Design and nurture "Revolution Communities" whose objective is to reinvent the business of your company while abiding by new principles that reflect a more patient, social, principled capitalism; then, drive business revolution at a chosen business unit.
Reinventing a corporation based on radically new capitalist principles is not incremental change, it's revolution. For that reason, to succeed, revolutionary leaders will need to change some or all of the foundations on which a corporation is based:
- Its institutional nature (will we succeed with joint-stock, limited responsibility corporations, for instance?)
- Its organization pillars (function definitions, frameworks for power and information flows, development and assessment practices, ...),
- Its management model (which still widely is command & control),
- Its value sharing principles, both internally (benefits and compensation frameworks and philosophy) and externally (value sharing between stakeholders),
- Its social role (from providing revenue to employees to contributing to education, environment, society),
- And finally, its purpose and ambition (creating products for mass market consumption or improving support of a client well-being ?).
At the individual level, there is wide awareness of the need to change these foundations. Things are different though when we consider these changes from our "corporate-self" perspective. In my experience, when presented with the choice to push change deeper even if it means disrupting business as usual, managers will often argue that such change cannot be conducted while also being held accountable for the performance of "business as usual", as such change is often deeply disturbing of business as usual. And, more often than not, it is business as usual that is chosen.
This is not to say that there are no real change leaders at most corporations. But to achieve deep and lasting transformation that impacts the very foundations of the corporation, there has to be a critical mass of such change leaders. Such critical mass cannot be achieved easily, basically because most people feel their first responsibility is to their families and their communities, and they can therefore seldom accept to put their jobs or positions at risks because of their beliefs.
For incumbent corporations that have the ambition to change deeply and quickly, the problem is therefore to develop this critical mass of revolutionaries, of management innovators totally focused on deep, long-term transformation, while still attending to business as usual.
To reach a critical mass of revolutionaries, companies need to commit to that objective for the long term (in terms of focus, sponsorship and resources), while refraining from using usual management structures and practices to reach it. One option to do that is to design a dedicated and new soft structure within which the new foundations will be built, and to give this structure a total internal autonomy in terms of ways of working, ways of management, organization and leadership.
I call these structures Revolution Communities.
Today, most corporations have developed the technology and the management practices needed to design and develop professional communities. Revolution Communities are communities intended to nurture the principles, management models, products and services, value chains and, most importantly, the talents, that are needed to deeply reinvent a corporation.
Developing Revolution Communities is a strategy. As such, it needs to be articulated in detail to the particular context that is created by a corporation's industry, competitive issues, social environment, internal organization and human capital. Several steps are needed to design and then implement a Revolution Communities Strategy:
- Define the key corporate foundations that you want to adress (projected outcomes)
- Depending on the context, different foundations will need to be adressed. While for some companies, the revolution relies on changing the value they deliver to their clients and how they share the value they create with their stakeholders (I would argue that insurance, for instance, is in this category), for other companies revolution might be based on changing first the organization pillars, management models and purpose & ambition;
- Very probably, a different community will be needed for each particular subject.
- Invent a community model that is adapted to your context.
- Professional communities are more than the translation of web culture into the corporate world. They are, in my experience, soft organizational structures, in which few structural elements are defined in advance (it could be, for instance, only membership, projected outcomes and community management);
- The need is to invent a soft organizational structure that is strong enough to provide the context and the limits within which to nurture Revolution, and flexible enough to provide a structural sandbox for community members (more than the outcome of their work, it is often how the communities pursue it that will impact the targeted corporate foundation);
- Staff the communities
- This is the key moment in the design of the Revolution Communities. To staff the communities, leaders should keep in mind that the first mesure of the success of the community is the trust and the shared responsibility that is built amongst its members;
- Therefore, while designating some key talents is important, it is how these talents are described that should be looked after carefully. To put it simply, high academic credentials (like a top tier MBA) are probably not adapted for most Revolution Communities;
- Appart from designation, then, there is a need to move to social staffing. Relying on the corporate social network to vote on key community members would be a great idea, and the larger the network the better. Obviously, it is important to design this vote as a particularly meaningful social experience, strongly linked to the issues that are tackled by changing a corporate foundation (for instance, focusing the corporation on its environmental impact for the long term).
- Design a "Less is More" governance system
- As part of the strategy, leaders should act as gardeners and ensure that the Revolution Communities are conveniently nurtured,
- The structure that looks after the community is a community governance body. It is mostly a body where existing managers and leaders can see the revolution growing and taking shape. As the Revolution Communities get closer to their projected outcomes, governance members can identify and test interesting business ideas, management principles, leadership models, and therefore start preparing the organization for the deep change to come;
- It is a good idea to have a soft Governance System. Less is More describes what I see as a useful philosophy for this governance system. Designing such a system, though, is particularly challenging, as most architects can tell.
- Govern the communities for ambitions, not performance
- An important part of the governance systems is succeeding in moving past key performance indicators or other usual mesures of success; as one of the projected outcomes will probably be "learning to manage for the long term", members of the governance system must confront the fact that key performance indicators follow management and organization models, and do not precede them (which is in sharp contrast to classical management thinking);
- Following, the governance system should be focused on challenging the communities ambition and not on looking at their productions or their performance.
- This means, in particular, that governance should not interfere with the organization, collaboration, working and leadership practices that a community develops.
- Choose a business unit on which to release your Management Revolution.
- If all goes well, and most of the Revolution Communities reach an outcome that they are proud of, the corporation needs to turn to releasing it in a real-life environment;
- Choosing the adapted business unit should, once again, rely on the collective intelligence of the corporation, that can be leveraged through the Corporate Social Network.
- Through this process of collective choice, the corporation will in fact be deploying the new organization and management principles that result from the work of the Revolution Communities beyond the business unit that has been chosen.
A community main impact is very often the engagement of its members in the community itself and, as a consequence, a renewed engagement in the corporation.
The Revolution Community main impact will follow along the same lines. More than any type of production, business model or management principles (however valuable), the communities real impact will be their contribution to building a new type of leaders. These leaders will have been developed outside of classical management thinking (MBA style), will have had to reinvent collaboration, influence and leadership ways, will have had to mobilize new resources (intellectual, emotional, physical) to design, develop and then implement the new corporate foundations. They should be ready to lead their corporation to participating in the reinvention of long-term focused capitalism.
Another practical impact stems from the fact that communities can be seen as social learning structures. HR teams should therefore carefully look into the new ways that the communities will have invented to be creative, deepen and share knowledge, build influence, collaborate with one another ... These new ways can probably be leveraged to reinvent L&D strategy and organization within the corporation.
The success of this hacks rests partly on the ability of the corporation to engage the collective intelligence of its employees. A first step to building Revolution Communities would be to engage a corporate-wide conversation on the deep changes that are needed to build a more principled, patient and socially-accountable corporation.
This would both be a first step towards the mobilization of all stakeholders in the Revolution to come and a good way to identify the foundations that need to be reinvented. In fact, the wider the participation to this conversation, and the lesser the influence of incumbent managers, the more valuable the result is likely to be.
If this feels too touchy, complicated, or politically difficult, it is also possible to launch a corporate-wide conversation (or any other kind of social collaboration) on a lesser subject - for instance, what do we see as the future social responsibility of our corporation ?
These ideas come from my operational experience these past few years, helping leaders design and build their own communities, that were not really Revolution Communities even though they might have been seen as such sometimes !
Pascale, Mithra, Dominique, Jean-Philippe, Paul, Walfa, Michael, Jon, Laurentia, Isabelle, Delphine, Tony, Xavier, Elisabeth, Bruno, Julien, Alain, François, will recognize themselves. They are at the front line of corporate reinvention.