The Role of Social Networks in the Rise of Christianity

Christianity after the death of Jesus was just a small movement under scrutiny and attack in the Roman Empire. Yet in less than 500 years it was their official religion. Devine intervention? Perhaps.

According to author Rodney Stark, in his 1997 book The Rise of Christianity, the faith spread not by formal means or force but in great measure through conversations that led to conversions.

Social forms around an object and for Christianity, the object was “hope” and the social agents spreading the message were women. But these were not desperate and destitute women, rather they were the wealthy women, those married into Roman aristocracy.

Women of means had the time and connections to commune and influence their fellow women and eventually their men participating in government affairs. Like most women of their time they were greatly impacted by paternal decisions related to child-birth, infanticide, and abortion. Furthermore, Christianity provided hope in times of trouble like when natural disasters struck – pagan gods had no answer. Christianity was a new message ALL Romans could connect with.

Women then were the key nodes in the network, they influenced the influencers and slowly the faith spread to ultimately integrate with all elements of Roman society.

What can we take away from this?

First, change doesn’t always come from the top and as the case maybe, sustainable change is bottom up driven. Additionally, community forms it is not created or built and it’s best supported from within. And finally, (most importantly) change – the kind of change that can influence the world for thousands of years begins in the same way that can transform an organization today… one conversation at a time.

To all my Christian friends, Happy Easter.

 

Writing to Right Yourself

For those who blog you are probably familiar with what happens when you start writing about something you believe strongly in or a practice you’re undertaking and find that as you write, you no longer believe it. It’s disheartening and yet it’s magical.

I have 19 blog posts that have not and will not be published. But I don’t delete them. They serve as a reminder of a hidden benefit of blogging. It’s only as you write that you can begin to see flaws in your thinking; you see holes in your logic. It’s at this point that you realize you are writing a lie and if you click publish you are lying to others and worse, lying to yourself. So publishing never happens. But that’s OK because you are better for having begun.

A most commonly touted benefit of enterprise social technology is that if people share inaccurate info it can be seen and corrected –  and this is a good thing. But writing and not releasing is equally powerful and only comes through the transparency that social tech enables. If we, the potential sharer, recognize our flaws before revealing them and because we were to reveal them, we improve. It’s an act of reflection and something completely unseen/immeasurable to the organization but it should be encouraged by the organization – Writing as an act to right yourself; it’s an exercise in self-development which is always good for business.

Trust-Building: You’re Doing It Wrong

Are you familiar with the Laffer Curve? It was an economic idea leveraged by the Reagan administration to show how an increase in the tax rate would actually result in a decrease in government revenue. The idea was that if you continue to raise the tax rate it would reach such a point causing people to change their behavior (i.e. no longer pay taxes, stopping work, and fraud would be the extreme response). So no revenue at 0% and none at 100%. Somewhere in the middle you get maximum return on the tax rate.

Can this happen with the social currency of trust? Can we over do trust-building efforts to where trust actually diminishes? I think we can and I think it’s happening.

At a recent dentist appointment my doctor informed me that I will need a crown on a back molar. It appears a faulty filling led to decay and the tooth is too fragile.

Got it. Completely believable, when’s my next appointment? 

But he wasn’t done. He prepped for an inter-oral camera and took a series of pictures of my teeth. Then he displayed the detailed, colorful images and showed me what he saw. He’s my Dentist, he’s treated me numerous times, I already trust him due to previous experiences so why all this hoopla? I’ve seen these camera’s used before. In those times I felt like being convinced for less medically necessary actions. I felt like he went into auto-pilot, zombie-like, he pushed some internal play button and it was obvious. I now had some doubt where I didn’t before.

For the record, I don’t believe he was trying to up-sell me, I think it is a misguided practice and his approach is not atypical. There are reasons for this type of preemptive activity happening across many industries today. For starters we do have a global trust issue. Wrong doing at all levels of business and government in recent years has rightfully led people to question every action. This has resulted in many business leaders having a heightened sensitivity to the issue and strive to be more pro-active about building trust. In an effort to get ahead of potential trust problems, business leaders have sought new ideas and examples to leverage; best practices if you will to appear more honest and caring in an effort to build relationships, improve employee retention, put people first, etc.

But too much trust-building can result in the appearance of duplicity.

Businesses are applying a wide range of trust-building tactics and there inlies the problem, they are well-known tactics, often plug-in-play with a little contextual modification. In today’s world, transparency means employees and consumers alike are just as aware of them and too many tactics can appear as tricks. So how do you as a leader know when trust is built? When do you know you are crossing the line? This is tricky, it’s a gut feeling, its found in reading body language or online, it’s seen in the depth and details of conversation responses.

People are individuals and cookie cutter approaches should never be applied even when the intention is sincere. This is hard though. We like formulas and patented approaches but this, trust-building, is different. It’s about being human and being human is just about being honest, flawed, natural. Being human is not a strategy.

70:20:10 As a Reveal Not a Roll-out

Jane McConnell conducted a survey not too long ago to try and figure out what the greatest challenges were in the workplace. The top two that she discovered were related to:

  1. finding information to do the work and
  2. changing the mindset towards more collaboration and cooperation.

See her results and interpretation here.

She is very much focused on the “How To” from these findings and stated “I feel our industry is communicating too much theory and not enough operational and workable ideas today.

I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately most companies will turn to some new tech as their operational idea. However, the rate of change far exceeds the ability of a single tool or approach to keep up. The solution lies in strategy and more specifically a people-centric strategy not a tech focused one.

The two areas Jane surfaced are not exclusive of each other really as both are learning related but I’ll say up front, what I propose is not a quick fix – sorry, but it is workable. The answer lies in supporting greater informal and social learning made operational through a 70:20:10 framework. But unlike an initiative, you do not roll out 70:20:10, rather you must reveal it. Remember people already learn from doing their work, and they learn through and with each other. A 70:20:10 Framework not only makes this more apparent, it amplifies these activities, encourages them. Small, powerful changes at different entry points build and transform the system over time. In other words 70:20:10 IS a Catalytic Mechanism:

organizational mechanisms that are extraordinarily powerful at aligning a business behind a chosen strategy.

70:20:10 lifts the divide between learning and working by creating new behaviors around cooperation, openness and sharing. 70:20:10 shifts power into the hands of employees because, as noted in Jane’s findings, strong central power is not the answer in complex work environments.

Revisiting Jane’s two findings with a 70:20:10 lens:

  1. Finding (relevant) information is best done in trusted networks that add valuable context
  2. Collaboration is an outcome of greater cooperation (through connection)

Here’s a workable idea (a small powerful change), that I’ve promoted before that will increase social activity among employees:

Promote a development plan make-over that reduces training time allocated or training dollars significantly. Goals remain the same, but formal learning opportunities are constrained, can’t be first option. Then open up dialog on “how can we do this?” Create the space for better connection (tech aside). Make mentoring and coaching more a part of the planning. Encourage people to share their sources of new information. Model open question/answer opportunities. Frankly these things have been happening all along, in small sets. Now we work to expand them.

However, beware, 70:20:10 is more than a strategy, it can be an organizational change agent which disrupts the status quo.  70:20:10 won’t just help people better meet the demands of today’s work it can change the very nature of work.

Advancing The Social Organization Through Systems Change

The current approaches used to move organizations to be more social are struggling. The first phase was in using social technology. We quickly found out that the idea of “if you build it, they will come” didn’t work. Phase two focused rightly on “culture change” through social leadership initiatives. This is a top down approach which emphasizes that if organizational leaders change, then the behaviors will trickle down the hierarchy. Of course leaders REALLY have to change and this is not an easy task as most leaders are on top because of the current system, in short what’s the motivation to change? Phase two also includes more grassroots approaches, like I have taken, where we work more subversively (or as Jane Bozarth says, as a Positive Deviant). This is when you engage in small experiments, identify where collaboration is healthy, and take a performance consultation approach to leverage social approaches to solve problems.

Each of these however are slow change processes because they readily accept the current system as is and work within it. The system however is very resilient and has an incredible elasticity; it can stretch but can very easily bounce back to status quo.

I don’t disagree that each has merit (with the exception being tool first) but the slow pace leaves room for doubt and in an age of rapid change, these approaches may not always be fast enough to enable an organization to thrive.

Systems->Behaviors->Culture

So, if social can slowly change the systems, can the system be changed to rapidly encourage social?

I was recently revisiting an ancient text (OK, ancient as in 1999) and it dawned on me that we may need to focus less on people and more on the systems they work within. By breaking pieces of the system we can change behaviors and ultimately transform the culture. Jim Collin’s wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review that year that set the stage for his book, From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. This article was our introduction to Big Harry Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and the idea of Catalytic Mechanisms:

” [Catalytic Mechanisms are] the crucial link between objectives and performance – they are a galvanizing, non bureaucratic way to turn one into the other. They are the devices that translate lofty aspirations into concrete reality.” (from 12manage)

The article revealed to me that the real reason we fight and claw to gain a social foothold with our current efforts is not because of resistant people (alone) but because we are trying to work Social into the current organizational human systems (systems that drive attitudes and behaviors). These long-established, often unconscious systems of Communication, Recognition, Rewards, Career progression, and Organizational Learning (to name a few) do not support wide-scale social. In fact, I’d argue that most reinforce the exact opposite of the transformation being sought in large organizations. It’s no surprise then that the resulting inhibited culture is so resistant to changes.

Jim Collins’ idea was to meet a clearly defined, tangible, yet highly audacious goal. However, my idea is to use Catalytic Mechanisms to change behaviors and meet the goal of increasing the less tangible – creativity, transparency, openness, collaboration, cooperation, and innovation… all attributes of a social organization.

What exactly makes up a Catalytic Mechanism? According to Jim Collins there are 5 elements of these actions that:

  1. produce desired results in unpredictable ways.
  2. distribute power for the benefit of the overall system and uncomfortable to traditional power holders.
  3. have teeth
  4. eject viruses
  5. produce an ongoing effect

Whereas most initiatives are direct hits to the problem being addressed, a Catalytic Mechanism is more of an indirect one that ripples across an organization like a pebble striking a pond. Or to continue the water analogy;

If you want to move a river, you don’t grab the water. Rather, you alter the landscape around it and the river reroutes to a new, more desirable course.

Catalytic Mechanisms Reroute

Take for example the traditional systems of rewards as a place to start. Sales contests are common, and typically these appear as “sell X quality of something by X date and receive X“. There is no question this is effective as people are motivated by both the challenge and opportunity for monetary reward. A sales person or team meets the goal and wins the prize. They are rewarded but the organization is not. Leaders only reward the outcome and ignore the process but it’s in the process that we have the greatest opportunity to advance to a more social organization.

The social sparking mechanism that is missing here is a required transparency. And transparency has teeth! 

By requiring a transparent process (the how) the traditional reward system is altered and serves as a catalytic mechanism to shift the organization more social:

  1. unexpected benefits: could reveal unethical practices and accelerated adoption of new best practices.
  2. Knowledge hoarding practice loses power, all sales teams improve as a result.
  3. Has teeth: No reveal, No reward.
  4. Unethical practitioners revealed and reprimanded and those not wishing to help peers/org grow are exposed and likely move on.
  5. On going culture shift as each subsequent contest would require new approaches to better the last, and openness becomes normalized.

Could we not do the same for recognition? Internal communications? Management and leadership? Imagine requiring that individuals on a career path to management must demonstrate effective coaching or mentoring before they advance. Connecting with and growing people becomes the new core skill of a manager.

A series of small but powerful placed system changes (Catalytic Mechanisms) targeting the social transformation we seek, may just be the answer to the problem of slow change due to a resilient, inhibited culture.