On the 12th of September the pedagogical faculty of the University of Helsinki hosted a panel talk Siltamat (in finnish) where, among others, Esko Kilpi was talking about how the frontline companies in far east are conducting business. It was refreshing to see someone actually use hype words like “web 2.0”, “blog” and “wiki” in a meaningful way. Here’s a summary.
Instead of the static business models of the industrial era, the information age and globalization make everything dynamic and changing. This means that the relationship companies have with their customers, and with their employees, must be a learning relationship. The relationships must be evaluated and adapted constantly.
Because the problems tackled in the information age have already become too complex for individuals to handle, the unit that functions, learns, and is evaluated, is no longer an individual employee, but a group of employees, often called a team, group, or department. The traditional way of evaluating role based competences of people is no longer meaningful, since the relationship is dynamic and learning, and people will move from one role to another constantly. Replacing them are as adaptation and learning abilities, and evaluation more often than not happens through peer review.
Each unit (team, department) must communicate and collaborate. If each person just does his own job, the company is soon in trouble. Employess no longer need to learn everything that relates to their role, but rather they need to know where they can get help. The three things that an employee in a new role should find out are:
- Who has done this before? Who can I ask?
- What has been done before? What has it been based on?
- Where is the best expertise?
In order for these answers to be available, employees and teams need to reflect on their work. And the organization must make reflection possible by giving people the time to do that. And reflection is meaningless unless things can be changed. This means that the conclusions of reflection should be fed back to the system, so that the ways of working can be improved based on the findings. The employees themselves thus must have the power to change the rules they work under.
With current technologies, reflection is most naturally done using personal blogs within the company. And instead of just writing, a lot can be podcasted – images of designs, or audio/video recordings of designers discussing a complex issue. The more popular a blog is, the more valuable information that individual is sharing with his colleagues, and the more valuable that individual is for the company.
The company itself should be presented in a wiki. Every employee can edit the wiki pages, and thus the ever-increasing knowledge (or intellectual capital) of the company is not stuck within the heads of employees, but is shared with everyone as best as possible. Any and all documents, people, and resources should be tagged. Not with keywords from a closed vocabulary, but actually tagged with freeform tags (folksonomies). Information cannot be categorised into a tree structure of folders anymore, since most of the complex information should be present in several places. The network hierarchy needed is most easily represented by tags.
Because of the learning nature of relationships and the constant changes in company realities, deep hierarchies of managers are no longer appropriate. Instead of forming permanent departments, employees should form short-lived unofficial teams, groups, or pairs across intraorganizational boundaries as needed (emergent resource allocation). This also means that there is no such thing as repeatable processes, since things change all the time. This makes many quality standards, such as the ISO 9000, meaningless.
Summary: people need to adapt, learn, and share; evaluation is done based on the contributions of the indivudal to the organization, often using peer-review; sharing is done using blogs and wikis; people are allowed to reflect on their work and rules of working are changed accordingly. All this gives the company more flexibility and provides an advantage in the current market, where the focus is moving from mass production to customized production, and companies need to adapt and accomodate changes in the market rapidly.