Years back I worked as an editor for the now-defunct Red Hat Magazine. While our circulation numbers were respectable, the department head wanted to see a sizable increase. In most companies, I would have been asked to do some research and present a publishing plan or a report on how to improve the numbers. Perhaps a consultant would have assisted. The resultant ideas would have been discussed, vetted, approved, shot down, and at some point (in some form) (probably) implemented.
But at an open source company, things roll a bit differently. My team was given a simple task: Increase the number of readers. We were expected to come up with strategies to make that happen while remaining true to the editorial vision of the magazine, but the department head wasn't particularly interested in hearing about our plans. He just wanted to see the numbers. Every month.
Talk about pressure. We quickly realized that ideas and plans and reports are simple to generate; results are not.
A question of culture
Does your organization have a culture that expects reports or results? Ron Ashkenas signs off a Harvard Business Review blog post with this fascinating question, noting:
“From product development to strategy to technology management, much of the work done in organizations is assigned to teams. Yet often when the output from these teams is examined, few actually generate measurable results. Instead they produce reports, recommendations, and presentations — for a higher level decision and possible implementation.”
A rather damning indictment of traditional business, and this strikes me as a place where the vogue solution of crowdsourcing falls equally short. Ideas are easy and abundant; implementation is neither.1
The open source way offers something better. The traditional business—even when stretching to try a concept like crowdsourcing—asks, “How can this be fixed?” Depending on whether the question is asked in a small meeting or broadcast to the world, the manager will receive dozens to thousands of ideas, then try to wade through them and figure out who can implement one or two. The open source leader asks, “Who will fix this?” and hears proposals from a handful of people who are ready to tackle the problem.
And the truth is, most employees would prefer the open source way. We like getting things done, especially on our own terms. Suzanne Vickberg explains this well:
Let's face it, most of us don't want to be spectators at work. We want to be involved. We want to contribute. We want to participate. And those organizations that figure how to harness that desire are the ones that will get the most out of us.
What's your organizational culture?
Having worked in both types of firms, here the kinds of statements I find represent each.
|Traditional, conservative business||Innovative, open business|
“Let's talk about this first.”
“Run it by so-and-so before you do anything.”
“Do some research and present your findings next week at our team meeting.”
“I'd like to help John with that project, if I could.”
“It would be great if someone would figure this out. Chris, could one of your people do it?”
“Those are my recommendations.”
“Great. Do it.”
“Have you considered this potential problem?”
“Tell the team how you've begun solving that issue.”
“John, I've been thinking about your project and what do you think about...?”
“Who wants to commit to taking care of this?”
“That's how I would like to solve the problem.”
Note that every organization will have individuals who lean in the opposite direction, and there are times when a different approach is needed. But if you're the leader of a traditional organization that would like to become more innovative, this list can be useful in envisioning a different organizational culture.
1 This is especially important to remember when considering a consulting service. I have sat in countless meetings with consultants where they present theories and concepts—but it's the rare consultant who works with a client to implement a solution.