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Facebook and the Enterprise: Part 6: Musing about Role-driven Induction

I’m one of those people who likes the Max de Pree definition of leadership:

  • The first job of a leader is to articulate strategy and vision.
  • The second and last is to say thank you.
  • In between, a leader should be a servant and a debtor to the led.

De Pree’s definition, which forms the basis for his works on servant leadership, resonate well with my personal spiritual beliefs, leaving me with fewer conflicts in life.
I’m also one of those people who believes in “nurture” far more than “nature”; I truly believe that given the right environment, training, opportunity and motivation, anyone can do almost anything.

Given these values and beliefs, I’ve tended to prefer management styles that use mentoring and coaching methods to train and empower, rather than stentorian or authoritarian approaches, or for that matter spoon-fed prescription. I think it is important to teach people to discover their potential, to be able to live up to that potential and then to extend it.

As a result, I’m always on the lookout for tools and techniques that improve my capacity to mentor and coach people. So I thought it was time to review what something like Facebook could do in this respect, speaking from an enterprise perspective. How could Facebook help?

For many years I’ve been looking for a way to simplify role-driven induction, such that I can

  • list all the committees a person should belong to
  • list all the “meetings” a person should attend
  • list all the people a person should normally interact with, staff as well as customers
  • list all the applications a person should use
  • list all the “permissions” and authorisation levels a person needs
  • list all the intranet web sites a person should visit

Of course, I can do all this now. Yes, but not that accurately. IF I use something like Facebook, I can get so much better at doing this. Today, I have to use formal organisation charts and job descriptions to create an artificial model of what the person should do, and then try and overlay that with real-world mentoring and coaching so as to bridge the gulf between theory and practice. I guess it’s a bit like driving a car (incidentally something I don’t know how to do!). Theory is what you need to pass the test, and practice keeps you alive, even gets you from A to B traffic permitting.

With Facebook, I can capture the real-life interactions of a person in an organisation. Whom he connects with, what groups he joins, what events he goes to, whom he converses with, exchanges communications with, what applications he uses, which ones he doesn’t use, what he reads, to a certain extent even why he reads something. Over time, these real-life interactions allow me to model the role far more effectively than I can today.

Over time, I can create a template for every given role. I can try and construct a baseline structure and look at variations between people, see whether those variations improve performance or not. Learn from those variations and pass that learning to the people performing the roles. Find out, for example, who are the “professional meeting attenders” and genuinely and dispassionately work out whether they’re bane or boon. Who the lone wolfs are. Maybe even get some Gladwellian Tipping-Point classifications for the staff.

You can see how the templates could get richer and richer over time, as we add learning and extend the population and timescale.  In turn, the templates form a rich basis for role induction, both for grad hires as well as for laterals. It’s almost as if you can create an unmanned cockpit and dashboard and headphones and everything for a given role, then transfer people into it as needed. Provide a really rich context and structure for what a person actually does in a given role.

When we are able to do this, we can spend far more time on the more valuable bits of human and career development, looking at a person’s communications style, approach to teamwork, to performance evaluation, to conflict resolution, even to goal-setting and refining.

[An aside. I am not interested in reducing standard deviation in performance. I am far more interested in exploring ad exploiting the things that make a person different and distinctive, by simplifying the boring things. Assembly line thinking has no role to play in 21st century services. Or education. Or healthcare.]

When we can capture a person’s interactions patterns on an objective and unemotional basis, we are also able to form the basis for something else, something that I will cover in my next post. Let me leave you with a taster, a teaser:

Human interactions have a cost and a value, both within the enterprise as well as beyond the enterprise. If we are able to price and value interactions on an individual basis, even crudely, we are able to create far better feedback loops than we’ve ever had. As the population covered grows, we are able to bring in collaborative filtering processes, ratings and recommendations, really get engaged on a Wisdom Of Crowds and democratised innovation model.

But first we have to be able to capture the population and their interactions. Objectively. Unemotionally.

Posted in Four pillars .


10 Responses

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  1. Stephen Lewis says

    JP. Articulation is indeed the key. For years, I marketed my “core business” as … Articulation. Often, companies and institutions would hire me in to write “a page or two of text” and within days I would find myself a stand-in for directors of organizations frozen in the midst of change or projects stalled part way through. The solution was to articulate where one stood and was going and why and how. Articulation also provided a test of the assumptions behind strategy and policy and provided the basis for proper implementation of processes through effective “service level agreements” which is nothing more than folks talking about what they need from each other to get the job done. Thus articulation (+listening+a smile+a word of thanks … which make people feel good about what they do) sets organizations alive in the right way. Your post helps me articulate this! Steve

  2. Mario Ruiz says

    Hi JP,

    I recently watched the Walt Disney picture Ratatouille, where a famous chef said: Anyone can be a great chef. At the romantic end, there is an explanation of this quote: Not a anyone can be a chef, but a great chef can come from any place given the right opportunities. This is what I believe when it comes to a great leader.

    Mario Ruiz
    @ http://www.oursheet.com

  3. Stephen Smoliar says

    Stephen, I think you have tapped into one of the more profound truths about the nature of knowledge, not just in the workplace but in everyday life. I tried to illustrate this truth in a diagram that I reproduced for one of my old Yahoo! 360 blog entries:

    http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-Mff23hgidqmHGqbcv.lfskakEtS6qLVHUEMFUG4-?cq=1&p=69

    My work on that diagram grew out of Nonaka’s misconceived “definition” of “knowldge” as “justified true belief,” which he attributed to Plato. Reading the THEATETUS for myself, I discovered that Plato had Socrates dismiss this definition as entirely bogus, along with three other attempted definitions.

    However, while one gets to the end of Plato’s text without a definition of knowledge, one has learned that the concept of knowledge is tightly coupled to at least three other equally fundamental concepts: memory, being, and description (which may be a poor translation of the Greek λόγος). I see that final concept of λόγος as the more general capacity that lies behind what you wrote about articulation, and I further see it as another one of those skills that has fallen by the wayside in our current approaches to education.

    I find it equally profound that you take a process-based approach to such articulation. Another lesson from Plato is that, given all the flux in the world (a pre-Socratic insight), the ACT OF DESCRIBING is more important than any resulting DESCRIPTION, which, while more concrete is also more temporary. I have tried many times to raise this distinction on this blog, as JP himself has observed:

    http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2007/05/27/musing-about-nouns-and-verbs/

    Unfortunately, on the basis of his above text, he still does not seem to get it. Enterprise work is not about making a whole slew of structures (lists) about people more manageable; it is about making the processes of ENGAGEMENT more effective. If technology can facilitate those processes, so much the better; but the success of the enterprise will still come down to the day-to-day practices of all those who work there. I see your approach to articulation as a healthy contribution to those practices.

  4. JP says

    Stephen:

    You’re right, I don’t get it :-)

    Capturing the patterns of what people actually do (rather than what they think they do) is something I believe is really important. Don’t get misled by the lists, you seem to go into a tizzy whenever you see a list of nouns. Maybe I should have been more overtly ironic. The lists themselves are hygiene factors, necessary but not sufficient to form the basis for improved performance.

    Being able to articulate those patterns (patterns of doing, remember) is, in my opinion, a sensible way of training people into the roles they have to perform.

    If I can simplify the pattern description and transfer process, then I can spend time on the real performance aspects, which have to do with management and communications styles, attitude to teamwork, attitude to collaboration, ability to deal with conflict, and so on.

  5. Stephen Smoliar says

    JP, to be more specific, what I think you do not “get” is that “the pattern description and transfer process” (in all its verb-based processual glory) is the core competence behind all those “real performance aspects” you enumerated. The kind of simplification you invoke reflects back on the danger of sacrificing effectiveness for efficiency, one of the key points made by Keen and Scott Morton in the pioneering work on decision support systems. The axiom I have tried to develop is that the effectiveness of the enterprise rises or falls on the basis of the effectiveness of the communicative actions invoked by the members of that enterprise for both internal and external engagements. The enterprise that taps into achieving effective communicative actions will discover that issues such as “knowledge management” (not to mention your “four pillars”) will then take care of themselves.

  6. JP says

    Interesting that you major on communications and yet hate cluetrain

  7. Stephen Smoliar says

    JP, what is more interesting is that you seem to have forgotten my most recent post on why Cluetrain only addresses the “surface structure” of communication, while all the “action” takes place at the “deep structure!” On the basis of some of the phraseology in your text at the time (last July), I am pretty sure you saw it. The URL is (still):

    http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/2007/07/semiotic-ignorance.html

  8. Nic Brisbourne says

    I am kind of with Stephen here (I think). My immediate thought on reading the post was that it is somehow the ad hoc nature of interaction that is captured on FB which makes it valuable. That implies noting what someone has done and asking the next person in their job to do the same thing might result in people having the right lists of friends and attending the right meetings, but still not being effective. I.e. the communication moves from happening because it was useful and starts happening because it is supposed to. That is the risk anyway – which leaves me thinking it is all about how you use the information you pull out (which would be useful data).

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Role of the manager in an agile enterprise « The Dabbler’s Weblog linked to this post on August 23, 2007

    […] has been making an interesting and entertaining run of posts about Facebook and the Enterprise. The latest is focused on the idea of using a social networking platform like Facebook to inform a role-driven […]

  2. Hiatus: A few words and a few Links re: articulation, organizational change, the GOP, the 1960s, mysterious and enticing doorways, and the vanishing wooden mosques of the eastern Balkans « Hak Pak Sak linked to this post on September 28, 2007

    […] my “core business” of articulation, communication, and change, look at this comment I posted some weeks ago on JP Rangaswami’s weblog Confused Of Calcutta and a worthy […]



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