I’ve written before about learning culture: i’m particularly interested in understanding how it’s created, how it evolves and who owns it. Does the culture belong to the organisation or the individuals within it? Historically, organisations have owned infrastructure (offices, technology, career paths), whilst individuals have conformed within it. Today, individuals tend to own technology, our office is wherever the phone works and we own our own careers. The dynamics of how culture is created and how it evolves have changed significantly, but it’s not always reflected in the organisational stance to change or management.
Quite often, organisations still hold onto the notion that, somehow, they’re doing you a favour by providing you with a laptop and a phone, there is a notion that you need to be grateful for the tools that let you do your job, but the whole ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) movement and the emergence of mobile, alongside the proliferation of cheap laptops and tablets, has changed the environment. You can access what you want, when you want. Networks are no longer physical creations of wire and routers, but rather virtual networks of information that you access, from your own phone or device. The physical infrastructure is less relevant to individuals than is simple access to wifi.
The adoption of personal learning networks, alongside our changing relationship with knowledge, mean that what you know is no longer as important as your ability to find things out and synthesise that knowledge into transformative action. This skill is what differentiates you in the modern workplace, this more than anything else. Agility is key, the agile can adapt and thrive and the culture needs to allow for this. Putting people in boxes will just stifle the very innovation and creativity that organisations need to prosper. Or possibly simply to survive the year.
As our reliance on the infrastructure that the organisation owns decreases, they need to find new ways to foster engagement. Whilst historically we relied on our employer for IT, for career structure, for training, all of these things we now own. We collect our own qualifications and want them to be widely recognised: i’m no longer interested in a certificate that i stick on the wall, i want transferable skills that recognise i won’t be here forever.
It’s not magic: organisations need to foster engagement by being engaging.
Culture is constantly evolving, partly defined by organisation, but largely shaped by the individuals within it: technology can influence it, but not necessarily control it. For example, simply restricting what conversations people have within formal learning spaces simply drives those conversations to happen elsewhere, it doesn’t stop them from happening, it just means you’re not in it anymore.
The foundations upon which culture was created are no longer as strong as they were: both as individuals and organisations we need to reassess what’s important to us and ensure we are building on stone and not sand.
There will be less command and control in the future: more contracting, more shared responsibility and the ability to be more fluid in approach and style. In online spaces we see greater fluidity of roles and the potential to impact more widely, but alongside that there are greater challenges in in terms of how we curate ourselves, how we develop and cultivate our reputations. Reputation is everything in social spaces, both for individuals and organisations: organisations need to be building a reputation for fairness, for creativity, for an honest and open approach to the new world of work in the Social Age. Individuals need to work to curate their reputation and, by default, to enhance the reputation of the organisation. The Social Age is about shared success.
Employing a lot of people and owning a lot of offices does not automatically make you the guardian of a culture: it just gives you a lot of complexity that crosses borders. All organisations have cultures and sub cultures, but they may not be owned by the shareholders. Reputation will increasingly be something that draws the best of the new artisan workers to join or align with you, leaving your competitors with the rest. The revolution is the rebalance of power: authority will come through reputation, not simply control of infrastructure and training.
The mentality is so often to train people in response to change, but change is not something that ever stops: organisations are in constant states of change. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm. So to thrive, you need to get ahead of the curve: instead of training people to deal with change, provide spaces to let them shape it. Engaging with the wealth of talent within your organisation, being part of the conversation, jointly taking responsibility to shape and curate the culture: then you start to build a truly innovative place to work.
Innovation and creativity are the only things that will let you thrive in the truly Social age. Process and infrastructure are not enough. An engaged workforce is your powerhouse and that engagement will come through jointly creating a learning culture that is unafraid to listen as well as to teach. It’s a new way of working: welcome to the revolution.