…… First published in January 2017 ……
Freedom within a Framework—part technology, part work culture.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are spreading in organizations. People are gradually becoming freer to experiment, challenge status quo and take risks. Innovation is not a job role. Everyone is a potential innovator. This is becoming obvious as workers on the edges of organizations, in operational roles close to customers, are innovating in simple ways that change day-to-day work.
- Airline pilots who had never met face-to-face, but who had all landed at least once at a specific airport in Africa, solved a cargo-loading; safety-related problem at that airport by talking together in their enterprise social network. One pilot had a problem, talked about it in the social network, others how had had a similar problem joined the conversation and they soon worked out a solution. Their pilots benefited, as did pilots from every airline that served that airport.
- Teams in two merging banks redefined and simplified key customer processes in two weeks instead of months, helping to ensure that the merger did not negatively impact customers. Each bank had previously used a different process for the same business purpose. The two teams worked out loud in their now-shared enterprise social network, took input from colleagues from both banks who were observing the online conversation and reached agreement on the new simplified process rapidly.
In these companies, people felt free to innovate and to go beyond formal processes in order to work quickly and solve a real, immediate problem. They did not take their ideas to management and propose that a project team find the solution. They just did it themselves, quickly and directly.
They were able to “go for it” because the right technology and the right mindset were in place. Even though neither organization used the motto freedom within a framework, this was in fact their daily workplace experience: individual freedom within an organizational framework.
“Go for it” is powerful in a framework based on visibility, horizontality and safety
If these “go for it” initiatives take place within an organizational framework, they can become part of a movement of change inside the organization. Otherwise, they will be remembered as isolated examples of what a few people did one day.
The organizational framework is part technology and part work culture. It provides three essential things: visibility, horizontality and safety.
The technology part
An enterprise social network where groups are open by default makes it much more likely that groups with new ideas will not be hidden. They can be seen horizontally, across the enterprise and less likely to become new silos. In addition, people in different parts of the organization and who are not directly involved but who may have a contribution to make can see the group and get involved.
The work culture part
The right work culture means people are safe to experiment and innovate. Safety is essential if you want to encourage people to work out loud. When people in senior positions practice open and participatory leadership, people feel it is safe to share their own ideas out loud, to challenge status quo and to act on their ideas.
There’s been significant movement towards the freedom within a framework spirit in many organizations.
- Social network platforms are deployed in over 80% of organizations today, up from 65% 18 months ago. *
- Internal crowdsourcing is practiced in nearly 50% of organizations compared to 40% only 18 months ago.
- Autonomy and self-management exist in 48% of organizations that say “in general, people self-manage, self-direct their work”. The figure was 34% just 18 months ago.
- Open and participatory leadership style exists in 18% organizations today compared to 10% just 18 months ago. Low, but increasing!
Why not build “Go for it!” manifesto in your organization? But first, make sure you have a framework in place.
Here are some ideas for your manifesto:
- We will set the example of working out loud, sharing our project work as we advance, making it open to the whole organization.
- We will identify senior leaders who are willing to do live chats and live, online Q&A, and provide support to them.
- We will communicate about our enterprise social network, especially by sharing internal success stories.
- We will bring our IT and business teams together to find ways to support our people on the frontlines of the organization. We will listen to their ideas. We will help them achieve their goals.
- We will run informal discussions on what freedom within a framework means for our organization, where we’re at, what the barriers and opportunities are, and how to move forward.
- We will communicate about the “go for it” initiatives that happen, gradually building up our own personalized story of an entrepreneurial, innovative organization.
* Data comparisons: Q3-4 2014 and Q2-3 2016.
I have researched the digital work environment in organizations for 10 years. Approximately 300 organizations around the world have answered over 100 questions in annual online surveys since 2006.