How Collective-We Firms Eat Exclusive-We Competitors for Lunch

Poorly managed organizations are likely to function – or, I should say, malfunction – with frequent use of a divisive verbal tactic called the exclusive “we” (sometimes called the royal “we”). I suspect most people have heard a so-called “leader” make a cutting remark like this:

We don’t do things that way here.”
“Will you stop asking so many questions? We don’t tolerate ‘fishing expeditions’ around here!”

“I’ve been saying ‘We don’t do things that way’ so long, I’ve forgotten what we DO do.”
Image by HikingArtist.com (CC)

The speaker is clearly using the pronoun “we” to stifle communication. This kind of behavior is also a sign of a dysfunctional exclusive-we culture, in which information sharing is discouraged in favor of information hoarding. 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.”

That’s more like it, huh? This time the speaker is invoking the collective “we” to equally include everyone in the room to foster open communication.

True leaders are builders of a collective-we culture, actively encouraging and supporting information sharing and collaboration. A collective-we organization is, therefore, much more likely to utilize knowledge management (KM)/enterprise information management (EIM) tools. Doing so enables the organization to not only solve problems more quickly, but also proactively find problems before they turn into a crisis.

Know What You Don't Know by Michael RobertoIn his excellent book Know What You Don’t Know, business school professor Michael Roberto urged organizations to develop problem finding skills. In a recent interview, Roberto discussed four key ways KM/EIM solutions can enable the collective knowledge, the collective-we, of your organization:

Organizations must answer, “Why did we fail?”

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?

Such an unflinching self-assessment after a business failure often reveals misinformed decisions caused by incomplete information that did not include critical business signals. These signals usually do not reside within structured databases and data warehouses; rather, they are often found within unstructured content: text-based information buried within documents, customer notes, wikis, email, news and websites.

A modern KM platform will integrate and harmonize disparate enterprise data sources – structured and unstructured, internal and external – for fast, on-demand access by knowledge workers. This capability is a key prerequisite to becoming a collective-we organization capable of effective problem finding.

Boil large quantities of information down to what really matters.

If you [write] a 100-page report, no one is going to read it. The answer is not a big report… The most important thing is boiling it down into key bullets… and technology can play a role in helping to share the key takeaways.

A unified KM/EIM system will index, find and present the key takeaways from every “100-page report no one is going to read” on demand, so users can utilize them whenever they are needed to help directly address any given matter at hand.

In a real world example, a level 1 IT support rep for a leading financial services firm resolved a serious enterprise application failure incident with no known workaround in the first call. The rep used the company’s KM system to search for a possible resolution. Success! The system found some “key takeaways” extracted from a 100-plus page application development transitional document written by one of the original programmers.

Few people probably ever read this entire document, or even knew it existed; and yet, the company’s unified KM/EIM platform empowered the company’s collective-we from halfway around the world to solve a serious problem, by finding and presenting that document when it was needed.

“You can’t chase down everything yourself”… so let KM/EIM chase it down for you.

You can’t chase down everything yourself. I think part of the job of the leader is to recognize that you have talent around you that can help you.

The most effective companies, particularly global companies that have people spread out around the world, are using new tools to get people sharing information across different silos.

The same financial services firm also integrated key information about their own employees into their KM system, including each worker’s areas of subject matter expertise and current areas of research. Through such “expert finder” capabilities, a worker within a global organization can find and seek help from co-workers, whether they’re down the hall or anywhere else in the world – once again, empowering the organization’s collective-we to cross international boundaries.

Collective-we organizations fully leverage the power of KM/EIM to fully leverage the collective intelligence of the entire organization. They find business problems before they become serious issues, as well as seize new business opportunities before the competition even knows they exist. How about you?

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