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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Which company goes there - Friend or Froe

Last week I was reading an article in the FT who were interviewing Martin Sorrell CEO of WPP. He highlighted the potential growth of China - one statistic really stood out. The US produces 56k engineers per year whilst China produces 465k.

As Ive posited in a number of previous posts Sorrell identified a paradox - there is a vast oversupply of products, whilst because of demographics there is a distinct and worsening shortage of talent to provide companies with the brain force that they are likely to need.

Basically companies will be pressuring their governments in my opinion to be encouraging immigration of talented engineers for example from other countries to fill in the gaps in their talent base.

In a post from Bill Taylor from HBR highlights another interesting comment by Sorrell where he talks about the competitive dynamic between marketing firms such as WPP and digital giants like Google.

He has coined the concept of froes and frenemies. Sometimes firms need to be both friends and foes/enemies. Occasionally companies have to be nice to companies one minute in say another part of the world whilst being competitive enemies in another part of the world.

Taylor concludes by asking companies "who is their most valuable froe and who are your most worrisome frenemies. Have you figured out how to co-operate with and compete against the most important players in your field. "

Old certainties are breaking down and the business environment changes in the globalised world. It's a bit like 1984 where Winston Smith rewrites history so that Eastasia are now our friends and Eurasia are now our enemies in the world of friends and froes.

Thoughts on Gary Hamel (long post)

I’ve recently been reading excerpts from Gary Hamel’s recent book on the future of Management Hamel is one of the leading guru’s on management and strategy his book Competing for the Future was a staple on a few MBA courses – mine included.

His star had waned a little recently as he lauded the Enron model to the skies. He is always a writer who is thought provoking and he argues his thesis well and he does so in this book.

His basic premise is that the current managerial practices were designed for companies that provided standardised, mass produced outputs and that they need a complete re jig rather than trying to reverse engineer them into today’s companies in an era of globalisation and increasing technological and generational change. I think that there is a role for both systems as not everything is bad and that there is an equilibrium position which balances both.

The new business environment needs to place a premium on collaboration and talent management and the old hierarchical system can be an impediment to innovation and creative strategy. I think that organisations will be challenged to deliver change for which we have imperfect knowledge. They will need to become nimble and mobilise the energy and imagination of every employee who works there.

I think that innovation can come from any employee and that individuals or even teams should look for opportunities to experiment with new ways of working and that progressive firms might want to provide not only time but some IT support and seed corn money to help employees develop the products that make a difference to the way that your organisation innovates.

I think also that using my knowledge management beliefs that social capital and utilising teams of practice might act as useful seedbeds to innovation either of the incremental but also of kaikaku – the radical leap forward..

I’m presuming that Hamel still however believes that organisations need to look outside their boundaries to see the future of their business and to ask themselves as do P & G

I also consider that employees need some basic framework to help them become a business innovator and that appraisals in the future might see a manager appraised as to how they encouraged intrapreneurship in their organisation but also how teams/individuals are appraised in this area also.

Hamel considers that managers in the future will have to ask themselves this question. ‘How do you build an organisation that merits the gifts of creativity, passion and initiative?’ These are things that employees bring to work and cannot be commanded to come forth by managerial diktat.

This follows the work of Tom Davenport who in ‘Thinking for a Living’ highlights that the knowledge worker of the future won’t put up with an overtly hierarchical management model as they don’t need it. This sounds very similar to the thoughts that came out around the concept of free agency and the work of Bill Jensen on Work 2.0 that disappeared as a concept when the internet boom turned to bust and P45’s and the need for a job punctured that particular bubble.

Perhaps as the credit crunch leads to recession this idea might die again as people look to hold on to their jobs – however the demographic issues that I’ve talked about in the past might mean that the knowledge worker will break free of the classic approach of hierarchical managers to oversee that work is done.

A problem with Hamel’s book is that the large proportion of his examples come from internet firms and as these do not have the legacy barnacles that a large organisation has there may be some scepticism that to do the plumbing needed in a large organisation to move his future forward would be more difficult..

For some organisations it might well take a crisis to provoke the change that is needed. However I do agree that this is unlikely to be overnight phenomena and that the need to be creative against the need to be organised might be one of the key managerial areas over the next 10 to 15 years.

It is an ambitious book but one that managers should read and consider in their Xmas stockings

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Gallivespians go live

Didn’t post over the weekend – as I was busy not only with Xmas shopping, but also watching the Boks beat Wales up without slipping out of first gear.

I shall be interested to see how they play when it is an exhibition match – I think that people will be surprised how skilful they are in their back line.

Anyway I digress I was watching this evening the news about the launch of ‘The Golden Compass’ which is the film adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s book ‘Northern Lights’.

At the time I was browsing through an old copy of the Economist which highlighted work on unmanned automotive vehicles that are now the size of dragon flies and its eyes are effectively video cameras.

I was reminded of the Gallivespians who are a tiny race of people who appear in parts two and three of the trilogy and who ride dragon flies and act as spies for Lord Asriel.

Laboratories are developing these bug like devices with some as small as 60 milligrams.

I can imagine applications for this but also civil liberty concerns. Amazing how life imitates art. Or is it time to invest in a fly swat.

A longer post tomorrow on my readings on Gary Hamel.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lessons from Japan and Generation Why

As readers of this column will be aware, I am particularly interested in demographics and it's effect on the workforce of the future. I was browsing the BBC website at lunchtime and noticed a piece about Japan and it's demographic time bomb.

Here is the link to the full article

Effectively the Japanese are not producing enough babies to replace those people who die and this will have increasing economic effects for the population - the rise of grey power, and employers chasing fewer and fewer potential workers.

To show it graphically here is a diagram showing what has happened since 1950 and what is projected to happen by 2050

The problem has also been the same in Europe especially in Germany and Italy though not on the scale of Japan.

In my inbox tonight was an interesting piece from the US from Chris Resto about the rise of Generation Why. As I've highlighted in earlier posts they have a different view of the workplace and are more questioning and less deferential than the Baby Boom generation (1945 - 64 and Generation X (1964 - 1984).

This generation though as the article points out may be a blessing for organisations that require knowledge workers. I consider that organisations need people who question the status quo and increasingly innovative solutions are likely to become competitive differentiators.

In fact, as Resto highlights organisations should |" see questions from young employees as signs that they care about contributing to the organisation, and as opportunities to capitalise on the ambition, energy, and enthusiasm for which they hired young talent in the first place."

One of the areas that I learnt from my studies in KM was that management can learn from the process as they are exposed to new ideas and they consider and make redundant old ways of thinking.

I'm not saying that every thing that a senior manager has learnt should be unlearnt but that that junior who asks questions might provide you with some breakthrough thinking that gives you your next big market. You can also highlight to the junior employee some additional thinking that they might not have considered. At the end of the day knowledge sharing is a two way street.

It also shows that they care about your company and it's future to ask those questions and potentially out of a desire to do a good job (but then again I was always a Theory Y guy and the firm I work for certainly embodies those traits.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lack of postings started a new job

I've not been blogging last week because I've been busy in my new job with a world class organisation called Arup working as their new Global Rail Business Manager.

For me this is a change from being involved purely in knowledge management but no doubt, I will be using some of the elements that I've learned on Enterprise 2.0 and Knowledge Management to help them forward. Though already I have seen areas where knowledge management is being successfully being deployed working on the people, process technology triangle.

As usual I've been reading some of my blogs and especially note that Enterprise 2.0 is continuing to develop. Ross Dawson is speaking in Australia at the IIR conference covering why organisations need to be developing E 2.0 solutions. It is interesting to note that he considers as I do that e-mail is broken in terms of developing collaborative networks.

Here he gives a brief intro to E 2.0 which is useful for those mangers who may not be fully aware of this area.

I hope to be posting at least two times a week in the future but as you will appreciate with any new job it does take time to get up to speed and a lot of things to understand before starting your new role.

I'm particularly interested in a recent article by Andrew McAfee in which he resurrects the concept of Granovetters weak ties in terms of KM.

I quoted Granovetter in my thesis and worked to prove that this was the case in the professional services organisation I studied. However I believe that a weak tie in an organisational setting used to be a tie where there was trust and shared knowledge but in addition the people had met before.

If you take out that meeting element then I think that it is a weaker than weak tie.

They (WTW) do have their uses and some can deliver real value but only if you aspire more than to be a link in somebodies contact book. I consider that in KM you have to have had that stronger contact.

Anyway back to the reading.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Microsoft & Facebook - some thoughts

This obviously has been one of the talks of the week - in terms of Microsoft buying a very small stake in Facebook (1.6%).

I think that in the next iteration of Sharepoint for enterprises, I won't be too surprised to see something I started advocating 2 years ago - ie a personal web site within an enterprise and for people within enterprises to set up their own communities of practice covering an area of interest be it work or socially related.

I read a quote in Doug Cornelius's blog from Stephen Collins who said

Through use of social media tools, people who work around the corner or across the world from each other are able to overcome the challenges around meeting and learning about someone (colleague, friend, someone who shares an interest, whatever) and jump straight in and do great work, share knowledge, have engaging conversations and build relationships to a deeper level more quickly."

I do have ideas how this could be used throughout the employees life from induction, to appraisals to when they depart the firm - as I feel that tracking alumni of a firm is important in terms of retaining their knowledge

It will be interesting to see though whether at some stage Googles new social software site will link in with it's Google Apps to give people a way to do the same without the clammy embrace of Microsoft all over it.

I was reading a report yesterday that people outside of the teenage/20's range that started to use social networking are now starting to use MySpace and Facebook - the so called "Saga Book" for those in their 60's and beyond. One of the problems that I have discovered with new technology is people's fear of using it either dismissing it as a fad or saying that it has no work relevance. I didn't grow up in the computer age but I discovered by setting up small limited experiments in a non fail setting helped people who were wary come to terms with the new technology at a speed that they feel comfortable with.

If you are working in a large global concern then social media can help in breaking down barriers in that first meeting because they have put some personal information about them selves - ie they like Apple Computers or share a sports interest that you can build on and start to understand their thought processes.