I had two conversations yesterday that prompted me to think a little. I was talking about Social Leadership and Social Learning with Sarah, in the UK and Marissa in the US. There was a common narrative to both conversations, so i thought i’d try to capture it here. It’s a first draft attempt to draw together some of the disparate areas that i’ve been covering recently: social learning, social leadership, creativity and innovation, social technology, knowledge and meaning and the importance of agility.
The Social Age is defined by an evolving relationship between employer and employee (and the very nature of ‘work‘), by the emergence of truly social technology (that facilitates community and communication in formal and informal spaces) and by our changing relationship with knowledge (where our ability to create meaning trumps our ability to know stuff). All of these have led to a changing nature of authority (reputation based rather than positional) and the importance of curating our reputation (the subversion of formal hierarchies).
My first draft narrative of the Social Age is as follows:
The world is changing, organisations need to evolve in order to keep up. As the population becomes increasingly social in it’s expectations and technology bridges the gap between formal and informal spaces, we need social leaders, leadership that can support the emergence of performance supporting communities (and communities of practice that transcend organisational boundaries) and can help narrate the learning back into the organisation. Organisations that can do this will be truly agile, and agility is important for two reasons: it provides the foundations for creativity and innovation (which is what will differentiate organisations that thrive from ones that wither) and it supports a greater focus on ROI and profit. Successful Social Age organisations are profitable and magnetic to talent. They are responsive to the needs of employees and responsible within the environment and market.
So, it’s not concise yet, but broadly that’s the narrative i’m working on. We see evidence of the new Social Age at every step, specifically: the emergence of (and our participation in) multiple semi formal communities that bridge geography and organisational boundaries), the rewarding of generosity and sharing, social technology that enables this, a shift in the social contract between employer and employee, the subversion of command and control, the subversion of formal hierarchies of learning, the emergence of mobile technology in a performance support role (in a darwinian marketplace), the failure of knowledge as an end in itself, the move towards community owning the brands and the increasing importance of curatorial skills.
Even that is not an exhaustive list. There are other trends that we can see as well, less positive ones: organisations believe that controlling technology will control conversations, lack of clarity around legal and ethical frameworks for semi social conversations, lack of focus on developing social capital in populations that may lead to disenfranchisement and exclusion, increasingly short term planning for constant change (lack of strategic focus). Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but what it says to me is this: the world is changing, are you keeping up? Is your organisation agile enough?
This isn’t an academic question: change is constant and social technology is allowing smaller competitors to usurp traditional business models. No organisation is immune to this.
But there are clear solutions: at a practical level, i am advocating these actions:
* Embrace social learning and performance support. Be broad and inclusive of technology and approach. Iterate your way to a strategy, don’t try to procure one.
* Focus on developing Social Leadership. Reward social behaviours and create space for experimentation.
* Recognise the evolving relationship with authority and consider how this impacts on traditional hierarchies. How will you engage with authority that is based on reputation in social spaces, when you can’t own it?
* Examine your blueprints for learning: are they focused on short term, change driven, reactive needs for applied skills, or do you have space for the future, space for reflective skills?
* Adopt a darwinian approach to social technology: don’t assume you know what will succeed, be responsive to change and encourage diversity, sharing and narrating success.
* Be an organisation of storytellers, agile, using knowledge and creating meaning, narrating your individual and organisational stories, warts and all. Ride the waves of change, don’t battle them.
Do we really need social leaders or do we need an organisation that is socially focused? I’m not sure what a social leader can achieve that an outward facing social organisation cannot. As you’re aware, most businesses are becoming learning organisations where a self-serve option is favoured and supported by various technologies. My assumption is, and correct me if I’m wrong, that a social leader would enable the business to become socially focused such as the example of learning organisations. But can a social leader or group of achieve this by themselves? Would we need an entire organisation to be socially focused in order to truly thrive in the social age?
Just some thoughts Julian as you know this is one of the hottest topics at the moment. I’d also look at ROE (return on expectations) to sit with ROI as not everything can be measured accurately.
I guess that Social Leaders are part of what makes an organisation socially focussed? I see their role around key traits (developing social capital in their teams, building wide networks and using those networks to support internal performance, being great at filtering information and adding value to what they transmit) [https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/7-traits-of-the-social-leader/]
I think that Leadership is only part of the story: we need sponsorship and strategy from the top, as well as a willingness to learn, and the adoption of social technologies (less focus on control, more on enabling).
ROE is an interesting term: i’ve seen it used much more widely recently, but i’m never sure if it’s used because it’s hard to measure some things, or because we aren’t trying the right ways of measuring them. It probably reflects a recognition that we are at the end of a long chain of ‘fads’ in learning, each failing to deliver what it promised…
Good thoughts and challenges Robin – i’ll be sure to share the next draft with you! 🙂
Reading this makes me wonder about organizations in general. Imagine full agility, can something still call itself an organization? What is that something?
Hi Julian, thanks for connecting these ideas – they make a lot of sense together and work more coherently as a whole. I was interested in your thoughts on some of the barriers to social sharing in organisations, and what happens if people in the org just don’t ‘get it’ or don’t want to share. This is something that Mervyn Dinnen wrote about here: http://mervyndinnen.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/hey-gurus-leave-those-c-suites-alone/ where he discussed middle managers as potential barriers to embedding social media / sharing. Harold Jarche also talks about why social networking rollouts may fail http://www.jarche.com/2013/05/social-networks-require-ownership/.
Ultimately, it’s the people in the organisation, and their willingness to participate that determines whether an organisation will succeed and evolve in this social age, and the common thread I’m picking up from both Mervyn and Harold is that most people in most orgs don’t or won’t participate. What then?
I think Hans makes a great point. Arguably, for an organisation to be truly agile, it’s employees would be too. For this to happen, the idea of one person working for one company is historic – if I have a skill in Complaints management for example, why wouldn’t I spend a day a week at five different (non-competing) ‘companies’? It would make me a better employee, as I’d have greater knowledge from socialising with a greater group of people, avoiding the trap of becoming too internally focused. As such, the role of Managers and Leaders would change completely, almost not facilitators, short-term coaches.
I like the first point of the narrative too, although would probably go with ‘companies need to stay relevant’ rather than ‘keep up’. Some companies will keep the pace, but may do so at the risk of becoming irrelevant.
>> why wouldn’t I spend a day a week at five different (non-competing) ‘companies’?
Why not 20? The answer is: transaction costs. I would concede that these have been lowered by “social” technologies as far as communication (costs) are concerned.
@julianstodd. Why do you limit the concept “Social Age” to employers / employees? This is only one (special) form of organisations / institutions.
Good points: i don’t think i limit it particularly, i guess i’m just most interested in those areas. I agree that we are seeing change in many different spaces, around notions of privacy for example.
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