Poorly managed organizations are likely to function – or, I should say, malfunction – with frequent use of a divisive verbal tactic called the exclusive “we”. I suspect most business people can recall being on the receiving end of 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 excluding the person being addressed from the pronoun “we” to stifle communication. This kind of non-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 along with everyone else in the room, as well as 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 the 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, 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, 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.
Eliminating information silos is a key prerequisite to becoming a collective-we organization capable of effective problem finding. In an interview with management consulting firm Linkage, Michael Roberto shared some valuable insights into the three major ways unified enterprise information management enables the organization’s 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?”
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 (names, products, places), key phrase extraction, entity normalization, content classification and more.
It’s also important to note a unified knowledge management (KM)/enterprise information management (EIM) system will also utilize advanced enterprise search to present the most relevant information instead of 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 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 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 programmers located in India.
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 solve a serious problem, by presenting that document when it was needed.
“You can’t chase down everything”… so let KM/EIM technology chase it down for you.
You can’t chase down everything [yourself]. I think 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, the collective knowledge of the entire organization to find business problems before they become serious issues, as well as seize new business opportunities before the competition even knows they exist.