanation of how the world works. ~Steve Denning
Our words define our worldview. We use the vocabulary available to us to describe and analyze our experiences and perceptions. The founder of the idea that language and worldview are inextricable is William von Humboldt, the Prussian philologist. The German word Weltanschauung—used to represent the mode of apprehending reality of a community—was first used by Kant and later popularized by Hegel. Weltanschauung represents the collective consciousness of a community of a certain experience.  

In this context, I had a bit of an epiphany. Over the past few years, the need to become a social business and to promote enterprise-wide collaboration have taken hold in many organizations. The usual approach is to launch an enterprise collaboration platform (technology first being easy to do) and hope that people will engage and contribute with a bit of cajoling and coercing. But a majority of these endeavors fail leading to skepticism and finger pointing. The usual culprits are the hapless organizational culture closely followed by hierarchy and leadership lethargy. We have become accustomed to blaming the culture of an organization for the failure of any initiative, and more so when the change calls for redefining and re-imagining how people work and interact. Before I proceed further, let me clarify that these culprits are not blameless. A fair number of mistakes can be attributed to them. I only want to say these do not invoke the complete picture. We have to dive deeper to understand why organizations across the world – from the Americas to Asia – are apparently making the same mistakes.

We have to take a step back and examine the metaphors and the discourse that organizations abide by and are described by. The crux of the problem lies in our inability to see how the culture of organizations stem from and is shaped by the very discourse of management that we have collectively subscribed to ever since the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing era. No matter how hard we try to change the culture – and I do believe that leaders and managers are trying – the discourse we use lets us down. The words become reality. Currently, our management discourse is permeated by the language of two metaphors – the military and the manufacturing. The business model and operating principles in today’s organizations hinge on “making” profit through the deft use of limited resources in an organized manner. The military metaphor dominates the world of business – right from “staff”, “line”, “chain of command”, to “war for talent”, “competitive strategy”, and “line of fire”. The assumption is that doing business is akin to waging war and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Organizations thus begin to behave with an almost “military” mindset – valuing planning over innovation, dwelling on constraints over opportunities, giving in to enforcing over enabling, compliance over collaboration…

Underlying this military and manufacturing discourse is an insidious and difficult to pin down aspect – the scarcity mindset – be it of money, skills, information, time, talent, and so on. A world defined by scarcity is driven by the ethos of competition, hoarding, survival of the fittest, suspicion, exclusion, elimination of the other, and fear. These concepts are fundamentally opposed to the principle and values that support cooperation and collaboration – the pillars of social business and authentic communities. As long as our organizations are operating under the principle of scarcity, we will continue to struggle to get people engaged and motivated enough to collaborate. The words we use not only reflect but also reinforce and reproduce the reality. The words become reality.

Now, let’s look at the words that come to mind when we thing “community” which has its root in the Latin word “communitas” meaning things held in common. Community elicits in my mind words like commune, abundance, love, wholeness, trust, belonging, authenticity, creation, safety, inclusion… and other similar words. As anyone who has ever been or aspires to be a community manager, we know that these are the emotions that we have to inspire in our users for them to become engaged and collaborative community members. However, the discourse that defines community within organizations get subsumed under the larger discourse of the organization itself which, as I have already mentioned, is defined by scarcity and competition. When the two discourses clash, the larger one signifying the organization as a whole inevitably wins. The words become reality.

Let me make a disclaimer. This clash is not the fault of managers or leaders taking the organization forward – in most cases, it is done in good faith. Controls are put in place to prevent information from going to competitors; non-compliance is punished; transparency is censored to prevent general dissent. And we simplistically club all of these under the umbrella of an amorphous and ambiguous culture and dismiss it by saying that “the culture of the organization is not conducive to collaboration”. We have to identify the words that run counter to authenticity, trust and transparency and replace them with a different set of words when speaking about organizations. Words carry their own denotation and connotation and define our consciousness. It might seem like a trivial matter, but it truly has deep implications for the kind of transformation organizations need to go through in order to become authentic communities.

The discourse of communities doesn’t and cannot hinge on and around scarcity. We need to redefine and reimagine the very description of an organization itself. What if we were to define an organization like a community: “Self-organized network of people with common agenda, cause, or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information, and other resources...” (Wikipedia). We have to shift from the old ways of working that was driven by extrinsic motivation – bonus, salary hike, promotion, and other tangible rewards to one that is driven from the heart, that engages people intrinsically by giving them the autonomy, providing the purpose and creating a sense a belonging. Jeremy Scrivens writes in his post, The Future of Work is Social Business at Scale, “…authenticity is not only the foundation of collaboration and innovation, it is the very experience of being well - being who you really are - Being! not just doing.”

Tangible rewards are limited, and hence automatically lead to competition and fight for survival. In contrast, intrinsic motivation, authenticity, trust, and kindness stem from a deeper source of abundance. Organizations need to shift their paradigms and transform at a far deeper level than we are currently addressing. To see real impact, and deep and lasting transformation, we have to attack the root, and reimagine the organizational metaphor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Inimitable Jay Cross

I had the good fortune to meet Jay in 2011 when he, along with Clark Quinn came down for EDGEx – The Disruptive Education conference. That was the first time I met him face to face, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Apart from the fact that I was totally in awe and had to muster the courage to go and speak with him, I think I was expecting a serious individual, the distinguished author of many books who had coined the term “e-learning” and led the thinking in the field of learning. An iconic figure in my mind… The individual I encountered was full of zest and spirit, fun-loving with a quirky sense of humor, and a warm, affectionate heart. I was bowled over. I think I behaved a bit like a star -truck teenager but that is understandable when you meet Jay Cross in person for the first time. 

My introduction to Jay had been through his book Informal Learning. Needless to say, it had become my bible to understand what social learning is and could be in the context of workplace learning. In those days, I was just a rookie instructional designer trying to write storyboards and grasp the basics of e-learning. I stumbled upon his book and him (virtually) on Twitter. I still remember the excitement I felt when I read Informal Learning and subsequently Working Smarter. Jay infused a new way of looking at how learning happens. For a learning-hungry person like me, it was like manna from heaven. I understood the concept of workscapes for the first time:   
A workscape is a platform where knowledge workers collaborate, solve problems, converse, share ideas, brainstorm, learn, relate to others, talk, explain, communicate, conceptualize, tell stories, help one another, teach, serve customers, keep up to date, meet one another, forge partnerships, build communities, and distribute information. ~ Jay Cross
There were so many Aha! moments as I journeyed through Jay’s books and thoughts. They are too innumerable to list down. I consider myself absolutely privileged to have been included as a part of the advisory board for his latest book – Real Learning! I don’t know what value I added, but I know I got a tremendous amount just by going through the draft of the book, interacting with Jay and other thought leaders in the group. I keep learning from him!

Jay’s excitement and enthusiasm was infectious. He had an almost indefatigable zest for learning, for enjoying life, and a childlike curiosity for exploring. As little as a fortnight ago, he was contemplating different platforms for hosting the Real Learning community. He never stopped thinking of new ways of looking at things, of learning and helping others learn better. We will go on learning from him and reaping the benefits of all that he has left us with – a veritable legacy in how we approach informal and self-directed learning!

Thank you Jay! Real learning will live on and continue to inspire…

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Top Six Things Organizations Must Do to Enable Emergent Learning

“…changes in mindset are more important than changes in hardware or software.”
~Steve Denning
What is common across the learning modes and methods mentioned? 
  • Social learning via an enterprise collaboration platform 
  • Mobile enabled learning accessible anytime, anywhere, on any device of the user’s choice 
  • MOOCs which straddle the line between social learning and e-learning with learner communities

While an organization can facilitate these, the onus lies with the users/learners. These are essentially “pull” and collaborative learning modes and cannot be imposed. These forms often intersect with one another, and are used in various combinations depending on the organization’s need, users’ comfort and the capabilities required to design the ecosystem. Having said that, a major percentage of organizations today are striving to put in place one or more of the above-mentioned modes and tools of learning. This is leading to a shift in the role of the L&D department – from managers and disseminators of formally designed programs to facilitators and enablers of collaboration and communities. I have written about the new skills that L&D and HR needs to make this transition in my posts here and here. In this post, I am going to explore six key requirements necessary from an organizational and leadership standpoints to make collaborative and emergent learning work. But first, 

What is emergent learning?

Emergent Learning is a condition and an outcome of organizational culture, strategy and purpose

It arises out of a combination of networked leadership, HR and L&D efforts, and meaningful work. It leverages the powers of networks and social platforms, and the affordances of mobile and cloud to build an interconnected and continuously learning organization. When fully realized and supported, emergent learning provides autonomy, mastery and purpose to learners and agility, adaptability and resilience to organizations. It empowers learners to build their personal learning networks (PLN) and personal knowledge management (PKM) by leveraging technology to connect a distributed and diverse workforce. Emergent learning by definition takes place in the workflow; it is always contextual, collaborative, and beyond the norms of formal learning. Emergent learning cuts across formal organizational structures and siloes and brings out the inherent tacit knowledge and ongoing collective experience building a shared journey for all concerned. In this context, it is important to remember that technology is an enabler, an amplifier and connector. It is there solely to serve the purpose of the users, to empower them to explore and engage.

Emergent learning = Nurturing Evolving Human Potential by giving individuals the power to learn the way they want to.

When any organization or institution shifts from a hierarchical, top-down mode to a horizontal, peer- and user-driven one – be it in management or learning – culture plays a huge role in the success or otherwise of the endeavor. “The DNA of “peer trust” is built on opposite characteristics – micro, bottom-up, decentralized, flowing and personal” (The Changing Rules of Trust in the Digital Age). This is perhaps the biggest mind shift that organizations have to make in the digital era and to facilitate an environment of continuous learning. While the pace of change and the need for constant re-skilling has adeptly shifted the onus of learning away from institutions to individuals, this comes with a new set of responsibility and change in mindset. IMHO, these are the six key changes organizations need to make to enable emergent learning. 
  1. Shift from networks to communities. The affordances of ubiquitous connectivity, pervasive mobility and cloud, and the prevalence of social media ensure that organizations today are connected. However, facilitating networks is not enough albeit it’s the necessary precursor to building communities. As Henry Mintzberg points out in the HBR article, We Need Both Networks and Communities. “At the organizational level, … effective companies function as communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.” The article resonates with my belief that organizations today must foster trust-based peer communities to encourage collaboration and cooperation. It is in communities that knowledge is exchanged and challenges solved. 
  2. Give up hierarchical, command and control mindset. While we are wont to blame the management models of the Industrial Era and their continuing prevalence today for the lack of trust and transparency we see in many/most organizations, we have to understand that this model served its purpose when scalable efficiency and productivity were the desired outcome. Today in the face of rapid change and technological evolution, this same model is failing us; it’s becoming a roadblock to seamless collaboration and flow of information. Managers schooled in the hierarchical system find it difficult to give up control. Even the physical design of organizations (although many are changing) with its corner offices, and other visible symbols of hierarchy reinforce the order. It’s not enough to espouse a belief in an open culture; it requires redefining the way leadership functions and their external manifestations. 
  3. Make employee engagement an outcome, not the goal. IMHO, it’s an organization fallacy to make employee engagement the goal. Employee engagement is not a set of isolated and random activities. It is an outcome of a number of collective activities, organization culture and overall employee experience. These experiences begin even before an employee joins an organization and continues till the time they leave, and even thereafter in the firm of alumni communities. Every step of an employee’s journey wrt the organization from the interview process to project allocation to interactions with management and peers adds up to define the culture which in turn drives employee engagement or lack thereof. Emergent learning is a key outcome of employee engagement. Engaged employees feel valued and respected; this leads them to collaborate and cooperate in the interest of the organization as well as their own development. Disengaged employees neither learn nor share. 
  4. Make the purpose bigger than shareholder value creation. In the new world, shareholders’ value will continue to exist but not as a primary driver for organizations that seek to attract, retain and build a community of talented individuals or make an impact on the world. An authentic and purpose-driven organization that is seen to give back to society is more likely to attract and retain employees. Purpose and shared value creation are strong drivers of learning inspiring people to share and collaborate towards the achievement of a bigger vision. 
  5. Stop viewing individuals as replaceable resources. Even today, well into the second decade of the knowledge era and the creative economy, organizations still treat individuals as resources. While no one would clear an interview if they said, “I am just like everyone else, and have no unique qualities,” it is precisely what organizations strive to do once you are in. Kill the uniqueness and make one fit a mold. And then perversely complain that people are not creative, innovative, or using their brains. Basically, it’s a dichotomy! What organizations need and want are being fundamentally curbed by their very systems and processes created to uphold uniformity, predictability, and homogeneity. The leaders and managers are as much a victim of the system as the employees. The systems and processes established 200 years ago were created to augment human brawn with machines. They are ill-equipped to support a world that revolves around the uniqueness of the human brain. It calls for transformational leadership and cultural mind-shift. Individuals treated like replaceable cogs will behave like cogs; not self-driven learners
  6. Celebrate diversity in all aspects – cognitive and otherwise. Learning and insight take place when diverse thoughts and ideas collide. “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me,” Dudley Malone had famously said. And it is partially at least true. Diversity and inclusion cannot only be a part of HR policy anymore; it is necessary for the very survival of organizations as we enter the VUCA world. Emergent learning cannot happen unless diverse ideas and experiences find a place to converge and come together. Hence, the communities that organizations facilitate – online or offline -- should consciously enable the coming together of diverse individuals.  
All of these feel like massive changes and they are. I’ll go a step further and say that collectively put together, these moves lead to transformation. Change is primarily tactical, process-driven with a known outcome that one drives toward. Transformation is revolutionary! It takes us from the known to the unknown in the nature of an explorer embarking on a journey of discovery in a bid to find a new world. Here’s a telling excerpt from an HBR article that I’ll end with:

“Change management” means implementing finite initiatives, which may or may not cut across the organization. The focus is on executing a well-defined shift in the way things work.
Transformation is another animal altogether. Unlike change management, it doesn’t focus on a few discrete, well-defined shifts, but rather on a portfolio of initiatives, which are interdependent or intersecting. More importantly, the overall goal of transformation is not just to execute a defined change — but to reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised business model based on a vision for the future. It’s much more unpredictable, iterative, and experimental. It entails much higher risk. And even if successful change management leads to the execution of certain initiatives within the transformation portfolio, the overall transformation could still fail.” We Still Don’t Know the Different between Change and Transformation

Monday, November 2, 2015

#BNLF - 7 Key Takeaways and Other Impressions from Day 1

#BNLF I've learned means Blog Now, Live Forever. Pretty cool I thought! 

This weekend—31st Oct and 1st November -- was spent at the #BNLF conference held at The Lalit, Mumbai. Intrigued by the name and impressed by the lineup of speakers consisting of people like Purba Ray of the A-Musing fame (I have always been intrigued by that hyphen), Arnab Ray, the author of May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, better known as the @greatbong, Anshul Tiwari, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Youth ki Awaaz, Christoph Trappe, the writer of The Authentic Storytelling Project blog, Jeff Bullas whose blog I have been following from years, Preeti Shenoy and none other than Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden – decided how I would spend my weekend. This post is a summary of my impression of Day 1.

This was my first BNLF, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the blogging fraternity. I had somehow assumed that a hundred odd people would turn up and most would be fans of writers like Arnab Ray and Purba Ray… . I turned up at The Lalit well-ahead of time as I’m wont to do, and was ready to meander in the lobby when I encountered at least 300+ people generally hanging around – some in clusters, some alone and some evidently #BNLF organizers wearing the hashtag T-shirt. Hmm! Not quite what I had envisaged for sure. Within a span of 15~20 mins, the 300 swelled to 500+ with more coming. And registration was yet to start. I learned that this amorphous bunch of people consisted of #BNLF regulars as well as the uninitiated like me. “Welcome to the tribe,” someone said. “Are you’ll all bloggers,” I asked? “Yes, of course,” was the somewhat astonished response. That shut me up for sure!

Purba Ray on Stage

There were bloggers from all over India—from Delhi, Chandigarh, Pune, Kolkata, Banglaore… There were bloggers writing on every kind of topic imaginable—from gardening to lifestyle, urban yoga to urban homes, from quilling to political spoofs – if you can think of a topic, there was probably a blogger there writing on it. There were bloggers ranging from 21 year olds to folks in their 50’s. I couldn’t have been more mistaken in my assumptions. And everyone had come to learn, to improve their blogging skills, to pick-up techniques and methodologies to take their blogging to the next level. I was impressed and a little bit awed.

Being used to conferences like #SHRM, #HRTech, and other corporate affairs, I was in for another dose of shock when we entered the main venue post registration. It looked nothing like a conference room. It resembled a rock-show arena with a brightly lit, kaleidoscopic stage, laser lights doing their thing and various musical instruments (I don’t know all the names so won’t get into the details) casually strewn about. The long hall held rows and rows and rows of white chairs – at least a 1000 it seemed -- and looked somewhat surreal to me. I quickly grabbed one in the first row and settled down. The day began with rock music—yes! no corporate affair this one! 700+ people were on their feet rocking and swaying and clapping to “We don’t need no Education” and other favorites. What a start!

The day maintained the momentum and the speakers didn’t let us down either. Each had their unique story and perspectives to share. I’ve made a holistic list of my key takeaways from the day that I felt would be worth sharing for other bloggers like me. 
  1. Bring Constancy and Commitment: This theme cropped up in everyone’s talk and the masterclasses that followed on Sunday. More about these in my next post. Without exception everyone spoke about being committed and regular with one’s blogging schedule, to post on a specific day of the week, and even at a specific time. The trick is to have a set of posts ready and scheduled to publish. This not only helps loyal readers keep track of your writing but also helps in search engine rankings. While I theoretically knew all this, I had not gotten around to being this disciplined. Coming from some of the most respected bloggers and writers, it was a hard-hitting message for me. 
  2. Keep it Conversational: Apparently, while we all like to sound erudite and believe that obfuscating points make them more interesting, it is not true. I pondered a while and realized that the blogs I like in my domain are all written in the simplest language without any loss of depth or impact. The first example that came to my mind was @AbhijitBhaduri ‘s blog! So, keeping it simple, using short words, and writing as if we were explaining a concept to a friend is a good approach to follow. 
  3. Make it Authentic: In their various ways, each of the speakers emphasized this with Christoph Trappe making it the core of his piece. Of course to be authentic, it is essential to feel deeply and passionately about our domain of blogging. It is impossible to be authentic without being passionate. It also implies being vulnerable and open, considering readers as friends. A stilted and fake voice will neither get us loyal readers nor make us feel satisfied with our writing. 
  4. Re-purpose Content: I often forget that I can use my blog post to create a SlideShare presentation, craft unique tweets or use the images for Pinterest boards. Re-purposing content across different social media channels in different forms not only ensures a wider and more constant reach but also addresses varied audience preferences and needs. 
  5. Keep an Eye on the Headline: According to research, listicles are a great way to get attention for primarily three reasons -- 1) provide a container around content pieces; 2) make it easy for the readers to keep track, and go back and forth; and 3) make it easy to recall. While definitely not all my posts can have a title beginning “7 ways to…” and “9 things to keep in mind…”, it is an advice worth remembering. Headlines are very critical, especially in this era of content abundance and attention deficit. Headlines should clearly tell readers what they can expect from the post. 
  6. Remember the 60-30-10 Rule: This specifically struck a chord with me. Christoph Trappe mentioned that successful blogging is defined by this rule of time and effort breakup – where 60% is devoted to creating authentic and original content; 30% should be given to listening and conversation because blogging is not a siloed activity; and 10% effort can be spent on sharing and linking on different social platforms. This is a good rule of thumb I intend to practice more consciously. 
  7. Don’t be Over-Dependent on Social Media: Jeff Bullas emphasized the importance of focusing on search and doing keyword research for those serious about growing their readership. Good content is of course a must and a given. According to him, the power of headlines, images and email lists should not be ignored. I’m going to explore these one at a time and test for impact.

All in all, Day 1 gave me plenty of food for thought and action. I know consistency is going to be my key issue, with procrastination my Achilles’ heel. Look out for posts on the Day 2 Workshops and other unique moments. 

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...