Leading in an externally focused world

So thinking about collaboration led me onto a favourite shift of mine which is the need to be externally focused rather than internally. I’m not just talking about ‘customer centricity’ – but about a perspective of the organisation as a set of external relationships within a network rather than focusing on the entity as the node. The picture below indicates some of these systemic relationships and their consequences

External governance

And when we look at traditional leadership structures, this systemic perspective and hence the web of relationships doesn’t readily map across – the CEO tends to be only role instinctively viewed as systemic.  Which is one reason why frequently, for example in innovation, you will see that the CEO sponsorship is a critical success factor.  And yet is that really the answer? To make the CEO the owner of all of the above?

Surely not! It seems to me that there are at least two potential routes (which are not mutually exclusive!) for the future – a redefinition of leadership roles to become more systemic and more externally focused – some organisations CDO’s (Chief Data Officer) look like a move in this direction – although they may not be consciously articulated that way. Or (and?) leadership evolves into something more of a collective activity – and one which may not sit at the ‘top’ of the organisation but much closer to the ‘coal face’ or the ecosystem it inhabits.

That kind of devolved management is increasingly being discussed – but to date I’ve seen it analysed from the OD point of view – how it relates to the internal organisation. Thinking it through from the wider net of relationships opens up the possibility of not just engaging but involving those outside the organisation as well as a much more radical perspective of what devolved management might cover

Collaboration – simple surely?

Collaboration is a word I hear more and more. And yet, like innovation, I’m not sure always what people are talking about. To my mind there is a spectrum of relationships in business – for me it looks something like the picture below but that will no doubt iterate as my musing continues, and it’s certainly only one possiblity. The range covers from the purely personal to the legally defined corporate level. And collaboration for me sits somewhere on this spectrum.

Spectrum of relationship

So what do I have in mind when I think collaboration? It’s probably something like the Apple Developers Network, or open innovation type activities such as Foldit at the University of Washington. Such activities contain an element of making the contributor feel valued and appreciated (so that’s more akin to the personal end of the spectrum) but there is a structure (however loose) to the activity that creates discipline in the response.

Why do I care? Well I increasingly hear that organisations are seeking to collaborate, (or to partner) and I wonder if they have any idea of what their culture needs to look like to make genuine collaboration possible. . . .  For a start it’s about understanding both sides of the deal – what motivates people to contribute as well as what the organisation wants from it. That motivation may not be immediately recogniseable or understandable to the organisation at all.

And it maybe possible to add a level of discipline or structure to the collaboration but it is a far cry from specific legal control or a guaranteed outcome, both of which are implicit assumptions in the operations of many large established organisations.

For me, collaboration will be increasingly important in the gig economy – those prepared for it (on either end of the ‘deal’) will gain both agility and speed of response – those who only think they understand it may discover otherwise. But that assumes that collaboration as a term can be defined and articulated rather than simply a buzz word of the moment.