I had a great meeting in London yesterday: we talked about the changing nature of work in the Social Age, about the evolution of leadership, about the challenges of change. As we rode the lift back down to the lobby, Emma talked about her 16 year old daughter who had come out recently on a work experience day. She recounted how virtually the first thing her daughter had done was to tag herself and take a photo in the lobby, surrounded by the glass, steel and suits of formal work, and to share that image across her social networks.
Funny thing was, i’d done exactly the same thing myself two hours earlier: snapping the abstract chrome sculpture that sits by reception, tagging myself at Global HQ, taking photos of the view from the top floor and sharing it on Facebook. I’d also, as i was in town, tagged myself in London and shared that information, asking a few people if they were free for coffee and meeting a US colleague who is over for work for a coffee.
We live social lives: as the divide between the formal world of work and the informal social spaces that surround it collapse, as technology becomes increasingly social and we narrate our lives in pseudo real time across multiple communities, so the very nature of work changes.
I’ve charted some of these changes already: how the real power today lies in creating meaning (not in just knowing stuff), how we turn to our communities for support and challenge, how informal technology facilitates different types of conversations and the support of personal learning networks that follow us from job to job (and why organisations have to allow for this and not strangle it with restrictive policies). And we’ve explored the changing nature of authority in the Social Age, how Social Leaders need to demonstrate humility and agility, not just positional authority.
The behaviour of Tweeting your picture in reception is not the aberration: it’s the norm. Inhabitants of the Social Age work out loud, they share their narratives and create meaning in the moment, turning to different communities at multiple times throughout the day for different purposes. The ability to form, develop and maintain those communities is a key skill for social leaders and social workers.
Organisations also need to engage in the story: one organisation i worked with (a global bank) went to great efforts to cleanse it’s presence from Facebook, believing that there was no place for employees to form communities there under their name. They were, of course, entirely wrong. Whilst on the one hand organisations wring their hands and ask how to generate engagement, on the other they do whatever they can to stamp it out: restricting access to technology, controlling conversations, moderating debate.
The Social Age is not about stopping conversations: it’s about taking part in them.
That organisation has now reversed it’s position and supports thriving Facebook spaces: they don’t use them to talk about restricted work subjects, but they do use them to build and strengthen the sense of community, the pride of collaboration and achievement and, sure, now and then to moan about something. But why not? Nobody lives in a glass tower…
The glass tower of the office used to define what we did and where we did it, but today work happens wherever i engage with it, wherever i have power and a signal. We live social lives and work in social ways. And it makes us more agile: more able to respond, to adapt, to be creative and innovative.
Programme design needs to reflect this new reality, providing spaces for the personal narration of learning and development, the co-creation of meaning in community spaces and a place to narrate the organisational story.
Social behaviours for social lives.