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.