Enterprise 2.0 and Human Psychology

The first time I met his ghost was in 2003. I had just returned from to my organisation after spending the last six months in Business School in England.

I returned with my analytic skills sharpened and my head full of new ideas and theories. Ready to innovate.

I had just completed a two month project to develop a executive information dashboard for the top leaders of the organisation. It was time to present my proposal to the CIO who was responsible for the funding.

After I was finished the presentation to the CIO, he leaned back, took a breath and said:

' Do you think there is a good ROI for this project ?'

'Absolutely, I am convinced this will lead to improved decision making quality and save time' I responded.

' But...can we point to an improvement on bottom line from this saved time.. in euros ?'

Mmmm errr...my heart sank, I knew I could surely do this, but what about the other aspects: decision quality, effectiveness, motivation ? What happened to all the modern psychology and human relation theories I learned about ?

It was at this point I saw the ghost of Henry Ford whisper in the CIO's ear : 'Making widgets, that is what is all about, making widgets'

Fast forward to 2008, Web 2.0, Facebook, Twitter, Crowd Sourcing, Enterprise 2.0 the buzz words are never ending.

I met the ghost more frequently now and he still whispered about widgets, and not much has changed. In fact, in some ways the financial crisis has made matters worse, project 'death by business case' is common. Despite this, I have spent the last number of years trying to incorporate various aspects of online collaboration into my organisation - project collaboration rooms, micro-blogging, new 'social' intranets - with little success.

After much frustration and much less hair, I am convinced the issue boils down to one thing:

Many organisations do not understand human dynamics and psychology.

Awareness of human psychology as it applies to work has evolved at a snails pace while technology flies by it at the speed of light

What’s taking so long?

Part of the story starts back in 1911 when Frederick Taylor – the “father” of professional management as we know it, propelled his ideas for advancing worker “efficiency.” The Taylor method prescribed a clockwork world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines and people. Naturally, ordinary workers resented having to work faster than they thought was healthy or fair.

At the time little was known or considered at the time about the “human dynamics” of workers and modern psychology was still in its infancy. In fact, it seems that the “human side” of worker’s needs was viewed as rather inconvenient by some of the industrial leaders of the time.  Surely, the inner workings of the human being were a nuisance at best to people like Henry Ford (the man not the ghost) who complains, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands I have to get the whole man?”. This way of thinking has permeated organisation so much that there is term to describe this thinking, Fordism, and the ghost of Henry Ford was born.

Sadly, the machine metaphors of Taylor and Ford still guide many of the underlying processes of the modern workplace. The command and control thinking and practices implemented during that time are still driving the management behaviors of most business leaders today. The ghost walks among them and is strong.

Despite the last 50 years of business education, and the shear numbers of MBA's in the working world now, change has been surprisingly slow.

What Business Says It Needs

When you ask business leaders what is needed to survive and thrive in today’s complex economic and global marketplace, the list is long – leadership, creativity, collaboration, innovation, motivation, trust, teamwork, partnerships, learning organizations, rationality, quality decision-making and problem solving skills, accountability and resiliency. But even though there is often consensus on what’s needed – there doesn’t appear to be any real understanding of how you get these things from people  – or where they even come from.

The concept that many of these goal can be achieved through a more open, transparent organisation that supports idea sharing and collaboration is evidently extremely hard to accept.

What’s even more baffling is that many business leaders don’t even recognize the need to understand how people function – what makes them tick.  These management mindsets are completely out of step with the growing body of science of the past two decades that illuminates the how and why of what we think, feel and act. This despite large HR departments whose goal it is to manage this 'asset' of the orgnanisation - the people.

The amazing information coming from research on neuroscience, physiological responses and emotional processes form the basis of a new blueprint that should be driving every management model.

This is where Enterprise 2.0 technologies can come into the picture. Organization's must approach these types of systems the same they way they would any other - with long term commitment and consistent strategy.

Unfortunately – most managers are still operating out of the old, ineffective, unproductive models that have shaped how we “manage” people.

This thinking has resulted in corporate cultures and organisation that do not support Enterprise 2.0 efforts.

Until this changes - social technology use in the organisation will be muddled, slow and ripe for failure.

Despite all of this I am positive and will keep on going. Join me.

PS: To give yourself (or any organisational executive) a crash course describing the most relevant research around human psychology and motivation, I can recommend Dan Pinks lastest book -Drive.