Social Atrophy: Know the Signs

When small, an organization is typically vibrant and innovative. Employees are engaged, connected and feel a part of something special – I know, I was part of that once. However, as the organization grows, these attitudes and behaviors can change; the environment becomes more closed, leadership moves out of the day-to-day, work is less visible, connections grow but each becomes a weaker relationship. This is social atrophy.

What’s the risk? Well, if you define social as community, collaboration and sharing then as these diminish, so too does the seeds of innovation which is a necessity in a rapidly changing marketplace.

I attempt to reveal the process in the image above (a revisit of my previous look at Social Atrophy). Notice when the organization is small that being human (sharing, collaboration, camaraderie, error tolerance) is a big part of the day-to-day and hierarchy is really in name only. As the organization grows however so too can the rigidity of hierarchy leading to a decline in humanity. The space between people grows as passion’s void is filled by many unnecessary policies and procedures.

Is this the case and course for every organization? I don’t think so, as each organization is very unique. However we can be more conscious of the decline of social at any level in an organization and head it off so as to not to reach the need of large scale, painful organizational culture change efforts.

Here are a few warning signs to consider:

  • Increasing rate of turn-over
  • Impersonal announcements of employee departures
  • Departments becoming insular
  • New layers of management appearing
  • Communication moves increasingly top down
  • Titles and roles become more important and desirable
  • “That’s not my job” over takes “I’ll do it”
  • Process becomes inflexible
  • Learning is seen as something to complete
  • Knowledge hoarding becomes the norm

Are all of these unavoidable? Are all equal in weight? I think not. For example process can be very important but when it is unquestioned over time it becomes a sacred cow and possibly a drag on business. The same can be said for new level’s of management. If the management philosophy and practice is open and transparent, then simply having more is not inherently a negative. So this list is not exhaustive or without it’s caveats of course but I am curious of what other signs of social atrophy have you seen? Has your organization addressed them or tried headed them off?

2 Ways Forward

A social organization is a more collaborative, open and transparent organization. That's a given, but how we approach becoming one is debatable. In my opinion there are two ways; one being Push and the other Pull. Pushing social, might be seen as incongruent; something natural being forced unnaturally. And yet, in the social/collaboration space, this is the road most often taken.

Organizations will often start their journey to improved communication, cooperation and collaborations by initiating social efforts such as supporting CoPs, instituting team huddles, using ideas take from Agile project management, etc and then move to collaborative tools. It's here they purchase an ESN or a chat platform and begin to engage in rollout campaigns, gamification and other external motivators to increase use. Many times they forego the non-tech and just buy a platform. These efforts are "pushing social", it's slow, steady and comfortable for the status quo. And some studies (Forrester being a famous one) have indicated that some 80 to 84% of social efforts fail. These type of efforts.

The other way is a sincere commitment to the idea of the social organization but it can cause some stress especially in more established firms. It's pulling social which means changing the organization to make it more conducive, even welcoming of true open collaborative behavior. Pulling social is basically pulling down the barriers; the systems and structures that are really the reason most social efforts fail. If systems of rewards shift to recognize the processes that lead to success over the product, people open up. If CoPs work out loud they invite new participants and healthy criticism, if leadership accepts the powerful undercurrent of communication (the wirearchy) exists and can support hierarchies, social thrives. Tools and platforms come next (not first) to amplify the healthy openness that now exists, the new normal, and serve as the power source going forward.

The challenge today is for social practitioners to stop leading with social and for organizational leaders to accept that their organizational design needs to be severely shaken up.

Simple is the New Black

Each day I encounter an article or vendor selling simplicity. Just today I crossed paths with titles like “elearning simplified” and “Simple Marketing Strategies”, and “simplifying your life” to name a few.  It appears the market is crying for less complexity or people are selling the notion that all has become so very difficult today.

Hey, I’m no stranger to this verbiage. The last company I worked for had the very inviting name of Systems Made Simple and even this blog is TheSimpleShift.com. Who am I then to criticize buzziness, eh?  Well, to be honest my aim here is to present and discuss the ideas of moving mindsets first; one can’t simplify until they first believe in an easier way, right? Getting there however is much more difficult but you can’t go that way until you first buy-in. I’ve written about this before that Simple ≠ Easy.

Take for example the vary simple principle in the Cluetrain Manifesto; Markets are Conversations.  Wow. Penned in the 1990’s, foreseeing the social web, and we still aren’t there. Breaking free of the old ways is obviously difficult enough but then new ideas, tools, technology and processes continue to pile on making such simplicity difficult to achieve and maybe too, few bought-in in the first place.

Complexity can be loosely defined as something having many parts. So there it is, we get to complexity when we just keep bolting things on our lives and they all become entangled; pull on one and all move a little – you’ve been warned. Same for organizations; human systems, computer systems, hierarchical systems, communication systems all intertwined. By themselves they are not the least bit complex but they tend to get all mashed together and any effort to address one of them, impacts the others.

Reducing complexity is not easy then, heck it’s complex! So, let the buyer beware. Go ahead and purchase that elearning simplified solution but don’t expect that it means your job will get easier.

A Little Magic Can Take You a Long Way

Do we live in a magical age or do we merely live among many magicians?

 

working out loud requires guidance

“micro-learning” is a new approach for a new age

the year you were born determines your values and needs

community is any group of people using social tools

we learn differently in the last 10 years than we did in the previous 10,000

the experience API (xAPI) tracks what you’ve learned

social learning requires a platform

 

Now, you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because, of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.- The Prestige (Film, 2005)

Yes You Will

I was recently listening to Gary Vaynerchuk on his Gary Vee Audio Experience Podcast. He talked about Alexa and how people will use it to buy stuff unseen and untouched. He used an example of raincoats. Wake up, ask Alexa to share today’s weather, learn that the forecast calls for a week of rain and then tell Alexa to buy you a raincoat.

Not for you?

One would argue that people want to see and touch a coat before they buy it. Well, yes, today they do but you’re forgetting some other technologies such as VR, AI, and Big Data getting in the mix.

Today we give so much of ourselves away with every Tweet, Facebook post, purchase and Google search and we do all this readily and thoughtlessly. All that data, along with everyone else’s, builds a pretty complete picture of “us” and our wants and needs. Alexa, with AI, will know your size and taste, and you will love it! Soon Virtual Reality will tie in and conveniently turn your bathroom into a private holodeck where VIOLA! That raincoat will appear on you, to spec! You’ll ask Alexa to show it in long or short or blue or red. Finally, in a whisper, you will share this image with your “friends” as easily you do your new manicure or haircut today. You’ll get the feedback you crave and make the purchase. Now all that purchasing data is stored and combined for the future for even faster, more accurate service you will want, love and expect. Machines will create that coat, machines will package it and machines will deliver it.

No you won’t?

Yes, you will… because this is the new normal.