Trust has been a word used quite a lot recently. The lack of trust in credit ratings. The lack of trust between banks. The need to rebuild trust in the global financial system.
Stephen M. R. Covey has recently written a highly regarded book all about it called ‘The Speed of Trust – the one thing that changes everything’ – and the ‘Speed of Trust’ title provided one of the inspirations behind this post.
In the perfect storm with trust, recent events have also put the spotlight firmly on agility again, and the ability to react to events and more to the point unanticipated events has moved back up the most-pressing chart of the chief officer top ten.
Agility is one of those wonderful words where one can spend the first part of any conversation simply discussing what it means to the organisation before even getting on to how one might achieve it. Speed to market? Speed of reaction? Foresight? Adaptability? Ability to change the rules of the game yourself? Often in these situations it can be helpful to get the dictionary out, and for the purpose of the post I’d like to go with agility as being ‘quickness of motion’. But how to achieve it?
In many cultures we have a tendency to convey machine like qualities on our large-scale structures and institutions (the machinery of government, the levers of the organisation, changing up a gear etc) – and agility as a characteristic of an organisation does not escape unscathed from such a mechanistic perspective.
Often, the human aspects that can deliver quickness of motion are placed secondary to the mechanistic aspects. And where agility is concerned the CIO agenda will tend towards large-scale process enabling infrastructural programmes such as ‘standardisation’, ‘dynamic business process management’, ‘virtualisation’, and of course, ‘service orientation’.
Some organisations do buck the mechanistic trend – one of best recent examples is from a major which used a poster campaign across its offices requesting staff switch off their computers at night. It found it had a rapid bottom-line cost benefit as well as being supportive of its green agenda. Pretty agile stuff and some way ahead of the green data centre initiative still in the powerpoint stage.
So where do trust, agile and people come together?
There are quite a few formulae for trust. I happen to like the one I came across at Gemini Consulting about 10 years ago which goes along the lines of:
Trust = (intimacy * credibility) / risk
This provides one helpful perspective on the mass of trust relationships between businesses and customers, staff in different business units, governments and citizens and of course our social networks.
If you look at the social networks of the business – the social-enterprise – in contrast to the process or organisational view, not only may you discover what’s really going on but you’ll also see the dynamic enterprise trust networks in action. It’s in the enterprise social networks where trust and agility lives.
In unusual situations – times of increased risk – we tend to rely on the people we know most to get things done. If we want to be agile, engaging networks through the right trust relationships is going to win-out over engaging through the wrong ones.
But there is a twist here. As Richard Foster writes in his book ‘Innovation: The Attacker’s Advantage’, rare indeed is the organisation which relentlessly abandons the products, services and skills that have brought it success. And rarer still the individual. Advantage goes to the new attacker without the legacy. Or to put it another way – in the most famous way of all – we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
When we really need to react fast – to have quickness of motion – perhaps it is more in the speed of establishing trust between new people, new networks and new cultures where the agility is really going to come from.
It is in the question – ‘how can I help the business to form new trust networks?’ – where an agility and trust agenda focus might lie for the CIO over the usual IT infrastructural approaches. And of course, it puts the ‘I’ of the CIO automatically at its heart.
The business case for rapid provision of social-computing across the enterprise – to support its social-networks and the building of new trust networks in support of agile business activities – is starting to look pretty compelling.