Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 36 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 3

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 4, 2018

This is my 36th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-35.)

I have been discussing two fundamentally distinct and consequential patterns that business communications flows can follow in this series, since its Part 33:

• Structured and even formally structured communications channels, that collectively represent the basic system of who can communicate specific types of sensitive or confidential information with whom in a business, and according to their titles and positions there, and on the basis of specific need to know determinations.
• And unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it, that by their very nature cut across the system of communications that more structured systems would formally allow and expect.

And as a part of that narrative, I began a discussion in Part 35 of how unstructured communications can be necessary and even essential, for the development of innovative potential into sources of marketable value in a business, and certainly where disruptively new and novel innovation is involved.

• This is because innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, arise from the emergence of new information and new types of it, that would of necessity be developed and used in new ways, and with that almost always requiring new and unplanned for sets of expertise and experience
• And certainly when the complete process flow from initial conceptualization through the production of completed new products is considered.

Then at end of Part 35, and in anticipation of this posting, I said that I would continue from there by at least starting to address the following:

• A reconsideration of innovation and the capacity to innovate as value creating processes, as an at least potentially innovative business moves from early startup to established business and does or does not develop itself in ways that would readily make that possible.
• And once again, the issue of who is brought in and retained in a business, is only one piece to that puzzle, but it is one that I will explore as a more central point in that discussion to come. I will discuss a few other shaping considerations for all of this, there as well.

I begin here with the first of those two bullet pointed to-address discussions, and as indicated in it I will start with startups. And I begin that by noting the obvious: a startup as a new and still embryonic venture, begins with what at least should be a basic business plan that is centered around what it would do in developing a competitively effective value proposition that it can thrive and grow from. This includes a basic description of what that new business would come to offer as marketable and profitably sellable products, services or both, and certainly as it starts out, and a matching description of who it would market and sell too with an at least starter analysis of a possible marketplace and its demographics and their wants and needs.

But startups begin very small. Essentially every single one of them that I have had any dealings with professionally, started out with a small enough head count to fit around a kitchen or dining room table in a founder’s home. And they often met, at least when initially starting to plan and organize, in venues like that. This means everyone could be in the conversation and at least in principle, on everything discussed. That type of communications openness definitely includes open and free ranging discussion of the products and services that would be realized as these ventures take off, and I offer that as a point of observation that should at least apply to essentially any startup business venture. Early barriers to communications among its initial founders bode ill for what can follow from their intended venture, and for essentially any newly forming business.

Then as these businesses develop and grow, their overall workload becomes too large and complex for any small founding team to address, so more and more people have to be brought on board, and certainly for businesses that would design, produce and sell innovative new products as at least a significant part of their defining value proposition. Work becomes divided into functionally organized groups and into specialized teams within the growing organization, and a table of organization develops to coordinate everything there in terms of a settled organizational structure. I am grossly oversimplifying a complex developmental process here, but for purposes of this narrative, a briefly sketched summary of a more complex reality should suffice, so I will limit this phase of this discussion to that, at least for now.

The crucially important detail that I would raise here from this admittedly simplified cartoon representation is that distinct patterns of communications arise in these systems, that are organized and that become vetted with a goal of carrying out an increasingly complex array of specialized tasks and functions. Structured communications channels arise to manage the information flow that this emerging division of labor requires, and due diligence systems emerge that both codify and enforce all of this too. Risk remediation systems arise too and particularly as sensitive and confidential information enters this developing narrative. And with time, that becomes the norm and for essentially all business communications, as specialists share information with fellow specialists in their functional area, and primarily in their own work teams as well, and with same level peers in those teams and up and down the table of organization – generally going one step up or down for that, at least most of the time.

And this is where the issues of my second set of bullet points in this posting can take on the appearance of offering a conundrum:

• How can the founders and architects of a new business simultaneously build for robust and of-necessity stable consistency where that is needed, and with the robust structured communications systems that that entails, and certainly where confidential and business-sensitive information is concerned,
• And still both allow and encourage the type of communications openness that innovation and disruptive innovation in particular, require?

I would argue that this means retaining, or if lost recapturing something of the communications openness of the founding team of a business from when everything going on there was at least somewhat new and innovative and for all concerned. But this openness has to be arrived at and maintained as part of a balancing act that also allows for and supports structured communications, and necessary controls over the flow of sensitive and confidential information too. And there is no simple, one size fits all solution to that.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment, and in anticipation of that I add here that finding the right balance there, depends on how innovative a business needs to be if it is to thrive in its competitive context and in meeting the needs of its marketplace. And this depends on the levels and types of innovation that might be possible for it, in its industry and business sector, given any outside regulatory requirements it has to meet among other factors. Should it be openly and widely innovative and everywhere in its organization and if so how? Should it develop and support innovation centers in its overall systems and organizational structure and if so where and how, and how can it more effectively bring the best of its people for this, into these innovation opportunity settings? How can it best support them there too?

This all means reconsidering the developmental timeline of how a business grows and evolves from startup on: the basic topic of the first of two to-address topics points that I repeated at the top of this posting to help orient what was to follow here. And this also means at least starting a discussion of the second of those points too: the issues of who is brought in and retained in a business. And with that I update my to-address list for moving forward in this series.

You can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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