I just spent three enlightening days going through training for Value Network Analysis – an incredible tool for understanding business models and organizational behavior. Forget process mapping and org charts – they neglect how things really work and miss the all-important exchanges of intangibles (knowledge, trust, etc.) and even some of the tangibles between the various parties involved. The Value Network approach identifies the human roles that are involved in an operation or portion of a business or organization and then maps out and analyzes the important intangible and tangible transactions that occur between the people in the roles. By properly constructing and analyzing these maps, one can get insights about what is broken, what is missing, what is healthy, etc.
The Value Network approach is all about relationships between people in their various roles, not about the systems that supposedly are in place. In examining these roles and the transactions they participate in, one focuses on the human element and the realities of system behavior, not delusional fantasies about how things are supposed to work on paper. This methodology is truly on the cutting edge of knowledge management and organizational behavior. It is foreign to most business experts, as are many of the enlightened principles associated with it. And I think it has powerful potential as a tool for understanding the operations of the Church at various levels, especially at the local level.
The methodology was developed by Verna Allee, a remarkable woman who is now one of my favorite people. She and her German associate, Oliver Schwabe (another of my favorite people), recently provided three days of training and insight that opened up many new ways of thinking about business – and perhaps even thinking about religious organization.
Here’s one example, attempting to quote Verna: “All companies say that people are their most important asset. But it’s a lie. Look at their reports and balance sheets: people are always treated as an expense, not an asset. But a few leaders in knowledge management have begun to ask, ‘What if companies began to behave as if people really were their most important assets?’ How would that change they way we do business?”
Our trainers emphasized what should be obvious: organizations operate based on relationships between people, and the network of relationships and the exchanges of information, trust, etc., between the people is something that must be nurtured and strengthened.
Now this training wasn’t just a lot of feel-good philosophy. There are rigorous tools for analyzing network metrics, for visualizing complex relationships in 3-D space, for exploring alternate scenarios, etc., and there is a vibrant international ecosystem of qualified Value Network practitioners sharing and developing tools through an open-source model nurtured by Verna Allee and her peers.
But the human-centered concepts that she taught, many of which challenge standard corporate thinking, made so much sense. And in many ways, there are consistent with the principles that are taught to Church leaders for operating their units. Yes, there is a hierarchy and organizational chart, but the real work of the Gospel occurs through personal relationships, through love and charity and service, that don’t show up on the org chart but which can be and should be sustained and nurtured by inspired callings, by prayerfully organized home teaching, by personal interviews with Church leaders, by attention to charity and examples of goodness that help leaders lead by example, by efforts that recognize the the uniqueness and agency of the members, helping them to build their own networks to help them and their peers become fellow citizens in the household of of faith.
Have any of you been exposed to Value Network thinking? Any of you met Verna Allee or Oliver Schwabe? I highly recommend her most recent book, The Future of Knowledge. I hope to have much more to say about all of this later.