Friday, November 09, 2007

How to be a stepping stone manager

An interesting discussion on Euan Semple’s The Obvious blog has inspired me to think about how managers might become the stepping stones to more networked companies.

He has come to the conclusion that: Management is becoming about noticing and enabling rather than driving and controlling.”

He advises: “Get yourselves a big melting pot of different social tools that engender different conversations and expressions of intent from your staff, watch like a hawk, spot the cool stuff, fan the flames and then protect the baby shoots from your spoilers.”

Jon Husband contributes this piece of mantra magic to the conversation by describing the notion as “Champion and Channel”.

And all this inspires me to think about the skill sets this suggests for the new leaders in organisations.

I have long been an advocate for a Communities First mantra. I think it describes and guides both what we should do and how we should go about doing it.

For example; Allow self-forming teams to follow their passions and we just might deliver products and services with a better fit with the networked world.

Teams that derive from an understanding of the power of the network ought to deliver results suited to success in the networked world. It’s an edge-in rather than centre-out solution. That’s the theory.

But most organisations remain silo’d and hierarchical. And we labour under command and control restrictions and structures. Letting go of all that all at once – well, let’s be honest, it would risk a certain level of chaos...

The networked company is the ideal; the current regime is the reality.

I think Euan’s insight is to offer relatively safe and secure stepping stones between the two.

The stepping stones are leaders of traditional hierarchies who have both the insight and the tools to harness the creativity of the Net Gen that wikinomics describes, Stowe Boyd's Edglings and Communities Dominate Brands' Generation C; people who expect to (are gagging to) join in the process of creating value in a networked way because that’s the way they’ve been brought up and it’s what they are used to.

So not only do managers need to provide (ands USE) the tools for their teams (wikis, forums, face-to-face discussion groups, facebook groups, whatever social tools they want to engage with) but they must also engage in the process with the insight to Champion and Channel – from the position of someone ready to champion and channel rather than one who might ‘drive’ or ‘control’.

So what skill sets does the stepping stone manager need?

I think Communities Dominate Brands offered a useful starting point when it described the role of the new marketeer.

Alan Moore & Tomi Ahonen wrote:

"What does it take to succeed in interruptive advertising? To be visible and heard, loud and eccentric, creative and brave, to crowd out the competition, gain attention of the audience - even annoy.
"This breeds an arrogance of "We know what is best, we won the awards, we have the training, we have the track record."
"This means many rogue marketeers break rules, live by their own rules, force their opinions upon others.
"What does it take to succeed in engagement marketing?
"To be humble, to listen, to empathise, to care, to be innovative, to be flexibile and adaptive, to live by other people's standards and rules. Subjecting one's own ego and ideas to the opinions and desires of the community: "They know best."
"To repeatedly readjust the existing and "own" ideas to the feedback of the community. My idea was not perfect, of course it should be revised again and again until my contribution disappears."

Does all or some of this sound useful?

Euan reminds us to Watch like a hawk, spot the cool stuff, fan the flames and then protect the baby shoots from your spoilers.”

Providing the tools and leaving ‘them’ to it is a luxury you can allow yourself only if you already have a well-functioning network of a company.

But if that were the case, you would want to be using them rather than leaving ‘them’ to it.

So I guess it follows that if you - the stepping stone manager - wants tohelp create a successfully networked company you HAVE to engage.

You have to be the stepping stone. You have to engage with the tools in order to “watch like a hawk, spot the cool stuff, fan the flames and protect the baby shoots”.

In Michael C Jackson’s Systems Thinking Peter Fryer’s Humberside Training and Enterprise Council’s experience is referenced.

“Forms of dialogue, aimed at ensuring win-win rather than win-lose outcomes were introduced to help overcome barriers to communication.”

That’s about culture and ‘permission to speak’. It has to come from the top that it’s alright to share, shape and contribute. In fact. It’s very welcome. It earns you brownie points with the boss. It is not a waste of ‘company’ time (what ever that is).

Jackson continues: “The ‘messages’ conveyed to support ‘making connections’ were ‘everyone can talk to everyone and should’, ‘everyone is responsible’ and ‘network extensively’."

While all these messages should pervade your culture, the critical one in the enabling of the stepping stone is ‘everyone is responsible’.

This starts with the stepping stones themselves. The managers must set the tone. They are responsible for engaging with the internal (and external) social tools they make available.

But as the idea becomes more widely accepted – up and down the hierarchies and across silos - it becomes the responsibility of all – the entire network – to “watch like hawks, to fan flames, to spot cool stuff, to protect the baby shoots”.

The role of the stepping stone is to show the way and plot the path. But everyone must cross the water. When they all have, you have your network.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?