Last week I was on a panel at Office 2.0 discussing "who owns community?" Organizational Development was just one topic we explored, and ZDnet has a brief video excerpt. In this post, let me clarify my comments.
Leadership in Distributed Organizations
My CEO Eugene Lee was recently an executive at Adobe and Cisco. The transition over the past year wasn't just from Bigco to Startup. Half of Socialtext's employees are distributed across four continents. Eugene recently observed that "in a distributed organization, leadership matters more than management."
This isn't just about motivating distributed teams. Distributed teams have higher coordination costs without a clear direction. This is similar to Eugene Kim's point that "there is no such thing as collaboration without a goal." An extreme example is viewing Wikipedia as distributed mass collaboration, where the clear mission of what to create and why not only attracts volunteers, but reduces the costs of coordinating them to the point where a phantom authority can work.
At the scale of a distributed startup, leadership amounts to establishing a focus. If you attempt to manage at the task level instead of providing a framework for team members to decide if something is within or without the focus of the team, the team isn't moving fast enough. Management does provide the process discipline and measurements to sustainably keep the smaller decisions in check with focus, but it underperforms in abscence of leadership. And there is another word for too much management, overhead.
When everyone works in one place, "management by walking around" comes at the cheap. Walking around four continents is not. As our distributed collaboration tools get better at sharing social context as a byproduct of being productive, new management practices unfold. I think we are just beginning to discover the practices for managing networked organizations, and one of them is the emphasis of leadership.
Who Should "Own" Community?
On the panel I answered with the always correct answer that "it depends." But also suggested that ownership of community will trend in two directions. Social Software has made community a strategic imperative for many organizations. Recalling when risk management became a strategic imperative in some industries about ten years ago, you saw the rise of the Chief Risk Officer. While the emergence of a new CxO function is fleeting at best, I was provocative to make a point that we could see the rise of the Chief Community Officer to align and coordinate internal and external communities.
But there is a more likely scenario -- where community becomes a function of process ownership. I don't beleive it will be left to specialist Community Managers who report into Marketing. Community will become a facet of everyone's job. Not just external communities for customers and partners and media and investors and developers and more. Every process in the enterprise has the potential to be redesigned with more transparency and participation through Social Software.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, Process owners will lead communities. They have the domain expertise within and around the process to drive conversation and collaboration around aligned goals. However, it will take time to acquire community skills and for the organization to transition.
360 Degree Process Communities
Let me illustrate this scenario. Today ownership in corporations of customer communities commonly resides in marketing. This makes sense when you consider "Marketing is the whole business seen from the customer's point of view" (Peter Drucker twittered via Tim O'Reilly & John Battelle). But marketing doesn't own all the more specialized processes that create this view, so Marketing Managers become traffic cops and attempt to interface the whole organization. Customer communities are more sterile, homogenized and veneer than they will be in the future. When people seeking support, sales, partner, developer and media conversations intersect primarily with one part of the organization that has its own goals and measurements -- you have an elephant trying to fit through a keyhole and nobody knows who has the key.
Before issuing a call for a COO, consider this evolution. Support often is the next group to take ownership of its community. Sometimes there is organizational alignment behind it (the VP of Support also owns Product Quality, or dotted lines with Marketing). With this more specialized ownership, the VP of Support then manages two communities and possibly a third. Contact Center employees and customers seeking after-market product support, and potentially tapping across the entire organization to help resolve exceptions.
This is a 360 degree view of community around a set of processes. Consider the same for Marketing. More specialized ownership would have them transition MarCom processes into driving the conversations around those communications. But also increased focus on internal communities, beginning with their most important customers, sales (we just concludes a webinar series on collaboration between marketing and sales, available for download). In today's market, where 50% of consumers trust the voice of the rank and file employee over the CEO, the more active Marketing is in internal communities, the more successful external communities become.
Initially, 360 Degree Process Communities will be formed by front office such as marketing, sales, business development, professional services and support. HR has already begun this evolution within the back office. And while you may discount it at first thought, don't rule out process communities in back office functions like finance where you least expect it.
Process to Practice
Mike Gotta once made an important distinction clear for me. That Process is "how work should be done." And Practice is "how work is actually done." When process fails (exceptions), people use practice to fix things. When process doesn't exist, practice fills the void. While people don't realize it when they engage in practice, they actually are tapping into community -- an informal social network within or beyond the enterprise to discover expertise and get things done. The problem is that we haven't had the tools to support good practice. The problem is that we haven't developed the group memory around practice that creates institutional leverage. In fact, we still design organizations to prevent practice and cultures that hoard knowledge and communities. With all the focus on Process Execution, its time to instill at least awareness of Practice Execution.