Thursday, January 14, 2010

Decisions are too often made in secret because decision makers are afraid of getting caught not knowing what's going on.

"It took me 4 years before my blog paid off. You can't just sprinkle these things on top or you have a meatball sundae" - paraphrased from a talk by Seth Godin at The Business of Software 2008 conference.

A meatball sundae is this disgusting mix of two good things. Meatballs + sundae toppings.

Seth's meatball sundae is usually a metaphor he uses to talk about how marketing has changed but often the underlying business that wants to use that marketing has not.

It's also a great reminder why Enterprise 2.0 (or probably just better called collaboration) is a bit of a meatball sundae for too many companies.

I hate that word, Enterprise 2.0. It's abstract, means nothing for the people that really need to know what it means the most, and is yet another meaningless version number.

I believe that for many companies and many project teams, big and small, collaboration tastes a lot like Seth Godin's meatball sundae.

Take the smart employees and managers who bleed loyalty for their company but still work in an old guard way of management; sprinkle wikis or blogs or prediction markets or Basecamp on top. And you've got a great environment where collaboration and decision making is going to taste terrible.

"Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships." - The Cluetrain Manifesto

This very much includes company leaders and their employees. Cluetrain still reads as true today as it did in 1999. Again another reason I dislike 2.0. This change of "social media" was being observed back in 1999 with no mention of a version number.

But at far too many places we still find structures of command and control. Employees treated like machinery. And there are tons of secret meetings behind closed doors where decisions are made by only a few people and then expected to be carried out in a vacuum. Yet, these same places want their employees to act like business owners. But business owners who have zero input in making decisions?

We know it's difficult to change this. We've spent many years in this same environment. We know some fundamental changes need to be made that have nothing to do with buying another tool. Take Microsoft Sharepoint for example.

Microsoft Sharepoint has been around since about 2001. Conceptually it's pretty easy to understand. It's software to help share things like conversations and documents with teams in a very web like way. Instead of all this stuff stuck in email, it's shared in Sharepoint. In a nutshell Sharepoint is a wiki. It's a lot more. But a wiki sums it up for a lot of people.

But we are finding companies who just now are reaping the benefits of Sharepoint. This is 10+ years after Cluetrain, 9+ years after Sharepoint 1.0 and just now some very important companies are getting that using the web to connect their employees better has great rewards. And even some of those Sharepoint projects take over almost 2 years of having the tool for people to start getting it.

My point is, it's going to take some patience. It's also going to take a lot more than a budget for new tools. At many places it's going to take some rebel managers to open up and ask their employees "Hey, we can't always predict the right decisions to make, what do you guys think we should do?". Let go of the secrecy. Let go of the fear that employees will riot when they realize you don't have all the answers. They'll figure it out eventually :)


If you have 45 minutes to watch or listen Seth's exceptional talk, here's the link to his presentation.

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