The views of Frederick Taylor on scientific management have defined the way organisations have operated for over 100 years. The view that to improve efficiency and profits you need to focus on processes, has dominated the culture of business, and has led to the emergence of a market for various solutions to cater for this view – the ERP software industry is one.
A new approach is starting to emerge now, one that I think challenges the Taylorist view. This new approach is more a product of, and holds value for, the way business will work in the 21st century. The new approach is referred to as the social enterprise. Another term for it, enterprise 2.0, is described by its author, Prof. Andrew McAfee of MIT, as:
the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.
Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities.
Social enterprise puts the emphasis on people, not processes.
In his book, People Buy You, Jeb Blount points out that a major problem for business is that the balance of forces has swung far towards the side of technology, process and systems as the way to improve business, and far away from interpersonal skills. We have wrung so much efficiency out of process management that it is becoming an increasingly marginal return to find greater efficiencies. Human interaction and interpersonal skills are going to be the new competitive edge for business.
Geoffrey Moore, author of classic technology marketing books Crossing the Chasm, and Inside the Tornado, has been pointed out that business has spent the last few decades on improving their Systems of Record – the systems that handle business transactions like sales and purchase orders, inventory and supply chain management, production planning, customer relationship management, and others. He now believes those systems are no longer a source of competitive advantage. Moore argues that business needs to transform, to empower its employees by providing better communication and collaboration mechanisms, both inside the business and between businesses. What will enable this transformation is a new set of Systems of Engagement, which focus on communication and promote collaboration.
Doesn’t that sound like an emphasis on interaction and people, rather than process?
The problem at the moment is that businesses are run by people who have grown up with the Taylor view of the world. When it comes to enterprise strategy, that “social” really doesn’t count for much when it comes to enterprise strategy, according to a study by KPMG.
What is the state of social enterprise adoption? An Altimeter report mentioned:
social media is extending deeper into organizations and, at the same time, strategies are maturing
A Deloitte survey showed that many C-level executives are starting to recognize the importance of social enterprise.
I have to admit, however, that I am not yet convinced that reports like these paint the true picture.
Why should sceptical, Taylor-oriented executives consider Moore’s systems of engagement? The answer is because the business world has changed, we are now in an era where agility and adaptability is required, not rigid command-and-control structures; where mobility and cloud computing are the key technologies, not mainframes or client-server. According to Moore, the questions that need then to be asked are:
Systems of engagement do not make competence cultures more competent. They make collaboration cultures more collaborative. The key questions are: 1) Is that a good thing in your industry today? and 2) Are the people in your enterprise—specifically your CEO and your CXO peers—really up for this?
The second question is important because it requires the equivalent of making a square peg fit into a round hole.
If the artistic argument appeals to you, I liked this interpretation by Hugh MacLeod:
What do you think about social enterprise? Is it a fad, or a new way to which businesses will have to adapt?
A blog has appeared on Brian Solis’ site – Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next! We may have to come up with some other responses to the Taylorists