Thursday, October 15, 2009

Existing and working in the extended enterprise

In an excellent article published in Le Monde Monday October 12th, Pierre Baqué, Enterprise Consultant, retraces the evolution of the enterprise which he claims "by losing its skin is emptied of its substance" (click here to read article in French), or in other words with the increase of externalization there is no longer the notion of 'internal or external.'

The enterprise is no longer the social body which sought among many other objectives the pursuit of profit and service to customers. It is no more that "thing" forming a group around a shared project, values and common experiences. A group forged around a myth related to its pioneers, inventors, etc. (such as HP, Bell, JP Morgan…), a trade or a technology (as for Microsoft, Saint Gobain…), a social function (i.e. The French Post, EDF…), of accrued benefits the envious would say.

As Pierre Baqué says, the enterprise is a bloodless body both literally and figuratively. The enterprise has been emptied of its meaning, because the satisfaction of the shareholders and the clients has become the main, if not the only, goal. Emptied of its role as a social body, since the "We" does not mean much anymore, the enterprise is still defined by a chain of value creation. However those involved are not necessarily employees (as Fabrice Bregier explains that Airbus, like its rival Boeing, has more external subcontracted engineers than employees). Duly noted, the enterprise is emptying... of its meaning and therefore can no longer provide its employees a sense to their actions within it. There is at first look, an alarming and depressing fact. In France/Europe where the work is statutory, one imagines that this can be destabilizing for employees. It's easier then to understand the social tensions, the refusal to change, the increases of suicides as were pointed out at France Telecom…

In addition, there is another more pragmatic reason for employees to feel bad and less passionate: it's a question of tools. I dare to use the word suffering that I often hear from my prospects. Their staff cannot do their jobs, and this is actually horrible to experience: being paid to do a job you cannot do. The objectives are perceived as unrealistic or arbitrary, difficult to reconcile with the vision or the overall strategy and too often this boils down to "do more, do it faster, do it cheaper, do it better....". Plus, these "goals" are distributed by a management that doesn't know us anymore and with whom we work less (as a result of the extended enterprise). All this is combined with an explosion of information to be processed, produced by systems or by correspondents (we don't know how to describe them anymore), increasingly numerous and difficult to understand. Furthermore, the employees must use more than ten different applications to work (Debra Logan of Gartner, Inc. announced last month in London an average of 14 different applications). Volumes, zapping, incoherence... it makes heads spin.

As any problem, it may be seen through the eyes of yesterday or tomorrow. But do we have a choice? Like Oscar Wilde, I think we should be optimistic, at least by heroism.

On the absence of meaning (and I thank Antoine Rebiscoul, President of ANVIE for his brilliant presentation on the brand 2.0 and positive externality), we have to accept the enterprise as a being, therefore, take into account its soul as much as its body. We have to concentrate on positive externalities, outside of the products and cash flow generated. What define Google, Apple and Amazon are not their products, but their way of looking at the world and their desire to change it. Their brand has taken on a spiritual dimension. For example, BMW sells pleasure today, not cars. We recall that Arcelor lost the battle against Mital because the company simply defined itself as a (good) producer of steel when it could have, for example, defined itself as a transformer of the world of objects that surround us. So we will find meaning in working for companies/brands that may employ us or not, because they give us a sense of belonging to a great design that transcends the products or services sold. We become part of communities that make the world a different/better place. Clearly, this is also the issue of the French Post, the only way to overcome the legitimate debate today around its status and its privatization. That is certainly what Orange pursues with its communication on "its" internet that is "different" from the Internet… Now that the planet is in danger, that economic growth is going to be shared by all, that religions are no longer enough, all this is not a pitch from the ad agencies, all this is essential in the true meaning of the word. I should also comment on the enterprise and its duty to guarantee the material welfare of the population, but this is a subject of political economics out of my reach. In a global and delocalized economy, I would think it is up to the state to take charge, more than before.

On how to successfully work once you have found meaning, I think we should move urgently to 2.0 tools in the enterprise, not least because they already exist outside the enterprise. Stop the torture by stacks of poorly interconnected application silos where the employee as a worker is caught between several chains of assembly lines to infernal cadences. The fate of Prometheus seems almost enviable in comparison. It is high time to establish a unified search engine that communicates with all enterprise sources and applications, as well as social networking and collaboration tools... We have to provide a humanly manageable working environment. It's not a question of return on investment even if the said return is huge; it's about respect for employees or subcontractors. When enterprises offer such tools, a sticking point is resolved. It's just tools, but what can a good workman produce without the right tools...