Organizational change, unpacked

In the evolving social organization, I included a table with several descriptive terms, which Amanda Fenton suggested needs to be “unpacked”.


basic hierarchy





Organizational Theory
Knowledge-Based View Learning Organization Value Networks
Stakeholders (vision) Shareholders (wealth) Clients (service)
Growth Model
Internal Mergers & Acquisitions Ecosystem
Knowledge Acquisition
Formal Training Performance Support Social
Knowledge Capitalization
Best Practices Good Practices Emergent Practices

I’ve linked the sections to my posts that describe some of these terms in more detail [Feel free to suggest better resources/links for the sections I’ve missed].

Many organizations today are based on complicated models but they should be developing ways of dealing with a more complex, networked business environment. Simplifying to a basic hierarchy won’t help, though there are many simple solutions sold as answers to our complicated organizations. Remember the wildly popular who moved my cheese series? Well, now you can use carrots instead of cheese. Works for vegans I guess, but simple answers for complex issues don’t work.

Real solutions require people to do some hard work.

Let’s look at Knowledge Acquisition. Formal training is easy to task out or outsource and then assume that everything has been taken care of. The training gets done and the organization can account for it. Managers can say, “my people got their training”. Courts can be assured that workers have been trained, so the company has met its responsibilities.

Even performance support tools can be developed centrally, by external consultants or an internal team. The resulting tools are then sent throughout the organization to be used at work. The organization can say, “they have the tools”. For example, all bank officers can use the same mortgage calculator, so risk is managed fairly easily once the system is in place. The system is under control.

However, social knowledge acquisition in the organization is a different case. It requires a very different approach. First of all, centralized control won’t work. Secondly, individuals will become responsible for their learning and their actions. This requires trust. Control systems become counter-productive. There is no easy way to move an organization into this wirearchical space. It requires some serious thinking about how things get done. It means giving up control. It means organizational life in perpetual Beta, and that can be a scary thought. But I’m convinced that it’s worth doing.

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