Social Business, Decision Making and the Future of Management

How do we take decisions in a networked, community-based, environment? Yet crucial to one of the core competencies of business, this very question is quite never addressed in the fast growing literature about Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business.

In order to mitigate risk and insure operation’s reproducibility, business processes have relegated decision making at the fringe of most workers’ tasks, and have somehow left its responsibility to the higher levels of hierarchy. To compensate for the fact that problems to be solved are more and more complex, organizations evolved from pyramidal to matrix based, partly to allow for greater expertise in decision making. With no real convincing improvement in fact. As companies face an always faster changing and more competitive environment, and as networked collaborative work appears as a more and more obvious solution to cope with complexity and with the required level of innovation, we still have very few clues about how to deal efficiently with decision making.

Esteban Kolsky recently left me a great comment, which he developed in an article, about the future of social business. Sooner or later, brands will have to include customers in their business decisions. But how will that be? Who will be in charge of taking the structuring decisions? Of course, we are still have plenty of time before most companies open their internal silos to customers’ voice. But going there, and even further, as Esteban suggests, will require a clear understanding of what’s going on on the decision making’s side.

Up to now, despite their highly heralded collaborative nature, present initiatives and case studies in the Enterprise 2.0 field give no insight. If you closely look at the departments they affect, you will find out that no real decision takes place inside the collaborative garden. Marketing? Most decisions are taken upstream, and social media integration is more tactical than strategic. R&D? Decisions are taken downstream, and collaborative work is either used for intelligence or for strictly processed innovation. Knowledge Management? There is no decision to be seen there too.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that those are of no value, I am just noting that successful Enterprise 2.0 implementations do not tackle the collaborative decision making issue. Not yet. Not until some organizations are brave enough to build sandboxes (not pilots, these have to be on purpose, fast paced, experimental initiatives) to tackle this challenge, we are left to speculate…

On Management and Leadership

The easiest way to address decision making is to keep it away from collaborative spaces. Does this look like an heresy? It is, but this is exactly what a new breed of so-called ‘collaborative’ tools, such as SAP StreamWork, does. Despite their claim, they facilitate collaborative problem analysis, NOT decision making, delegating the real responsibility to the traditional command-and-control management chain, where each manager takes his share of decision, according to his place in the hierarchy.To step out this broken model and truly leverage the power of collaborative networks, decisions definitely need to take place inside communities and networks, not outside, which means releasing control and leveraging emergence. This is not your typical managerial task. Today’s management has to deal with a dual burden: escaping from a rigid hierarchical model, inherited from the industrial age, which doesn’t allow for much freedom in decision making, and building enough trust to encourage other workers to escape from his own hierarchical imprint. In that sense, despite the fact that involving management in Enterprise 2.0 adoption and Social Business design is an imperative, there are no more dubious candidates than managers to cope with community-based decision making. Even worse, hybrid communities, involving both employees and customers, cannot be managed.Building trust, encouraging sharing and enthusiasm is more a leader’s job than the one of a manager. Leaders are more likely to drive adoption and to foster collaboration. But what about decision making? There is no single and simple definition of what a leader is or should be, but from the most authoritarian to the most libertarian one, they all share two common points: influence and a vision, which both weight negatively on the group in a decision context. it is likely that leaders might more than often raise consensus around their own perspective.
Yes, managers and leaders are the necessary catalysts of Social Business adoption and setup. But when it comes to decision making, both might get as much as possible out of the way.

On Complexity and New Skills needed

On his blog, Bas Reus suggests that we stop predicting, and embrace emergence instead. But, to be fruitful, this supposes that emergence leads to convergence (to a common view, or, at least, to a common action plan), and that negative outcomes are quickly enough identified to allow for new orientations. It supposes that decision making takes place
somewhere. Absolute self-organization is not an option for organizations, and so is total failure. Workers need to be sufficiently individually empowered to be able to take their own decisions, according to their skills and competencies, without been entangled by a manager’s or a leader’s view, but they still need guidance. We can watch today the effects of such self-organization and independent decision making in the financial realm. While banks and trading companies pursue a quite clear strategy, traders are left alone in their tactical decisions making. Big profits, erratic losses, as, among others, in the exemplary Kerviel affair
Empowering both customers and knowledge workers by providing all information needed for correct analysis, facilitating individual decision making according to one’s competencies and learning abilities, providing guidance across internal and hybrid clusters and communities, fostering autonomy, those are the new skills needed inside organizations to unleash the power of networked environments. To reach the next step, companies dipping their toes into Social Business will need people who combine HR skills with high analysis-synthesis competencies. Empowerers?

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5 Responses to Social Business, Decision Making and the Future of Management

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  3. Mark Tamis says:

    Hi Thierry,

    As always, good insights 🙂 Just to play the Devil’s Advocate, should we consider the Enterprise as the optimal way of organising for today’s business environment?

    Before we needed companies to create and maintain the links between resources, at the cost of heavy investment (real-estate, salaries, technological means, IP etc). Companies were (and in most cases still are) very protective in order to ensure that the investments made could be capitalised upon without being cannibalised by the competition.

    With all these new means at our disposal and the ability to find and share with others beyond the boundaries of the enterprise, it may be interesting to look into other ways of organising to reach the same objectives of meeting desired outcomes for customers. The 20th Century organisation could actually be a barrier to innovation because it prohibits bringing together and collaborating with best-of-class resources wherever they are or whoever they may be on as-needed basis. So rather than try to fix organisations that do not have the culture (or do not want to change this), we could be looking at how to use Enterprise 2.0 methodology to create a new dynamic – have the organisation concentrate on its core-of-core competency and expand its periphery by collaborating with best-of-class resources, be they other core-focused companies or networks of individuals.

    It would be a radical change in mindset, but could be interesting for innovative solutions for getting the customer job done 🙂



    • Thierry de Baillon says:

      Thanks so much for these thoughts, Mark. The future of business… Well, I think there definitely will be two different kinds of organizations. But this is worth more than a comment. Stay tuned : )

  4. Jon Husband says:

    To reach the next step, companies dipping their toes into Social Business will need people who combine HR skills with high analysis-synthesis competencies. Empowerers?

    I don’t think “dipping their toes” is going to be very satisfying (the water in the pool ALWAYS feels too cold at first), but empowerment and inclusiveness ? Yes, fundamentally necessary and an issue that cannot be avoided.

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