Translation of the Original Article by Peter Schlack
Already in the 90s, I was involved in projects in the industry, which had the goal to flatten hierarchies and broaden the scope for the employees. So, for example, the organization at the headquarters of corporations were restructured with less leadership circles and shorter reporting lines; or box manufacturing was introduced in the automobile industry, so that the employees have a larger scope compared to the mundane assembly line production. That way increased motivation and higher quality of work was to be achieved.
The then strong personnel directors in large companies initiated these developments. With the ringing in of the era of shareholder value and the strengthened focus on returns, the personnel areas came on the losing side with their "social-romantic ideas". The focus was no longer so much on the staff, but on the share- or stakeholders. Share prices, yield and return on capital of the owner were becoming increasingly important. Many Personnel Boards areas fell by the wayside and were downgraded to the directorate level.
So gradually the influence of HR departments within the company waned, and with it innovative projects for a new cooperation in the company. Free spaces for employees were cut back. Tighter management, centralized control, strict controlling was announced. So, the box productions were scaled back in the automotive industry - the old tried and tested belt gained new importance. And this trend has continued to this day.
That is also the reason why after my observation, not many companies accept the social collaboration offers as was hoped for in IT circles. After the "social romanticism spring" in the 90ies, many businesses are again structured after the Tayloristic-hierarchical principles. And these are clear responsibilities, clear order, and clear framework. The opposite of a networked organization. Prof. Peter Kruse, System expert and corporate consultant says: "The conveyance of networking is letting go of prevention." And this prevention has a long tradition in hierarchically organized companies. Executives want to have everything under control. Which Executive likes to face a situation in which he has no longer under control of everything, if he is to engage in a process from which he does not know what the result look like at the end.
We all know: networks cannot be controlled by anyone. And that is the crux of the matter, where many networking initiatives surely fail. Networks are solution systems, which have a high momentum of their own. And this is precisely what enterprises need today because the world out there presents a complexity that almost compels us to go into networks. And it's worth it, because around 80 percent of talents will be wasted, not be used in the companies because with their organizational structure, they are unable to raise these treasures.
Basically, the message to companies is clear: If you cannot manage, to produce the freedom of complex networks in a highly complex networked world, unfortunately you do not get the solutions you need. Important management masterminds like Arie De Geus, former director of corporate planning from Shell, have identified, that in the long run, the ability to learn faster than the competition, is the only sustainable defensible competitive advantage.
Although software giants like IBM, Microsoft and others, now drive the Social Collaboration Initiative, we are primarily dealing with a management issue. Whoever introduces a network organization with the help of collaboration software simply from technical enthusiasm, will fail. It is not enough to bestow the employees with a powerful network with individual profiles, file sharing, microblogging and forums, which in logic is similar to Facebook.
What is needed however, are business objectives that are to be reached with the introduction of such a network organization. These goals have to be formulated clearly to the staff: They want to know how exactly the new technology can help them, to do their job better or faster than ever before.
Now we come to the point where we need to talk about cooperation between the IT Service Provider and the business consultants and organizational developers, because they have the consulting expertise in the fields management, corporate culture and organizational development.
That is not the core competency of the IT sector. Here the IT sector should not make the same mistakes as the communications sector. There they have sought for decades to differentiate themselves from each other. Highlighting their own self-importance. Advertising, PR, Sales Promotion, Social Media – each cuts himself off from the other, holds their cards closed. No mention of integrated communication. That applies not only to competing agencies, but also for the companies that have a separate department for each discipline. What came out of it? Integrated communication is still not properly practiced today. Each discipline continues to fight for reputation and budgets. And as such, the individual communication disciplines have been degraded to service areas over the years. You can hardly find Head of Communications at board or director level in the companies. We should learn from these errors. My conclusion: The IT sector must succeed to put a coherent concept for a modern network organization on the table of the management in the companies in tandem with the company's consultants and organizational developers. This concept needs to be aligned with the exact needs, culture and strategy of the company. Then – and of this I am convinced - it will succeed to revitalize an old idea with the instrument Social Collaboration. Finally, an appropriate quote from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, which comes to mind in this context: "I do not know if it will be better if it is different. But it has to be different if it is to be better."