The Cart & Horse of Org Social

Company A has [insert any social platform name here]. They have these amazing participation metrics and results.

Company B has [insert any social platform name here]. They have the opposite.

Must be that company B is not doing the same adoption activities, right?
Must be the culture, right?
Must be leadership, right?

I’m not going to say wrong but it’s really only partially right. The part that isn’t right is the part that is overlooked; specifically that which supports the activities, the force that reinforces the culture, the structure that guides the leaders. The part that isn’t right is the organization’s design, it’s systems.

If the systems rewards leaders for control over autonomy, the tools won’t meet their potential. If the systems expel risk-takers, the new approaches won’t take hold. If the systems support a culture of passionless complacency, then change has no chance.

Company A is winning because they had the environment in place to ensure the social tech does what social tech does; amplify, extend and expand. Company B believed in copying best practices, didn’t respect their unique culture, and essentially threw their money away. They put the cart before horse.

We Don’t Have Time For That Social Stuff

Many leaders argue that their people don’t have time to create content, share knowledge, answer questions, reflect on their own work, blog, etc – you know, social behaviors.

No time? There is plenty of time but it’s being wasted. But where?

A quick Google search on the topic of time wasting at work revealed endless articles. Here’s a sample from Forbes, Salary.com, and Inc. All respected and/or at least known publications:

Wasting Time at Work – The Epidemic Continues
New Study Shows You’re Wasting 21.8 hours a Week
Ways to Minimize Wasting Time at Work
Why and How Your Employees are Wasting Time at Work

Looking closer, most of these sources place the blame solely on employees; surfing the internet, social networks, long lunches, gossip in the break room, drive-bys that go to long and non-work talk in meetings. Still other studies reveal the organization as the culprit and guess what? It’s ALWAYS the organization!

First, the org is either tasking work that is uninspiring, repetitive or disconnected. You’ve hired thinking, feeling, creative people who need what Dan Pink laid out as autonomy, mastery and purpose to be motivate. Do they have skin in the game? Are they growing? Do they see how what they do actually matters?

Second, is time waste really just time being sucked up by pointless processes, ancient systems and tools? What about time in email and meetings? Necessary? Again, a cadence set by the status quo.

If orgs really want a more productive, innovative, engaged, and connected organization, leaders might want to try this simple 2 step process to “create more time” for productive connectivity that fuels all of these.

Step 1: Reduce. Reduce internal email use to specific types and lengths only (yes, you’ll need to model this), set a policy of actionable meeting or no meetings at all (yes, you’ll need to model this too), and encourage delegation; stop having knowledge workers doing admin work (yes, again you’ll need to model this as well). Let’s say this results in *just* 3 more hours per person a week. Not bad when you add it up through a year.

Step 2: Recognize. Now to better ensure this new found time is beneficial, step two is to modify your systems of recognition, rewards and management. Remake each in such a way that encourages AND acknowledge openly the cooperative and collaborative behaviors of sharing; resources, ideas and answers. Something as simple as using internal links to ESNs or WIKI pages rather than attachments keeps work open. And people often need support in developing new behaviors and habits as I wrote here and it starts with management.

As people now have more time to connect at greater levels and with the organization supporting this, altruism will build greater social bonds. With a greater commitment to each other, work becomes more obvious and meaningful, and growth is natural.

So no, you can’t really make more time but you can make the time more productive.

The Dark Side of Empathy (in Organizations)

One of this biggest recurring issues those in the social organization space contend with is the problem of organizational silos and how a more connected organization can bring about greater innovation and responsiveness. All very true and something Jon Husband and his principle of Wirearchy brought to light in the last 20 years. However more critical than the common physical and role-based silos such as those between departments, divisions and teams may be the larger hierarchical bands that frame the organization, creating silos of power, influence, and perception, all sowing seeds of suspicion and ultimately distrust.

In his forthcoming book, The Dark Side of Empathy, author Fritz Breithaupt reveals how what that we often feel about empathy is that it’s a warm human trait but empathy can also serve to empower terrorism and suffocate youth through “helicopter parenting”. In organizations I suspect empathy could and likely does similar in the artificial “business caste” systems that make up the hierarchy. As much as we desire that executives empathize with the workers that support the business, there is a far greater likelihood that they instead empathize more closely with their peers in the c-suite, or at least have the potential to. Similar to what Fritz Breithaupt identified in his example regarding Terrorists, he said:

I think a lot of terrorists may not lack empathy. Rather, they see some plight of a group they identify with — they see them suffering and see it as something horrible, and that becomes more extreme and activates them to become active terrorists.

The plight of the group they identify with

C-suite executives are hardly terrorists but the fact is our hierarchical silos do separate people making it easy for one group to identify with and empathize with their own over all others. Executives mostly mingle with other executives. They drive similar vehicles, their kids likely go to the same schools, they dress alike and have similar problems. Likewise those at the lower levels of hierarchy, the Workers, see each other’s daily efforts, share the same space economically, share similar stories, dress alike, their kids go to same schools, and likely have same life problems. In each case the groups fall prey to the sociology of group empathy.

It’s easy to see how it’s our systems of decision-making and structures of hierarchy that create environments where Executives see Workers only as doers not thinkers and the Workers see Executives as just thinkers and not doers and rarely will each be able to transcend. This is a powerful, historical Culture of Work issue that hangs over many organizations, one not changed easily by present day employee engagement efforts. No, the Us v. Them (or rather “Us & Them”) is quite an embedded element in this Culture of Work but there is an answer. A social organizational strategy can works to remove this friction too. To truly connect people across these dark empathy bands will take new forms of recognition, openness and greater transparency. Easier to start when an organization is small and people are working more closely but as the organization grows, these become very human decisions to invite others in, to listen, to converse which is far more challenging than what many assume is the way – just turning on a social platform or laying down edicts to be more collaborative.

How to Correctly Use MBTI

MBTI is trash but trash can be treasure, it all depends on your approach to it. The fact is the science behind Myers-Briggs is super sketchy. It fails 2 basics requirements needs to be solid; reliability and validity. Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, wrote a great breakdown of all its flaws back in 2015 in this piece titled Goodbye to MBTI. Countless others have done similar before and since and yet MBTI persists. What I love most about Grant’s piece though is that he includes the two big reasons it persists and not just all the reasons it’s pseudoscience. This is the treasure in the trash, it’s the way to use MBTI to it’s maximum benefit – learn from it and apply it as a lens over all other questionable practices.

The two critical points Grant raises are from Annie Murphy Paul’s book The Cult of Personality Testing. First, “thousands of people have invested time and money in becoming MBTI-certified trainers and coaches.” There is BIG money behind MBTI, and money to be made from perpetuating it. It’s smells much like a pyramid scheme to be honest. And second, “the “aha” moment that people experience when the test gives them insight about others—and especially themselves.” Basically we know people hate ambiguity, we want things to be in neat little boxes – black & white is easy and comfortable. To see yourself or others as being a certain “type” makes it simpler to justify and ultimately accept reasons why you are/they are acting a certain way. Neat but wrong.

I think MBTI, with these points in mind, is super powerful for us to use to question every simple solution that comes our way. For example, knowing that we hate ambiguity we can look at other tools and approaches and ask – “is this idea dividing people too conveniently?” Millennials are different we’re sold (errr… I mean told) but is that really true or is it just us conveniently taking a few observations of some people born in a set time and classifying all in that segment to be the same? This behavior is better known as stereotyping but that word sure feels yucky. Ahh Generational Differences… that’s better!  The other is to follow the money. The best way to push an agenda is to turn followers into ambassadors. These people buy certifications and then unconsciously suffer from a sort of cognitive dissonance, i.e. “I paid for it, so it must be right!” The tools, glossy handouts and official looking exams don’t hurt either, they help to solidify legitimacy. Ask yourself – Are there armies of people or resources behind this that paid to play? It’s a pretty good indication something isn’t right.

So where else can we apply these lessons from MBTI?

Learning Styles?
Communication Styles?
Work Styles?

All = Big shiny money and the defeat of ambiguity through convenience of categorization.

So, yes spread the word of the myth of Personality Types but also use the bigger lessons from it’s monetary success and perseverance over time to combat each new idea that presents itself as ready to divide people and divide people from their money!

Employee Evaluations are an Easy Target for [Social] Disruption

There are really only two reasons we still have annual reviews, well maybe three. First it’s legacy. Your grandmother had annual reviews. It’s just what is done, usually in Q4 when revenue is better understood and the calendar year is coming to an end so it ties in with compensation – a nice little bundle. And that leads to the second reason; convenience. Just 2x a year do we have to “deal” with this issue. Set some goals in January and review how well they were accomplished in December; set, scheduled, delivered. And finally, a third reason and one that is really more recent, the advent of the HRS. The Human Resource System is a software system that locks you into the archaic process that most organizations never questioned. Now with a system that requires unique skill sets and of course a significant price tag it’s really hard to justify changing. Here’s why – add these 3 factors up and you’re ultimately up against some serious cognitive dissonance; “We’ve always done this, it’s convenient, and we have a shiny system in place… it must be right!

OK, I made my case. This isn’t going to be easy but that shouldn’t hold you back from pushing for what is right.

We all know the obvious things that happen for the business when we break free and shift from annual reviews to more continual ones – feedback is timely and today’s work is improved. Got it. But here’s the less obvious, if done right, continual feedback isn’t just more frequent, the space between when it happens and when it doesn’t happen actually disappears, the friction of process is gone and friction in business is a bad thing. The “scheduled more periodic” becomes the “ongoing conversation”, managers manage less and support more; “try this”, “have you considered…”, “who else can help…”, “what about doing…”.  Yes, you’ll still need to work out the compensation stuff as that too will need to be more incremental and frequent but in an age of Venmo and PayPal you have to figure that any HRS system worth it’s salt will evolve.

Reducing friction is the key measure of success in a social organization. So not only is feedback timely and work improved but new ideas too can just flow, engagement increases, the stress of proving value and meeting months old goals is eliminated, an increase in openness and transparency results – more social, less friction, better business.