The Agile Elephant in The Room

It’s interesting to see that despite economic downturn, people are still starting up new businesses. Entrepreneurship, it seems, is hard to kill.

I knew I had a photo of an elephant somewhere
I knew I had a photo of an elephant somewhere

I don’t believe we are still in an economic crisis, in fact, I believe there’s always been a fair measure of exaggeration by governments in order to push other agenda’s (raising taxes, cutting expenses or giving business a reason to downsize), but that’s just my suspicious mind. Nevertheless, starting a new business takes courage and audacity, especially in these times.

In Social Business, however, the momentum seems to enable a wave of new, and exiting, undertakings.

During a conversation with David Terrar (@DT), at #e20s, we explored the current Social Business market development, and I asked him about his new venture; Agile Elephant.

Not The Right Term

David explains, “We ran an event in 2013 called “Patchwork Elephant”, which was part of Social Media Week London. We had eight speakers talking about Social Business, or Enterprise 2.0. And it turned out these terms are somewhat difficult to explain to business people.

We don’t have the right term for Social Business yet, people confuse this with Prof. Yunus’ version, where an enterprise has a social purpose. What we do, is use social tools to make business better, more effective, do better teamwork, and connect with our employees, teams, customers in a better way, with less resources.

It used to be Office 2.0, then Enterprise 2.0, and has evolved into Social Business (as coined by Peter Kim). To me, it seems “Social Enterprise” is a more appropriate title. Although, this one too is associated with the enterprise having a social purpose. So, a proper, unifying name is still to be found.

David continues, “We’ve been going at it for a while now, at least as far back as 2006, already 8 years now. And we’re really getting traction, but the actual change will be 10, 20 or maybe even 30 years in the making.

This explains why people (and big business) are venturing into Social Business. Social Business is not just a change, or a project. It’s a fundamental evolution of the way we work. And that takes time.

So why “Agile Elephant”?

David @ #e20s
David @ #e20s

The first reason we started Agile Elephant is that something is just about to hatch. Social Business is just about to cross the chasm, and start to become more mainstream.

We feel the optimism that something is going to change. And we either want to jump on the wave, or, if the wave doesn’t start, we want to help start the wave.

Based on the conversations I’ve had during (and before) #e20s, I had the distinct feeling that this line of thinking is inherent to Social Business. It’s not enough to ‘just’ make money, or to ’just’ have a job. This ‘evolution’ is a passion to those I speak to.

We call it Agile Elephant because we think this topic is the elephant in the room, also based on a number of books about change with an elephant as the metaphor, but also about the parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men, where one feels a wall, the other a rope, the other a tree and so on.

The point is, this topic viewed differently by different people, it’s complex. That explains the elephant. The agile part comes from using a lean, agile, approach to a project.

Social is a custom business. One size does not fit all, quite the opposite, every company requires a different approach.

This is part of the Agile Elephant Manifesto, as David explains, “We have a thirteen thesis manifesto to lay out the important things of getting Social Business right. It’s the Agile Elephant approach to Social Business.” This is good for a business to have, but also, like the Ten Tenets of Social Business, provides a great reference for fledgling Social Businesses to see what is involved with this change.

Here’s the list:

  1. We want to transform “business as usual”
  2. Business has become a social object
  3. There are no one size fits all solutions
  4. Social business needs to work across the entire value chain
  5. Treat people as Individuals, not nodes or cogs
  6. It’s time to get real
  7. Stop talking technology, start talking results
  8. We need to focus on the practical and the pragmatic
  9. Don’t worry about what we call it
  10. It’s the people, stupid!
  11. Learn from what has worked so far
  12. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it
  13. Our approach should be in “perpetual beta”

I invite you to read the entire manifesto on the Agile Elephant website.

From The Top

The combined wisdom of Agile Elephant’s three founders provides the company with a solid foundation. Here they have extensive knowledge of business processes (such as ERP and CRM), which they can combine with their thorough understanding of Social.

Businesses need to change from the top, business goals need to be aligned with social goals, business problems should be solved with social tools, and all of this needs to be connected in order to get the right statistics, proper big data, and much better results across the board.

I really enjoy these developments. Companies that start up with a unique and fresh look on the way we do business, the way we work, and ultimately the way we live.

Author: Rogier Noort

Digital Transformer | Thinker | Listener | Speaker | Podcaster | Writer | Blogger Twitter or LinkedIn.

10 thoughts on “The Agile Elephant in The Room”

  1. Interesting stuff Rogier. I’ve had a look at the Agile Elephant site and the services section seems incredibly heavy on tools, and particularly how AE can help organizations use them better.

    If we assume that being a social business is all about the culture, then surely everything we do has to focus on the environment we place people in at work? Surely we have to focus solely on providing the kind of environment that encourages social behaviours?

    The tools part will then largely take care of itself.

    1. Hi Adi,

      We have a lot of services, but I hope we don’t give the impression we have lots of tools. I think we only mention one – the McKinsey 7S model which is a good way of summarising the holistic, systemic approach we favour (although frameworks are important and can definitely help). You say “surely we have to focus solely on providing the kind of environment that encourages social behaviours?” and this is where we differ. We think the culture and environment is crucial for employee engagement, but that’s only part of the story. We believe these projects have a better chance of success when you have top down commitment as well, and when you make sure that social is connected to the heart of the business process. It was a strong theme at the E2.0 Summit, with lots of good case studies highlighting the hard numbers and real ROI from firms like Bosch, Grundfos and Caterpiller. I’m sure my AE colleagues will chip in and give you their views too – but both of these things are important.

      1. Thanks for the quick response David. Let me clarify what I mean by environment, for it is very much something that has ‘top down’ involvement.

        An organization will have a strategy, and within that strategy certain goals. To achieve those goals you’ll ideally have all employees working collectively towards that, which in essence means exhibiting positive behaviours. It is the role of the management of that company therefore to build a work environment (or system if you like) that encourages those behaviours.

        It directly flows from those core business objectives. Lets say for instance that you want to improve new product development, and are of the belief that better collaboration both internally and externally is a good way to improve your odds.

        In terms of the environment/system in such an instance, you could look at whether how you reward employees contributes towards that. You could look at the way you measure performance (both of employees and teams). You could look at how transparent is information in your organization, or whether decision making is meritocratic (sense and respond vs make and sell). Even something rudimentary such as whether job descriptions encourage or support people helping colleagues.

        Set up your environment in the right way, and people will adapt to it, and you’ll get the kind of behaviours you want.

        Culture and environment isn’t part of the story, it’s the entire story. It’s the difference between a Microsoft or Linux, Toyota or GM etc.

        1. Hi Adi,
          First let me say that we are big fans of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why?” concept and book. So many companies have lost their “why”. Let me also say that our approach is influenced by my friend Dave Gray’s book The Connected Company, and in turn his ideas on mapping culture are influenced by Edgar Schein. So the great companies have a great culture and can move to social business more easily. As you rightly say Culture comes from the top. Here is where we differ. We believe every company is different and there are no one size fits all solutions. We also believe in the practical and the pragmatic. For a social collaboration project to have a better chance of success you need to have a clear purpose, with goals that are properly aligned to the business – hard numbers and real ROI. And you need to work on the culture of the company to move it towards the open, sharing, working out loud style that we heard about at companies like Grundfos. If you only focus on culture, and ignore hard numbers then you are reducing your chances of success. Take a look at the survey of 300 firms that Emanuele Quniterelli presented at the event. There is clear evidence there.

          1. It’s all part of the adaptive system isn’t it? Or sense and respond if you prefer the Haeckel terminology. Senior managers provide a purpose (having taken considerable input from below), they provide a system within which to achieve that, and then leave those best placed to deliver it to deliver it.

            I can’t proclaim to be friends with them, but it comes from a pretty large canon of complexity science researchers. Scott Page is often an interesting start point.

            To reiterate though, I’m certainly not advocating an abolition of measurement, merely that what most companies measure at the moment, such as individual performance, quarterly income etc. often runs counter to any attempts to be at all open or social. The whole system needs to reinforce the same message if it’s to achieve the best results.

          2. I completely agree with you there Adi! One of the strong messages at the Summit was a shift of the discussion towards employee engagement and better leadership. You are so right that individual performance appraisals should be properly aligned to the core vision/values.

          3. They’re something of an anachranism aren’t they? In a world where feedback is increasingly both instantaneous and meritocratic, we go to work in an environment where feedback is often sporadic and typically only flowing one way 🙂

    2. Hey Adi, thanks for the comment…

      I must say, different schools of thought are emerging. Some say a culture doesn’t need to change, just the way we work. Or, we have to start with aligning business objectives with social objectives.
      Or, focus on solving business problems with social tools across the board. This way, the focus on adoption and embedding shifts to solving business problems throughout the chain. Adoption will flow from that and communities can grow from that.

      I think the main point is that “a change of culture” cannot be sold to a board of directors. Improving time-to-market or better customer care can be sold (and even predicted in some cases). Check this:

      1. What is a change in how we work if it’s not a change of culture? 🙂

        Let me give you an example. Picture Toyota and the Detroit companies in the 80’s. When the Americans were getting their butt kicked by Toyota they looked at what they were doing and tried to bring across what they saw as the Toyota Production System. They started using just-in-time, value stream mapping and so on. And yet, despite this, they were still getting their butts kicked.

        They were doing so because, for Toyota, their TPS wasn’t about tools at all, it was about culture. It was about the way the company and its people operated.

        Only when the US companies realised this and started looking at their entire operation from the top down did they begin to claw back ground on Toyota. It’s a struggle GM is still going through as we speak.

        Right now we’re stuck in the tools phase of social business, with people using an enterprise social network, some social dashboards, maybe even an open innovation platform. The thing is, they’re trying to bolt all of that onto the very rudiments of a Taylorist system of work.

        It’s not surprising that so many projects fail therefore, is it?

        1. See what I’ve said below, but just to add on the tools phase you mention in your last 2 paragraphs here. It’s my belief there are 2 sides to that. One is that many of these less successful projects are tools led, which is going about it the wrong way. The second is the current range of tools. There are over 100 platforms out there, some with some great features, but so many of them do just one or two parts of the job well. We liken it to the early days of MRP/ERP software. The sector needs to mature, and there will be consolidation.

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