I’ve talked to Cath about this before: does she describe herself as a musician, or something else? She doesn’t really earn her living from it, although it’s what her life is all about. Do i describe myself as a writer? Do you describe yourself as an employee, a leader, or something else? Where’s your primary location of loyalty? Where’s your heart at? And what are you selling? In the Social Age, our identities, the location of our purpose is far less defined. I could be a writer by day, a mentor by night and a parent the rest of the time. None of these activities are particularly defined by time or place, by rank or hierarchy.
Does it matter? Of course, consider this: in the historic model, we paid for people’s time and loyalty, we contracted with them in return for their best efforts. But what if their best efforts are elsewhere? We might think that it doesn’t matter much, just consider what we are missing: the ability to help people be effective and the ability to utilise all of this excellence.
In the Social Age, much of our value falls to the ways we engage in our communities: to share, to learn, to co-create meaning, to tackle problems, to bring new ideas and to be encouraged to throw out the old one.
Social organisations understand this: if you stick to formal methods, you will only access formal engagement. But if you use and encourage more Social approaches, to everything from learning to leadership, to change and innovation, you can unlock the power of these communities. And in the process you can help people be both more effective and more fulfilled.
So what should we do? We should engineer our organisations to be more agile: more open to Social approaches. We need to develop Social Leadership skills, to grow leaders who can identify, nurture and deploy communities, who can build Social Capital in themselves and others. We need to build trust and goodwill into our communities. And we need to recognise when to step back and leave those communities to be fully Social.
Organisations often fret about people being in Social spaces, presumably because they worry that they are wasting time: and that’s an ok concept, if you’ve kidded yourself that time is what matters. It isn’t. What matters is trust, engagement, and effectiveness. And if the price for having an agile organisation is that people sometimes book their holidays at their desk, well so be it. It’s probably not a high price to pay.
But it goes beyond that: people are booking holidays whether you see it or not. But if you don’t treat them fairly, they will shift ever more of their energy to the external focus, to their communities and passions. Remember: you can only force people to spend time with you: no amount of rules or controls will pull their loyalty, their dedication or their community towards you.
In the Social Age, great organisations will be ones that are Social through and through: they treat people fairly and create spaces for people to bring their social behaviours into the workplace. A great organisation will recognise that their role is to create a space for people to perform, not to micro manage that performance. And that’s about mindset more than it’s about technology, recruitment or training. If you can get your organisational mindset into a space of valuing people, then you have a foundation for engagement and loyalty. Then maybe people will be proud of where they choose to spend some of their valuable time: a number of hours in a day that offer multiple loci of engagement.