This is a blog inspired by the book “Social Technologies in Business” by Isabel De Clercq.
- Imagine an organization where people can say whatever they want, when they want and to whom they want. Freedom of speech put to the extreme. Would you want that?
- Imagine an organization where people share their ideas, know what is expected, think outside of the box, help one another, volunteer, take ownership. Would you want that?
Put it like this, too many leaders would say no to the first question, but they would say yes to the second question. Why is that?
The 2nd question focuses on value-creation. It describes an organization that is full of engaged people who are able and willing to do more than the minimum. Everybody would benefit from that: the customers, management, the shareholders, the employees themselves. This would be a healthy, agile and customer-driven organization.
The first question focuses on what is needed to reach that. If people are to behave like in scenario 2, we have to accept that the context is safe enough for them to express their ideas appropriately. This means that leaders of organisations would accept that not all leadership would originate from those who have been designated managerial roles. It also means that there is room for dissent, debate, disagreement, conflict. And it means that people receive sufficient autonomy to act, experiment, decide.
It’s often like this that we are interested to have something (question 2), but that we are reluctant to travel the road to reach it (question 1). And sometimes this is because leaders do not know how.
Social technologies offer ways to organize the debate as described in question 1 to reach the state as described in question 2. To me, social Technologies are a game-changer. These technologies offer a (digital) context that shapes behavior. They can change the social fabric of organizations and thus also its culture. But like most drastic changes, it does not come easily. It’s not enough to install social technologies (a technological intervention). It takes much more. Introducing social technologies is part of a more general change of cultural, one that is not to be taken too lightly.
What do Social Technologies Do?
In her book Isabel De Clercq says that
1. Digital subverts Hierarchy. Digital is a rebellious act against command-and-control systems.
2. Social Technology accelerates digitalisation
I agree with the second statement. Introducing social technologies makes digital part of the work environment. It’s probably the most effective way to change the way people work together, and by extension work with customers.
Isabel calls digital the Renaissance of Work, a rebellious act. I would not go that far. We must not forget that social technologies are implemented after a decision of management. Of course, people already work with social technologies outside of work. Most people are on one of these social media platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp and these social technologies are invading business life as well. But installing Yammer or Chatter or any other enterprise technology is still a decision.
I have witnessed early versions of social technologies: Lotus Notes, bulletin boards, interactive intranets, … I have witnessed the introduction of Yammer in both a top-down and a bottom-up way. The Bottom-up way was indeed a rebellious act by someone who saw the potential of Yammer – before is was acquired by Microsoft – and so he just launched it. The uptake was fast. Within a month or two 75% of employees were on Yammer. And then it died. There were hardly any discussions, people lost interest. Like is the case with social technologies outside work, most people did not take part. They observed. And when asked why they did not participate and contribute, they often said they did not have the time or worse, that they did not trust management or were not allowed.
The top-down relaunch a couple of years later was different. Yammer became the official platform for work, in combination with Skype and the O365 Suite. It was a decision by management to do that. Only when management wants social technologies to take root in an organization, the introduction will be successful. So why would management want to do that, when social technologies “undermine” hierarchy?
The Power of Social Technologies
I am a heavy user of social media. People ask me where I find the time to be present on social media. Many people think it’s a waste of time and that it is too time-consuming. Yes, I use social media and have done that for more than 13 years. It has given me insights, information, knowledge, connections. I often meet people on Twitter or linked before I meet them in real life.
Social technologies make life easier. They make life more connected. They create opportunities.
And if that’s the case in the outside world, why would it not be the case for the inside world?
Social technologies help an organization to become more agile, to connect people without hierarchical intervention. They reduce silo thinking. They create opportunities for collaboration, for creative exchange, co-creation.
The condition for this is that organizations go all the way. And that’s a matter of leadership.
A Matter of Leadership
In the past (and for some still today), organizations and their leaders did not trust social media. They closed down the digital gates and did not allow employees to go on social media. People who needed access (recruiters, marketers, …) had to ask permission. And they were monitored. This shows the distorted view organizations and leaders have/had about the utility of social technology. But it also shows the distorted views they have of their employees. If the basic attitude towards people working in the organization is one of distrust, social technologies are bound to fail.
The introduction of social technologies is a leap of faith. Even when you are convinced that social technologies add value, you never know in advance how and if it will work. It requires an unconditional trust in people that they will do the right thing. And we know that there will be people who will abuse the possibilities of social technology. But the 2% untrustworthy people should not influence a decision of which the 98% and the organization as a whole could benefit.
The introduction of social technologies is a matter of leadership. It both requires leadership to do so and it will influence the very nature of leadership. Social technologies will help to “reduce” leadership to its right proportions. It will help leaders to focus on essentials: not on control, but on enabling people to excel. Not on coördination, but on the organization and even exploiting the wisdom of the internal crowds. It will help leaders to focus on results, and not on repetitive, administrative tasks. It will leverage leadership within organizations.
But it requires leadership to change leadership. As it requires leadership to give people the autonomy they need and deserve.
Social technologies do not replace the need for leadership. They change the nature of leadership.
About the Book
The book social technologies in a business can help you to decide how you want to use these technologies in organizations. Like Isabel, I believe very much in the power of social technologies to change and improve organizations, enhance collaboration, improve agility. I also believe that using social technologies is beneficial for the person, the employer, and the corporate brand of organizations.