Enterprise 2.0 : an opportunity for modern management to fulfill its promises ?

(French version available).

All organizations say Routinely ‘People are our greatest asset’. Yet few practice what they preach, let alone truly believe it. (Peter Drucker)

Peter Drucker is the main theoretician of modern management.

He was the first to define the Knowledge Worker, back in 1959. The excellent David Weinberger (one of the Cluetrain Manifesto terrorist) may call the definition as pompous, it remains nonetheless visionary. Drucker’s whole theory on organizations of the XXth century is built around the knowledge worker.

What is surprising when we analyze the recommendations for management within the implementation of an Enterprise 2.0 approach is that by and large, these are pretty similar to the ones we can find in the writings of major XXth century authors on management and leadership (Drucker, Crozier, DePree) or among the great industry leaders.

Participation, reputation, emergence, transparency, simplicity, agility and trust : would Enterprise 2.0 finally deliver the promises of modern management ?

1- Participation

Max DePree is the son of the founder of Herman Miller, a US company manufacturing high quality office furniture. Herman Miller is consistently recognized for its dedication to a people focused employee culture, following a servant leadership concept.

DePree wrote Leadership is an Art in 1987 while retiring from the business. He was a keen supporter of participatory management, a popular trend in management during the 80s :

Participatory management begins with a belief in the potential of people. Everyone has the right and the duty to influence the decision making and to understand the results. Participatory management Guarantes that decisions will not be arbitrary, secret or closed to questioning. It is not democratic: having a say differs from having a vote. (Max De Pree)

This concept of participative management is also central in Peter Drucker work :

Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives’ decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake.

2- Reputation

Reputation in the online world is the quantified assessment of the contribution of the individual by his peers. We find one of the basic principles of evaluation advocated by P. Drucker : not the effort, the time spent in the office or anything else but the contribution and the delivered value.

An example of leveraging reputation is what Max De Pree called Roving Leadership :

“Roving Leadership is the expression of the ability of the hierarchical leaders to permit others to share ownership of problems, in effect to take possession of a situation. Roving leadership takes charge in varying degrees when hierarchy does not respond swiftly or decisively. It demands a great deal of trust “

3- Emergence

Wiliam Mc Knight has dedicated his career to 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company). He constantly promoted an open culture based on trust, and he made sure the company leaves enough room for the emergence of innovation. Doing so, he transformed a mining company which produces grinding tools and sandpaper in a particularly innovative one, successful in many different areas (abrasive, athletics tracks, boardgames, synthetic fibers, office furnitures etc. …).

His profession of faith does not let much room for misinterpretation :

As our business grows, it become increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way. Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell Those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.

4- Agility

Dee Ward Hock is the founder and CEO (68-84) of Visa Credit Card Association. He coined the term chaordic, mixing chaotic and ordered. His praise for agility is summarized in this quote:

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.

Here we find a trend of Management 2.0, described with the usual panache by Kathy Sierra : Micro management and the zombie function.

5- Transparency

Again, Max De Pree has a clear and straight position. Again, not much room for misinterpretation here :

“It is better to err on the side of sharing too much information than risk someone in the dark. Information is power but it is pointless power if hoarded. Power must be shared for an organization to work” (Leadership is an Art).

6- Simplicity

The best response to the complexity of human relationships is the simplicity of the organization (Crozier).

Michel Crozier is the leading expert in the french sociological study of the enterprise. His analysis of the relation between the simplicity of speech and the commitment of teams is rather interesting:

The more sophisticated and complex the communication, the more it sounds simplistic. While simple message appears as a source of wealth, because it allows individuals to make it their own and discuss freely. The involvement of experienced manager, the fact that everyone is convinced of his conviction helps to give considerable strength to a simple message.

Which brings us back to two things:

1) the strength of the ties born from conversation, as opposed to the defiance born from official speeches full of TechnoLatin (as David Weinberger calls it) or more prosaically, corporate BS.

2) the leadership that results from simple and clear communication. Mentioning studies from 1984-1985 on the necessary corporate cultural revolution (the time was then at the advent of the participating companies), Crozier identifies simplicity as one of the 5 prerequisites.

7- Trust

The quotes on the subject are countless. The contribution of Peter Drucker in his reflection on the management of knowledge workers is not the least:

It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.

Knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an ‘asset’ rather than a ‘cost’. It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.

Making knowledge workers productive requires changes in attitude, not only on the part of the individual knowledge worker, but on the part of the whole organization

The most spectacular may be the work of Stephen Covey Jr., the son of the author of the bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Covey Jr. became the head of the publishing house of his father’s company during the merger with Franklin Quest. In a difficult and challenging time, the leadership of Covey Jr. obtained impressive results. The motto : trust. He wrote a book on the subject : The Speed Of Trust.

Bar the vaguely guruesque approach which may inspire some caution, the feedback remains interesting. It explains how trust enables smoother relationship within the company and save valuable time.

Jason Fried, CEO of the start-up extraordinaire 37Signals has adopted a similar principle : “As a rule, I always decide to trust the people I meet, this saves a lot of time and inspires trust back.”

So ?

With the implementation of collaborative tools within the enterprise, would it be the the time for modern management to finally keep its words ?

The temptation for utopia is quite big …


  1. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for the comment. Welcome on Heavy mental. I am quite honored to have the father of wirearchy concept commenting here.

    Excellent link and blog post. I love this part : Right now, your company has 21st-century Internet-enabled business processes, mid-20th-century management processes, all built atop 19th-century management principles.

    I’ve just ordered Future of Management on amazon …

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