The Social Age sees a changing nature of work: the office is dead, replaced by agile and mobile working methods, global collaboration and a changing relationship with knowledge. Whilst organisations used to operate in silos, constrained within four walls, today the walls are in our heads. The question of the responsibilities of a Social Business is a wide one: where there is no long term continuity of employment, where our development is in our own hands (because businesses focus on reactive and immediate responses to the pressure of change), we need a stronger social contract in place.
Legal and ethical imperatives may vary: but an organisations responsibility is to curate a strong reputation through thought, act and deed, and the contract with employees forms part of this. This is beyond simply having a sustainability policy and exploring carbon offset: it’s about fundamentally how organisations treat employees and how they reap the benefits of operating fairly (as opposed to simply complying with legislation).
We see this clearly around gender equality: it’s possible to comply within the law whilst still remaining an unequal employer. We shouldn’t need to wait for the legislation to catch up to realise that simple things could be made better. Why can’t maternity leave be split between both parents? If we fail to recognise that either mother or father could be the primary caregiver at home, we are complying with the law, but breaching a social responsibility. A responsibility to be fair.The culture of an organisation is co-created by both individuals and the organisation itself: framed by the company, but lived by the people. The small decisions impact upon it as much as the larger strategic drives. Where they pay tax is a strategic decision, but also one that impacts on culture. And, indeed, impacts on brand value, because the value of the brand is owned largely by the social community that surrounds it.
Learning informs brand value: an organisation that supports learning, that values it, will be stronger than one that doesn’t. Agility is gained through the ability to create meaning and respond to change, a capability born from mindset as much as technology or strategy.
The Social Business needs to be aware of all these issues: it needs a socially responsible contract with employees, it needs a socially aligned strategy and it needs to listen as much as to talk. But none of this should be seen as fluffy or soft: in the Social Age, i believe that only those businesses that face up to these challenges have a future. The reputation economy is here: how we are perceived matters.
It’s good to see many businesses taking up this challenge, but they need support at every level and we all have our part to play. Responsibility is a mindset, not a policy.