So You’ve Got the IT, But What About the People?

Modern open IT architecture promises innovation and rapid development of new services – something that would have been impossible at a time of closed mainframe systems. Open platforms allow developers and service designers to quickly turn their ideas into tangible prototypes, to rapidly iterate using real-world feedback, creating what the customer wants.

All the advances in core IT systems and how development work is done are of little use, however, if the social architecture of your enterprise is not likewise tuned for continuous improvement, innovation and experimentation.

The Three Elements of Behaviour

Authors Chip and Dan Heath present three core elements that govern people’s behaviour: cognitive (rider), emotional (elephant) and environmental (path). According to them, behaviour becomes effortless when all three are aligned.

Our intellectual minds crave to understand why we do what we do. The emotional side provides energy, excitement and tenacity, but it can also be the source of the opposite. All too often we understand intellectually what we should do, but find it almost impossible to get started, not to mention sticking with it. Environmental factors, those that are outside our bodies and minds, can be critical in supporting certain types of behaviour, while discouraging others.

The rider might set the course, but it’s the elephant that has the muscle to take us there, and when the elephant doesn’t feel like going, there’s not much the rider can do. However, it is easier to stay on a nicely laid out path than venture into the unknown.

Communication is the key when it comes to affecting people’s cognitive and emotional sides. We can all recognise an inspiring and energising leader. We can also be reasoned with, taught, and made to understand the rationale behind decisions. However, it is the environmental factors that I find the most interesting, the social architecture, which largely comes down to how the work is organised.

Social Architecture Influencing the Enterprise

I divide the elements of organisation’s social architecture in two rough categories: There are those that are high-level and provide general guidance. These include the organisation’s mission, vision, culture and strategic direction. Then there are those that are more specific with the potential to guide behaviour in a very detailed level, such as processes, metrics, performance evaluations, hierarchical structure, protocol, procedures, tools and (IT) systems.

The key idea is that all these elements, together forming the social architecture of the organisation, have both direct and indirect influence on people’s behaviour. The question is, what kinds of behaviours is the social architecture of your enterprise actively encouraging? And are those behaviours actually desirable when it comes to reaching the organisations long-term goals?

Business Process Management Supporting Experimentation

Quite often, especially in large organisations, there are numerous contradictory practices that, despite good intentions, result in lack of clarity over what matters the most. For example, it does not matter that the CEO touts customer-centricity, writing it down in corporate strategy, if no one doing actual customer service work has the authority and capacity to actually solve customers’ problems.

And then there is behavioural waste. Is the social architecture of your company actively supporting behaviours that are outright harmful? Are you, for example, relying on processes and protocols that stifle creativity and innovation? Is experimentation and trial-and-error learning discouraged by having every mishap show in performance reviews?

Having state-of-the-art IT is not enough if the social architecture, the way the work is organised, is making it impossible to make proper use of it. As Gary Hamel has said:

Right now, your company has 21st-century, Internet-enabled business processes, mid-20th-century management processes, all built atop 19th-century management principles.

- Hamel & Breen, The Future of Management