The Next Generation Enterprise: Creating the Agile Organization

Naisbitt begins his book, Mindset!, by saying that the future is always with us . . . social media acts as our collaborator, offering stories, facts, and opinions.  But it’s not just the information that’s important.  It’s the sifting process . . . the way in which we select and verify that allows us to bring the information we collect together to create a credible picture of the future that becomes key.   So how are organizations ‘sifting’ through the profound changes in technology, demographics, and the economy to identify their inflection points for change?  I think we are starting to see deep changes in the fundamental structure and operating principles of the corporation . . . for me a clearer picture of what it means to be NGE is beginning to emerge:

The very nature of work will change . . . and I say this with the full understanding that many of us have some amount of our organization involved in process based work.  While that type of work is different that knowledge work, we’re even seeing challenges to traditional process models with examples like manufacturing networks.  Processes, like software, can lend themselves to peer production too.  So, NGE work tends to be:

  • Project driven . . . based on roles not jobs.  Many of us are already transitioning away from jobs to roles to project based work for some portion of our organization.  This is an important paradigm shift for leaders — ownership for talent is shared and needs to be flexibly deployed against the areas of highest value for the organization.  This is particularly true given talent may come from inside or outside of the organization. 
  • Community based . . . the active use of collaboration tools to share information, create relationships, develop insight or create product is the work itself.  I often have senior leaders ask me about the value of social networking as though its ‘time wasted’ rather than an opportunity to enable and accelerate the real work of the organization.  Serena Software has “Social Networking Fridays.”  I mention it not because it is exceptional but because it’s simple.  Employees are encouraged to spend time each week on various social networking sites updating profiles, collaborating with colleagues and clients or recruiting for Serena. 
  • On demand . . .the style of work is ‘bursty’ meaning it’s discontinuous and done when required by the work not necessarily during ‘work hours.’  Productivity can be seen and measured through results as opposed to ‘face time.’   Much easier said than done.  In my mind, Best Buy’s ROWE performance management system, judging output rather than hours, is an example of responding to the bursty nature of NGE work.  To sum it up, my colleague, Tammy Erickson, wrote a wonderful blog on “Do we need weekends?” The upshot . . .work is bursty, and we need to recognize it from an organizational point of view. 
  • ‘Glocal’. . . requires that we simultaneously take a global and local approach and mindset to work.  Whether your business is global is not the issue . . . talent is. 

How we do the work will also change . . .  organizations will be networked with a more fluid structure and transparent processes that are:

  • More horizontal and self organizing in nature.
  • Peer oriented with minimal control being provided from the center of the organization.
  • Supported by processes that are modular and can be assembled and re-assembled in a flexible repeatable way.

The organization chart in an NGE world is not necessarily vertical.  It may in fact, be circular.  Mozilla, the non-profit producer of Firefox web browser, has an incredibly effective peer development model.  With a tread bare budget and a small cadre of internal developers, it has effectively marshaled an external development community of 400 regular volunteer contributors, and thousands more who patch and test to create viable product. 

The NGE organization will embrace . . .

  • Agile experimentation for innovation . . . it will use shorter development cycles with fast feedback enabling the organization to rapidly accelerate when an experiment is successful. 
  • Industrial analytics or embedded process based analytics that are used to assess business performance on an on-going basis. 

My favorite example of an organization demonstrating NGE behavior is British Telecom.  This organization has embraced a wide range of on-line tools . . .  using wikis and internal social networking applications that act like Facebook and Twitter, for example, to create a peering culture of collaboration.  Doing so, has allowed them to see how groups organically develop . . . so that they can deploy them against important projects, accelerating the rate of effective collaboration.  Using social networking tools, they can also identify key talent hidden deep in the organization . . . people who don’t show up on the organization chart or in key talent reviews but are the ‘super communicators’ or key enablers in the organization.  Talent the organization can’t afford to lose. 

The tools we leverage will also change . . . we are already seeing wonderful examples of web based tools that reside on responsive platforms . . . that are available on demand . . . instantly reconfigurable. . . agile and adaptive to circumstances.  Products, services, or interactions are co-created with customers and vendors, blurring roles.  A wonderful example of a platform business is, of course, Amazon.  Starting as an on-line book seller it has morphed into a portal for purchasing options.   Simple examples abound.  My son David, pointed me to Faceforce, a mashup that integrates Facebook with sales force data enabling you to leverage your social network in a new way.  Check out the demo.  At the core of all of this, is of course the interesting but thorny issue of who owns your social network.

As you identify your inflection points for this change . . . here are some parting questions that may help you sift through the information to create a picture of your organization’s future:

  • Where is your business model experiencing the most pressure . . . and in what ways will the NGE model facilitate your transformation?
  • What is the right level of openness, flexibility, and agility for your organization?  And how can HR facilitate it?
  • How can you harness the power of the “community” and for what purpose . . . are there natural pockets of “peering” . . . what collaboration tools make sense for your organization?
  • How will this change your talent proposition?  How are you preparing leaders for this new world?  How will your core capabilities need to change?

What NGE examples have you seen?  What are you doing in your own organization?


4 Responses

  1. your link to faceforce is broken 🙂
    thanks for the mention

  2. Margaret, Very nicely done. I am going to reference your blog in my inflection podcast series. I saw Steve Papermaster speak at Always On Global 250 this week. Was the one panel member who really knew his material. Very closely aligns with our work, vision, and thinking.

    I am very impressed with what you are doing! Best. K.

  3. We fixed the link. Clara tells me that the next version of faceforce is impressive. So stay tuned.

  4. Kim, thank you! I think this is an exciting times . . . organizations are changing in ways we could not even imagine . . . so stay turned for more developments.

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