Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Building a business for resilience 35 – open systems, closed systems and selectively porous ones 27

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 30, 2019

This is my 35th installment to a series on building flexibility and resiliency into a business in its routine day-to-day decisions and follow-through, so it can more adaptively anticipate and respond to an ongoing low-level but with time, significant flow of change and its cumulative consequences, that every business faces in its normal course of operation (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 and Page 5 continuations, postings 542 and loosely following for Parts 1-34.)

I began working my way through a brief to-address topics list in Part 32 of this, that I repeat here for smoother continuity of narrative as I continue discussing its points:

1. Even the most agile and responsive and effectively inclusive communications capabilities can only go so far. Effective communications, and with the right people involved in them, have to lead to active effectively prioritized action if they are to matter, and with feedback monitoring and resulting reviews included.
2. Both reactive and proactive approaches to change and to effectively addressing it, enter in there and need to be explicitly addressed in rounding out any meaningful response to the above Point 1.
3. And I will at least begin to discuss corporate learning, and the development and maintenance of effectively ongoing experience bases at a business, and particularly in a large and diverse business context where this can become a real challenge.
4. In anticipation of that, I note here that this is not so much about what at least someone at the business knows, as it is about pooling and combining empirically based factual details of that sort, to assemble a more comprehensively valuable and applicable knowledge base.
5. And more than just that, this has to be about bringing the fruits of that effort to work for the business as a whole and for its employees, by making its essential details accessible and actively so for those who need them, and when they do.

I have offered at least preliminary responses to the first two of those points since then, leading up to this series installment and a more detailed discussion of the above Point 3.

I in fact began addressing that in Part 34 and recommend you’re reviewing that as offering an explicit orienting foundation for what is to follow from here on in this narrative. As I noted there, Point 3 is the farthest-reaching, most complex of the five topics points that I am seeking to successively address here, and as at least partial proof of that, Points 4 and 5 can be seen as specific aspects of it that have been spun off from it for more focused attention.

I begin, or rather continue addressing this complex of issues by at least briefly turning back to Point 2 again, where communications and the data and processed knowledge that it conveys is turned into action and activity, and either reactively or proactively, or what is perhaps most common, as some combination thereof. And I begin addressing that by adding one of the villains of this type of narrative into it: business systems friction with its at least largely unconsidered, background static-like limiting restrictions on both the development of organized actionable information in a business, and on its effective communications to the stakeholder who need it, and when they do.

I said in Part 35 that reactive and proactive per se both become more important, and I add more meaningful as points of distinction when the people involved – or who should be involved, are dealing with the non-standard, the non-routine, and have to find more creative solutions to the problems they face than can be encompassed in their usual day-to-day task level approaches.

• As a caveat to that, I have to add here that one of the first victims of business systems friction, is that anything like a before the fact understanding that stakeholders are in fact facing the unexpectedly different, can become lost. Reactive often starts from what has suddenly been found to be the unexpected, as standard operating practices as rote-followed suddenly break down and in unexpected but significant ways and with what are proving to be significant consequences from that.

Proactive as such arises when at least one key stakeholder spots something unusual or unexpected, and early on and in a way that highlights its novelty to them. And it actually takes place when they can and do start informing others who would also have to know of this, so they can begin addressing this unexpected but real new circumstance and from early on too, rather than having to play reactive catch-up for their part of the overall task and process performance flow that they would be responsible for in all of this.

I have on occasion written here in this blog of reactive and proactive occurring in a blend, and I add in what can be a confusing blend of them. All relevant stakeholders are not always brought into these now very necessary conversations. And even when such a stakeholder is included, that is no guarantee that they will actually chose to deviate from “tried and true” and even as pursuit of that might have already proven problematical for others involved in these overall cause and effect cascades.

Point 1 as listed above, addressed follow-through and action but it also focused on communications and on what is communicated. Point 2 as started for discussion in Part 34 of this series and as continued here, is all about what would, or would not be done with that knowledge, assuming that it can even be made available in a timely manner. And localized breakdowns there can contribute to the pursuit of mixed reactive plus proactive, as much as conservative insistence on following routine practices does, in the face of new and emergent issues and challenges. And Point 3, and by extension Points 4 and 5 as well, all deal with the basic issues on raw data, processed knowledge and its organized assembly and communications again, though I will also reconsider usage and follow-through issues when discussing Point 5, as begun here when considering Point 2 of the above list. And with that orienting note added, I turn here to address Point 3 again. And I do so by delving into a fundamentally important issue, and one that is often overlooked for its prevalence and significance when discussing the types of technology-based approaches to information and knowledge management in a business, that I touched on here in Part 34: version 2.0 intranets and related capabilities for bringing people together in needs-focused ways.

• The issue that I refer to here is that of nuanced, experience based judgment and the simple fact that all processed knowledge in a business cannot simply be typed into a database and in a form that can always, automatically be used and to full benefit by anyone tapping into it as a shared resource.

Let’s consider a judgment call example here, to illustrate the point that I am trying to make with that assertion. And I offer it as a realistic if stylized feedback-framed verbal response. “The problem that you’re telling me about sounds familiar even if it isn’t exactly common here. And it sounds like you are going to need X to handle it (where X is a resource that is “owned” by a manager on a different part of the table of organization.) And you might very well need some specific help in both accessing and using it. Watch out for A. He might or might not be able to help you access X but he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does and certainly when doing anything here that falls outside of his more day-to-day routine. B, on the other hand is a lot more widely experienced and he can think outside of his day-to-day box. He’s not as easy to work with; he is not all that outgoing and he tends to keep pretty focused on his immediate tasks at hand. But if you could get him to help you, and if his boss C will let him take the time to do that, you are going have a lot better chances of success here than if you let A try and take over on this for you. And he will try and take over.”

It is essentially guaranteed that any advice: any insight of this type, focusing on interpersonal issues and on individual strengths and weaknesses, is going to come with an at least strongly implied “… but don’t tell any of them that I told you this. I have to work with A and B and their manager too!” So this might be crucially important information for successfully carrying out an important task, and a high priority novel one. But how would anyone put this type of judgment-call insight as to who is best and who is worst to work with, into a database? So I will focus in what follows on what might be deemed more operational insight and knowledge – data and processed knowledge that does not carry this type of interpersonal judgmental quality, that might be so codified, organized and shared. And with this caveat offered, I will begin addressing that complex of issues in my next series installment, turning back to my Point 3 notes of Part 34 as an organizing framework, or at least as the start of one for doing so. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

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