Poorly managed organizations are likely to function – or, I should say, malfunction - with frequent use of the exclusive “we” – a divisive verbal tactic also known as the royal “we”. I suspect most business people can recall being on the receiving end of a ham-handed exclusive-we remark from a defensive boss, such as:
“We don’t do things that way here.”
“Will you stop asking so many questions? We don’t tolerate ‘fishing expeditions’ around here!”
“I was about to say ‘WE don’t do THAT here’, but our last paying customer just fired us… so now WE don’t do ANYTHING here.”
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The speaker is clearly excluding the person being addressed from the pronoun “we” to stifle communication. Such communication is also a sign of a dysfunctional exclusive-we culture, in which information sharing is discouraged in favor of information hoarding. Exclusive-we organizations will struggle to so much as acknowledge business problems before they become undeniable crises, leaving managers in constant ‘fire-fighting’ mode. Hardly a recipe for business success.
Successful companies use the word “we” a lot, too – but in an opposite, winning manner:
“What should we be doing that we aren’t doing now?”
“These questions are important. We need to be able to answer them.”
What a difference! This time the speaker is invoking the collective “we” to equally include the person being addressed, as well as everyone in the room, and literally everyone throughout the entire organization.
Leaders in highly successful organizations naturally speak and act from a collective-we perspective. Even better, they build a collective-we culture, actively encouraging and supporting information sharing and collaboration. Doing so transforms a company’s collective-we into a powerful company asset capable not only of quickly solving problems, but also proactively finding them – and, in the process, leaving hapless exclusive-we competitors in the dust.
Michael Roberto, a leading business leadership authority whose excellent book Know What You Don’t Know I have written about previously, repeatedly emphasizes the vital need for organizations to develop problem finding skills. Roberto recently commented about new technologies that enable internal crowdsourcing (aka the collective-we):
Crowd sourcing can work inside of a company too, and we’re seeing more and more companies doing that; particularly global companies that have people spread out around the world. They’re using [new] tools to get people sharing [information] across different silos. So to me, that’s one of the most really fascinating developments that’s happening.
Eliminating information silos is the critical prerequisite to becoming a collective-we organization. Specifically, you must be able to freely unify all related information, from databases with text-based content, bridging the disciplines of business intelligence and knowledge management. Interestingly, Gartner just recently referred to this essential unifying technology using the older 3-letter acronym: Enterprise Information Management (EIM).
In an interview recently tweeted by leadership management and consulting firm Linkage, Michael Roberto shared valuable insights on effective problem finding that further affirms three major ways in which unified enterprise information management is a key technology enabler to build and leverage an organization’s collective-we:
Organizations must frankly answer, “Why did we fail?”
I think one really good way to [start cultivating problem finding skills] is to take a look at a failure that took place in the organization. Ask yourself, “Could we have seen it coming… were there some signals we missed? Why did we miss them?”
Organizations that have undertaken such “candid self-assessment” have discovered that they had been acting based on an incomplete informational picture that was indeed missing critical business signals. Such signals reside within trends in KPIs and metrics drawn from data warehouses and databases, as well as unstructured content (free-flowing text residing in document repositories, SharePoint, wikis, file servers and external websites).
Boil large quantities of information down to what really matters.
[In the] old-school way, you built a big report, you put it in a binder and it collected dust… the answer is not a big report. The [real] answer is three bullets… the couple of takeaways – and technology can play a role in helping to share those. But the most important thing is boiling it down… If you (have) a 100-page report… no one is going to read it.
Good organizations are already adept at boiling down large volumes of data into KPIs that can be trended over time, but that’s not enough. It is also important to mine “those key takeaways” from every “100-page report no one is going to read” through natural language processing (NLP) and text analytics, including extraction of entities (such as names, products, places), key phrase extraction, entity normalization, content classification and more.
It’s also important to note a unified EIM system will then present the user with the most relevant information related to the issue at hand, and not just a long laundry list of documents to sort through. As a result, “those key takeaways” from every “100-page report no one is going to read” will be discovered by users whenever they are needed to help directly address any given matter at hand.
In an intriguing real worldexample, a level 1 IT support technician for a leading financial services firm successfully resolved a serious enterprise application failure incident with no known workaround in the first call: the company’s service knowledge management solution surfaced an ideal resolution buried within a 100-plus page application development transitional document, written by one of the original Indian programmers.
Few people probably ever read the entire document, or even knew it existed; and yet, the company’s unified information architecture empowered the company’s collective-we from halfway around the world to fully leverage the problem-solving value within that document when it was needed.
“You can’t chase down everything”… so let EIM technology chase it down for you.
You can’t chase down everything [every piece of information for every possible issue]. I think that part of the job of the leader is to be able to prioritize… [and] recognize that you have talent around you that can help you.
The same financial services firm also integrated key information about their own employees, particularly areas of subject matter expertise and current areas of research. Through such “expert finder” capabilities, a worker within a global organization can find and reach out to fellow co-workers for help down the hall or anywhere in the world – once again, empowering the organization’s collective-we to cross international boundaries.
A collective-we organization fully leverages the power of the collective intelligence of the entire organization; its internal crowdsource of knowledge and expertise, including trusted partners and external resources, to solve business problems, and, even more importantly, find business problems before they become serious issues.
Note: This article is an updated version of my article originally appearing on the Attivio website.