How slowly things change. We’ve been talking about enterprise transformation for decades. Yet the Old Guard just won’t give up the ghost.
We’ve highlighted three changes in particular: 1) moving from hierarchies to networks; 2) shifting the focus of attention from documents to knowledge; 3) embedding innovation and learning within every process.
Let’s revisit these transformations and see if we can’t get things moving. After all, as the global market keeps changing at a faster pace, legacy institutions continue to fall by the wayside, or find themselves on life support.
1. Moving from hierarchies to networks
Many business schools still teach that are two organizations: the formal and the informal. The formal is explicitly spelled out in the organization chart. Everyone has clearly defined line or staff responsibilities. But the informal organization, made up of mostly back-channel relationships, is where the real work gets done.
In today’s complex, fast-changing world, the hierarchy is slow and cumbersome. When new problems and opportunities present themselves, you need to quickly find people with the right expertise. Going through the formal chain of command is too slow. This is why the social network must be explicitly revealed rather than hidden.
How well does your enterprise’s social network “see itself”? Is the social network as clear as the formal organization chart? If not, it’s time to bring that phantom organization to the forefront.
2. Shifting the focus of attention from documents to knowledge
Most so-called knowledge management systems are really electronic libraries. Metadata tags and other search techniques provide some insight into what’s contained in the documents. But a user must still spend a great deal of time scrolling through search results, finding the relevant information, and extracting the knowledge. Very often the knowledge being sought is implicit and not even in the system.
Critical knowledge rarely makes its way into documents. Conversations, “war stories,” and the like are rich in knowledge but rarely captured in ways that can be easily organized, retrieved, and re-applied.
To meet the challenges of competing in the global knowledge economy, a new, innovative approach to knowledge sharing is needed—an approach that recognizes that knowledge is exchanged primarily in stories, conversations and actions, rather than in documents.
Critical knowledge can be made explicit by capturing and delivering it in a variety of sensory-rich modalities which are closer to the way humans naturally communicate. Tacit knowledge can be drawn from domain experts and senior practitioners using multimodal knowledge elicitation techniques.
Knowledge about performing critical tasks such as making observations, solving problems, and making decisions can be modularized, organized and refined into reusable knowledge “nuggets.” These can range from “fast facts” and vignettes, to expert systems and tutoring systems, to interactive 3-D video simulations. In many cases, audio and video recordings enable the flow of knowledge far more effectively than symbols and text.
How much of your IT investment is focused on documents, as opposed to modalities that are better suited to delivering knowledge?
3. Embedding innovation and learning within every process
In many organizations, innovation is treated as a separate function. Or perhaps as a “strategic initiative.” Learning is often treated even worse, relegated to training plans, online tutorials, and the like.
In order to effectively compete, innovation and learning must be deeply embedded in every business process. If most of your organization’s critical knowledge flows selectively, in an informal setting, a separate branch in the organizational hierarchy is not going to be very effective. The only way to break the pattern is to build systems and practices that make learning a simple, easy and worthwhile process of habitually capturing, sharing and applying knowledge that’s critical to achieving success (and preventing or avoiding catastrophic failure).
To what extent is knowledge-sharing a routine part of your day-to-day operation? Does each person in your enterprise take full responsibility for capturing, sharing and applying knowledge? Or do they see it as someone else’s responsibility?
The new enterprise
In the traditional enterprise, knowledge is exchanged in secret, usually among a select few individuals. The formal organization is broken into silos, each with its own unique people, processes and technologies. The underlying infrastructure is a mishmash of separate systems and databases, with little if any standards to promote interoperability.
In the enterprise of the future, there are few, if any, secrets. Communications are more open and transparent. The social network is clearly visible. Business processes are more integrated and the learning cycle of capture-share-apply is firmly embedded within each. Technology serves as an enabler, rather than a barrier, to knowledge flows.
The enterprise of the future need not be a long-term vision. It can be, and must be, today’s reality. But it cannot happen if we remain stuck in an industrial-age mindset. Change the mindset, and the structural changes, along with the performance gains, will follow.
Updated from an article originally published in the KMWorld Magazine series “The Future of the Future,” April 2007