You may remember the famous line in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others“. The idea is that some roles in organizations are more important than others in operating the business (a farm in this case). Today, many organizational leaders often carry the same titles across the business, i.e Manager, Managing Director, Sr. Vice President of…, etc. (as that’s convenient) but truly they are not seen or treated as equals. A manager in an operations role, one close to the work being done, one where revenue is made or lost is considered far superior in the eyes of the C-Suite than a L&D manager. And they all know it too.
I came a cross this article from 2016 as it was shared recently in my network, One Minute, One Question: How Well Does L&D Prepare Leaders to Support Staff Post-Training?
I had a few questions initially about this piece such as who were the 159 survey respondents? And how come two questions appear to ask the same thing; “we do a poor job” and “we don’t prepare” (our leaders). I mean, isn’t “we don’t prepare leaders” doing a poor job in this context? Also, it is focused only on new hires, leaving out training on new skills or systems of current employees. How’s that going?
In a few weeks I’m speaking at a local event here in Syracuse called the Social Media Breakfast #SMBSyr. My presentation is titled “Social Is An Inside Job.” Regular readers here can probably guess that my central theme will be about the distinction between social business and a social organization, that companies can not truly be social on the outside until they are on the inside, and that social is more about psychology and sociology than technology.
The audience is not my typical one as usually I speak to learning professionals and HR types. This presentation will be for about 35-50 mostly marketing folks. It’s free, it’s early and with a presentation on this look at social, I expect a lower turnout. Who knows.
I want to open with a good story and I had a few from my own work but I heard about this one recently in a conversation with a friend… an absolute tragic gem. I look to start my presentation with this and with the simple question: “How could social technology help here?”
A elder care facility recently upgraded all the refrigerators on each of their 5 floors. These state of the art units have an enhanced sealing mechanism which makes them all that more efficient; when the door shuts a vacuum device tightly seals the door and it cannot reopen for 30 seconds. The staff must serve about 120 residents three meals a day and therefore they are constantly going in and out of the refrigerators to prep the meals. 30 seconds is an eternity.
Initially the staff naturally began trying to force the door open by pressing their foot on the lower part for leverage and yanking the handle. All units now have a highly visible dent. The work around that ultimately solved the problem however was to put a rag in the door so it couldn’t seal. Now the staff can quickly access all they need during dinner prep. However they frequently leave the door ajar and the temperature rises resulting in three painful consequences.
- The food spoils and hundreds of dollars worth must be throw away
- Residents are served warm drinks and food which is not only a violation but poor treatment
- The facility has been cited by the Board of Health and fined repeatedly.
Not one food service staff member informed leadership of the issue. 5 floors, 5 refrigerators. It appears employees are doing what they are paid to do and nothing more – punch in, do what’s required, don’t make waves, punch out. Communication between them is poor and Management appears distant; focused on watching dollars and filling the next open position.
How could social technology help here?
It can’t. In it’s most basic form, social doesn’t even exist.
Social technology can make your organization more responsive and it can help surface solutions to sticky problems, but if the culture is as spoiled and communication is non-existent, social technology isn’t going to do a damn bit of good here.
Yes, yes I know that many have said L&D shouldn’t be threatened by social and social technology. The argument being that a focus on social can actually improve L&D efforts by extending formal learning impact which is true and many in L&D leadership have made progress… but many more have not and only play lip service to the notion (I know, I’ve lived it). L&D has traditionally argued against social technology on the grounds that people will share the wrong information. But there is another reality and maybe the real truth behind the dismissing. At the end of the day, L&D does just what the executives want, a course. And when numerous employees have taken the course and then do not really perform any better, the blame is more often than not placed on the employees and not the solution.
The reason for this? A fine blend of two ingredients at the management level; the leadership echo chamber and a heaping cup of cognitive dissonance. Systems->Behaviors->Culture.
First, the echo. Executives build inner circles; a cushion of trust that, over time, membership in grants one the benefit of every doubt. The next is cognitive dissonance; the reconciliation of two competing beliefs where placing blame upon the employees is chosen over the idea that monetary investments in technology and “expertise’ was wasted. Both result simply in – It’s got to be them, not us.
“Look at all the work we did.”
“Look at the features and functions we built. You (boss) liked them.”
“You (boss) agreed with them.”
“The employees didn’t invest the time.”
“They chose to ignore the content.”
“They didn’t revisit the material.”
“It’s their fault.”
But the jig is up.
Like we have always known, social technology opens things up. Social technology leads to transparency. Social technology can challenge the status quo. It doesn’t take too many voices openly sharing comments about ineffectiveness to upend the whole game. More often than not though the channel directly to the employees is either too long and narrow, blocked by protective layers of hierarchy, and/or hindered by a culture of complacency. That’s a lot but still L&D, or rather traditional training-centric L&D, should be afraid of social technology, it’s permeating the organization. Once executives understand that social for social’s sake has value (which many vendors have abandoned) it will open the doors to the boardroom to all and change will be swift.
Recently I did a webinar for Saba, a leading LMS vendor. They have a collaborative platform and invited me to speak with them on the principles and practices of organizational networks and collaboration. What I love most about giving a presentation comes usually at the end, it’s the time reserved for Q&A (although I like to field questions throughout, not always my choice however). Most questions asked about social efforts typically focus on how to get started, what the role of management should be or how to help leadership to be involved, etc. One question came however that I rarely hear:
“How do we shift a very healthy social network that is not focused on work to one that is?”
Interesting. People, using a corporate supported ESN, are sharing, collaborating and building their community but not around work or work related problems. For many this would appear as a good problem to have as there is no fear, the tech must be intuitive, there is trust, and there are personal relationships that transcend the organization. You’d assume with this established, the hard part is complete and collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing will begin to flourish.
Or will it?
My initial response was for managers to invite employees to help solve sticky problems, like what I did here. Creating opportunities for employees to co-own issues of the company shows them other ways to use the tool beyond community and get into addressing work problem-solving together.
Of course we can only assume there was some type of communication about the intent of the technology when it was being employed, that being communication related to workforce collaboration and sharing. And if so, then why aren’t they?
It could be that they don’t want to collaborate out of fear that sharing and collaborating about work could draw criticism especially if information is wrong, contradicts organizational approaches or has been regularly ignored when coming from certain levels of the organization. Another thought could be that the nature of the work has not required collaboration to get done and done successfully. Similarly, and true in many settings, people have close proximity and collaborative tools then appear on the surface as an unnecessary layer of work. Finally, many now regularly use social media in their personal lives. It’s ubiquitous but few use it for work because the social web “out there” is different than the one “in here”. Employees either haven’t picked up on the notion of a different use and purposes as they have habitually started using an enterprise tool as they would Facebook.
As I’ve noticed and noted before (and this example supports it), 1. social carves its own path, social behavior cannot be channeled without risk of it drying up. Organizations would be wise to focus on modeling, encouraging and supporting over dictating use and 2. Your organization already has an enterprise social network. Social networks exist in your organization, with or without technology. You’re people connect and are connected. Social tech can make it easier but more so it reveals better how healthy that network really is – now what do you do with this information?
The organization behind the attendee’s question has many approaches to consider going forward and also has a rare opportunity to look under the hood and learn much about itself – a good problem to have in it’s own right.