CIPD Show 2015 Day 2: Power and Control

But what will the boss say?” Today is my second day at the CIPD show in London. Yesterday i charted a range of themes and conversations that i felt were prevalent. Today, i wanted to draw together a different perspective: one of power and control.

Power and Control

When we talk about Social Learning, communities, Social Leadership or co-created models of culture and change, they all have one thing in common: devolved power. Social is about communities, about the power of one, about democratisation and devolution.

Under a Social model, the story is no longer owned by the organisation: the organisation still has a space and permission to tell it’s story, to be in the conversation, but it no longer owns it. It’s one party in a discussion.

Scaffolding and Storytelling

Many of my conversations today were about control: how do we create freedoms? How do we build trust? How do we deal with it when things go wrong? How do we get Leaders to do this? How do we get teams to do this? How… How… How…

But not ‘Why.. why… why…’

There’s a realisation that the Social Age is here and that we need to respond: just an uncertainty how. How we react ourselves, how we help others to react in constructive ways.

Let’s explore this a little.

Permission can be granted or taken. Communities don’t need permission to exist: they just need permission to exist unhindered. Subversive communities can erupt under our noses and we’ll never know they are there, so when people talk about ‘permission‘, they mean ‘how do we sanction it‘, how do we let people know that it’s allowed.

Ultimately this is a function of trust: interesting how you hear people talk about procuring technology, but rarely about how they build trust. We take trust for granted when, in reality, it’s often an illusion.


Trust between individuals and organisations is different from that between two people. Trust in the organisation can only be founded upon a predictability of response over time: as opposed to the erratic responses we come to expect.

Where an organisation is seen to permit and support dissent, sanctioned subversion, as we see with the NHS Healthcare Radical programme, then the permission is clear. Where the organisation simply assumes the permission exists, they may be mistaking activity or engagement. People may still contribute, but they will be playing by a different set of rules, playing it safe.

The Social Age sees a fundamental shift in both power (towards the individual with high Social Authority as opposed to hierarchical authority) and and control (through the mechanisms of social creative and collaborative technology, putting creativity and amplification in the hands of the crowd).

As i sit here on the train, i’m reflecting on the mood of that crowd at the show today: hesitancy almost. A sense that something wonderful is there on display, but a sense that we may not have permission to grasp it with both hands. Unsurprising really: many organisations are gripping onto the last gasps and vestiges of residual moral and hierarchical authority as if their lives depend upon it. When in fact the opposite is true: the formal controls of yesterday will drag you under the water whilst the agile leap past overhead.


Organisations can still be big: they can be wildly successful, they can be profitable, they can grow fast, but they have to do that within the new reality. They have to be adaptable: they have to recognise that the mechanics of control have shifted. Collaboration on a backbone of trust.

You can have compliance, you can still maintain control, but you need agility too, you need creativity, you need innovation, you need high functioning and loyal teams, and you’ll only get all of that with trust and permission.

People are right to ask ‘what will the boss say‘, or ‘how do we get leadership on board‘, but they are wrong think that this decision is the important one. Whether the boss is engaged or not is secondary to whether they have trust in their boss or not. To be agile, we would ask for forgiveness, not permission. Make the change: be bold, create the space, use evidence to support your actions.

This is a show for professionals: as professionals, we have a responsibility to drive the change, which sometimes means taking risks. With the support of our own communities. So take the dive.

In the Social Age, power and control are shifting: some of it into our own hands. So we’d better decide what to do with it.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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11 Responses to CIPD Show 2015 Day 2: Power and Control

  1. Neil says:

    Good post and totally agree. It’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. Whilst we are stuck with organisational hierarchies, it’s often the only way to successfully break away from the status quo.

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  3. I’ve recently came across an on-line rant on how technology is de-humanizing us, ruining our ability to be real and connect face to face. I’ve seen other people talk about the oppression of choice, lamenting that “all this choice” makes us miserable. To these comments I feel a real gut urge to say “but, haven’t you seen what is being made possible?” The alternatives that will come about IF very normal people do not find courage to own the control now flowing from the centre are more scary to me than anything I can imagine individuals creating for themselves and their communities if only we each give ourselves permission to act.

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