Reflecting on Engagement in the Social Age

The Social Age is a time of constant change: evolving technology, the new nature of work, the rise of social communities and the democratisation of creativity being just some of the most visible facets. The old social contract is broken: the organisation no longer guarantees a job for life and individuals no longer expect it. Instead, it’s down to them to curate their portfolio career through multiple industries, opportunities and spaces.

Ecosystem of the Social Age 2015

A map of the Social Age

We need to actively build the culture, learning spaces and leadership that will let us thrive through this change and hence to be attractive to the very best talent.

The Social Age is the context in which we recruit. And old models of engagement, development and working will not allow us to thrive in this new space. We are moving away from ‘learning’ being something you do and then use, towards a space where learning is something you do whilst you are performing. We are ever reliant on our communities (both formal, social and everything in between) to help us make sense of it, to help us be agile.

This ‘sense making’ function of community is important: in a time of constant change, we cannot thrive through prescribed and systematised responses to situations, but rather rely on agility, in mindset and action: the ability to solve problems today, one way, then solve them again, tomorrow, differently. This agility needs to be encoded in every corner of the organisation. If the permission to do this is not granted, it will be claimed.

Technology won’t save us from change, but, used correctly, it can facilitate the ‘sense making’ and sharing behaviours that will. As our relationship with knowledge itself continues to evolve, what you know becomes less important than your ability to find things out and make sense of them, then do something with that knowledge, within and alongside your communities.

Other things change too: leadership itself needs to adapt. Alongside our formal, hierarchical, positional authority, we need to build Social Leadership, contextual and consensual of the community. This Social Leadership complements our formal authority but, crucially, can also be generated by people with no formal authority whatsoever. Your organisation is tied together by paths of social connectivity and reputation that are invisible to any formal structure.

This is significant when we look at retention of graduates: they join with no instinctive expectation of a long term career in your organisation (even if they think they have career in your industry). They already have social authority and will doubtless continue to grow it (possibly in contrast to your formal hierarchy which is unaware it even exists). The graduate scheme is effectively just free education: people will not stay unless they are invested in the future, and the conversation to get them invested is two way.

This is not about career planning or performance management: it’s about creating opportunities for the organisation to benefit from this tacit, tribal wisdom, to co-create a story that people can invest themselves in.

To retain great talent, we don’t need to train them to love us: we need to show them love. We need to be willing to recognise that our ability to give them knowledge alone is no longer enough: knowledge is democratised and freely available. It’s the community that counts, and their community may not even sit fully within the organisation (and even if it does, it’s portable: it’s the only thing that will stay with us throughout our ‘career’).

The future of organisations is to be scaffolded and reconfigurable: providing spaces and permissions for people to engage and be rewarded for engaging.

Future Organisations

Any Social Learning solution will be built against this background: it will remain live over time, engaging individuals in an authentically phrased, long term conversation about what they can learn from the organisation and what the organisation can learn from them. The structure of the programme will be co-created, co-written and co-owned, partly by the organisation, partly by the individual themselves. Within a narrative framework, that lets us frame it, but according to the priorities of both parties.

When we get this right, we provide opportunities, for people to shape their own (and the organisational) future state and to invest something of themselves within it, and that’s what they buy into. And that’s what will attract them in and keep them with us for the next chapter of their journey, as high functioning, highly engaged community members, helping your organisation to get fit for the Social Age.

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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5 Responses to Reflecting on Engagement in the Social Age

  1. Jan Dewing says:

    ‘Here be dragons’! Like it. Would be good to hear more about your thought on dragons.

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