Simple ≠ Easy

There is a lot of talk today about making work more human. This is a simple statement and it has universal appeal. I mean, who is arguing to make work more robotic? It speaks to meaning in ones work, passion, connection, and collaboration. For organizations it’s about openness and transparency – a whole bunch of warm and fuzzy, right?

It’s a simple idea, “communicating”, but unfortunately in most organizations it’s not easy to put into action.

Maybe the suits in this cartoon already feel they communicate with the employees… through newsletters, broadcasts in internal blog posts or emails, annual meetings, or through the mid-level managers and expecting and assuming trickle down. But we all know this guy meant conversing when he said communicating.

Asking “what if?” like “why?” or “why not?” are simple questions and yet each has the ability to change the direction of an organization or shake its very foundation. Ask and act and you may soon find you’ll be fighting tradition, the status quo, hierarchy, and/or fear of change. If you decide to move simple forward, standing your ground and digging deeper to support these ideas and utterances will be hard work, it’s not going to be easy.

Simple and easy regularly and wrongly get paired together.

 

Organization, Heal Thyself

I hurt my back pretty bad back in February. Shortly after the injury I reluctantly went to a Chiropractor. I say reluctantly as it’s not something I completely understood or believed in as I have always been conditioned to accept traditional medicine; surgery, medications, etc. What I learned from the experience is that Chiropractic medicine is about the body’s ability to heal itself. Generally speaking (and likely oversimplifying it) when the body is in alignment, effective communication happens through nerves and blood flow and the body maintains health. This got me wondering about how poorly organizations are designed today, they are misaligned resulting in:

  • cultures that need to be changed,
  • the creation of blanket HR policies to address small, singular problems
  • structures that support star chamber-like decision making in times of crisis,
  • procedures developed to secure consistency and conformity but stifled innovation and creativity
  • training being overused to address performance issues
  • a default to meritless, inflexible hierarchy

Everything is out of alignment (with the way the world works today).

So, similar to the chiropractic view of the body if an organization is aligned correctly, when the systems and the people can effectively and efficiently communicate, won’t it to function properly?

Gwynne Dyer wrote an exceptional article a few years ago about Democracy, nation building and the Middle East. From it I caught a quote that really resonated:

Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communication problem.

With a slight adjustment; replacing the word tyranny with hierarchy the remainder of the message holds true. Hierarchy was the answer to what was essentially a communication problem… in the industrial era. As organizations grew a top down systems of communication and power was need to keep every part of the organization informed.

Today we no longer have an excuse for communication problems or at least we shouldn’t. Psychology, sociology and technology are opening our eyes to new, better ways of organizing people. Hierarchy should be being transformed because of the emerging obviousness of Wirearchy, yet this isn’t really happening. And in learning, the principle of 70:20:10 is real but oft ignored as training continues to hold a tight grip.

What then if organizations just focused on improving communication, putting “social” first so to speak? Aligning all, making ideas, initiatives, information more obvious. Would unnecessary training, procedures, and policy diminish? And isn’t this what every small company has by default (albeit unconsciously)? With a small numbers of people, they are in tune, open, connected and transparent – then unfortunately lose it as they grow. This doesn’t have to happen today, as I said, we have the knowledge and technology to ensure this if we could just let go to our traditional beliefs as I did about medicine.

In the 21st century how the organization needs to communicate should determine it’s design and being and remaining aligned is the key to a responsive organization.

The Long Tailers of Social Business

Social business talk hasn’t progressed much beyond what it is or how it’s done. Jon Husband noted this in a brilliant and succinct post back in 2013 where he said that “most of the conversation circulating and re-cycling regarding [social business] … what ‘social business’ is and/or is not, how to do it right, or in 7 easy steps, or with pizzazz and ROI and why it’s changing everything (or nothing at all)

What has changed however in the past 2 years is that the idea of Social Business, like Social Media, has been further positioned by large firm Marketing and Advertising departments as their charge. Markets are conversations so says the ClueTrain Manifesto and so shortsighted marketing and sales have moved to “Social Business” strategies which mostly just employing social technology with the same push information tactics.

Social LongtailHowever where social sincerely exists are those businesses on the long tail . Organizations here, the smaller more niche players, are more often inherently, unconsciously and positively social inside and out. Their business survival is predicated on a meritocracy over hierarchy, openness, trust, feedback and transparency – it’s here where the soil is most fertile.

Social Business, (what we do) can’t survive long without firm roots in a Social Organization (who we are).

For the larger, market dominating organizations, they turn to social technology (like any other technology) to fix problems vs. prevent them. Inside these organizations social tools are applied in a futile effort to open communication for knowledge sharing, a cure for their social atrophy. However the best opportunity for social technology inside has passed, the arteries are now clogged by competition, policy, procedures and rigid hierarchy.

Social technology may be best as preventative medicine vs. the miracle cure.

It’s the Long Tailers that need to understand this and move quickly to stay who they are. But to stay small as they grow larger, technology alone won’t be enough – social requires people and a holistic approach. They should also employ a Change Prevention strategy (vs. Change Management), maybe a new internal role of an Unchanging Officer to help leaders see their culture today and the big picture potential of social tools beyond communication and knowledge sharing. A well crafted change prevention strategy can anchor their progressive culture and help maintain the healthy status quo.

It’s far too easy for long tail business leaders to fall into established, yet floundering, 20th century practices as they grow. There are still many visible, seductive monuments of this past success and misguided social business approaches.

Long Tailers must act now for there is much to lose if they don’t change.

 

 

Between Us

Real knowledge does not exist within us but between us, in our conversations is something I’ve felt for a long time. So with that, if we want to create more knowledge, we need to create more conversations.

In principle it’s that easy. However the practice, although simple, is much harder to do.

To create conversations we must understand what it means to converse. To be equals, to listen, to communicate without agenda. The barriers to real conversation today are not physical or even technological, they are cerebral. Ego, power, fear and positioning get in the way. Because of these, most conversations are only labeled as such when in reality they are just carefully crafted monologues devoid of empathy, compassion or respect for another’s perspective and history. In these communications information is shared but this information can struggle to become actionable knowledge because this transfer happens best when there is a human connection.

Ask yourself – when did you last have a true conversation and who was it with? In all likelihood it was with others you respected, trusted and enjoyed. The outcome was likely mutually fruitful and satisfying.

Now imagine if you could have these at work with peers and leaders alike. It starts with you.

We Don’t Do Social Here

Implement, Do, Start, Launch, are all terms that indicate a program or project is underway. It’s the language of the business initiative. But when these words precede the action of “Social”, it’s a bit perplexing.  

We don’t “do” social, we are social. 
Being social is just connecting, communicating, and sharing usually with the key action of conversing. Don’t let anyone tell you different. We should know too that being social is not purely positive. People can connect for the wrong reasons, communicate inappropriately, or share way, way too much. Therefore being social is neither something exclusively good or bad, it is just the essence of being human. To say things like “we are going to start doing social in our organization” is like saying “we are going to start doing breathing.” This comparison is equally similar and different. Similar in that both actions, social and breathing are naturally occurring and required (in an organization or otherwise), and different in that breathing is not something that can ever be consciously done poorly or insincerely.

You can encourage people to increase their social connections, expand their networks, start more meaningful conversations and share ideas. But make no mistake, your organization is already social, it just may not be healthy enough to transform the work that’s being done or make the environment less toxic, or draw people to connect with your service or products.

So if you’re still thinking about “doing” social in your organization, maybe start by “being” a better organization, leader, employee, peer. Somethings you just can’t project manage.