Flippancy: The Biggest Threat To Enterprise Social Today

For years many have lamented that rigid hierarchies, silos and knowledge is power beliefs were the greatest barrier to social success in organizations. Rightfully so, as many of us in this space of social advocacy answered the tough questions that stemmed from fear and pushed through those that saw it as folly and/or a passing fad. Many today still speak of it and write about these as the biggest hurdles for organizations. But a new specter is creeping in – flippancy. This the “ok, we have social tech now too”  leadership attitude that has, in part, emerged as a result of what many had actually hoped for – A plethora of social tools. Many are light, embedded and free and have permeated the enterprise making social tech commonplace and thus social (i.e. cooperative, collaborative, sharing) behaviors more common. A good problem to have?

Additionally, the social tech ecosystem has expectedly fractured; social intranets, social LMS, enterprise social platforms, chat platforms, text-based services, not to mention public platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, etc all compete and often exist along side each other in the organization. The fracturing is giving social advocates headaches as community and collaboration behaviors retreat into private groups, departments and project teams… new digital silos. When this occurs, the work being done may happen faster, may be even better due to the ease of access to content and co-workers but the work itself isn’t necessarily going to change, and the agility of the organization won’t rapidly improve. The conversations have just become more challenging.

When you talk of the meat and potatoes of enterprise social, about building the company as a community of radical transparency and cross-silo connection, you are likely to be dismissed with a flippant “oh, yeah we have X and let everyone use it.” The tech v. sociology/psychology is being won by the machines. No longer is mindset and behavior change or for that matter culture change warranted in the eyes of these leaders, they have done their job and washed their hands of it. They have email 2.0 now!

Helping organizations to adopt these technologies is no longer the critical need. The need now is in helping them see past adoption and getting deeper into the real value they offer; business transformation and responsiveness that only the connected organization can achieve. This is a big leap because to org leaders:

The tools are available – check!
The tools are being used – check!
Employees are connected and productive – check!

For any leader focused on meeting client/customer needs today and achieving quarterly return numbers, everything looks splendid, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Try convincing them of an unsettling future and you look like a sandwich board wearing sidewalk preacher! But this is the charge now.  Your next steps – moving from adoption to adaptation!

  • Mind the Gaps. Point out the deficits in the offerings, the competition and the internal skills. Collaboration, as Marcia Connor once stated, solves new problems none have solved before.
  • Map the Silos. Data speaks! As organizations increase their digital communication channels, the tools offered by OrgNet and SWOOP to name a few provide analytics that reveal where healthy communication resides and where it has gone dark.
  • Bring the Outside In. The world is changing rapidly. The next disruption is upon us and it’s not cliche to say so. Just look what Uber and AirBnB are doing to transportation and accommodation industries in under 2 years! Your connected organization gives you the greatest opportunity to capture and convert information quickly.
  • The Past is Prologue. Surface historical shift in technological disruptions and flaunt the cause and effect themes that emerge. Fear sells (but the whole Blockbuster and Kodak stories are old news now.)
  • Identify the Cutting Edge Users.  They will be tomorrow’s norm. Let’s get to tomorrow faster! Shift your attention from solely raising up the laggards to supporting the leaders. Find and amplify their progressive ways. Partner with them.
  • Build Customer Partnerships. If the ESN has been internally focused, now is the time to build client/customer collaborations. Not surveys and focus groups but open and honest conversations about needs and wants.
  • Curate, Curate, Curate. The answer is out there and in here. Look before you create. You need a framework for this now.
  • Attack the Learning Paradigm. Training has to be dismantled. Moves to microlearning (umm formerly known as performance support) floating in the workflow are a good start but managers need to be coaches and mentors. Experimentation is a must and failure has to be tolerated. Systems changes around recognition and rewards should be addressed as well. This is a part of a larger organizational change in learning.

The fear about social tech has subsided. The dismissal of it as a passing fad is no more. Social has gone corporate and not necessarily in a good way. To combat flippancy we need new conversations. It’s time to beat your swords into plowshares – there’s work to be done in the fields!

I’m (mostly) saying goodbye to Facebook

It’s difficult to leave Facebook because, like you, I have so many relationships here. Many with old friends that only social media could have helped bring us back together. We share our lives, our pictures and our humor. Honestly, Facebook connections bring me mostly smiles.

You may think my progressive political stance is the reason but it is not really. The fact is we often forget that social media platforms like Facebooks are for profit businesses and Facebook is the largest by far. They are not a free services although we freely share our information so Facebook can provide this to advertisers to capture your eyes. The algorithms within shape the story we are told and the ones we believe. In 2016 the Russian government used Facebook. They didn’t hack it. They understood how companies push their messages to make sales and leveraged this to pump the platform with Fake News, created fake groups and helped organize people by preying on racist beliefs and fears. The goal of Fake News is not to convince you that it is real news, the goal is to get you to doubt any news is real. It worked. We are arguably more polarized today in the US than we were at the start of the Civil War.

If you are pro-Trump or against him this is NOT the issue. And if Trump colluded with these Russians that is not my point. My point is We The People we’re manipulated by a foreign government. Another nation has successfully contributed to pitting Americans against each other to create a divided house (which according to Abe Lincoln, cannot stand). Facebook allows companies and foreign governments alike to play to our emotions of anger and fear knowing full well 60+% of Americans use only Facebook to get their “news”. This is a sad truth because we as a people struggle to undertake the real work of critically thinking about the information we consume.

As I said, Facebook is a for profit company and their efforts to rectify the situation in my opinion amount to lip service. In the real world if we know someone is more bad than good, someone is playing us, benefits from us and manipulates us we get away from that person. You may say TV does this, radio does this, billboards do this… media has historically been about persuasion and you are right. But when we realize this we turn away. Social media, like Facebook, is different for many because walking away is walking away from friends and loved ones. It’s walking away from a convenient, personal portal to distant relationships and support. I get it, and Facebook gets it too and uses this reality to its benefit.

So I’m done… with the feed. I am not closing Facebook completely as I belong to a handful of professional groups that have value. Here, away from the onslaught of manipulation efforts, I will remain (for now) as these are exclusively focused on my profession. My public feed will go quiet on March 1. I will not be posting, sharing or commenting. I won’t see you there and you won’t see me. Could I return? Maybe. It depends on what changes. But for now, my conscience says to go.

If you remain, I don’t blame you. Social tech is amazing. The connections and the content are invaluable for many. Stay. I won’t criticize (well, I can’t actually) but I just ask that you take my words here to heart and are more discriminating in what you read and that you share with equal pause to evaluate – what is driving your action? And I believe too that the greatest gift we can give our children in the digital era is to remind them and model for them and encourage them to question everything.

As I mentioned, I engage in many places. Two I’m very active on are Twitter where you can find me @britz, I appear on LinkedIn and will be putting more effort into Mastodon (Mastodon.xyz and Mastodon.social) as well.

I hope to see you around.

Microlearning: Move Along Folks. Nothing To See Here

I’ve yet to hear a consistent definition of microlearning. More than that, I haven’t heard a clear definition. I personally struggle with the name as it is because once again “learning” (an internal, individual process) is being used to describe some “thing” that may promote or aid in that process. I’ve had my own take in “Smaller, Faster Training Is Not Going to Move Us Forward” and “The Best Example of Microlearning is Us“. The first spoke of the desperation in it all and the other, how we’ve really been microlearning for eons. Well, there’s been another microlearning conversation flare up this time on LinkedIn and I jumped in to see what the latest was. Go check it out if you want to kill some time and walk away still scratching your head. From what I read “microlearning” is something created and tangible and yet most will provide information where to use “it” but no clarity on what “it” is or what “it” isn’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter? Let’s back up.

We often forget that the Microlearning concept was really born long ago when someone extracted a “learning object” from a larger course to use again and/or in different training vehicles. Remember THAT term… “reusable learning object”? Well THAT was microlearning before it was repackaged as Microlearning. History aside we are now wondering, in the age of digital and social, is it about learners and their need to access information quickly? Is it about an ID’s ability to create it quickly? Is it about size of the content or speed of creation and delivery? Is it formal or informal? No disrespect for those doing their damnedest to define this but it’s all still a bit muddy even with decent definitions. Take this one by JD Dillon:

“microlearning is a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in small specific bursts.”

Succinct but then this definition points to it being squarely in the formal content space and it’s also a system of delivery. Words like small, specific, and bursts don’t really help clarify. What’s small? What’s a burst? I get to decide I guess. Dr. Will Thalheimer said he couldn’t find a good definition but I’m not sure his definition adds any more clarity for me. To his credit he does include the maximum of 60 minutes for a duration (yet that varies too, no?) but I’ve seen etraining… errr, I mean elearning courses with an estimated length of 60 minutes. Are those then Microlearning too? A lot of what he does include speaks to spaced-learning opportunities in or closer to the flow of work and that seems to resonate for me some. Frankly, it might just be time to chuck the whole labeling effort which is forcing content, activities, delivery, etc under a convenient ill-defined umbrella. So if it’s a prompt, call it that. If it’s just-in-time to help complete a task, let’s just tag it the far less sexy “performance support” it’s always been known as. If it’s a conversation in a social tool, then social learning has worked now for a while. And if it’s a short learning interaction, that sure sounds like a “learning object” to me and we were fine with that 15 years ago.

So, I’m done with it. Let the battle rage on but until someone can concretely state something is and something else is not microtraining…errr, I mean microlearning, I’ll just roll my eyes when I hear the term. There’s nothing to see here, moving on.

Take The Lid Off

At a recent large family gathering we were playing board games. I placed a box of salted, dark chocolate covered almonds on the table – irresistible! After it sat for a bit untouched amidst the excitement of the game, I motioned to my son to take the lid off.

Still, no takers.

A few moments later I reached in and grabbed a few. It didn’t take long before the contents of box was being devoured from all sides of the table. My son and I gave each other a knowing smile and I explained the psychology of the moment as best I understood it.

The lid was hardly a physical barrier; clear plastic and not even sealed, anyone could have pulled it off. The real barrier was emotional, as those few steps from thought to fingers to the mouth was enough to give people pause. Who wants to look like a glutton?

Enterprise social technology is all quite simple to use now, hardly a functional barrier. However most will sit and wait for others, not to start using it, but to start using it in those meaningful, work productive ways. Sharing openly reveals knowledge or a lack of knowledge. The former of these is the expert dilemma. If an expert isn’t fully convinced they are correct, the won’t put information/answers out there. The latter, revealing a lack of knowledge, is something most novices have been conditioned to keep hidden as historically organizations frowned on what could be seen as incompetence.

Leaders then need to understand that merely procuring social technology is not removing the lid. It’s not enough to purchase, implement and expect. I have coached some too that it’s not enough to just share something from their position to indicate to their workforce that it’s OK to engage. Rather, they need to ask a meaningful question, ponder a solution openly, and share their own work. Being brave enough to reveal their limitations, their weaknesses, their flaws is like grabbing the first chocolate. It removes the emotional barrier, the transparent lid, that holds people back from diving in.

Maintaining Collaboration in an Economic Downturn

In a Harvard Business Review article (one with actual data) a pretty interesting but unsurprising study was done revealing that in poor economic times employees will collaborate less. It may just be the old lizard brain and self preservation kicking in, a case of Fight AND Flight. Basically, fearing job loss – people fight to look important and thus flee from more collaborative activities that dilute their personal influence. Makes evolutionary sense.

The article did well to point out correctly that the individual choice to abandon each other is exactly what will hasten the downward trend in the organization and quite possibly lead to the layoffs they fear. However, the recommendation by the author that managersshould actively manage the psychology and behavior of their workforce to avoid an erosion of cohesion and productive work behaviors in the organization.” is a typical, reactive and doomed approach that lacks any details.

As Henry Mintzberg wrote a while back (2009) in Rebuilding Companies as Communities:

Decades of short-term management, in the United States especially, have inflated the importance of CEOs and reduced others in the corporation to fungible commodities—human resources to be “downsized” at the drop of a share price.

What one does in the current system is relatively pointless. Trust is damaged at a macro level today, well beyond just the organization. Most employees are either jaded through past experiences or if younger, have seen it in friends and family member experiences. They have learned not to trust and to keep a wary eye on the Csuite. According to Mintzberg a sea change is needed if companies are going to weather future economic storms and maintain high levels of cooperation and collaboration throughout. Organizations must start today to create a different and more permanent mindset that prevails in good times and bad.

..The organization has to shed much of its individualist behavior and many of its short-term measures in favor of practices that promote trust, engagement, and spontaneous collaboration aimed at sustainability.

How is this done? For starters a new collective history needs to develop, one where in times of recession layoffs are avoided at the cost of short-term gains and executives forego exuberant salary increases. A reputation of all for one takes time and likely more than one dip in the business cycle to develop. Similarly (but different in approach) to the HBR article author, Mintzberg points not to the top or directly at the bottom but to the middle and those in management as the cornerstone for community building. It’s here he says that remnants of community often still exist. These folks typically rose through the ranks and have plenty of connection and passion for the business. They are also not so close to the work that they miss the big picture and not so far away that they can’t see how work gets done. Middle managers are a key artery in reviving community in organizations but not in a way as the first article suggested (reactionary) but more continually.

So leadership at this level must take a different form of partnership in the company if a new form of organization is to emerge; one that recognizes the importance of community over individuality to weather change.