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” (aka 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.”
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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 book Know What You Don’t Know (an excellent book I have written about previously), business school professor Michael Roberto strongly urges 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, particularly global companies that have people spread out around the world. They’re using new tools to get people sharing information across different silos.

Eliminating information silos is a key prerequisite to becoming a collective-we organization capable of effective problem finding. In a recent interview, Michael Roberto discussed three major ways KM/EIM enables the collective wisdom of the collective-we:

Organizations must frankly 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 a candid self-assessment in response to a business mistake often reveals that misinformed decisions were indeed due to incomplete information that did not include critical business signals. These signals often do not reside within structured databases and data warehouses; rather, they are found in unstructured content: text-based information within documents, customer notes, wikis, email, news and external websites.

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… the key takeaways – and technology can play a role in helping to share those.

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 company-wide data sources 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 in India.

Few people probably ever read this entire document, or even knew it existed; and yet, the company’s unified KM/EIM 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 same financial services firm also integrated key information about their own employees into their KM system, such as 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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