The Social Enterprise begets the Ultimate Meritocracy

Cristóbal Conde, president and C.E.O. of SunGard gave an excellent interview to Adam Bryant of the New York Times on the topic of flatter organizations.

I highly recommend reading the entire piece. On why the shift occurred, Mr. Conde opines:

I would say two things. One is just the massive information revolution. But equally important is the fact that before, while there were global companies, they were really just a collection of very local businesses operating independently from each other. Now a global company means a company composed of teams that are themselves dispersed. So every team can be global in many senses, not just the company.

But with the explosion of information, and flattening technologies starting with e-mail, I think that a C.E.O. needs to focus more on the platform that enables collaboration, because employees already have all the data. They have access to everything.

You have to work on the structure of collaboration. How do people get recognized? How do you establish a meritocracy in a highly dispersed environment?

The answer is to allow employees to develop a name for themselves that is irrespective of their organizational ranking or where they sit in the org chart. And it actually is not a question about monetary incentives. They do it because recognition from their peers is, I think, an extremely strong motivating factor, and something that is broadly unused in modern management.

What stood out most for me was his characterization of establishing a true meritocracy in the enterprise.

Meritocracy in the enterprise is something that most high performing leaders would love to see and institutionalize. But its difficult when layers of management can create barriers to transparency around who really was instrumental in getting the job done.

At most organizations, those at the very top are acutely aware that its very hard to have a handle on who truly are the best performers in the enterprise and as important how to infest the rest of enterprise with those smarts. The old model, that characterizes much of how this done at most companies today, would be to throw a lot of money and resources at actively identifying the best of the best via all sorts of creative performance reviews (peer, skip level, top down, etc etc). Then to actively “manage’ that talent pool downstream in the hope that it drives organizational performance.

Via the strategic use of social and collaborative tools, what SunGard has fostered is a more transparent, open enterprise where you move to a passive model of continuously allowing talent identification to happen in the flow of work, and in a way that fellow employees can identify, leverage and learn from the best. In turn, recognition, whether from fellow colleagues, industry peers and managers happens in the open and over and above subjective evaluation by managers. And there’s a lot more that comes with such collaborative and transparent structures in the areas of HR performance, Communications Performance and Line of Business Performance that I’ve written about in the past.

The most brilliant management thinking and execution planning at the top echelons of enterprises no doubt can get companies ahead within defined windows – monetizing a killer innovation breakthrough, riding a bull market, accessing untapped talent in an emerging market and the like. All require active execution by those at the top to ensure follow through. Sustainable advantage on the other hand, is a much much harder goal to achieve as scaling all that top down thinking quarter over quarter is not practical in active mode. And frankly the top heavy model is no guarantee of success as we’ve seen with the last financial crisis.

As much as many of us believe it, you just cant scale the “if you want it done right, do it yourself” mode of work. What socially powered enterprises get is the ability for the best minds, whether at the top, middle or bottom to see, participate and influence outcomes to drive overall organizational performance.  Passively….in the context of work.  I recently wrote about why Building IS Strategy – that’s the only model where the best ideas can be found as well as scaled. And socially tuned enterprises enable this mode of doing business where an open meritocracy around the best strategy and execution plan, against stated business objectives, can drive performance in a scalable way.

Stowe Boyd has some good thoughts on this in the context of social business on his blog that are certainly worth a read.

Update: MIT Professor Andrew McAfee has another good piece on this article, here. Also, I should mention that SunGard used Yammer to help enable this shift in their organization.

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Good to see someone stand up for meritocracy in these politically correct times

Jeff Wilfong
Jeff Wilfong

Really enjoyed the distinction between top-down vs middle/bottom knowledge differentiations. I wish more would write about how management could leverage this sustainable advantage of employee knowledge networks. Finished is the era of evil managers taking credit for the innovations below them. More and more of my peers are moving elsewhere when managers steal information for their executive 'strategies.' True strategy rests in true knowledge. If a manager cannot come up with a true strategy, thereby failing to have true knowledge, they best move to another role. When good people leave, their companies are adversely affected by the reduction in knowledge capital. I consistently write on the structureless organization, but even this is not true. Fewer layers is definitely better, however, you still need executive roles. Rather than simply arguing that fewer is better, I would say the more important issue is that management will begin to shift into new behaviors. Perhaps, less command-and-control and more facilitation will take place. Motivation is always important, as well as helping employees to get along. Managers will make less and less decisions in the future, else the Gen Yers will leave, and leave quickly.

Martijn Linssen
Martijn Linssen

Great title Sameer! Good postSpot on about the layers obfuscating merit (and claiming it for themselves)The social enterprise will need facilitators, not old-fashioned "leaders"You'll need a flat landscape for this though, in my opinion. If you're all standing out in the field it's a lot easier to spot "who's tallest" than when you're all up on the slopes of a mountainAnd as organisations are getting bigger and markets act faster, it just doesn't scale at all anymore (has it ever). So maybe we'll have one management layer in the feature? (wouldn't that be awesome)


Hey Martijn, good ideas. I think the (#e20) metadata can really stand out tall when the metrics are collected in passive mode. At the very least in a much much better way than we have today.


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  3. […] spectacular interview of Cristobal Conde, C.E.O of Sungard. Andrew McAfee, Stowe Boyd and Sameer Patel all commented on this […]

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