Circular [Social Business] Arguments

With respect to why “Social Business” is a natural fit for the world of work, I said on Twitter:

@sameerpatel: Often heard #socbiz argument: “humans are social by nature”. Then why is it that #socbiz s/w adoption has been so hard historically?

Contradicting this is another popular statement about Social Business: “Its not about the technology, its about the people and culture”.

So which is it? The people or the tech?

I got some fabulous commentary in response to my tweet:

Bertrand Duperrin does what he does best (and why we became good friends instantly, years ago) by cutting to the chase on under currents:

@SameerPatel not sure that “human nature” is only made of good things :). Greed, jealousy, anger are also part of it.

James Dellow, a seasoned collaboration practitioner brings up politics

@bduperrin @SameerPatel organisational politics too. “Results may vary”

Liz Coleman responds with the habitual preferences or the well known theory that technology needs to be 10x better to get users to change habits:

@SameerPatel interesting point. I would argue humans’ resistance to change, esp in regards to new technology (for vast maj.), could explain

Mike Boysen, one of the funniest and super smart CRM consultant says the fault really lies with organizational designs.

@SameerPatel I believe the design of the org is the driver, not the tools. Unfortunately, tools can’t do it alone yet. Tools should enable.

They are all right. But just imagine if you were an executive subsuming these arguments. You can see why you might pop an aspirin and say “to heck with it, I’m just going back to my old ways of work. The way we work today may well be woefully inefficient, but I know the devil I’m dealing with.”

Bertrand is right. Humans are some combination of social, greedy, jealous, angry and a 100 other things. And success against that backdrop is going to always be a function the people you hire, the culture you embody and the technology you pick to execute. The reality is that our historical definition of “social business” often requires you to go against energy that flows inside organizations, thereby requiring massive behavioral change. Social Networking is better than Email. Sharing is better than hoarding. And on and on. And Mike, Liz, Bertrand and James are well justified in their push back arguments.

In the face of all these extremely valid and conflicting arguments, one thing remains constant: Your best employees are always working towards their soft and hard incentives. Note: I didn’t say Goals. That only happens if your goals and incentives are well aligned and thats a different show. But ways to drive efficiency and execution performance will come from a) individual self improvement and b) working with others to improve output, if thats warranted for the job at hand. If the underlying technology forces you to do more of a) or b) than is needed, your carefully thought out plan to improve social collaboration is dead on arrival.

In reality, it is about both: human nature and the right underlying technology. But most important, its about stepping out of the people vs tech discussion and honestly identifying where social and collaboration concepts can in fact move the needle in terms of incentive alignment, and frankly, where it can’t.

Social Business has no doubt seen success in pockets. But mostly, Social Business to date is like a Salmon swimming upstream. We all know how that movie ends. It’s time to see how you can leverage social computing to enable the organization to swim in the direction of the incentive currents and help them collaborate more effectively where its apparently needed. And identify which technology puts flippers on your employees feet.


Subscribe to this Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Posted In:
Post Details
Jon Husband
Jon Husband

Last para nails the point we are now hearing with increasing frequency. Sameer, I think you probably know my "position". The issues are mainly (but not exclusively) structural first, accompanied strongly by cultural. WRT work, and especially knowledge work, the two cannot be separated per se. Structure is related to core assumptions about the provenance, use and control of knowledge, and the HR systems and management protocols that align with that core assumption brought us through 50+ years of increasing specialization, efficiency-seeking and massive productivity gains in almost all areas of human activity. The conditions in which this happened are now being changed. You know the issues as well as or better than me. Useful and utilitarian 'information' is now designed into and packaged as goods and services, and dynamic markets demand almost-constant innovation .. whether in the goods and services themselves or in the marketing and distribution of same. If some core issues related to the fundamental assumptions about the structure of knowledge (and the power & control exercised in its productive use) don't change to align with the dynamics of flow in networks, then work cultures won't change much either, and we'll end up with link-driven Taylorism (effectively) and will miss many opportunities to innovate in the service of productivity, a better quality of life for many, and arguably a more open and democratic society in which to practice constructive knowledge work. I'm thinking of things like the assumptions of division of labour underpinning job descriptions and org charts, the accompanying remuneration philosophies and practices, basic assumptions about what "managing" work means, etc. There's a lot of cogent theory and practice available to deal with all of this, from before the hyperlinked era. It's just been overlooked because it was the soft "nice-to-have-if-we-have-the-time" organizational development / socio-technical systems world that brought it into being .. effectively as an antidote to the fundamental machine metaphor that ruled (and rules) the design of organization of size, to date.

Shail Khiyara
Shail Khiyara

Great post Sameer. Culture cannot be mandated and some of the reasons for why adoption has been so hard historically, has been the desire from some organizations to either (a) mandate social (though shall tweet…) or (b) doing social media with seatbelts (cannot use FB, but use Twitter at work…). It does go back to incentives, but which ones, there are many? Often if its incentives that drive ‘informational influence’ ie ‘here’s your payout if you do “x”, it usually results in finding the least common denominator to get to the payout. Incentives that drive ‘positive normative influence’ (not peer pressure, but something that helps the broader community) where the recipient behavior is based on interpreting the information from the influencer, as an expectation to conform, carry more weight. Often considered a 'pull' incentive here personal gain is a secondary consideration and people are driven by ‘identification’ and ‘compliance’ desires and can lead to motivated evangelism of social computing. Leaders have to embrace it as well and lead by example. This is a very interesting topic, I am glad you are bringing it to the forefront.

Ed Nadrotowicz
Ed Nadrotowicz

This hits the nail on the head, "If the underlying technology forces you to do more of a) or b) than is needed, your carefully thought out plan to improve social collaboration is dead on arrival." Anything that removes focus from the task at hand is not likely to be embraced. It comes to mind that what we continuously label as "having the right culture" may be about how much each individual is expected to execute on a) and b) as part of the task at hand. Are there incentives for folks to do a) and b)? Organizations find a balance on the need for these things initially based on the views of their leaders. Leaders that don't intuitively or quantitatively see value in changing the status quo will maintain the current state. This balance is generally changed only by learning via some direct evidence that the current balance is lacking. Too often, this is learned from an inability to execute effectively and/or efficiently. Ultimately, it all goes back to the value chain.

Mike Boysen
Mike Boysen

You know how I hate 140 characters, so I want to elaborate to through even more confusion into the conversation. 1. My initial response was that human beings are naturally social, in their natural, self-organizing environments. When we throw traditional corporate organization into the mix (command & control), there lies the problem (Thanks Taylor!) 2. Humans can only self-motivate. An organization cannot motivate, it can only demotivate. Carrots and sticks don't work in the long run. They are designed for the short-sighted goals most companies measure. I'm not sure if those were 140 or not :) Collaborative organizations are flatter. Decisions are pushed closer to the customer. The impact on our external customer is clear in everything we do. Compensation is tied to clear measures related to achieving a common goal. In the hierarchical organizations I've been in, I've only collaborated with few, and those were just natural selections and it was mutual. Many times, I've been compensated to compete with the peers I'm supposed to be collaborating with. Its humorous to see the look of confusion when the order to collaborate results in blank stares. The advent of "collaboration" platforms has only increased their belief that employees didn't collaborate because they didn't have good enough "tools." Having said that, in todays world, if your organization is designed properly, and with employees working in disparate locations, technology is essential.

Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel

It absolutely does go back to the value chain of goods AND of knowledge. I sincerely believe that social collaborative technologies help you get exponentially more value from these knowledge flows. And if you look at the advancements and sheer success in supplier networks for instance, you can see how collaborative networks can add tremendous value when they feed into direction of existing currents. Thanks for the comment, Ed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: