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.


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.

2 thoughts on “Social Is An Inside Job

  1. Agreed, the example of the refrigerators in the eldercare facility is devastating and no amount of social technology would be of assistance. Unfortunately, I can share a similar experience of sitting in meetings as a teacher aide for developmentally delayed teenagers, and as an employee at a homeless shelter for teenagers. In both instances those of us with the direct care, hands on experience wee time and again met with animosity and/or excuses during weekly staff meetings. The “rules” set by the organization outweighed common sense day to day reality. During an exit interview I did mention to my supervisor it should be concerning that during weekly meetings with direct care employees there is often silence. The response was a comment about my straightforward and honest remark, not quite appreciated, but accepted.
    Often we in work, at home etc hold tight to rules and wanting to be right. The elder care administration is feeling good about spending $$$ for new refrigerators, not being on ground level perhaps there was a lack of understanding about how often the door is open during a given meal.
    The question for me seems to be with social , what comes first the chicken or the egg? If there is a social platform might the refrigerator issue been mentioned ? Or must there always be a human social connection before the social technology works at work?

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your example too Jennifer. Your question is a great one. And I think there would be many opinions. For me, technology is always just a tool. Social technology serves to extend and expand human interaction and behaviors. In this elder care facility, a well established and long standing organization< I suspect that a social tool would be a complete dud and that in itself is quite telling of a culture an a valuable realization for leadership...however it could be quite an expensive way to find out how lousy your culture is. Its been my contention that too much attention is on implementing social technology to transform culture when it may be best served to maintain culture - as in a small, growing company environment. For this facility, its these little examples that reveal ones culture. Leadership needs to be reflective and not just treat this symptom (as I suspect they would through some asinine rewards program or worse a pejorative punishment approach) but the greater disease leading to this. Maybe as the culture becomes more open, collaborative, a social technology would be a valuable addition...

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