Is it Time to Upgrade Your Human Software?

Emerging advances in social knowledge media and management software promise a future of remarkable connectivity, responsiveness and strategic flexibility for businesses.  The greatest limitation to these emerging capabilities, of communicating and collaborating in unprecedented ways across traditional business boundaries, may be the businesses themselves.  In particular, the individual operating systems that comprise the business; human beings.

Early in my corporate career I was taught an invaluable lesson.  It was during the mid-nineties when many companies were making the final migration away from business software operating systems that were developed in-house to enterprise software platforms from the likes of ORACLE and SAP.  The new, integrated platforms promised remarkable upside.  Promise that often came along with substantial disruption, especially during conversion, which could drag on for months (or sometimes years).  While many of the problems were purely technical, variable and unstable business processes were also contributing to the challenges at hand.

What I learned was you cannot improve process by simply applying technology.  Automating a questionable process only exacerbates questionable results.  Even worse, it often accelerates and amplifies those results.  Back in the 1970s software engineers had an acronym for this phenomena; GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

Now we’re on the precipice of another business software/process evolution; social media and social knowledge management.  The looming impact this next wave of technology will have on current business processes makes the old CRM conversions pale in comparison.  Open networks, strategy accelerators, social branding, on-demand customization, Design Thinking and spherical collaboration will alter many of the established, stabile business processes that have been optimized for hierarchically-organized companies.  The scope of change, and the speed at which it is taking place, is unprecedented.  I dare say social technology will effect commerce in the Ideas Age on a scale similar to how the assembly line impacted the Industrial Age.

While unstable or simply bad processes were brought to the surface as enterprise software gained traction, this new evolution will surface something more fundamental; misaligned thinking, outdated leadership and dysfunctional culture.  While the pace of change in the 1990s enabled organizations to muddle through their enterprise conversions, today’s environment will be much less forgiving.  This isn’t about fine-tuning yesterday’s processes to meet the new, adaptive challenges.  It’s about co-creating entirely new processes, and more importantly, embracing an organizational shift in perspective and orientation that will empower greater collaboration.  Companies will need to strategically navigate the journey from yesterday’s command-and-control thinking to tomorrow’s engage-and-inspire actions.

Structural Effects on Performance

Structural Effects on Associate Performance Orientation

Fortunately, we’re not navigating in the dark.  I wrote a blog last week about global advisory firm CEB’s Executive Guidance – 2013 report that identified the top ten competencies today’s high performers are demonstrating as they thrive in volatility.  A thematic thread runs through these imperative (and teachable) skills.  One of high emotional intelligence, an interpersonal orientation, psychological agility, and a sense of purpose greater than the individual self.  Notice that these skills are oriented around intrinsic goals and values (personal development, authentic relationships, purposefulness).  Goals and values that transcend the superficial differences that exists in multi-cultural, multi-generational workplaces.  The fact is, organizationally leveraging extrinsic goals and values (money, prestige, power) is no longer the go-to motivating factor it was in the past.  Deeper meaning must be imparted through mindful leadership and a highly engaging, inclusive culture in order to ignite breakthrough performance through the application of human capital.

The study went on to identify that, on average, only 5% of employees demonstrate competencies in these areas, so there’s enormous room for growth and performance improvement.  But a shift in perspective must first occur in order for these productivity gains to be realized.  Here’s a quote from the research that supports this insight:

“What skills and behaviors will differentiate the most productive employees?  Most managers and performance management models assume that strong business acumen, task and process mastery, and technical know-how explain the majority of an employee’s job performance.  Unfortunately, the prevalence of outdated assumptions about the most valuable skills and abilities leads to the misidentification (or under-identification) of the organization’s next generation of high performers.  Using existing methods, organizations will likely fail to identify 65% of their new high performers.”*

This points to a misalignment, or misunderstanding, of values…of what matters most in driving performance.  Adopting a social knowledge management software platform without first addressing the firm’s human software (the associates’ thinking, orientation and perspective) is akin to seeding a field without first tilling the sod.  These new insights into the skills necessary for high performance lead us to additional insights into the type of leaders we must be developing and the organizational culture required to foster these competencies and behaviors throughout the organization.

Social knowledge management offers remarkable promise for increases in productivity and performance.  A study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute and published in the November, 2012 McKinsey Quarterly®, demonstrated that improved communication and collaboration through social technologies can raise the productivity of interaction workers by 20 to 25 percent.  In analyzing just four key business sectors, the research goes on to suggest social platforms can unlock somewhere between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion in value!  Just don’t forget to upgrade your human software first!

*CEB, CLC Human Resources High Performance Survey, 2012.

© 2013, Terry Murray

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Filed under Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership Development, Organizational Culture, Team Building

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