Process Over Hierarchy - CEO Insights on Enterprise Social

In a fascinating 2-part series of posts on Linkedin Laurie Lock Lee captures and puts into context insights from David Thodey ex-CEO of Telstra and an enlightened advocate of enterprise social networks.

Key from the top is reaching out across the hierarchy

The gist of Part 1 highlights David Thodey's desire to use an ESN to jump or flatten hierarchy and to improve processes.

In essence these were seen as the "enemy of effective communication", yet we did sense an acknowledgement of a "necessary evil". Thodey was adamant though that "processes must be enablers for getting work done, not impediments"and therefore should not take precedence over the right outcomes, which unfortunately is often the case.

Also interesting was Thodey's expressed frustration at the "Office of the CEO"-type culture of filtered communications:

... where communications both into and out of the CEO's office are carefully monitored. In this context it is close to impossible for the CEO to get to the "truth" of a given matter, or to indeed have unfiltered authentic dialog with staff beyond his or her direct reports.

We usually think of all power residing in the hands of the CEO and therefore they can change whatever they want to be what they want. But obviously some parts of the traditional hierarchy and power systems have their own life and momentum - like Atlas the robot they are hard to kill.

Three lessons from the CEO trenches

Telstra T-Rex ComplianceIn Part 2 the story is particularly fascinating. The three most interesting or insightful bits which grabbed my attention were:

  1. Thodey was subject to full weight of the Telstra compliance and risk management and IT security juggernauts - and if you've experienced it this is a force designed to kill anything that moves, like a T-Rex - and resisted. In this case he was willing to call upon his reserves of CEO power and "was forthright enough to state that the benefits far outweighed the risks involved and so the implementation, enterprise wide, went full steam ahead";
  2. That not only did he find the exchanges on the ESN became self-regulating but that "He saw elements of thought leadership arising from areas in the company that he was completely unaware of. He became aware that Telstra staff were the harshest critics of Telstra’s products"; and, 
  3. That his insistence that outcomes be prioritised over hierarchy and process (which led to his most famous post: “What processes and technologies should we eliminate?” with over 700 responses) very effectively surfaced the internal frustrations staff were experiencing in doing their jobs. This usually remains not only invisible from senior executives and the CEO but is actively camouflaged. What happens next is a whole different story of course, but the ESN per se does enable this kind of transparency.

Most large organisations in Australia are still at the early stage of their enterprise collaboration journey, or at least in the sense of it being more than just a communications channel.

The Thodey discussion provides quite a lot of motivation about the power of enterprise collaboration in a typical large established enterprise with industrial ways of working and we highly recommend reading it.


Walter Adamson 

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