So you’re now a social business?
You are engaging with social media for marketing and customer support. You have also put in place a social intranet, with activity streams for sharing information, collaboration tools for work teams and document management systems that include social tags and easy sharing. Now the hard work begins. However, this usually occurs just after the software vendors have provided the initial training and you are now on your own as an organization. You’re ready to be a social business; everyone is connected, but few know what to do.
Social Media are New Languages
Social media can have a strong influence on the individual, very much in a McLuhanesque tetrad of media effects way. Those who come to social media for the first time are like adults learning a new language. They cannot start with the same advanced mental models and metaphors they may have in a primary language. Furthermore, once they get to an advanced level in this new language, its idioms, metaphors and culture may have changed how they think in that language. This is the real change process enabled by social business; people will start thinking differently.
Social media change the way we communicate. Write a blog for a year or more and your writing will change. Use Twitter for some time and get a sense of being connected to many people and understanding them on a different level. Patterns emerge over time. Even the ubiquitous Facebook changes how we react to being apart from friends. Social media change the way we think.
Each time we adopt a new social medium we start at the bottom, or at the single node level. We have to make connections with what will become our network, either by connecting to existing relationships or doing something that helps to create new relationships, like creating content for sharing. Starting over, in each medium, can be daunting, especially for someone in a position of authority who is concerned about image or influence.
But we need to actually use social media to understand what it’s like to be a node in a social network. There is little in the industrial workplace or public school system to prepare us for this. Therefore we won’t even know what we’re talking about until we learn the new language of social media and online networks, and the only way to learn a new language is through practice.
The Transparent Workplace
While people may say it’s not about the technology, that’s where a large share of the budget goes in any major change initiative. The bigger change to manage is getting people to work transparently. Transparency is a necessity for cooperation and collaboration in networks. A major benefit of using social media is increasing speed of access to knowledge. However, if the information is not shared by people, it will not be found.
In this newly transparent workplace, there is no place to hide, or as Mark Britz wrote, “Social Media spreads your culture quickly … for better or worse.” This change alone can be enough to cause massive organizational upheaval. It must be addressed by modelling good “Net Work” behaviours. Working smarter is not just about using technologies but changing our routines and procedures. With greater transparency, information now flows horizontally as well as vertically. New patterns and dynamics emerge from interconnected people and interlinked information flows, and these will bypass established structures and services.
With the democratization of information, user-generated content is ubiquitous. Search engines give each worker more information and knowledge than any CEO had 10 years ago. Pervasive connectivity changes organizational power structures, though the full effects of this take time to be visible. From this transparent environment new leaders and experts will emerge. It will take different leadership, or leadership for networks, to support collaboration and social learning in the workplace.
Agile organizations need people who can work in concert on solving problems. People need to change how they work and all the knowledge and courses won’t help. Management must ask – “How can we help you work in this new transparent environment?” – and take action, not once, but continuously.
Setting the Example
In social networks we often learn from each other; modelling behaviours, telling stories, and sharing what we know. While not highly efficient, this can be very effective learning. There is a need to model the new behaviours of being transparent and narrating one’s work. There is also a need to share power, for how long will workers collaborate and share if they cannot take action with this new knowledge? Modelling the new behaviours will take time and trust.
Since all these social technologies cannot model the new work behaviours themselves, who will? The organization will, by fostering communities of practice. These can be bridges between work teams and open social networks, with narration of work an enabler of knowledge-sharing. One determinant of effective professional communities is whether they actually change practices. Only then will we know if the social business initiative has been successful.
Organizations adopting social business need to find people who can model the behaviours, not just talk about them. They should identify people who already narrate their work, share transparently and create user-generated content. Organizations should get advice from people who share power and do most of their work in networks. If there is nobody to model “Net Work” behaviours in the organization, how will people learn? From Facebook?
“You simply can’t train people to be social!”
Over the past year I have been working on change initiatives to improve collaboration and knowledge-sharing with two large companies, one of them a multinational. In each case, implementation has boiled down to two components: individual skills & organizational support. Effective organizational collaboration comes about when workers regularly narrate their work within a structure that encourages transparency and shares power & decision-making. I have also learned that changing work routines can be a messy process that requires significant time, much of it dedicated to modelling behaviours.
My colleague, Jane Hart, notes, ” … as for the new social and collaboration skills that workers require, well you simply can’t train people to be social! What was required was getting down and dirty and helping people understand what it actually meant to work collaboratively in the new social workplace, and the value that this would bring to them.”
Jane refers to the collaboration pyramid by Oscar Berg, an excellent model to show what needs to be addressed to become a social business.
The low visibility activities link directly to personal knowledge management (PKM) skills, based on the process of Seeking information & knowledge; making Sense of it; andSharing higher value information with others. These individual activities are not a single skill-set that can be trained in a classroom. They have to be internalized and perceived as valuable to each person in order to achieve the discipline to use them regularly. Every person’s PKM processes will differ. As Jane notes, one size doesn’t fit all.
It is a difficult path to get acceptance that each worker is responsible for his or her own learning and additionally must be a contributing member of a network. PKM is individuals retaking control of learning, and making it transparent. It takes time, but it also requires a receptive environment.
Building a Supportive Environment
Creating a supportive social environment is management’s responsibility. These activities are shown on the upper part of the pyramid, above the water line. Some specific examples of activities I have been involved in over the past year include:
- Support for small innovation teams to initiate and practice the new collaboration and knowledge-sharing skills.
- Daily routines of posting observations and sharing with team members.
- Weekly “virtual coffee” to catch up and help build social bonds.
- Adding activity-stream technologies to productivity tool suites.
- Constant analysis of activity data.
- Providing dedicated time for reflection [this is a tough one to get management buy-in].
- Regular mediated events like “Yam-Jams” on a select theme.
- Creation of internal communications material to make social learning and social business more understandable.
- Professional development activities using the same social media as will be used to work.
- Face to face social activities.
- Many conversations [usually Skype or telephone] and much one-on-one support as people work at becoming more social.
- Social & Value network analyses to visualize network thinking.
My experience is that changing to more collaborative, networked ways of work requires coordinated change activities from both the top and the bottom. It has to be a two-pronged approach and it will take some time and effort. We focus on both ends of the pyramid at the Internet Time Alliance.