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.

L&D Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

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.

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 Org Culture Tipping Point

The most interesting thing to me as of late about the culture change puzzle many in OD face is that the answers might be found in the questions not being asked. Many today write about making change happen from understanding what is, yet never seem to ask how the culture got to be in the poisoned position it is.

Simply put, shouldn’t we first try to answer the questions around “How did we get here?”

  • Was the culture ever positive?
  • How do we know it changed?
  • When was it first noticed that the culture change?
  • Were new systems, processes, or institutions were implemented before change was noticed?
  • Was the change an inside job or was there external stimuli (new competition)?

Like my simple graph here tries to explain, there is a point where the agile, innovative, open culture typically found in smaller, growing organizations shifts to one that emphasizes uniformity, complacency, and compliance over humanity. A tipping point is reached where the organization loses the elements that many (larger) organizations now aspire to regain.

OnsetofSocialAtrophy

 

Past is prologue as historians might say, and if we can pinpoint the emergence of the change, doesn’t it then hold true that this knowledge could be used to create targeted measures to reverse course?

If you’re interested, several of us look to ponder the idea of culture emergence vs. culture change on Sept. 19th at 9:00pm ET. Take a look at the posts written by Chris Jones on his blog to see where we’ve been with this and where we are going, then join the conversation on Twitter at #orgdna.

The Unintended Consequences of 70:20:10

I’ve always struggled with the 70:20:10 principle. Not that it exists, and certainly not that it isn’t something that should be supported by organizations. No, my issue has always been with the idea that it’s primarily about learning.

The 70 and the 20 (+/-90%) are simply about pulling; pulling information for work, pulling insights out of our own work, pulling ideas from the rich flows of the Internet and pulling on others’ knowledge to influence our thinking in the work we do.

So it’s about work. But not just in getting learning closer to work. 70:20:10 is potentially much more subversive. It’s an agent of organizational change for those leaders interested in that sort of thing.

At its core 70:20:10 emphasizes autonomy and interdependence over control and dependence and this is where 70:20:10 shifts from being just about supporting leaning to something more transformational. A 70:20:10 Framework encourages people to be reflective of their work. This is far from a traditional practice. In doing so, it presents opportunity to improve the work product/process but also invites the opportunity to fundamentally change the job itself, time to pause and reflect can do that. 70:20:10 also inspires people to seek, to step out of the traditional channels of organizational information flows (hierarchy) and find new answers. The 20 is social. When people are supported by technology that enables them to more openly share and collaborate, networks are revealed, new ones form and knowledge is released from the most unlikely of sources.

Each of these are openings that go beyond simply learning to do better or do more or do faster. Each can lead to a change in how we view authority, knowledge, leadership, and power in an organization.

Organization’s are complex; many parts, systems and structures working – sometimes with and sometimes against each other. In complexity, a small change can have dramatic effects across systems and we need to be conscious of this if we desire change.

A 70:20:10 Framework is a small change. It sets out to change organizational learning yet has the very real potential to change the organization itself.