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!

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.

Social Habit Loops

Here’s a common scenario in organizations struggling to increase openness and collaboration:

Aaron figures out a work around in a finance system that will save time and money. Knowing it’s value, he emails the information to his manager, Susan. Susan acknowledges Aaron’s innovation in a glowing reply. Aaron continues to use the new process but the organization gains little.

Aaron’s organizational communication system has conditioned him to act automatically and maybe unconsciously. His habit is one where when he finds relevant information, he shares it in a way that provides him a reward. This is the Habit Loop Charles Duhigg wrote of in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business“, and I think it holds the key to helping organizations advance their efforts to be more cooperative and collaborative.

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Silos Are Chosen, Not Imposed

It’s been an interesting week in the midst of the national anthem kneeling controversy here in the US. In two separate circumstances a close and a distant friend on Facebook decided to unfriend or block me when I politely disagreed with their “it’s an insult to the military” stand. It took only my one shortdissenting point for them to “shout” at me and cut me off from their safe, ego-stroking echo chambers. Those within the conversation threads do not know that I was blocked but rather probably assume I whimpered away with my tail between my legs. All within now rest easy as uncomfortable dialog was avoided, loved ones empowered, and complex issues made simple. The lesson: Shout loud, shout angrily, and have the last word.

Little Children

The action each of these people took surprised me, one more than the other stung as it was my childhood friend, but I was left seeing them both still as children; not getting their way (a unified voice of support) they chose to slam the door and stomp away. No matter how you feel about politics or The President of the United States, this was his strategy throughout the campaign and even today; shout, shout angrily, and have the last word. No debate, no dialog, no conversation. Mr. Trump’s behavior is disturbing but it is more clearly a reflection of much of our society.

We Live in Silos
The silo analogy, like the idea of the echo chamber, is an easy one to understand in both life and the world of work. It comes from agriculture – silos of different grains sit spaced across expansive fields, separated, isolated, contained. And although structures exist to contain people in similar homogeneous groups; Social technology where we can choose our “friends” and in organizational departments with unique responsibilities and processes, we do ultimately have the choice to be open-minded and engaging with others… but we often refrain for emotional reasons in one and economic reasons in the other.

A silo mentality can occur when a team or department shares common tasks but derives their power and status from their group. They are less likely to share resources or ideas with other groups or welcome suggestions as to how they might improve. Collaboration in a business culture with silos among teams or departments will be limited, unless collaboration benefits the members of the department. In addition, the members of a silo tend to think alike. They get their power from association with their function and their shared technical knowledge.

– Audra Bianca
Where Difference is Divisive 

I’ve been striving to dissolve these business silos with my work in social technologies over the years. I have helped my own company’s people understand and use technology to find others, find resources and share more openly. The company leadership always welcomes it as they believe correctly that it will help them remain agile, keep people engaged and lead to innovative solutions. However, they quickly realize the organization’s culture stands in the way. No org culture is one where people are shouting however snuffing out difference is still accomplished. Organizations have systems that separate and prevailing beliefs that hoarding knowledge leads to power, failing is not acceptable, and being wrong is a sign of weakness. Their people seek agreement not because it is the right approach but because they don’t want to be ostracized and seen as difficult. So debate is suppressed, monologue is chosen over dialog, and conversation is contained.

Sorry, technology is not going to save us, it only reinforces who we really are. In the end I don’t care about the national anthem debate, I care about social justice and I really care that there is no debate happening. We cannot advance social or even organizational issues without being ego-less, honest, humble and open… which ironically is the natural state of being a child.

Social Tech Made Easy Makes for Soft Social

When we want to improve our health, we often have to make small, difficult choices like climbing the stairs rather than taking the elevator. Similarly, if we want to improve our organizations we need to make small, difficult choices like starting a debate, engaging the strangers within other departments, and being critically honest.

Enterprise Social could do better by doing less. In an effort to make social tech more like public social tools, vendors have actually made the tools less social by making them easier and familiar. Yes, ease of use is positive as it is all about adoption but adoption is the vendor’s end game, it can’t be the goal of organization. For example by simply “liking” or adding a GIF or emoji as a comment, we end the potential for conversation before it can really start. This is fine outside the organization as people flit from post to post in Facebook, yet how many times have you seen anyone there ask “I see you liked my comment. Why?” Maybe it was obvious but maybe not. And similarly when we choose to hold critical discussions in private groups, groups typically formed around function or departments, we cripple the opportunity for diverse opinions and ideas – those things that truly advance organizations.

Given the dismal state of employee satisfaction/ engagement today, should the goal of social tech be only to help get work done or do we want to have it help us challenge how and what work gets done?

If you want to make things better the next time you have something to share or something to add, remember that although the elevator is available, you can and should take the stairs.