Peopleware and Social Business – A Missing Piece?

PeopleWare and Social BusinessDespite the fact that the term ‘peopleware’ was first coined in 1977 and a book by the same name was published in 1987, there is little contemporary mention of peopleware today in social business circles. With this in mind, there was an interesting call for the need to balance the software tools of social business with ‘peopleware’ via Jamie Notter recently.

From Jamie’s piece:

Today’s environment requires speed, which, in turn, requires the people and departments in your organization to collaborate effectively. Friction there slows everything down. We put up with that in the past and did okay, but the same won’t be true moving forward for a real social business. So I think as leaders start paying attention to what “social business” means, they will start to employ tools that enable better collaboration, both inside and outside the organization.

As the use of social business tools increase the speed of change, interactions and collaboration, previously hidden inefficiencies and communication problems are going to be discovered. It doesn’t matter how these inefficiencies are discovered (social network analysis, project delays, employee feedback etc.), the point is what to do about them.

Jamie believes that organisations will turn to more software tools but that the software tools themselves won’t resolve these frictions.

But I have a prediction: [companies] will over-rely on technology to solve this problem. The tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and easy to use. So by all means, jump into those tools, but also recognize this: online tools won’t solve your silo issue. Collaboration software alone is not going to resolve conflict.

Given businesses focus on scalability and repeatability, it makes perfect sense to default to software tools. After all, the majority of methodologies and processes used on a widespread basis are scalable and repeatable, within reason. That said, we all know that software alone can’t resolve conflict and neither can it help facilitate some of the cultural changes required for social business to realise it’s full potential.

Internal collaboration is critical for social businesses, and it’s typically more of a sore spot than a strength in organizations today. But tools alone can’t fix this… If you want to build trust, then you need a process-based “architecture” for transparency that ensures information flows more freely.

Peopleware and Social Business

The idea of a process-based “architecture” for trust and transparency sounds very valuable for two reasons. Firstly, creating an alternative approach to creating trust and solving organisational and relationship friction via peopleware, instead of software, offers a new way to solve previously intractable problems. Although the idea of peopleware has been around for about 30 years, not much has changed. As Jamie Notter implies though, perhaps it’s time to revisit the concept and how it relates to enabling the benefits of social business.

The second reason such an “architecture” for trust and transparency is valuable is because there is a realisation that such an approach needs to be scalable and repeatable. As above, approaches and methods that can be applied consistently in a variety of different situations and that offer actionable predictions are always going to be of interest to businesses.

A scalable methodology that helps achieve the objectives of peopleware, that in turn helps realise the full value of social business can only be a good thing.

Revisiting Peopleware

Given that better peopleware is needed in order to realise the full potential of social business and if peopleware itself hasn’t changed, perhaps the last word should go to Bruce Eckel who wrote the following in 2010:

To alter how peopleware is perceived and handled. Process-oriented, management-centric corporate ideologies need to be transformed into people-oriented, [or a] managementless way of organizing businesses. Without such a transition there is no way to establish autonomy, trust and transparency for employees. These traits are… a prerequisite for building environments where people love their work!

It’s going to be interesting to watch the changing role of peopleware in social business, not least the idea of what peopleware is and how it can help social business realise it’s full, transformative potential.

Image credit: sentienceconsulting.com.au

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  • http://www.trackass.com/ Darin

    This may well be the case in larger corporations, but for small business and in particular for business that are selling physical labour an employees value is more determined by their achievement, agreed that happier employees will generally generate better customer response, but it does not necessarily equate in our industry that the most happy employee provides the best results for our business

    • http://fourgroups.com/ Bruce Lewin

      Hi Darin, thank you for your comment. If you are effectively brokering people whose main role is to provide manual labour, then I’d agree with you.