Dion Hinchcliffe's Next-Generation Enterprises

Dion Hinchcliffe

How Social Technology has Emerged as an Enterprise Management Model

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It was surely bound to happen, as high technology has become so deeply intertwined in our personal and business lives, and now it has:

The digital world has reshaped how we manage and operate our organizations like never before, unleashing potent new possibilities while simultaneously posing major challenges that must be overcome.

It's a complex and unfolding story -- even more so because it's very much not driven by the resources or agenda of any one organization, technology, or interest group -- but rather a loosely connected, highly emergent, and interrelated global narrative as companies en masse grapple with how pervasive software and networks are enabling access to entirely new possibilities for value creation.

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The ongoing transformation and perceived travails of organizations such as Zappos, which has taken what technology is showing us is now possible within corporations, and redesigned their well-known, market-leading company essentially from the ground up is now increasingly a real goal in a growing -- albeit still limited -- number of organizations. This includes success stories like industrial giant Bosch, which has re-engineering its top management practices around social technology.

While we've had widely available networked communications for over 20 years now, it wasn't until the last ten years or so that we had enterprise-ready tools that really unleashed what digital networks make possible: Mass workforce collaboration, crowdsourcing, open innovation, self-organizing business processes, the digital platforming of our businesses, distributed yet coordinated technology change agency, and the injection of power laws directly into our operations and business models, to name some of the more significant developments of the last decade.

But it was clearly the technology that came first, beginning in the 1990s, including wikis, blogs, online communities, enterprise social networks, unified communications, crowdsourcing platforms, and so on. Even then, it was surprising how long it took for the management thinking to develop around these advances to explain the fundamentals of why and how these new technology-enabled ways of working should function in our organizations, much less describe coherent new management practices that incorporated them.

Catching management theory up to the tech possibilities

In recent years, the air gap between leadership skills in the business world and the evolution of technology-enabled management theory has become apparent enough that The Economist recently declared the end of the management guru, whose expertise and ability to guide the industry stopped essentially a decade back, as modern management subject matter required real depth in technology.

To be clear, we're still in very early days of all of this even now, as the relevant technology -- particularly collaboration tools that allow organizations to enlist, align, and guide their workers in new and potent ways at scale -- continues to change and evolve faster than ever before.

It used to be that clearly important new workplace technologies would arrive with plenty of fanfare, but with very little guidance on how to apply it on the ground to improve how we work. But over the last few years we've seen a steady flow of new models that attempt to explain and enable how these technologies transform our work, and how we might realize them at a leadership level, all the way down to how individual workers in the business might activate their part of the business with them.

Going slow means falling behind fast, but few paths proven

We've even started to get a sense recently from a bottom-up level for what kind of digital literacy skills we have to foster in the contemporary worker to support the new digital workplace. But the lack of recognized and effective management methods that explain the theory, structures, and processes required to use today's digital tools to create richer, better outcomes has been a significant impediment to progress. Even now, we are not teaching new minted managers these ideas or skills.

Fortunately, we're seeing the end of that drought as a number of prominent and increasingly recognized bodies of thought emerge onto the scene. Some of them will be familiar, such as social business, which became quite prominent several years ago. Others are less well known, such as podularity, Wirearchy, and most recently Responsive Org, but are no less significant or less worthy of study. Perhaps most well known these days due to the attention in the press it is receiving is Holacracy, which even has its own digital support tools such as GlassFrog, specifically designed to better enable it within organization.

With these advances in thinking, new tools, and more effective lenses to look at how we can apply networked technology to business, we can begin to address the issue of adoption, which has often plagued digital advances such as enterprise social tools, particularly when they're poorly connected to the work of the business itself.

While the language of many of these new management theories is couched in individual expression and empowerment through the creation of vibrant and more engaging places to work -- and it's likely to be their primary legacy in my opinion -- our businesses have other concerns. Namely, this is how to connect these more powerful and richer ways of working to core business practices including operations, governance, hiring, budgeting, resource management, project management, and so on.

Bringing together the tech, management models, and business practices

I now believe we are near a watershed moment in bringing these three vital domains together as a consistent and effective whole: A combination of new workplace technologies and overarching modern management methods to leverage what makes the new technologies unique valuable and potent, all aimed together at a fundamental overhaul of our most important institutional practices down "to the metal."

Of course, when I say this is near, I mean that real digital business transition will take longer than we'd like, most likely the next 5-10 years for most of us to adapt to what today's technologies currently make possible. Of course, by then things will have changed considerably again. The good news is that I also genuinely believe we are starting to rethink the process of technological change and absorption as an industry to make it much more rapid and sustainable. If we can bring about a leap-forward in our business practices, matched by a better and faster way to adapt to technology change, then organizations can transform successfully, and stay current.

I will continue exploring these new groundbreaking management methods -- and the stories of companies that are working through how to update how they work on the ground -- in coming months. Please be sure to share your own stories with me as you are able.

Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized business strategist and enterprise architect View more

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