A Tale of Two Socials

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. – Charles Dickens

Social has come a long way, the notion of its importance in business reborn through works like the Agile Manifesto and Cluetrain over 15 years ago and propelled first by Web 2.0 and then through enterprise social technology. But there now appears to be a division of direction.

On one hand social and social technology can extend and expand human interactions like nothing else. It can transform business from the industrial models, and change the very nature of work. Yet today much of the technology (and the vendors building and promoting it) may just be But such awful workers, and such awful work!helping business be a faster, a more effective business as usual. Simply, enterprise social is supporting today’s work, not creating tomorrows’.

Wasn’t there supposed to be more?

Social Has Gone Corporate More Than Corporate Has Gone Social
Early social brought diverse people, groups and ideas together. The tools were simple and allowed people to be creative with their use and that was often the draw; autonomy and creativity. This however was not what business was buying, even though it is just what they needed for the innovation they sought.

The reality is that conversation and idea sharing are messy things, difficult to guide and even more difficult to measure. Vendors either couldn’t articulate this or they didn’t bother since it didn’t fit into the purchaser’s mindsets and models anyway.

Goodbye Connection, Hello Collaboration!
Collaboration became king to the point today that many wrongly see “social”and “collaboration” as identical. Collaboration in itself isn’t a bad thing, what is though is having collaboration become expected rather than encouraged. The command and control message within the social technology medium is this:

“We bought this platform, now go use it.”

To appease leaders, and to better ensure the tool fit measures of success (i.e. ROI), vendors focused on dashboards, and monitoring and measurement were promoted mostly for tracking the most frivolous of activity.

The Rise of Chat
The growing use of chat and chat platforms today is an indicator of this “social” conformity. Chat doesn’t scale. Chat won’t get you to transform. Transformation takes much wider connection and collaboration. Business loves chat; it’s about team-work not net-work; it’s about supporting how work gets done today… in silos. Again, faster, more efficient business as usual.

The User is the Loser
Another sign of stagnation is the emphasis on the terminal goal of user adoption and not work adaptation (the measures mentioned before support this). Of course using a social tool is a step forward, so too is working out loud (a collaboration invitation) but adapting work in a social environment is what can change the very essence of the work being done, where power and authority reside and therefore alter the organization itself – the true promise of social.

 

Yes, we should be disappointed at the state of enterprise social but not surprised. Change is rarely revolutionary and business is business after all, with the goal of most being to win the game and far fewer out to change it. All is not lost however…

We need new skills not new features. We need more understanding and growth in Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and new organizational structures for learning and working like 702010 frameworks to not merely influence but alter the systems that currently bind us. For these, look no further than the work of Harold Jarche (Personal Knowledge Mastery) and Charles Jennings (702010) for details on explaining individual and organizational approaches.

Ultimately the minority that believe and embrace the power of social to upend the 20th century systems are those that will conform to social, and not work to conform it (to their current models). It will take some very special people in leadership roles and not special technology; People that can cast aside the very systems that enabled them to become the decision-makers today, those who really know that what got us here, won’t get us there.

 

Social Is An Inside Job

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.

Devastating.

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.

Social Carves Its Own Path

Thousands of people recently commented (most agreeing) with a post on LinkedIn about how awful it was that posts on LinkedIn were no longer business related. Oh the irony.

image

They were upset that LinkedIn was being used like Facebook; status updates and photos of the non-work related type dominating their network updates. (Huh, maybe it’s just what Microsoft wanted though?)

Let’s step out of the social platform mindset for a moment and return to just being social, sans tools. In my experience, as yours, the majority of business setting conversations don’t have much to do with the business. The sports talk, the sarcastic joke, the quick verbal jab, the nod, the wink, the stories of children, parents and pets are not only accepted but expected. This informal conversation is the glue that holds together the formal pieces and this is where LinkedIn conversations are going. For some, LinkedIn has strayed from a place with a distinct purpose. This disturbs them and they will leave. But honestly the “rules” were never there, only expectation and expectations can certainly change faster than rules… and they did.

There is a lesson here for organizational leaders looking to adopt social technology, it is of course a lesson in expectation and rules. It is that social carves its own path. The conversation should not be controlled. Efforts to do so will certainly kill it. It’s movement, like that of water, is critical for survival. Healthy social is natural and unchanneled, for if the sharing and conversation were strictly business related and devoid of the elements that truly unite people, form trust, and build relationships, organizations would ultimately suffer in areas of innovation, creativity, and problem solving.

It’s important to note that people connect with people, not content and that all conversations in business is the conversation of business.

Putting Social at the Center (of a Webinar)

Last evening I hosted a webinar for the 70:20:10 forum. This organization works to help people and organizations shift to an organizational framework which supports and enables informal and social learning opportunities along with formal learning for the betterment of the workers themselves and the bottom line of the organization.

The topic of my webinar was Demystifying 70:20:10 – Using the Framework to Transform Your Learning Strategy. An important topic as many  1. See the effort as being more about adding informal and social opportunities to formal learning and/or 2. Are tripping over the numbers, taking them literally and trying again to create informal and social in the organizations.

Content aside, I strove to put my beliefs into practice for this event, but make no mistake it was a traditional webinar format with me as presenter, slides, objectives and attendees. My belief? Putting “social at the center” – I see that when we put energy there in our organizations, the openness and transparency it affords can improve formal learning by providing a critical feedback loop with ongoing formative evaluation. Additionally more open social activity can inform experiential (informal) learning through working and thinking out loud about our own practice and efforts. When people engage with others and share their work, peers can learn from their failures, successes and the half-backed ideas to inform their own work.702010 Informs Improves

Although my slides for this webinar, mostly just evocative images, were developed first, the greater energy was in developing the questions to ask in the chat box. I presented a question every 2 or 3 slides and acknowledged and commented on many of the answers given. These were not simple yes/no, I asked about their own experiences, observations and opinions. Not an uncommon or revolutionary practice but maybe the frequency was and several times the attendee’s responses redirected my presentation. When the Webinar officially ended, the conversation really heated up. For about another 20 minutes the flow of interchange was deep and rich. Success of course can only be measured in outcomes and that remains to be seen but many left saying they were energized, armed and inspired.

Putting social at the center of this webinar put the people and their interaction first as the social activity swirled around the the content (object) and not the other way around. The event was informal and relaxed as I didn’t desire to be seen as a content expert but maybe more as a conversational one; guiding and modeling interaction in a virtual environment. The comments and conversation really worked to enhance the presentation as it went along and ideally the experience will inform the attendees future efforts.

I know it has informed mine.

Lead Social By Leading With Social

A colleague and friend who I regularly chat with, where we bounce ideas and thoughts off each other, is at the cusp of where many folks leading the social charge in organizations are; helping key leaders and stakeholder to build awareness and better understanding of the value of being more social themselves.

Meetings are being set, slides developed, activities, agendas, use cases identified and industry examples to share. This is the expectation. And that is a problem. It’s the same old story, employee comes to executive’s office or board room for a scheduled meeting, agenda set in advance, pitch is made and the executive takes it in, asks a few questions and applauds the effort. Maybe there is change, likely not, and it’s back to business as usual.

This isn’t a new sales approach or marketing campaign. And if it’s also social supported by technology it is also not a new CMS or bug tracking tool. Yes, software it needs electricity and it is built on code but that’s where the similarities end. Social is different. Social tools work to surface and amplify ideas, answers, and content but mostly they serve to extend and expand conversations, allowing the normally invisible interactions to be visible and this is exponentially more powerful for an organization. Conversation is the undercurrent of all business interaction. It’s omnipresent and eternal. It is also the least understood or nurtured of business elements. 

We have essentially buried conversation, the epitome of humanity, under layers of politics, hierarchy, processes, protocols, and technology and my colleague is in the unfortunate position of having to encourage social in the most unsocial situation. How ironic. 

Not only is social about transparency and openness it also needs this openness and transparency in order to step out from underneath the weight of traditional business mindsets and gain a foothold. 

After initially falling into the trap of business as usual, I collected myself and suggest we lead with social. The alternative, the antithesis of social, is like planting a seed in concrete!  This is not traditional business, it’s social business. So rearrange locations with the executive and meet in a neutral settings, a cafe perhaps. Set no calendar defaulted time limit, this is far too important for artificial restraint. Hell, wear jeans and ask that they dress comfortably too, social is casual. Scrap the agenda and see that they leave their title at the door, it will certainly be there when the conversation ends. And that’s really the point of it – Have a conversation, everything else is pomp. You each know why you are there, it’s no mystery. Set aside your presumptions, your status or lack of it and be humans engaging in the most fundamental, historical part of being human; a conversation… and see where it goes.