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Who are They? and why do They matter?....

Age of Collaboration- together to succeed

My mum always comes out with phrases like "they say you shouldn't ...." (I am not going to finish this off as she reads my blogs!). However, it is not just my mum that makes references to they, friends, colleagues and leaders around me have always done this. It has made me wonder who they are and why is it so important for my mum and others to listen blindly to what others say either for themselves or their business.

We trusted our leaders and people in authority...

It used to be that people trusted the advice and listened to those in positions of authority. Politicians, leaders, managers and even parents.... But, times have changed! The availability of information and connectivity now means that people are no longer relying on the influence and guidance of hierarchical relationships, but more from what they can find publicly available and from their peers. Add in a good dollop of cynicism, lack of trust and hidden agendas and you have a complete undermining of the old way of doing things. I was discussing coaching for teachers this week and the conversation drifted into the notion that when things happen at school parents are too willing to take all of the facts from their children, rather than having a conversation with teachers - in my day (feeling old just writing it) my mum would have done completely the opposite. There must be a level of trust or respect that has eroded over time and this has made being a teacher and a parent difficult.

Whilst working for Royal Mail, we had a story about the change from age of deference to age of reference to show how this change has manifested itself in the way people now buy things and is apparent when you consider the impact of social media sites such as Facebook, rating sites like Trip Advisor and even good old recommendations and word of mouth from friends. In fact this has led to a significant change in how sales and marketing activities are now focussed.

From a sales perspective If you are not involved in helping the customer build understanding of the issues you can help them solve before they are asking for quotes or prices, then you may find yourself out of the running. With so much information around, and peer conversations taking place, they will have probably done their research and found the answer, and are now confirming they have made the right decision. There is a great body of work on "Challenger Selling" from the Corporate Executive Board which sets out these challenges in great detail as well as sharing what great sales people do to over come this.

But is reference enough? Whilst there is so much focus on what others say or recommend and sales and marketing people are shifting focus and spend on targeting social networks and peer recommendations, is it enough to have people saying nice things about you? Have Trip Advisor, Facebook and other sites now become full of paid for and managed content that it starts to feel like it is being said by THEM again? I'd always recommend that you use the good stuff people say and actively seek it out as anyone buying something will need reassurance that they have made the right decision. But I would also argue that there is another shift taking place and that is a move to a collaborative society and all the available conversations should be used to help continuously improve what you do.

Age of Collaboration - good old fashioned doing stuff together. I hear collaboration being banded about more and more as a technique, but wonder if it is more than that? I can honestly say that the best way I have ever achieved things is with the support of others, working together and sharing common goals. Doing so in an open and equal way that really helps good things happen. Whether it is working as part of an internal team, working across internal silos, working with suppliers or even asking my mum for help - it is always better when you do.

I am working with someone at the moment from the NHS whose challenge is immense and needs to get collaboration across a value chain consisting which of legacy silos that have never worked with one joint goal. However there is a noticeable shift and level of acceptance from those around her that this has to happen for the single goal of making people better and the best way to do this is to collaborate. What is interesting is that the people involved have always had the goal to make people better, but not jointly and as yet have not worked on it together in a focussed approach, which is truly about the patient rather than influenced by the silos.

And it got me thinking that as this latest change takes hold and we see more examples of peer to peer collaboration, such as crowd sourcing and crowd funding, where does this leave business owners and leaders? What does this do to the hierarchical/linear structures that most of our businesses are comfortable with? Do they actually reflect the way in which people work at their best? And how even more important is it to have common goals and visions to enable people to act independently for the good of the business?

Are our businesses ready for collaboration? Interestingly the methods and tools that now proliferate the support available for businesses in the cloud allow for much greater collaboration than ever before, but are our people and our businesses ready for it?

"We have always done it like this" is almost the same as "they say... " and is something I have heard throughout my career. A blind belief that the way in which things are done is OK will always stifle a business. I am not suggesting that everything should be changed for changes sake, but instead highlighting that we should question and allow others to question the way things work and be open to have conversations that are intended to make things better.

The nature of the hierarchy structures we have all worked in may be the biggest blocker in collaboration and it is in companies that are growing fast and with vigour that the use of collaboration, regardless of where you sit in the structure, is now a key requisite for success. Whilst you need to have leaders to engage and enthuse their is a lot to be said for accepting that anyone can have a good idea and everyone can help deliver and improve it.

The key is setting your business up with the freedom to make this a reality and to truly empower those around you to think, share and work in collaborative way for the good of all. To support the development of the person and provide a clear and engaging vision that sets out the direction of travel as well as the ability to act quickly and with purpose that helps your business get their faster and better.

It will be interesting to see how this change starts to impact the way that businesses are set up and run and how the conversations start to replace the instructions from THEY ...

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