Information Instigation

You want information? IBM’s got information—for its customers, sure, but increasingly for its employees, as well.

In an interview with MIT Sloan Management ReviewJeff Schick, vice president of social software for IBM, explains how his company has used its own products to foster internally an expansive community of information sharing.

“We’ve almost singlehandedly eradicated the IBM e-mail newsletter,” Schick notes, by promoting  “almost 40,000 active bloggers inside of IBM, sharing all manner of information.” For instance, people in the microelectronics divisions are “using micro-blogging to let their colleagues in the semiconductor manufacturing leadership team” know about recent breakthroughs in the lab.

This notion of sharing information not only up and down, but also sideways, would have delighted Peter Drucker.  Writing in Harvard Business Review in 1991, Drucker stressed what he saw as the increasing importance of sharing information broadly within a company.

“Instead of each department reporting separately upstairs what upstairs has asked for . . . each will have to think through what information they need from whom,” he wrote. “A good deal will flow sideways and across department lines, not upstairs.” In fact, Drucker asserted, the factory of the future will be an information network.”

Among the gains to be made as information is shared more freely and widely, Drucker pointed out, is a chance to streamline the organization. “Management positions and management layers whose main duty it has been to report rather than to do can be scrapped,” he wrote.

Although social-media tools have enabled information to flow easier than ever, they are really only one piece of the puzzle—and maybe not the most crucial piece. “The information-based organization does not actually require advanced ‘information technology,’” Drucker wrote in Frontiers of Management. “All it requires is a willingness to ask, Who requires what information, when and where?” This, he added, is why the British, with “nothing more high tech than the quill pen,” ruled India effectively for so long.

How does your organization encourage information sharing not only up and down, but also sideways?