Hierarchy to Wirearchy – Designing Flows for Networks of Purposeful People

The question of “designing flows” is pertinent today because the reality of living and working in a networked world is catching up with us. This new reality is catching up with us because being connected and increasingly dependent upon flows of useful information is having a rapidly growing (and deepening) impact upon the way(s) we do things.

We are now connected to and surrounded by flows of information, and we need to be able to understand ..

1) why these flows are happening,
2) what they mean and can do to us and
3) how to be effective in these new conditions – individually, in small groups-of-purpose and (eventually) as general participants (citizens) in a networked society of constant information flows.

It is as if we are discovering a new continent, new lands. Connected flows of information and motivation are completely new conditions, when considered as applicable to a large percentage of the planet’s people.

We know hierarchy and clearly-defined roles for people – it’s embedded in our lives and psychology

Hierarchy dominates – for now

For many generations now we have lived and worked in social arrangements that are hierarchical. Knowledge is power, it is said. Social hierarchy is directly related to that maxim. In virtually all areas of human endeavour, access to and possession of critical information and knowledge is essential to having and using power. Formal hierarchies guarantee that the occupants of the highest positions, those with power, have access to the most sensitive and critical element of knowledge.

Thus, today’s acceptance of social hierarchy has grown through the ages out of the power structures of clans and tribes, which are typically directly related to the wisdom, sagacity and potency of a clan chief or tribal leader. It has grown and become somewhat normalized through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the Post-Industrial Information / Knowledge Era.

As these eras have waxed and waned, the distribution and use of ‘knowledge as power’ has always been at the centre of social hierarchy (and now in the modern era, organizational hierarchy). The seminal moment or event for many arrived with the Gutenberg printing press, which brought a major new dimension to the notion that “knowledge is power”. It enabled the much easier, less expensive, more rapid and eventually decentralized creation and production of pamphlets and books, which in turn resulted in a much more widespread access to information, opinion and knowledge. However, its impact on the dissemination of knowledge throughout society was much resisted by the existing power structures (monarchies and the dominant church(es)) and occurred relatively slowly over several hundred years.

More recently, and for a range of reasons we understand well, our modern era has codified and embedded hierarchy as the primary organizing principle for the protocols and methods that inform the institutions and dynamics of developed society. The dominance of hierarchy is primarily due to the wholesale adoption of Taylorism as a key model or orientation for a wide range of human activities (it being a model positing efficiency as a primary objective of organized activities). Taylorism met its soul mate in organizational hierarchy when the two core assumptions of 1) the decomposition of activities into component actions and 2) the division of labour into sets of tasks fitted together to deliver predetermined (read “designed”) results were codified into methodologies for work and organizational design that create, reinforce and sustain the pyramidal hierarchy that today we know so well.

Interconnectivity – hierarchy begins a major evolution towards wirearchy

Approximately 40 years ago the Internet was created. A little less than 20 years ago the Web came into being, thanks to the invention of the graphical user interface (GUI). Subsequently, and with accelerating intensity, we’ve encountered and begun to use in massive ways hyperlinks, easy self-publishing tools and platforms upon which people connect, engage with each other and share.

Oh boy, do they share. People share everything and anything, including much that is uninteresting, venal, narcissistic, uninformed and otherwise not useful. People always share interesting and pertinent information with each other, on purpose. They do so for one reason or another .. including just social play, grooming, or expressing themselves in the full range of ways humans know how to express themselves). They do so in order to create responses, advance agendas, inform and educate others and themselves .. and so on. This sharing free-for-all creates hubs of interest .. new or pertinent knowledge that people can then use, whether in decisions to use or buy something, or on how to vote, or …

Sharing generates continuous flow

The past decade has been the beginning of an historic transition in how people communicate, use information and create and use knowledge. People everywhere are connecting, interacting and generating new loci of power based on sharing information pertinent to their purposes and interests.

The now-ubiquitous hyperlinked social interaction creates an environment characterized by flows of information and a growing fluidity of activities. The relative stability and homogeneity of the pre-Internet post-WW II society is rapidly becoming a subject for wistful nostalgia for many.

It seems clear that they are operating in, and fuelling social interaction with, connected flows of information and opinion.

Social interaction generates information, opinion, beliefs – the basic exchanges upon which trust is built. ‘Traditional’ hierarchy needs to evolve in order to remain or become effective in such an environment of increasingly ubiquitous networked human activity.

New conditions often demand new principles and ways of looking at things. Wirearchy is an emergent organizing principle that describes the fundamental dynamics supporting the interactions of networked people, technology and information. The working definition, which has become increasingly relevant over the past decade, is ..

A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.

Why the four elements of Knowledge, Trust, Credibility and a Focus on results ?

From observations as the impact of hyperlinks and connectedness have spread throughout our societies, and a recognition during many conversations with many people, it seems that these four elements are at the core of why and how people will organize to get things down in an era characterized by growing flows of interconnected information.

Let’s explore that affirmation in greater depth by digging into the role of each as 1) an enabler and 2) a practice that supports purposeful flows of information.


Enabler: A foundation, fundamentally necessary. It represents the fundamental raw material applied to resolving a problem, deepening the understanding of an issue and the challenge and opportunities the issue presents, improving in tangible ways the value received from a product or service.

Practice: It is available or built through exchanges between humans who are working on understanding who to do about a problem, issue, product, service, etc.


Enabler: Essential for any meaningful exchange (other than conflict) between sentient beings. The infrastructure and operations of governance and law in a human society is a response to the fundamental need for trust.

Practice: It is available from seeing and experiencing the result of exchanges between humans where those involved in the exchanges assess the veracity and applicability of knowledge generated by the exchanges. It is developed over time from each participant assessing for themselves the intent, style and subsequent effects or results of the exchanges between the human participants involved.


Enabler: Assuming exchanges between humans are not always one-off or unique/singular each time but are ongoing (due to commonality of purpose and the nature of problems, issues and providing products and services to markets or communities), a desired degree of efficiency demands that it should not be necessary to build and deploy the necessary knowledge and trust each time humans address a problem, issue/opportunity, product or service.

Practice: Exchanging with others visibly (i.e. working out loud) and demonstrating in accessible and tangible ways the knowledge that an individual brings to an / the exchange(s) can offer others the opportunity to assess knowledge and develop degrees/levels of trust over time. As experience with others grows over time in exchanges about a problem, issue/opportunity, product or service grows over time, credibility becomes 1) a threshold of assessment and 2) a facilitating dynamic for deepening and accelerating the relevant impact of applying trusted knowledge. It is an efficiency lever.

Focus on Results:

Enabler: A networked environment in which flows of information from a large number of human participants with diverse interests, perspectives, beliefs and values results in conditions of complexity. In order for humans to make any constructive progress when addressing problems, issues/opportunities, products or services in conditions of complexity, it is essential that there is a common understanding of what is desired or required to be generated as a result of the exchanges between humans. A focus on results is the practical definition of a network’s purpose.

Practice: In order to be effective with respect to addressing a problem, issue/opportunity, product or service, there must be a common understanding of what is the desired or required end state achieved by addressing them. The initial exchanges between networked humans-on-purpose must seek to clarify the desired or required end state in order to provide intent and direction to the knowledge sought and applied, and in order for the combination(s) of knowledge, trust and credibility to have positive and tangible impact towards the desired or required end state.

Understanding the structure(s) of flow in networks

To deepen the introduction to the concept of wirearchy (which I argue is a fundamental evolution of hierarchy but in a “wired” networked environment), it’s useful to think of using X-rays to discover the effects of networked activity on the classic organizational hierarchy .. the infamous organization chart which maps out reporting relationships and structural lines of communication and decision-making. The X-ray images show what’s actually going on in terms of activities, making a visual map of the connections, sharing and dynamics of interconnected (hyperlinked) people and information.

Diagram courtesy of Valdis Krebs, Orgnet.com

Wirearchy enables, guides and concentrates flow

Basically, in an interconnected and hyperlinked world (the new conditions in which we live) flows of information increasingly define key aspects of what we do and how we live. These flows of information are occurring in a public space, and are beginning to be a key ingredient of communal, societal (and perhaps global) cultures. Can such flows be designed ?

The short answer is yes, but probably not in the sense of a stable or necessarily repeatable form. In interconnected conditions we can design flows in the sense that the flow(s) address a purpose and its subsidiary objectives. The flows, whether of human energy, pertinent information, actionable knowledge, or other forms of stimuli and data can be directed towards and/or grouped around a purpose and the objectives that accompany or define the realization of that purpose.

The working definition of wirearchy as an organizing principle comes into effect in such conditions. People grouped around a purpose and objectives (the thrivability of a community, let’s say) use knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on what needs to get done in order to 1) clarify, 2) enable and 3) sustain the community’s thrivability.

The form of organization taken by any given group will be based on its purpose and (increasingly) be designed by the people involved. It will use the flows of exchange to build trust through engagement and credibility, and it will use existing and just-in-time knowledge built by the participants (mined from the flows of information by the exchange(s) of pertinent and useful information to address the purpose and objectives of the group.

Two recent examples come to mind come to mind that may help clarify how this use of connected flows in a network operates. The first demonstrates a small working group working on a clear and defined purpose that involves a complex issue, and the other sets out the results generated by three years’ of intentional and focused experimentation by a large commercial organization.

First example:

Two colleagues who live thousands of kilometres from me have been working with me on developing a short but complex statement of philosophy and value generation to support the launch of a worldwide network of organisational change agents. Our working relationship and friendship has developed over the past 10 years (in one case) and five years (in the other case). We have grown to know each other well through reading each others’ work, commenting with both agreements and disagreements and exploring the foundations and meaning of each others’ positions.

We have watched each other as each person has interacted with many others on a wide range of social networks, and at times have collaborated on launching initiatives that have foundered or gone sideways for one reason or another. We have had occasion to test each other’s honesty and core values. We have gone through many forms of social and professional interaction with each other. We are not superficial cheerleaders and promoters for each other. We take each other seriously, and we have built together a small but intense ecosystem of knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results. We operate as a trusted and effective pod (like any of the pods probably should operate in the concept of the podular organization (“The Connected Company”, David Gray and Thomas Vanderwal)

Second example:

In 2013 the ISIA College of Art and Design in Florence, Italy was faced with important budget cuts that precipitated a crisis for its students and faculty. The impending crisis motivated a group of students who had been studying the design issues in the “Near Future of Education” to begin exploring and imagining how they could survive and evolve as a learning-and-practice design nexus.

The initial realization is that a viable and thrivable future in an increasingly networked-and-digital world would most likely come from the students and faculty embracing greater responsibility for the college’s governance, administration and general learning dynamics.

A group of students formed an exploration group and began researching possibilities, settling finally on the general vision and ethos of the P2P (peer-to-peer) and Commons movement as an orientation that they felt could provide a good foundation for a thrivable future. They set up a foundation to house the implementation of the eventual framework, called the Knowpen (knowledge + open) Foundation. They then began researching various approaches to governance and structure, including sociocracy, holocracy, Googlecracy, heterarchy, self-organizing systems and wirearchy. They also set up an organization called “NEFULA” (Near Future Education Lab) to offer practical approaches to design projects, art installations, etc.

They eventually chose the framework of wirearchy as their key orientation to positive constructive change towards increased self-governance and self-management. The story of their process and the initial results of exploration and choices is summarized in this video on YouTube titled “Knowpen Foundation”.

3 years on, their choices have led to a thriving student body, a growing profile in the realm of design for NEFULA and greater confidence in their abilities with respect to self-governance and self-management of a high-profile educational program. They have embarked on building a continuously evolving human ecosystem.

As hierarchy and wirearchy evolve

These new ubiquitously-interconnected conditions have brought us rather quickly to a deeper understanding that the principle of wirearchy helps people create and empower human ecosystems.

These ecosystems will need to learn and practice how to use flow to accomplish what they decide to do, and to bring form, focus and function to thriving in the pursuit of the future they desire for their purposes. It does not happen by magic. It demands a clear and deep understanding that the new conditions described earlier in this piece are here to stay and will in all likelihood densify and intensify.

In order to be effective in such an environment, humans operating on-purpose with each other in flows of digital information carried by an interconnected electronic infrastructure need an intelligent framework that respects the core dynamics of the social interactions that generate pertinent and actionable knowledge and creates tangible value for the ecosystems in which they work and live.

Understanding Semantic Straitjackets: How today’s management science stifles creativity, innovation and responsiveness — and what to do about it

(This essay has benefitted greatly from criticism and input from Thierry de Baillon, CV Harquail, Dominique Turcq, Steve Seager, Johnnie Moore, Kevin Barron, Dave Pollard, John Kellden and various discussions with other thoughtful friends).

‘Networks make organizational culture and politics explicit’ – Michael Schrage

As our networked world evolves, prescriptive models with comprehensive sets of rules are becoming less and less effective. In our dealing with complexity and uncertainty, we as leaders, managers, and consultants often face the temptation to fall back on a too-prescriptive linear logic of cause-and-effect. We don, often without reflecting, cognitive straitjackets.

Straitjackets are devices worn to restrain agitated or unpredictable people. Typically they are jackets with long arms that tie or buckle behind the person wearing one, such that their arms (and thus their ability to do most things) are restrained. As for semantics — these are the written-down contextual forces that lace our straitjackets up tight.

Today, our semantic straight-jackets are bound by the prescriptive linear logic of cause-and-effect that evolved from the later stages of the Industrial Revolution. We strive to know how to do things better, faster, cheaper, at greater scale. 

The models created to codify “how to do things better, faster, cheaper” are almost exclusively derived from yesterday’s and today’s mainstream management ‘science’.  These models have led us directly into the modern re-engineered, optimized and streamlined business processes that surround us in our daily lives today. Today’s business processes, competency models for all sorts of work, and leadership and management models are all focused on this kind of short-term performance-related behaviour. 

They are so common and widespread that they are used almost without thinking. As a result, just like buzzwords that may present a solid idea, but are diluted through popular and not- rigorous use, many of today’s models have come to be relatively meaningless in our new context.

They compete with each other for the attention of potential users. And they have the unintended effect of creating and maintaining boundaries for action and interaction that present obstacles to adaptability, responsiveness and the co-creation of innovation in our new context.  The phrase “think outside the box” for encouraging creativity adaptability exists for a good reason.

As a result, as we face growing complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty, we are firmly in the grip of a mental model that exhorts us to cut through the confusion and focus on what to do in order to ‘win’. I remember an excellent example pointed out by Dave Snowden a couple of years ago when KPMG (I think) was promising on billboards to ‘cut through complexity to the solution’. Dave, as a knowledgeable authority on navigating complexity, chortled with derision at this presumptuous advertising

Most models offer and promise enhanced organizational effectiveness — winning, in other words. They are typically a combination of ‘solutions’ and ‘transformation’ that sell prescriptive advice. They are marketed as solutions, but are mainly packaging of observable patterns operating in defined and established contexts that are presumed to be stable and/ or repeatable.

Often as not, they generate much light and heat in the name of implementing responsiveness and an ability to navigate the growing complexity, whilst doing relatively little or nothing to grow or support real, flexible and sustainable responsiveness.

However, make no mistake. We in the western world (and around the globe) have benefited greatly during the past century from the codification and modelling of efficiency, planning forward, budgeting and our understandings of human psychology in the context of homo economicus.

The methods and models of « how-to » dominate

We’ve been living through the late stages of an era dominated by assumptions about predictability, efficiency, reproducibility, control of quality and an ongoing quest to replace expensive and variable human labour with processes and automation that delivers those characteristics at massive scale.

As the quest for reliable success and continuous improvement has continued and grown, it has come to define our times. During this journey, we have witnessed (via a plethora of semantically defined models) the evolution of the concepts of management science take shape in tools that codify:

– the division of
– functional and service specialization,
– continuous
assessment and monitoring,
– the widespread adoption of metrics, and
– the definition of what desirable performance

These tools take shape as semantically-defined scales, grids and matrices that describe a model and how to use it.  For a given challenge they spell out in “how-to” format various levels of generic responsibility, required skills, and the competencies leading to high performance.  Over the past two decades, attempts have begun to appear aimed at opening up the constraints these core assumptions imposed (for example, the Balanced Scorecard, Agile and Lean management methodologies, etc.).  

However, there is often considerable friction, as the world of conventional management remains saturated with many methods and models for ‘how- to’:

– enhance efficiency
– harness human potential
– organize most effectively for repeatable successful delivery.

The limits of these assumptions are appearing as networked flows of information bring constant churn and increased complexity.  Significant re-conception is necessary with regard to what to think about, how to think about it and how to guide responsive action.

All models, all the way down

Today it seems such modelling is what we know how to understand. Building and implementing models is how we tackle issues, problems and opportunities. And relatively rapidly they become used as prescriptive solutions.  Unfortunately they are less and less adequate for increasingly complex conditions. Executives and managers want to know ‘what will work’ — without having to do the hard work of thinking critically through issues of human dynamics involved in cognition, learning, clear communications and resolving issues identified through ongoing feedback.

After 75+ years of management science we have created our own straight jackets. They are us and we are them.  We semantically defined the forces that have now become obstacles to flexibility, responsiveness and innovation. Our prescriptions are as follows:

– Models for Agile and Lean methodologies that ‘work’, as opposed to their use for guidance
– The ‘one true’ organizational design model for successful performance
– Fixed competency models, job descriptions, developmental learning and management models
– The ‘perfect’ CV and resume
– ‘Recipes’ for change management and digital / organizational transformation

Sustained responsive adaptability and true effectiveness in conditions of
growing complexity seem elusive. At best, there is improvement in how things are carried out, get done and are delivered, but almost always only for a relatively short period of time. Then, things change once again. True adaptability and responsiveness remain elusive. So what’s going on?

Complexity without comprehension

The above reminds me of the oft-cited debate between the applicability and utility of Best Practices models versus Good Practices; in effect, rather than applying best practices as prescriptive, using good practices involves exploring models and using more fundamental principles to actually think through what to do, why and how.

Prior to the widespread mania for implementing massive, comprehensive and enterprise- wide ERP systems (aimed at standardization and focused on efficiency), during the 80’s we had begun hearing more and more about learning organizations, organizations as living human systems, and success stories with respect to experimentation in self-directed work groups and self-management. However, virtually all of this burgeoning experimentation was effectively crushed by a widespread onslaught of the ERP-isation of the enterprise.

More recently there has been rapidly growing interest in concepts such as the supposedly self-management-oriented Holacracy, the emerging concepts of the Responsive Organization” (Microsoft) and Holonomics’ “Squads, Tribes, Guilds and Agile Organizations”. These new models give a nod to self-direction and self-management in human-centered frameworks, but seek to create a model that can be implemented as a set of rules that will apply to a new set of conditions (hyperlinked and networked flows of information and feedback).

However, as these new conditions have begun to have impact on more of our activities within an organizational context, it’s no surprise that the primary examples of effectiveness and adaptability cited today refer most often to the enterprises recognized 20 or 25 years ago as robust examples of self-directed learning organizations (W.L. Gore & Associates, Semco, Mondragon and a handful of others).

The organizational world is getting more complex, rapidly. As the complexity grows, so has the desire  for simple and easily-implemented solutions. This polarity is understandable. But, humans are messy and and have individual cognitive, psychological and emotive profiles and capabilities. In effect, each person has their own configuration of cognition, psychology and motivation that affects their reasons for being and doing. They do not yield easily to standardization models. It is my belief that most people have reacted to the onslaught of competency models (for example) as one would react to being asked to try on a straitjacket  … livable but constraining and uncomfortable.

Understanding and using complexity

Hyperlinked networks that have connected us and allowed us to speak out and speak up, work out loud, etc. are making explicit the human diversity of perspective and the attendant messiness, and have amplified the problem that management science models set out to conquer.

Our continuing reliance on those prescriptive semantically-defined models of “how to” do something, “how to” get it right next time are holding us back. I do not believe there will be any more correct or “right” models upon which leaders and decision-makers can rely to generate effectiveness.

Perhaps rather than using models to try to control and predict what networked humans will do in the quest to generate flexibility, responsiveness and ‘performance’ we should seek to shape and guide those activities through understanding diversity and uniqueness and learning to operate in conditions that more and more often are becoming complex.

Dave Snowden and collaborators developed the Cynefin Framework about a decade ago.  It’s purpose is to help executives and managers navigate complex conditions more effectively.

the Cynefin framework, which allows executives to see things from new viewpoints, assimilate complex concepts, and address real-world problems and opportunities. (Cynefin, pronounced ku-nev-in, is a Welsh word that signifies the multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways we can never understand.) Using this approach, leaders learn to define the framework with examples from their own organization’s history and scenarios of its possible future. This enhances communication and helps executives rapidly understand the context in which they are operating.

The framework sorts the issues facing leaders into five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect. Four of these—simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic—require leaders to diagnose situations and to act in contextually appropriate ways. The fifth—disorder—applies when it is unclear which of the other four contexts is predominant.

A Leader’s Framework for Decision-Making“, Harvard Business Review – November 2007

The Cynefin framework (below) and the use of sense-making capabilities as engendered in the Sensemaker suite of software are essential in helping us move beyond the semantic straitjackets embodied in cause-and-effect models of “how to” do things.

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 19.43.10

The Cynefin model presents us with a different narrative, both semantic and syntactic, of the nature of work in the age of ever-changing conditions and ever-flowing information. By becoming regular users of such a framework, we will better understand what kinds of activities and work confront us, and thus what kinds of change- work needs to be considered.

From a semantic point of view, the indicators set out in the Cynefin framework are descriptions of core conditions and possible action. Instead of cutting through – and often dismissing – complexity, these indicators are not prescriptive but rather support enquiry, critical thinking and analysis about what paths of questioning. Critical thinking and action(s) are likely to offer effective responses to complexity that will not yield to prescriptive standardized responses.

Here is a simplistic interpretation of the different Cynefin domains:

Known – work/activity that is well established and necessary, unlikely to change much and thus a candidate for become automation and / or robotization,

Knowable – work/activity that structured yet requires ongoing refinement wherein analytics, intelligent pattern-seeking and algorithmization in defined areas will yield improvement(s),

Complex – work/activity where seeking and observing patterns and deciding what kinds of constraints are likely to clarify patterns results in possibilities for stabilization and then ongoing refinement,

Chaos – probing with action, stimuli and experimental constraints to seek the emergence of patterns, and

Disordered – work that has no focus or purpose or that doesn’t make any sense in the current context (my interpretation re: work activities)

Furthermore, the model doesn’t provide a linear, predictable path from a domain to another. It gives neither prescriptive response nor sequential approach to how things should get done. Its open syntax favours experimentation, oblique thinking, and holistic understanding of the different patterns at stake.

Semantic frameworks are for guidance, not control

To untie the straitjackets that are constraining our capacities to successfully adapt to present and future business conditions, we need to become able to discern between the different domains outlined in the Cynefin model, to consider different approaches to complexity than to complication, to the unknown than to what we know.

Frameworks such as Cynefin provide us with guidance towards new more effective ways of describing exploration and actions, while their open syntax allow us to stay away from the prescriptions that worked in a predictable environment in order to prototype and apply novel approaches to organizational effectiveness.

Certainly this is not an easy task. But as prescriptive models with a comprehensive set of rules are likely to become less and less effective as our networked world evolves, we cannot hide our fear of complexity behind them anymore.

To tame this fear, and grow our individual or collective potential, we need first to learn the building blocks of a new semantics, then to play with them according to a new syntax. Learn and play, not prescriptive methodologies, are the fabric of organizational improvement.

Future of Work Research Report Calls For More Wirearchy

For many years, Bill Jensen of Simplerwork.com has been studying and advising on how to cut through the built-up clutter and confusion in the workplace in order to get to the simple and effective beliefs and practices that brings peoples’ work lives to life.

I first came across his work in 2003 via the book “Work 2.0 – Building the Future, One Employee at a Time”.

I bought the book for my client TELUS (the newly-appointed Director of Learning and soon-to-be VP of HR) but arguably TELUS didn’t really start taking on board some of the key issues until Dan Pontefract arrived at TELUS and began the march towards the “Flat Army – Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization“.

Here 12 years later are the findings of a major research study led by Bill Jensen on the critical obstacles and opportunities facing workplaces everywhere as they begin to notice the “future of work” on the horizon.

I’m pleased to note that the concept and principle of wirearchy feature prominently in the findings of the research study.

You can view the research study presentation in your browser by clicking on its picture on the Simplerwork.com site and entering your email address.

86% of respondents said the toughest challenges and choices facing senior execs were people issues — how to find them, organize them, manage them, resource them and develop them — so that everyone has the capacity to help their teams and their company succeed. However, respondents went far beyond “treat your people better.” They cited, like many others have, the need for a strong, passionate vision to connect employees to their company. And to truly move into the future of work, they stressed that most every people management system has to change.

That the future of work is moving from hierarchy to wirearchy (network). That the workforce needs to be freed to create value in ways that today’s hierarchies do not do.


Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 18.05.18

The Future of Work Inside Traditional Hierarchies

Making Wirearchy operable is hard work.

Hierarchy in an organisational context is represented by clear lines and boxes showing who reports to how, with job titles that say clearly what someone is responsible for.  For most people this is much easier to see, decode and understand.  But it doesn’t respond very well to constantly-changing information-saturated markets and challenges.  The primary challenge comes from people having to understand and respond to every-which-way flows of information about products, services, problems, capabilities and the myriad other activities that make up living in a society

We’ve lived in an environment of identifying problems and creating cause-and-effect solutions for a long time now.  That way of going about things is less and less effective all the time, as we encounter complexity more often. Increasingly, beginning and sustaining the journey to a different organisational structure and dynamics won’t yield to a simple and easy-to-implement method or prescriptive approach.

There are reasons why it’s not simple and why there is no longer one primary method or prescription. I’d like to explore what I think are some of those key reasons in the rest of this post.

For quite a few years now we’ve all been hearing about the advent of the information age, the emergence of a new paradigm, the need for fundamental and transformative change. And while we’ve been nodding in agreement, we’ve all watched as the economic and organisational landscape keeps shifting in front of us and underneath our feet.

Now it’s real, or real-er.  This funky WO Report about the un-corporation sets out some of the key issues coming at us faster and faster.

And yet all too often we struggle mightily to adapt.  Many have weighed in on the issue, noting that deep cultural and mindset change is very hard.  For example, see Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management and the accompanying MIX (Management Innovation Exchange). They offer a now-widely-accepted perspective on the need for deep change, much of which boilds down to structure and culture. I’ve addressed what I think are some of the key issues in an essay from a couple of years ago titled “Knowledge, power and an historic shift in work and organisational design”.

Information is now the raw material of organized human activities. It energizes opinions and feeds our human decisions and business processes with continuous flows of input. But traditional organizations typically insist that information flows follow the reporting relationships and lines of command of the organisational chart. An organization’s IT architecture and the design of its major management information systems (ERP) are almost always aligned with, and support and reinforce, that structure. And so we lumber on, laden with organisational structures and management practices honed and refined from the 60’s and 70’s through to today.

The fundamental mindset underneath the methods and practices that inform these organisations are predicated on division of labourspecialisationefficiency-seekingoptimisationpredictability, etc. These concepts are not bad or irrelevant in and of themselves, but it is arguably the case that their role in the strategies and structures of organisations has changed or is changing.

Henry Mintzberg points out the central problem in typically concise fashion, noting that the top figure in the following diagram is an existing organization whilst the bottom figure is a re-organization of that organization.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 13.21.01

Over the last decade the need to change in deep ways has been growing relentlessl, as connected information-and-people becomes the norm. The new conditions are with us, surround us, and are not going away.

First there was Enterprise 2.0, then Social Business, now Digital Transformation and Responsive.org (the Responsive Organisation). The market for ‘organizational transformation’ continually seeks solutions, methods and recipes.  It wants maps that can be unfolded or recipes that can be downloaded onto a Powerpoint and followed step-by-step so that the ‘right’ destination appears on the horizon and is accessible.

A simple polarity dominates this mainstream market for transformation; the more complex our operating environment becomes, the more simplicity and clarity are desired.

As steward of the concept of wirearchy, I have had many people ask me or prod me to « make it more practical ». However, it is not a method or prescription; it is in effect a design principle to use for thinking about the effective organizing of human activities in a networked environment.

What We’re All Up Against

There is a fundamental and enduring paradox facing all organisations today.  It is essentially unresolvable, unless today’s basic assumptions underpinning the structure of an organisation are challenged to the core of their very existence.

Today’s organisations are designed and built on cause-and-effect; linear and optimisable processes can be designed and fine-tuned; specific expertise can be deployed to solve problems, and so on.  It is believed that planning forward based on cause-and-effect is effective.  And sometimes it is.

And yet there are large volumes of research and heuristics that call these basic assumptions into question.  Increasingly over the past decade we have hear words and concepts like complexityresonanceresilienceresponsivenessagilityadaptabilityexaptationfeedback loops, and so on. Linear cause-and-effect processes often become brittle when faced with flows of information from connected perspectives generated from many different angles.

The industrial era that is now ending was dominated by this cause-and-effect assumption and the models it has spawned. As most know, this dominant model was derived from the application and codification of the principles of  Fordism and Taylorism.

The codification and enactment of those principles has led to the development of a number of dominant concepts and methods, and the massive growth of a consulting industry. The dominant consulting firms 40 or 50 years ago were small accounting or other professional services firms. They spied the debut of what has become a huge and still-growing market, and adopted and marketed these concepts and methods. As the world has become more complicated and more complex, these firms have become massive and global in scope.

These firms long ago learned to promise solutions, and have conditioned their client organizations to buy those solutions. They have continued to do so as the environment gets more and more complex. Selling comprehensive solutions also allows for the deployment of small armies of junior consultants and supports those firms’ business models very well.

Over the past five or so years, likely because of an environment of hyperlinked and interconnected information flows between employees and customers, there’s more and more talk of how organisations need to be guided and supported by stewardship-oriented leaders as opposed to isolated top-down decision makers detached from customers and the interactions in markets.

Stewardship-oriented leaders understand that organizations are collections of people-on-purpose, that trust is the critical and only sustainable advantage, that constant listening is essential to building a trustful and engaged workforce, and that taking responsibility and instilling and growing adaptability are necessary at all levels of the enterprise.

The impulse behind this growth in interest is aimed at facing current conditions head-on and beginning the work and learning necessary to survive and thrive in new conditions. These new conditions will henceforth only be encountered more frequently and with more intensity.

Patterns are appearing

That said, the approaches and methods that have begun appearing recently contain characteristics that should prove to be useful next steps towards more responsive, accountable and adaptive organizations.  But typically prescriptive approaches are not deep enough, flexible enough nor adaptable enough to be useful in the long term.  Implementing them more often than not results eventually in what many employees refer to as the BOHICA syndrome : « Bend over, here it comes again ».

In order to realise more fully the benefits of human variety and diversity working together in networked collaboration, those concerned with organizational change and adapting to the new conditions of interconnectedness would do well to work from first principles.  It’s essential to ask « why and what for », to consider context and specific industry, market and talent challenges when deciding how to get involved in an iterative process of Design Thinking about major organizational change.

For example, the concept of communities of practice originating in the areas of organizational learning and KM in the late 80s and early 90s have matured, into work communities in the connected workplace and communities of customers connected with enterprises in the interconnected economy.

The Community Roundtable, headed by Rachel Happe McEnroe and Jim Storer, has developed over the past several years a Community Maturity model which demonstrates clearly the extent to which the notion of an interconnected and interwoven group of people is a basic structural unit for knowledge work today.

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Working Out Loud circles, learning circles, circles for Coaching Ourselves, Squads, Guilds, Tribes and Clans; all of these are beginning to seen as obvious and effective practices for worker engagement, but probably would not have seen the light of day were it not for the Web’s connectivity, hyperlinks, information flows and the erosion of traditional hierarchy due to continual feedback loops.

An example of a pattern of sorts that has been applied only a few times involves smart and aware young up-and-coming executives recognising that hyperlinks and collaboration platforms are the new environment for productivity. They have also recognized that making disciplined use of many existing OD (organisational development) principles (much discussed but often used in a relatively disjointed fashion over the past 20 years) would result in increased engagement and often enhanced perofmrance and productivity..

A comprehensive leadership philosophy and competency models, values that were well-communicated and made tangible, paying attention to employees’ learning, performance and work-life balance needs are all obvious components of a healthy workplace culture that are all too infrequently not taken seriously enough.  A young and aware executive I know took them seriously, and went about using them to create and convert change champions.  He and his colleagues took their time introducing and talking through the concepts, “went slow to go fast” and so have led the organisation over 5 years to being a high-engagement, high-performance organization.

It is still a traditional hierarchy in most senses.  But make no mistake.  Connected hyperlinked employees exchanging information on purpose, with purpose, have made a huge contribution to the organisation’s progress.  For many working there, the culture has changed in dramatically positive ways.  Today arguably it is an enlightened classic hierarchy, or at least more enlightened than most of its competitors.

Using fundamental OD principles intelligently and coherently is half the battle. But it is not enough.  Hyperlinks and networks as we know them today (online, accessed through a range of social computing tools, with all the power of the past twenty-plus years of information management and processing driving their operations) present fundamentally new conditions.  We have a lot to learn yet from a semi-forgotten field of experimentation from the 70s and 80s known as socio-technical systems theory. It has a lot to offer us.

There are very few mature wirearchies; and yet Your Organisation Is Already a Wirearchy.

Implementing a Process Rather Than Buying and Installing a Prescriptive Solution

It took at least 40 years for Taylorism and Fordism to become codified into a a set of very similar methods for creating the organization’s structure and managing its activities.

Today we are told by technology marketers and digital transformation consultants that installing a collaborative platform and following their recipe for

– installing and integrating some social computing tools,

– combining that with training to enhance engagement

is essential in order for an organization to transform rapidly and adapt to an ubiquitous digital and interconnected environment.

This typically only accomplishes superficial change that does not deliver significant lasting positive impact on responsiveness, agility and productivity.

The design of responsive and resilient organizations and culture begs the issue of seasoned practical conceptual and philosophical advice, coaching and accompaniment.

Issues To Consider

Here are eight considerations I believe are key for decisions about why and how any given organization begins facing the future and taking action to realize constructive and positive change. I believe understanding them more fully is important for coming to terms with the new conditions in which we all find ourselves.

1. Prescriptive widely-applicable methods – yes or no?

I firmly believe there will never again be one dominant method or model; however clear patterns are emerging that are effective and pertinent. There will be variations on several themes depending upon the context and type(s) of networked environments and activities.

I also believe it will be necessary to abandon purity of organizational design ideology – rigid rule-driven methods are not flexible enough and do not leave room for outliers and adaptive or innovative activities and practices (think principles, not prescriptions),

2. Leadership

In many ways this issue has been over-examined and over-analysed. Basically, it is clear that hyperlinks and networks are eroding the ffectiveness of « command-and-control » and beginning to urgently demand the dynamics of « champion-and-channel » (champion new ideas that emerge from « anywhere » and channel resources to see if the ideas will grow into something valuable, or not.

In addition, there is a long history of exploring, experimenting with and describing self-managing work groups and organizations. Increasingly, examples are coming to the fore, as outline in F. Laloux’s hot new book « Reinventing organizations ».

It is hard if not impossible to switch quickly from structured to unstructured or differently-structured organisation. Most of the examples where self-direction and self-management appear to work are cases where the organisation started out with that intention as a fundamental philosophy and then executed and learned and supported a philosophy of ongoing adaptation.

Our experience with hyperlinked exchanges of information focusing on a problem, issue, challenge or opportunity is still very young, and networks are not going away. Eventually, the philosophy, mental models and attitudes about the structures and processes of decision-making must tangibly recognize and make real the notion of leadership at all levels.  Otherwise we will be living with and working in authoritarian semi-fascist organisations

3. IT architecture

This area is not my strong suit, but I try to pay attention. This is an area where any organisation of size already has legacy systems, much sunk cost (especially after the decade and a half of installing massive ERP systems) and often significant polarities appearing in the role of the CIO .. efficiency and control versus flexibility and responsiveness to ongoing change(s) in technological capabilities. There are many imperative strategic issues for CIOs to address, including the growing presence of CDOs (Chief Digital Officers). Some issues, like BYOD, may turn out to be more strategic than previously imagined unless virtually all systems become inter-operable.

And then there’s Big Data, predictive analytics, the organization’s IT architecture – issues such as cloud, BYOD, use of SaaS applications, collaborative platform(s) (internal) and social media tools, platforms and expertise (external). All this needs to be flexible, robust, resilient and as open as possible. This will be an ongoing challenge, and represents a stretch area for many CIOs in terms of strategic contribution of value to the effectiveness of the enterprise,

4. Management in the context of complex adaptive systems

Today’s management protocols and practices have been designed, refined and optimised for the complicated architecture and dynamics of the Industrial Era. Gary Hamel’s book “The Future of Management” is all about the general lack of response to emergent-and-new conditions.

Happily, new and effective ways of responding to the rapidly-growing complexity of today’s new conditions have been maturing and gaining purchase. For example, it will be useful to any and all organisation to consider and learn about responsive strategies such as the Cynefin framework  (developed by Dave Snowden) for navigating complexity, or other approaches that include tolerance for and constructive use of experimentation and failure.

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The way work has been designed in the Industrial Era has relied on the conceptual structure known as a ‘job’ for the past 75 years or so.  A job has come to mean a set of linearly-defined coherent set of tasks that focus an individual’s expertise and knowledge on predetermined objectives and define (for the most part) the size and scope of the sandbox in which they will exercise that knowledge and expertise. The over-rigid contraints of the concept of ‘job’ began to become more evident in the mid-1990’s. That concept of « job » is clearly undergoing transformation as of 2015.

Clarity of roles versus openness of involvement is a polarity or a paradox that may not need to be overly resolved in the unfolding era of networks.  But why not both, defined situationally and in near-real-time? If new and inventive ways to address this paradox are not found, the concept of ‘job’ or role will continue to give way to temporary and transient contractual arrangements (this process seems to be well underway already).  What has been known as a social contract regarding employment may disappear, at least for a period of time.

5. HR needs to be re-invented

In my opinion Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a key to renewing the pertinence of the work of the Human Resources domain. It can be used in order to identify bottlenecks, under-appreciated resources or poor work design, and to gain strategic perspectives on organizational politics, talent management, organizational change.

BUT just don’t spy on employees in order to exploit and manipulate them.

Many of the existing ‘tools’ of the HR profession need to be re-designed, if not tossed out and re-designed from scratch. However, not all of what has been obtained from the past must be junked. Competency modelling still has relevance, although it needs to be more based on forward-looking adaptation to flows of information and collaboration rather than relying on codifying successful past performance in static roles.

Compensation, talent management, performance management and development all need to be re-conceived. Cap executive compensation at reasonable multiples of the average pay of workers in the organization.  Any additional compensation would be deferred long-term and tied as closely to the performance and progress of the organization at as a whole, which means probably not the shareholders interests first and foremost (yes, I know that’s not how things work in the real world).

Explore the notion of gainsharing rather than pay-for-performance (otherwise known as variable compensation or performance-based pay).  Gainsharing is a concept that gained some momentary visibility in the 80’s and (maybe) early 90’s, but then more-or-less disappeared as organizations 1) began dealing in more forceful ways with unions, and 2) focused ferociously on optimization and the deep search for efficiencies.

It’s likely that gainsharing (or a modern derivative of the concept) is a more appropriate way to replace or add to the base-salaries of people working in networked environments. In general its philosophical roots are well aligned with the non-technical aspects of humanist philosophy and practices emerging for the more socially-connected era we are entering.

6. Organizational design and structure

This area is related to the opinion set out in the first part of this post about there no longer being one dominant methodology for designing an organisation’s structure. It is useful, I think to consider adopting the notion of Minimal Viable Structure (an euphemism for seeking no more (and maybe less) than 5 levels from customer to CEO) :

1) front-line workers,
2) operational and administrative support staff,
3) professional knowledge workers / senior guides,
4) coordination coaches / senior management, and
5) executives.

We can’t blow up organisations like a set of pick-up sticks. It may be enjoyable to consider the possibility, but it doesn’t really seem reasonable given the general nature of peoples’ socializations and expectations about work in organisations.

A method popular in the 70s and 80s titled Requisite Organisation (Elliot Jacques) has some applicability here. Its most recent reincarnation can be found in the methodology titled Holacracy® but (in my opinion) it needs some important updating to consider the flows of information and human energy provided by today’s hyperlinked environment.

What management means in this new environment remains to be re-conceived in any substantive fashion, but there is much exploration of the key issues underway, by necessity.

7. Organizational culture

Participative and inclusive decision-making and work design must come to the fore; it is essential to provide the space and support for people to learn on an ongoing basis. As Harold Jarche has famously noted « The work is learning and learning is the work ». Adaptability, responsiveness and innovation come from continuous learning. We have been hearing about « learning organisations » and « collective intelligence » for at least two decades now, but it is a real and omnipresent challenge now and into the future.

I suggest considering the use of Participative Work Design principles (PWD) and other key principles of socio-technical systems principles to seek an appropriate balance of personal development and augmenting domain expertise under (for example) the guidance of the 70 – 20 – 10 learning framework.

8. Philosophical considerations

All parties involved need to modernize the philosophy about and approaches to areas that represent some solid ground for workers .. for example, unionised work. There are increasing calls for the re-invention and re-instatement of unionisation as the ongoing suppression of pay and peoples’ working conditions continues in the ongoing pursuit of profit at all costs. This seems, clearly, to be the conditions for a « race to the bottom ».

We may well have reached the end, the outer limits, of the effectiveness of ongoing reduction of costs and optimisation of processes that has been the primary quest of the last years of the 20th century and first few of the 21st.  Much automation and robotisation is on the horizon, and yet humans retain a vital role to play in tinkering and fiddling with, and using information to provide for themselves and to amuse themselves, in both traditional and highly innovative ways.

We are living in new conditions never before encountered. We all need to adapt.  We can do it the hard way, or we can do it the really hard way.  There is no easy way, and what seems easy – following a recipe of that claims to be a solution – is sure to be expensive and to disappoint.

What is blindingly clear today is that information technology, computers, mobile devices, information flows carried by hyperlinks on social networks within and external to organizations, connections to customers and markets are new conditions that are not going away. Rather, they will densify and intensify.

Organisations and their leaders must believe in and plan for sustainability and ongoing evolution, and must make plans and actions in order to 1) change mental models in fundamental ways and then 2) act on those changes.

Stowe Boyd’s Socialogy Interview (December 2014)

Jon Husband is an old friend, clinic and I have been planning to involve him in Socialogy since I started the project, viagra 40mg but the timing hadn’t worked out until now.

About Jon


Jon describes himself in this way:

I am a coach, sale consultant, writer and public speaker regarding the structure and dynamics of organizations and the struggles to move past industrial-era assumptions towards the deep engagement of knowledge workers.

I have been studying the structural, sociological and psychological aspects of collaborative knowledge work for the past 35 years. I have been a practitioner as a consultant and a coach for the past 25 years.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: I believe you’re the source of the wonderful term wirearchy. I wonder if you could summarize the term, and its applicability today?

Jon Husband: Yes, I am. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out that today we’re in conditions that are effectively very new for most human beings on the planet. You and your readers know them as well as do I .. interconnectivity, hyperlinks, pervasive computing, cloud, big data, Internet of things, algorithmization, robotization, etc.

What I call wirearchy represents an evolution of traditional hierarchy. I don’t think most humans can tolerate a lack of some hierarchical structure, primarily for the purposes of decision-making – Jon Husband

The suffix ‘archy ’ signifies the principles and rules or the arrangements for power and authority for large widespread social systems. Only one of the ‘archy’ words – hierarchy – is also found in nature and elsewhere than in the arrangements of social structures. Socially-situated hierarchy has been with us since humans began grunting at each other and trying to get things done. Hierarchy isn’t going away.

More generally, the « archy » words represent the general rules for large social systems, which are derived from statements of architectural principle. There is no commonly-accepted statement of organizing or architectural principle for the patterns, shapes and impacts we are beginning to witness in all areas of human activity due to hyperlinks, connected people and information flows.

However, as David Weinberger famously said 15 years ago, “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”. Since the mid-90’s and the arrival of the browser and applications of IT in many areas of human activity, we’ve been speaking of living in a wired world (and yes, that includes wireless). One day 15 years ago when I was thinking about all this, I realized that the conditions we were facing would continue to evolve and spread (futurists had been talking about the Information / Knowledge Age for a while by then). I played with combining ‘wired’ and ‘archy’, and voilà! Luckily given 20 years of prior work with the methods used to design organizational hierarchies, I had some sense of what it may have meant.

Generating new economic and social value through new and effective goods and services requires the focused and intelligent use of information and knowledge, notably in the forms of creative exchanges and feedback loops. Where does this happen most organically and effectively? Between humans in structures that enable and encourage such exchanges with as little unnecessary friction as possible from traditional management practices. – Jon Husband

Even though hyperlinked interconnection of information and peoples’ cognitive and social interaction capabilities is increasingly the new knowledge-work environment (this stuff isn’t going away!), the structural capital in organizations of any size is too great to permit the deconstruction and reconstruction of the organization whilst it is in perpetual business operations mode. Permit me to offer my perspective.

The methods used to design such organizations have over the past 60-plus years codified core assumptions of division of labour, specialization, centralized coordination, optimization for efficiency, etc. In my opinion these assumptions are today too deeply embedded to allow for significant experimentation with new hyperlinked and flow-based forms of activity that are not seen to be predictable and controllable. Only start-ups and extremely progressive organizations seem to be able to adapt to today’s conditions in flexible, agile and responsive ways.

These methods are embodied in job evaluation (the sizing and measurement of defined roles ) in order to rank and place them on an org chart in relation to the core assumption of division of labor. The methods are intended to enable access to and deployment of expertise, pertinent knowledge arranged in vertical structures. Other related methods (also defined in vertical structures of power-and-influence) are also intended to harness human potential and energy, such as competency models (the behaviours understood to lead to success in a role or domain), performance management schemes in which coordinated objectives are cascaded through the organization, and remuneration practices designed to support and reinforce the designed-for-optimal performance organizational structure.

I have been involved in a long and intense process of study of the sociology of work, organizations and institutions for 40 years now. Today I believe that a major transition towards what some futurists call a “knowledge-based society” is underway. In that context what I call wirearchy represents an evolution of traditional hierarchy. I don’t think most humans can tolerate a lack of some hierarchical structure, primarily for the purposes of decision-making. The working definition I developed (and which has been ‘tested’ br a range of colleagues and friends interested in the issue(s) recognizes that the necessary adaptations to new conditions will likely involve temporary, transient but more intelligent hierarchy. The implication is that people in a wirearchy should be focused on seeking to better understand and use the growing presence of feedback loops and double-loop learning.

The current definition of Wirearchy as an emergent organizing principle is « dynamic interdependent flows of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and the generation of social and economic value, enabled by interconnected people and technology” »

The conditions to which this proposed new organizing principle speak are essentially generated by the significantly increased rapidity and densification of connected information flows coming from all angles. Given how deeply embedded are industrial-era mental models in management thinking and practices I believe the issues you and I explore as professional researchers and consultants are going to be under review and subject to ongoing experimentation for quite a few years yet.

I think there will many more attempts to adapt in iterative but predictable and manageable ways. Money will be spent, consulting firms will be hired, and .. we’ll see how it goes.

SB: Perhaps it’s less of a ‘knowledge-based economy’ than one where all non-cognitive and routine work is going to be performed by AI, robots, and algorithms. Those that aren’t involved in creative and innovative work might have no jobs.

JH: I think your interpretation is very probably correct. As a part-time pedant, I can observe that “all non-cognitive and routine work” is effectively knowledge work, it’s just packaged as repetitive use of standardized knowledge.

Work as we know it today is bifurcating, whereby at one end relatively routine work is being automated to one degree or another and humans are standers-by who lend some emotion, authenticity and/or very basic oversight to what goes on. – Jon Husband

But your point is correct, I think. I think a number of your articles have pointed out this growing split, which I have taken half-jokingly to calling The Great Bifurcation.

In turn, that leads to the probability that a great number of people will work in more precarious situations, from contract to contract. I find it interesting as an early weak signal that there seems to be a rise in discussion of and calls for a universal basic income scheme in some western countries. It may become necessary.

SB: I saw you wrote a piece ‘Post-Normal — Things Will Slide In All Directions’, with a nod to me and Leonard Cohen. You — at some length — characterize the postnormal economy (I now leave out the hyphen) much as I do, as a time of great uncertainty and compelling innovation, but I want to focus on your thoughts on new ways of working, one that is about participation and inclusion. Thoughts?

JH: New ways of working?

I don’t think it can be avoided that what we are seeing as early and arguably small steps today towards deep and permanent changes to work will continue to grow, spread and mature (notwithstanding that it’s been 8 years since the term Enterprise 2.0 appeared and 5 years or so since ‘Social Business’ began to be used). And we know more change is coming from applying big data analysis, the use of artificial intelligence(AI), the development of sophisticated algorithms, etc.

Work as we know it today is bifurcating, whereby at one end relatively routine work is being automated to one degree or another and humans are standers-by who lend some emotion, authenticity and/or very basic oversight to what goes on. At the other end, higher levels of creative and generative knowledge work are increasingly both ‘mass-customized’ and being carried out in social interaction. The social interaction involves all of the forms or work that arguably used to be oriented towards ‘learning and development (L&D). Absent hyperlinks, self-directed work teams and self-managed work was practiced in rudimentary (and slower) forms and was seen as developmental, necessary to adapt to change, generally.

Generating new economic and social value through new and effective goods and services requires the focused and intelligent use of information and knowledge, notably in the forms of creative exchanges and feedback loops. Where does this happen most organically and effectively? Between humans in structures that enable and encourage such exchanges with as little unnecessary friction as possible from traditional management practices.

I believe it was Peter Drucker that said « Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done. ». As set out above, the past 75 years have seen the birth and growth of an industry focused on the codification of industrial era assumptions about work into mainstream methods and practices of « management science ». Today, we continue to witness significant resistance to the emergent new ways of working as traditional hierarchical management has held on, ignored, denied, sought tangible (traditional) ROI, etc.

I’ve watched as this resistance has hung on tenaciously, but believe change will continue inexorably, in waves, towards greater participation and inclusion. It seems clearer and clearer every month that exchanging information and knowledge in context is the new raw material for innovation and effectiveness. Doc Searls, one of yours’ and my old friends, once wrote about hyperlinks and connected people leading to the scaffolding of knowledge where and when it’s needed.

I think that’s basically correct. More high-tech will mean more high-touch, something John Naisbitt saw coming about 25 or 30 years ago.

SB: Yes, Drucker also said ‘management is a necessary evil, and we should therefore have only as much as necessary, and no more’, or words to that effect. Can you imagine the disruption of management, where people are mostly self-managed, or co-managed in groups, or orchestrated by AI?

JH: I agree with Drucker’s observation, which is why I cited “temporary, transient and intelligent hierarchies”. Of course, self-management (of individuals, groups and other configurations of people) implies an accepted set of rules. The rules can be few and they can be simple, but I think any organism needs some basic rules to function effectively.

With specific reference to the workplace and self-management, I’m reminded of Fred Emery’s 6 Principles of Participative Work Design (PWD). They are not community rules per se, but pertinent rules for self-management of a work group could be derived therefrom, I think.

1. Adequate elbow room.

The sense that we are our own boss and that, except in exceptional circumstances, we do not have some boss breathing down our necks. However, not too much elbow room so that we don’t know what to do next.

2. Continuous Learning.

Such learning is possible only when people are able to (a) set goals that are reasonable challenges for them and (b) get accurate feedback in time for them to correct their behaviour. This learning drives innovation.

3. An optimal level of variety.

The ability to vary our work so as to avoid boredom and fatigue and so as to gain the best advantages from settling into a satisfying rhythm of work.

4. Mutual support and respect.

People need to be able to automatically get and give help from their work mates. There also needs to be respect for the contribution made regardless of matters such as IQ.

5. Meaningfulness.

We need a sense that our work contributes to social welfare in some way. That is, it should not be something that might just as well be done by a trained monkey. Nor should it be something that society would be better without. Meaningfulness includes both the worth of the work, and having knowledge of the whole product or service.

6. A desirable future.

Work that will continue to allow for personal growth and increasing skills.

SB: Thanks, Jon.

JH: Thank you for the opportunity.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Leading and Managing People Must Evolve in the Networked Era

For the past few years there have been increasingly numerous and strident calls for fundamental make-overs of both management and leadership. One of the most recent that has high visibility (Forbes Magazine) is Steve Denning’s «Why Most Of What We Know About Management Is Just Plain, Flat, Dead Wrong“. People everywhere are clicking into the fact that yesteryear’s models and ways are less and less effective, and yet we all labor on whilst yelling “change .. change, or die .. etc.”

World-renowned organizational effectiveness guru Gary Hamel set out the fundamental challenge(s) in his 2007 book “The Future of Management“. Others, such as John Hagel and John Seeley Brown’ in their 2012 “The Power of Pull“, have weighed in with equally sharp and challenging premises and theories. These works and numerous others signal an urgent need to innovate and adapt to a new set of conditions, conditions which are rapidly on their way to becoming ubiquitous and/or expected by the generations entering or approaching their chapter-of-life in the workplace.

It sometimes feels like this is only the next round or wave of coming to terms with rumblings and dynamics that began back in the 60′s, 70’s and 80′s. After all, we began hearing about the critical need for empowerment, continuous learning, flexibility, agility and resilience at least three decades ago. And most of the pioneering work in these areas came even earlier, stemming from the soft-and-squishy (or seen to be that way) world of Organizational Development (OD), developed and championed by pioneers like Eric Trist, Fred Emery, Bill Passmore, Marv Weisbord, Peter Block, Charles Handy, Meg Wheatley and many others.

As the years have passed since these pioneers first addressed the human issues in organizational structures and processes derived from engineering and efficiency principles, various elements of their thinking and practices have inexorably found their way into managing processes and people. I suggest that this is entirely understandable as the increasing frequency and intensity of complicated and complex organizational activities have grown over time, along with the evolution of peoples’ expectations about work and meaning in a modern era.

My premise is that management innovation is indeed available from that world of organizational development. The principles and dynamics of Organizational development are closely aligned to Hamel’s suggestion that « activities will still need to be coordinated, individual efforts aligned, objectives decided upon, knowledge disseminated, and resources allocated, but increasingly this work will be distributed out to the periphery ».

The New Context Demands New Principles

What was yesterday called Enterprise 2.0 and today is called “Social Business” can be seen as the emergent stage of the intersection of significant advances in information technology, management science applied to business process, the analysis and control of operational activities AND the interaction and participation of people with information, opinions and knowledge to share.

These forces and factors are converging in today’s workplaces, wherein a continuous flow of information is the rule rather than the exception. Thus, it is essential to cast a critical eye on the fundamental assumptions of work design and how people doing the work are managed. The core assumptions embodied in widely-used methodologies today still present work as ”static sets of tasks and knowledge arranged in specific constellations on an organization chart” (see all major job evaluation methodologies for more detail).

It’s getting clearer and clearer today that the capabilities and dynamics of what started in the consumer realm as social software (those funny things called blogs, and wikis, and widgets stitched together by interconnected people using web services) are finding their way into the workplace.

That they have migrated to the workplace makes sense. People have always (at work) been creating and building up ... knowledge through exchanging information, talking and arguing and pointing out other ideas and sources of information and ways to do things. Such services and tools and the reasons for which people use them are the means by which general human activity (purposeful and otherwise) translates to the online environment.

So, as stated at the outset it seems clear that we’re situated in a more interactive, less static environment. Whether we like it or not, we are passing from an era in which things were assumed to be controllable (able to be deconstructed and then assembled into a clear, linear, always replicable and thus static form) to an era characterized by a continuous  flow of information. Because the flows of information feed the conduct and operations of organizations large and small, the flows necessarily demand to be interpreted and shaped into useful inputs and outputs.

The methodologies still in use today have become obstacles to the rapid and timely creation of outputs.  These methodologies generally did not foresee working with networked information flows, and thus the way work is designed and managed does not really address how it could or should be managed.

We need to revisit the fundamental principles of work design AND the basic rules used to configure hierarchical organizations in which the primary assumption is that knowledge is put to use in a vertical chain of decision-making.

Both Horizontal and Vertical

Horizontal flows of information and peoples’ engagement have already been put to work in a range of early Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business experiments.  But let’s be honest .. how these will work, or not, is less than clear to date. There’s an enormous amount of inertia and habit to overcome, all whilst confronting continuously turbulent conditions, seasoned with healthy helpings of ambiguity, about economics, governance and peoples’ collective capabilities to adapt.

The complex challenges organizations face have traditionally been directed, controlled and managed by senior people in hierarchies. And let’s be clear .. hierarchy is not disappearing from the organizational landscape, nor should it. It’s an useful construct for clarifying decision-making and accountability, and I believe it will come to co-exist with the core dynamics of networked people and information …

a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results”

.. which, incidentally, is a fundamental aspect of all the ‘democratization’ (it’s probably too early to yet call it that, but let’s do so for the time being) we are witnessing in the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East and in the concerns about surveillance and privacy in the wake of the phenomena of Wikileaks and the NSA – Snowden whistle-blowing.

Would that our western governments and organizations watch and learn as they embark on the renewal of leadership and management in the 21st Century.

The implications are huge, will demand significant effort and responsibility on the part of all individuals, and may lead to very different ways of working and being in and of the world.

But clearly, the embodiment of leadership and management as it is practiced today must evolve and become pertinent to the growing presence and impact of networked people and information.  What we have been doing thus far looks less and less likely to be as effective as necessary in the rapidly-approaching future.

– Jon Husband

Vers une meilleure gestion des réseaux de connaissances

Le Web a fait irruption dans la conscience collective dans le milieu des années 1990. Depuis, nous avons tous cliqué et lié nos façons de penser à travers le boom du “dot-com” : ce fut les premiers jours de ce que l’on a appelé le Web 2.0 (des sites Web et des espaces interactifs). Maintenant nous vivons, travaillons, jouons en tant que membres et participants dans des écosystèmes interconnectés. Ces écosystèmes incorporent des flux d’informations et sont a la base de l’économie du savoir ou encore le commerce en ligne.

Les dix dernières années ont généré une croissance rapide des réseaux interconnectés de personnes et d’informations. Dans ce contexte, nous nous sommes de plus en plus appliqués à développer des comportements d’adaptation sociale et de nouveaux modes de communication. Les manières de travailler changent de façon importante.

Ces changements fondamentaux ont à leur tour eu un impact de plus en plus important sur les pratiques établies, sur les sciences du management ainsi que sur les modèles, programmes et la formation des managers professionnels. L’omniprésence à venir des activités « sociales » met en lumière la diminution de leur efficacité. Cet omniprésence illumine aussi l’obsolescence croissant de certains principes de base des sciences du management.

L’évolution des sciences du management et de ses compétences génériques

Le monde des affaires et le milieu gouvernemental sont en pleine transition évolutive. Ce changement est dû à un certain nombre de facteurs importants et désormais incontournables :

  • deux décennies de croissance et de propagation rapide des ordinateurs, des logiciels ;
  • une première vague d’activités et de processus de travail axés sur la transformation de l’information ;
  • l’arrivée puis l’omniprésence d’Internet et des hyper-liens dans les sociétés du monde entier.

Ce que nous comprenons aujourd’hui, c’est que le management a du évoluer au cours des 75 dernières années. Cette période a vu une augmentation globalisée, combine avec l’acceptation et l’intégration des principes fondamentaux du management ‘scientifique’. Ce développement est devenu le paradigme dominant de notre ère industrielle. Cette ère était axée sur la technologie, et a été accompagné par la croissance des protocoles, des méthodes et des pratiques désormais reconnues dans le monde entier.

Au cours des 50 dernières années, beaucoup d’auteurs ont écrit sur ce qui est à leur sens, du management efficace et la manière dont il est pratiqué. Il y a au moins deux interprétations répandues du terme et des questions qu’il aborde :

  • le premier sens du terme management correspond au sens classique – la planification, la prise de décisions, l’exercice du pouvoir décisionnel en termes de prise de décisions et à la motivation des gens en ce qui concerne l’exécution des activités.  ;
  • le deuxième sens est à certains égards plus pertinent à des fins de travail dans un écosystème en réseau. S’adapter et prospérer dans cette nouvelle complexité exige la capacité de faire face à l’avenir, de rester à flot en naviguant l’incertitude et ambiguité, de jongler avec de multiples sources de contribution pour réaliser des buts et des objectifs.

Les nouvelles réalités apportent de nouveaux défis

Ces nouvelles réalités ont inauguré un panel de nouveaux défis fondamentaux. Ce qui était jusqu’ici adressé de manière incrémentale commence maintenant à être vu de manière plus compréhensive, systémique et transversale. Cela implique une interaction avec un large panel de partenaires (clients, employés…) et des sources externalisées ou décomposées en silos d’expertise.

Cependant, il y a une forte implantation d’une gamme de compétences et de pratiques qui supporte, renforce et soutient la pratique du management. Les activités de ce domaine défini sont séparées spécifiquement comme si elles étaient une pièce d’un puzzle ou la partie d’une machine. Les compétences de management dans une organisation traditionnelle ont été codifiées dans des modèles qui définissent le travail de gestion dans les dernières heures de l’ère industrielle.

L’adoption de ces modèles a bien fonctionné pour le domaine dont on parle, ce qui rend les notions d’efficacité, d’économie, d’ampleur réelles et tangibles. Ces différentes évolutions ont instauré un changement de paradigme. Organiser tout cela en utilisant les connaissances récentes dans un certain nombre de domaines essentiels était crucial pour progresser en termes d’efficacité et performance.

L’approbation et l’utilisation de ces modèles ont donné naissance à une industrie de taille convenable au sein de la formation, notamment par le coaching des managers vers une plus grande efficacité et performances. Ils en sont venus à définir ce qu’est le management, comment il fonctionne et comment il est pratiqué.

Cependant dans le monde occidental (tout du moins), nous sommes désormais confrontés à un nouvel ensemble de conditions qui changent la façon dont les individus utilisent l’information. Dans les organisations classiques qui utilisent un management traditionnel et une organisation hiérarchique de la connaissance, l’expérience est la caractéristique essentielle pour la prise de décisions, la supervision des processus, les flux d’informations et les résultats du travail.

Cependant, les nouveaux outils qui permettent le recoupage de l’information conduisent ces informations sous forme d’hyperliens, ce qui facilitent l’utilisation d’espaces d’information et de collaboration (comme les Wikis, les intranets « sociaux » et plates-formes de collaboration telles que SharePoint, IBM Connections, Jive, Socialcast, Moxie et une foule d’autres). Ils créent un environnement en réseau où les gens travaillent avec et au sein de flux d’informations horizontaux, transversaux et trans-silos.

Bien sûr, la dynamique de l’expérimentation, la co-création, la coopération, la collaboration sont latentes. La pression pour créer des dynamiques pratiques, pertinentes, et productives est croissante. Cet environnement ne va pas disparaître et cette pression va continuer de s’accentuer pour les managers de demain.

Le principal défi consiste à responsabiliser les gens, tout en conservant un degré de contrôle efficace. Il faut prodiguer des conseils sur les activités qui sont censées être bien organisées, bien coordonnées et qui fonctionnent comme dans une machine bien huilée. Cependant, dans un environnement en réseau une question complexe se pose. Lorsque les flux d’informations circulent comme une série continue d’échange et de feedbacks, les entrants et les extrants de la « machine » ne peuvent plus se contenter d’être simplement efficaces et efficients à livrer le même produit ou le même service, encore et encore de manière hautement standardisée.

Ces nouveaux défis sont maintenant relativement bien compris. Aujourd’hui, nous en savons beaucoup plus qu’il y a une dizaine d’années sur la façon de naviguer de manière efficace sur les réseaux sociaux. Alors, qu’en est-il des impacts sur le management de ce travail en réseau dans l’entreprise interconnectée?

De nombreuses réponses à cette question ont été publiées ces 3 ou 4 dernières années, mais elles sont encore embryonnaire et dans leurs premiers stades d’adoption et d’utilisation.

Les hyper-liens et les personnes connectées nuisent à la hiérarchie traditionnelle

Il est évident que la transformation du Web en un espace collaboratif construit par des hyper-liens et consistant surtout des réseaux de connaissances a intensifié ce que nous comprenons de la sociologie et de la psychologie humaine sur le lieu de travail.

Dans ce contexte, il est clair que « les hyper-liens nuisent à la hiérarchie », bien que cela prenne plus de temps dans l’espace des consommateurs

Comme le dit l’expression, « le savoir c’est le pouvoir », et aujourd’hui le savoir est construit par les échanges entre les gens par rapport à des questions, des sujets, des événements et des expériences.

La prise de décision se décentralise et se distribue : la hiérarchie traditionnelle, clairement structurée, relativement formelle, s’effrite de plus en plus et devient moins puissante et applicable.

Les dynamiques de l’interaction et de la négociation « peer-to-peer » entre les pairs (et les impulsions démocratiques plus basiques) prennent racine, elles deviennent plus fréquentes et éventuellement finiront par être une pratique établie.

L’organisation en réseau autour des objectifs et de la participation

Fonctionner avec des flux d’informations continus dans les réseaux faiblement liés exige une plus grande flexibilité de structure que l’organisation pyramidale traditionnelle. La fluidité exige la capacité de répondre le plus rapidement possible aux informations nouvelles et additionnelles.

Les nouvelles formes d’activités significatives apparaissent chaque mois dans l’organisation moderne. « Les connections qu’elles soient régulières, liées au hasard, formalisées ou non  vont devenir la norme dans les prochaines années.

Les équipes ont été monnaie courante durant les deux dernières décennies. Comme les flux d’informations sont devenus plus rapides et plus complexes, les communautés de pratiques sont devenues des sources de connaissances plus utiles pour résoudre de multiples problèmes et pour dégager de nouvelles opportunités d’affaires. Les hyper-liens et les flux d’informations ont ainsi permis d’accroître la connaissance et de résoudre des problèmes.

Dans cet environnement, la responsabilité principale qui incombe au management est la motivation, le déploiement des compétences et de l’énergie autour de la réalisation des buts et des objectifs établis.

Ainsi, le principal problème pour les managers (défini comme responsable des travaux d’un groupe ou des groupes de travailleurs du savoir par l’organigramme de l’entreprise) est d’être capable :

  • de comprendre la manière dont les tâches sont accomplies dans ces réseaux interconnectés ;
  • de reconnaître et de faire face à ces flux d’informations, nouveaux ou plus importants que par le passé ;
  • de tenir compte des nouvelles informations et connaissances tout en aidant les travailleurs/groupes de travail à rester sur la bonne voie quand cette dernière est en constante et rapide évolution.



Les compétences principales pour travailler dans des réseaux de connaissances doivent être gérées

Cet environnement interconnecté ne va pas sans quelques contraintes sur l’utilisation de l’information, de la connaissance et sur la gestion des activités des travailleurs. Ces réseaux vont encore gagner en taille, en complexité et en capacité.

Le gestionnaire de ces réseaux est maintenant concerné par l’interaction et la combinaison des talents, des compétences disponibles qui interagissent, se combinent avec les flux multi-sources continus d’informations. Son rôle est nécessaire comme animateur pour faire bien fonctionner les processus d’affaires et générer les résultats escomptés en termes de revenus, de qualité, de service et d’autres indicateurs clés. Ces flux d’informations constants donnent lieu à des secteurs d’activités turbulents ; les attentes sur leurs stabilité ou prévisibilité à court et moyen terme sont de moins en moins pertinentes.

Ces réseaux d’informations amènent à repenser l’activité managériales pour la recentrer sur l’efficience. Plutôt que de se concentrer sur la seule activité de l’individu, d’un groupe de travail ou d’une équipe, le gestionnaire doit coordonner et combiner ses efforts pour une meilleure compréhension de l’interaction entre les capacités individuelles, les échanges et la dynamique de collaboration.

Ce sont les vrais défis des managers d’aujourd’hui, dont beaucoup ont appris les rudiments de ces principes de management d’un paradigme axé sur la masse, l’échelle, l’efficacité, la prévisibilité et le contrôle.

Les questions clés pour le manager sont, et seront :

  1. « comment faire face à des flux d’informations continus qui vont avoir de l’impact sur tous les projets imaginables provenant de personnes connectées via des réseaux sociaux? », et
  2. « comment motiver et coordonner les gens qui doivent traiter a ces changements dans leur environnement(et dans les produits, services et les informations) ? »


The Power of Networks (RSA) – Visualizing the Dynamics of Wirearchy

Manual Lima brought to you by the RSA, examining and / or explaining many of the implications of humans living in interconnected networks.

This stuff just isn’t going away.



An HR Management Framework for the Connected Enterprise

I am using the term ‘framework’ loosely.

I think no one really knows what the massive gradual transition to social computing and collaboration as core work activities means in practical terms for today’s (and tomorrow’s) human resources professionals and the people management processes and practices they design, search implement, decease coach and manage.

I say that with full knowledge that over the last two decades we have seen a lot of talk and activity aimed at ‘modernizing’ human resources management practices.  There have been regular clarion calls for major change, cost and waves of interest and activity aimed at transforming HR professionals to become (for example):

– business partners with line management
– proactive change agents
– coaches to managers and professionals
– enablers of change, as opposed to (more traditional) gatekeeper roles

… but really, in spite of the last two decades replete with talks, books, workshops and consulting about:

– learning organizations,
– high-performance work environments,
– knowledge-work, or
– customer-service friendly organizational cultures (and so on)

… the basics of human resources management goals and practices have remained little changed, philosophically and practically.

The main metaphor today’s HR professionals live in is still a machine with its designed-and-fitted parts and cogs, as opposed to the ‘living’ system of social networks in which people participate and interact.  This dominant metaphor leads to language such as optimization, alignment, productivity and control.

Let me be clear … in an enterprise setting, these are unequivocally good things to seek and realize.  However, the basic vocabulary of intention, methods and practices that can create these characteristics in a networked environment may be different.  In electronically connected networks where we “work at the speed of light” (McLuhan), different thinking and ways of working are necessary, and a new vocabulary may be very useful with respect to advancing on what we now have and use.

Talent Wars and Computers-Everywhere Meet the Era of Social Networks

The notion of purposeful social computing in and by workers (and customers) in an enterprise setting developed out of the rise and growth of what has come to be known as Web 2.0, and was termed Enterprise 2.0 about three and a half years ago.

Given that it arose from the welter of confusing-to-many activities that defined Web 2.0 (participation, interaction and sharing) I have often wondered if the term itself has been more of a hindrance than a help when making decisions about whether, why and how to put social computing and the potential of social networks into play in any given organization.

However, the dynamics are here to stay, and acquire more and more legitimacy all the time, thanks largely to the pioneering work of several thought-and-practice leaders and an excellent summary of the issues and examples to date in a new book titled Enterprise 2.0 – New Collaborative Tools for Your Enterprise’s Toughest Challenges, by Andrew McAfee (widely known as coiner of the term “Enterprise 2.0?

So … what about HR 2.0 for the Enterprise 2.0 ?

Human resources management is supposed to be about finding, attracting, engaging, motivating, and retaining (helping to grow / evolve ?) the best available talent.  In an era increasingly defined by information, knowledge and more recently participation, engagement, relationships, influence, etc., people who are talented, imaginative, creative, honest and hard-working often remain an elusive and slippery target.

Much of the foundation for modern human resources management frameworks and established practices comes directly out of the 50?s and 60?s (yes, including more recent competency analysis and modelling and self-directed work groups, etc.) and is firmly grounded in mainstream management models.  Two major waves that sought to review and revise the established practices came with the debate (70?s and early 80?s) over Theory X and Theory Y management philosophies, and the basic steps taken in the 90?s and 2000?s to recognize that the enterprise’s future involves different kinds of knowledge workers than those who dominated over the past40 years.

In my opinion, the issues have become more complex over the past five years.  Many of the established HR methods and practices depend upon the foundations of traditional management science, and plain and simply did not foresee the rise of pervasive and ubiquitous socially-connected workplaces.

Let’s look at each of the main areas of HR, and make some educated guesses as to how the interconnected 2.0 context may affect HR methods and practices.


Recruitment is about attracting, finding, wooing and checking out talent – it’s the courtship before the relationship begins.

This area of HR felt the dramatic impact of the Web early, in the form of job boards.  Job boards and template-based resumes became the norm pretty quickly, given the efficiencies introduced for busy HR people concerned with the first steps of recruitment.

There were and are disadvantages, however.  Keyword-constrained templates and functionality of most job boards ensured two things; 1) that some interesting and potentially very valuable candidates would be screened out because the match wasn’t precise enough, and 2) many people would be screened in (by using appropriate keywords) who did not really belong in the given recruitment process.

As web use and the presence and population of social networking platforms has grown, new dynamics have appeared in recruitment.  LinkedIn is a source of much activity, as is the more ‘organic’ word-of-mouth recommendation of people by people who know them.  This latter dynamic is, in my opinion, the really important one here.  It’s how people operate, and networking to find new work or a more interesting job, or just to make a change, was well underway long before Web 2.0 came around.  The Web has just made it … easier, faster and more effective.

I expect before long that people will offer potential employers as many references from people they know and have worked / interacted with on the Web as they will from former employers and colleagues.

Employee Orientation

Employee orientation is all about helping new employees “get their feet under the desk”. Supplementing job descriptions and the expectations agreed to upon hiring, an early response to the challenge was the use of an enterprise intranet, with which to support all the information new employees needed to know.

However, the real work of getting ones’ feet under the desk requires participation, interaction and ‘learning the ropes’, and here it’s clear that joining into the flow(s) operating in social networks inside an enterprise can be very useful with respect to a new employee’s more rapid and more effective orientation.  Many (all ?) of the collaboration / social computing platforms offer features such as profiles, personal tag clouds, and other contextual information that is crucial to effective orientation.

Work Design (Job descriptions)

Here’s an area that I suspect will come under a fair degree of scrutiny as the adoption and traction of Enterprise 2.0 continues to grow.  Job descriptions have a bad rep, and yet are essential in modern organizations, even if they are short and sweet.

The issue?

In many more structured or more bureaucratic organizations, they have become an input and an emblem of power and status, in the sense that their main purpose is often to help peg a job’s position in the organizational hierarchy and the salary, benefits and other perquisites obtained by the job.

If they are short and sweet, they tend (in my experience) to be found in organizations that are already by-and-large nimble, adaptive and probably pretty well suited to operating in today’s networked environment.  They are an (but not THE) indicator of less bureaucratic organizations.  A current example of the needed scrutiny is a growing interest in forms of agreements or commitments, to do what one has said one will do, in a given context.

As jobs in the modern world change rapidly and pretty regularly, there’s been growing (but often slow) interest in what I call role profiles.  As an aside, I was just last night reading a lecture delivered in 1974 by Marshall McLuhan (mentioned above) in which he noted that the notion of ‘job’ in an electronic era was a relic of a bygone era; in the more rapid electronic environment, he said, we are more clearly engaged in role-playing than we are in carrying out the task of a ‘job’.  1974 !!

A well-crafted role profile need be no longer than one page (landscape) and can include all of the essential information (including competencies and learning objectives) related to a given role.

Job descriptions are likely to remain an issue in many organizations getting involved with Enterpise 2.0 initiatives, as it will take some learning and experience to know what will be the effect on the concept of a ‘job’ from people operating constantly in a socially-networked environment

Employee Performance

Performance management has been a hot-button issue in most enterprises for a long time.  At its best, a well-designed and disciplined approach to performance management can potentially play a positive and constructive role in delivering sustained high performance, and can be central to creating a performance oriented culture in the enterprise.

All too often, however, performance management schemes serve to remind us that too many workplaces are the adult version of grade school, with report cards and a parent-like boss who has unwanted power over employee’s future and fate.

360-degree feedback processes (soliciting input on performance from subordinates, colleagues, superiors and even external customers and liaisons) have been around long enough now to have most of the kinks worked out, and are probably a decent pre-cursor to forms of ‘crowdsourcing’ input on employees’ performance.  Many (most ?) of the social computing / collaboration platforms out there have features and functionality designed to offer support to gathering and processing information about peoples’ performance.  However, they often have glitches that make them much less effective than they could be.  More recently, there have been rumblings about real-time annotation of performance around events.

The culture of an enterprise is an all-important aspect of why and how performance management is used.  I expect that this aspect will become more important as social computing and collaboration continues to grow and spread.

Training & Development

This is really too big a subject area to deal effectively with here.  Suffice it to say that this is an area that over the past five years or so has  generated a wholesale review of T & D philosophies and activities.  Much of the discussion is aimed at assessing how effective formal learning / T & D has been, and why and how informal, or social, learning is so pervasive and so important.

This issue gets at the heart of why social computing and collaboration is a big deal, and is (probably) changing the nature of knowledge work in today’s interconnected environment.

It’s important to note here that there will (IMO) always be an important role for structured formal training & development / learning focused on specific aspects of the kinds of information and knowledge needed by workers.  It’s also probably the case that much or all of that type of learning will be available online, and offered in various hybrid combinations of virtual and F2F learning environments.

For a concise yet comprehensive summary of the core issues and why the impact of the Web is so important in this area, see my colleague and fellow Change Agent Harold Jarche’s Social Learning in the Enterprise.

Reward & Remuneration

Where to start ?

In many of my writings about social computing, collaboration, Enterprise 2.0, hierarchy and wirearchy, I have stated that the enterprise-driven process of job evaluation is a real and ever-present challenge to the effectiveness of Enterprise 2.0 adoption and effectiveness.

In a vast general sense, levels of remuneration for many types of jobs are determined by job evaluation, a process of ‘measuring’ the amount of knowledge, problem-solving and accountability contained in a job.  There are of course other influences like union contracts on specific industries, ‘hot’ (or currently-in-demand) skills, local and regional issues, and so on … but there is clearly stratification in the levels of pay and compensation depending upon the type(s) of work.

Not only that, there is important legislation in many of the developed countries governing the issue(s) of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value that specifies in general terms how the worth of a job is measured and what the issues are for setting remuneration levels for types of work

Remuneration is a subject area that is too vast (and too arcane) to get into here, but it’s one that I expect will experience more and more change as the era of social computing and social networks in the workplace really gets going.

I have some ideas on the evolution of this area of HR, mainly gleaned from work I have done in the past on 1) competency-based pay and 2) contribution-based pay. And, to revive a term I have not heard much of for the past 15 years or so, might Enterprise 2.0 help rejuvenate the concept of gainsharing ?


Most administrative issues and practices in the HR field were automated in HRIS systems at least a decade ago, if not longer.  I am not aware of how Enterprise 2.0 would visit any change to this area of HR management.

This is already a too-long post.  And, I have not even touched on the ways HR professionals need to change what and how they deliver to meet the challenges posed by Enterprise 2.0.

As noted at the beginning of this piece, I am not aware of significant work in the general area of changes to mainstream HR practices as a result of embarking on the path towards Enterprise 2.0.  I will be delighted to learn from any of you of examples and / or issues I may have missed or glossed over.

10 Key Points About the Future of Work

1. Customers, employees and other stakeholders are all interconnected, buy and have access to most, if not all the information that everyone else has


This fact has large implications for any organization. It means that you can’t hide – anywhere.

Michael Schrage of MIT puts it very succinctly:

“Networks make organizational culture and politics explicit”

It’s essential, in this interconnected age of instant accessibility to information and knowledge, that as a leader and manager you are aware of the potent force that is contained in networks of connected information and people.

The implications are clear.

People have to understand and believe in what an organization is doing, why the organization is doing what it does, and how it’s doing it.

The messages have to be clear and believable, and the culture that carries out the organization’s mandate and mission has to be flexible, responsive and open.

Fear and cynicism, being driven to perform – as opposed to being invited to contribute your best – can’t carry the day.


2. The organization chart usually reflects power and politics in the organization … more often than not, customers and employees find work-arounds to create the experiences that delight


“Hierarchy is a prosthesis for trust” – Warren Bennis (just stop .. please .. and think about this one for a moment)

Most organization charts reflect an organizational design that is intended to deliver a strategy developed by a small group of people sitting on the top of an organization

Evaluating and ordering jobs in terms of their size and importance is often used to implement the organizational design.

Most methods of job evaluation use factors, logic and language that was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s – perfect for the Industrial Age, less than perfect for the interconnected Information Age.

Often, reporting relationships and chains-of-command get in the way.

Why do you think the Dilbert comic strip has been so successful for so long ?

Probably because people know that lots of time, energy and effort is expended keeping bosses happy – usually at the expense of customers. Many managers aspired to, and have spent the last twenty years, learning how to become “bosses”. Do you know what prison guards are called by the inmates ?

You guessed it.   BOSS


3. People interconnected by the Internet and software have ways of speaking to each other – and so they do that – all day long.


People communicate. That’s what people do.

They share jokes, they send around interesting e-mails and web sites, they help each other get things done.

The nature of work in the Information Age has changed – dramatically. And it’s likely that the nature of work will keep changing.

If you want to see what work might look like – watch developments in the usability and usefulness of blogs and wikis. Watch younger people as they bring the gaming mentality into the workplace and watch how they communicate using cell phones, e-mail, and IM and the (eventual) derivatives of podcasting.

Watch, too, for developments in telepresence.

Employees are people, too. They communicate just like all the other real people, in Social Networks. They’re the ones communicating with your customers and shareholders.

It’s essential for an organization’s success, and the personal success of each and every one of those employees, that they feel proud of what they communicate. They want to be engaged in positive ways in making a meaningful contribution – to the customers, to themselves and to their fellow employees.


4. Champion-and-Channel replaces Command-and-Control


Thousands of articles have talked about how command-and-control dynamics are less than effective in the new set of interconnected conditions found in the workplaces of the Information Age.

Remember how you felt (or feel today) when commanded by a parent or other authority figure?

All too often, going to work in today’s organizations feels like re-living the adult version of that experience.

Not all organizations are like this – but fewer and fewer of tomorrow’s organizations will be able to function effectively if command-and-control remains the dominant dynamic.

Coaching has become an important response to changing this dynamic. Coaches help leaders and managers listen better, respect other people more authentically, and become more effective at striking a balance between:

Clarity and Decisiveness AND Flexibility and Openness

As change swirls and complexity keeps on growing, champion-and-channel helps good ideas and effective responses come to the surface and get implemented.

Effective leaders and managers know how to, or learn how to, champion and channel.

Bosses are different than leaders and managers – as both a conceptual construct and in the lived experience found in our relationship with them.


5. Conversations are where information is shared, knowledge is created and are the basis for getting the right things done


Human beings have been having conversations since time began. That’s how we’ve figured out all of the things we’ve invented and how we govern ourselves. It’s how we’ve gotten to how we are now.

In the Industrial Age, reporting relationships, and the assumption that the dog on the top of the heap knew more than all the other dogs, were the formalized structure for conversation . It doesn’t work very well this way, anymore.

The only way to deal with ongoing change is to create and sustain effective conversations – with your customers, with and amongst employees and with everyone else.

Sharing information, and creating new knowledge, in order to respond to ongoing change, is the only way that will work from here on out.

The structure, tools and culture of organizations will have to honor this fact.

There’s no other way it’s going to work.


6. Trust, transparency and telling the truth are the glue that holds it all together


People want to trust, they want to believe – even in the face of large amounts of evidence that the system is being manipulated in the favor of a select few.

In North America, we’re still trying to shake off the disbelief about the blatant dishonesty and fraud demonstrated by some corporate (and governmental) leaders. We actively do not want to believe things may be as corrupt as they seem … institutionalized dishonesty and deceit.

We don’t want to believe that these attitudes and behavior might be more widespread than is apparent, yet somehow we have a feeling that the common corporate culture rewards and supports this possibility.

Many people – checking their 401K’s or stock portfolios, or looking back at the job(s) they’ve lost – feel at best disrespected and at worst enraged that they have been taken advantage of.

The interconnectedness of the Web has created a means for people to challenge blind authority, and to push back. If their trust is abused, many will use this to establih their own authority or fight back

Let’s understand one thing … when people who have been abused decide to get organized and push back, they become a potent force.

Interconnectedness is a potent force for creating transparency and demanding trust, and many are just now learning how to use it more effectively.


7. The Workplace of the Future will be more diverse – in terms of demographics, various ages, values, gender, races and languages


In the midst of all the interconnectedness and sharing of information, the composition and shape of the workplace will keep changing.

North America and Western Europe are landscapes of a changing population – different waves of immigration keep coming, and each new generation brings fresh change to the workplace. The workplace of the near future will be a sea of people from a wide range of countries, cultures and languages – and they will all be interconnected.

The range of diversity brings with an equally wide range of beliefs, values and reasons for working.

This emerging mix will bring new dynamics of relationship into the workplace – both online and offline

Learning to listen, respect and champion-and-channel will be an essential competency for success.


8. New, integrated and sophisticated technologies are being developed and implemented, on an ongoing basis – and the knowledge workers of tomorrow will be more interconnected than ever


According to the experts, we’re moving into a collaborative and cooperative workplace and economy now – most organizations have by now adopted and (perhaps) implemented collaborative platforms, an infrastructure that’s decentralized and more open than that which existed until now.

Remember Napster ? (Oh my God .. like a century ago in Internet time). The workplace versions exist and may be coming soon to a workplace near you. Indeed, the wider conversation about blogs, micro-blogging, sharing and the place of these hyperlinked human activities in the workplace is only growing and acquiring useful examples.

Many forms of “smartware” are also on the runway, getting ready to take off. New tools are absolutely essential to deal with the overload of information that already exists – and grows more daunting with each passing week. This “smartware” (for example, all sorts of semantic filtering, or the use of what Thomas Vanderwal of Folksonomies fame has termed “social lenses”) will eventually find ways into the interconnected knowledge-based workplace.

Smartware will either “dumb things down” (entering information, and the system does the rest), or “smarten things up” (helping people collaborate and create new knowledge).

Many of these tools will add capability and functionality to the continuing need for effective collaboration – and so will make collaboration more and more possible.

More technology-supported collaboration will in turn increase the need for effective leadership and coaching – champion-and-channel will become more necessary than ever. The game will get sharper again.

Adapting to the new tools will require new forms of social interaction in the workplace. As change keeps coming, and work activities become more interdependent, the required adaptation will become more social and cultural – and biological, in terms of the dynamics – in nature.


9. We’re all in this together


The interconnected Information Age is beginning to show us that we’re all linked together – and that the whole system matters.

This principle applies to organizations, to networks of customers, suppliers, employees and communities, to our societies and to the planet.

New language for this principle is popping up everywhere – knowledge networks, intranets, communities of practice, systems thinking, swarming, social software, social networks, tipping points.

Awareness is the key. Maintain an “open focus”.

Being aware of yourself, others and the effects of your actions and ways of being in relation to others is a fundamental requirement in these conditions.


10. There’s no going back to “Normal” – Permanent Whitewater is the New Normal


It’s almost trite to say this – the only constant is change.

However…over the past 15 years or so, there have been enormous amounts of energy spent resisting change – waiting and hoping for things to go back to “normal”.

It won’t happen. It’s useful to acknowledge and accept this, and get started … at learning how to learn, and equipping yourself for constant adaptability.

It’s a good – but not the only – way forward.

At the same time, you won’t survive by trying to make yourself into a chameleon. You can’t be all things to all people.

Connecting to your self – your values, your ways to build and acquire knowledge, and understand and use your intuition – is in my opinion the only way to go.