…But Some Managers Are More Equal Than Others

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy

Over that last few months a local workshop for non-profits has been gathering weekly. Around 80 people from various organizations are involved. The hosts invited everyone early on to join Slack to apparently be leveraged between live sessions and carry on the dialog (I say apparently as this was not actually articulated).

After several weeks, 10 people have posted once… each. Three of the 10 were the hosts. It’s a ghost town. Go figure.

This isn’t really about Slack though…but it is. You see, Slack is often chosen because it’s free and it’s supposed to be simple and fun. It’s the gold standard for chat today. Every start-up is running to it – the “email killer”. But that doesn’t make it right for everyone or every situation and simple and fun doesn’t equate to adoption, that my friends is a people issue. But an even bigger problem than this group failing to connect with Slack is that many will walk away blaming the tool.

The reaction by this group is inevitably one of Slack is stupid. And for many that’s it, the social soup is spoiled. Wrong tool, wrong reason (if any reason), poor planning, poor implementation, and poor support. Bolting it on and flicking the switch works for very little with the exception of an electric light. Many will leave this half-baked effort viewing all enterprise social tools and efforts as pointless voids and frustrating time wastes. So next time the opportunity arises, it will likely be met with a “oh yeah, we tried social media. It didn’t work” response, making sincere efforts all the more difficult due to the often impenetrable wall of first impressions.

This is ultimately a failure of expectation, or a failure because there was an expectation that connection, conversation and collaboration are easy because you’ve employed simple technology.  Thanks to all who leap before they look…

Just because the tools are getting simpler to use, more natural, and common place and even with a lot of fun buzz and hype – it doesn’t mean it’s going to “work” out of the box. It is still and always will be people and purpose, trust and not technology that drives the social engine.

Voices on The Wire

VoicesOnAWire_CroppedEven after over 10 years of Social Media being in the public consciousness, organizations still struggle to see how it differs from other technology in the workplace. Most often they implement it as they would any other IT project. They wrongly lead with technology, the features and the functions. But it’s not media, it’s social media. The term “social media” begins with the most human of behaviors; personal interaction. But if IT horse blinders weren’t enough, many also have a limited understanding of what’s behind the word “social.” Yes, social is communication, it’s sharing and collaboration but it’s also humor, it’s snark, it’s empathy, it’s thoughtful, it’s spontaneous and it can be calculated. Behind all social interaction is emotion, social media is affective media.

Successfully supporting social in an organization is first about understanding psychology, sociology and then technology. It’s about the voices that will be on the wire, not just the wire. So listen in now. What do you hear? Are the voices in your organization open? Are they honest? Are they cooperative rather than competitive? If they’re not, shouldn’t the wire wait?