The gradients of power in the workplace today are often imbalanced, imperfect and just plain wrong. Whilst we have come some way from the poorhouse and indentured service, we are a long way from nirvana. The Social Age is a time of constant change, with fundamental evolutions in the Social Contract between organisations and employees, evolutions that reflect a new reality: one in which only the most dynamic, most equal, most equitable and most fair can thrive. Cast out the notions of control, throw aside the mantle of lethargy, do not accept the status quo. Adapt or fail: the choice is simple.
The Social Contract of old governed the relationship between each one of us, as individuals, and the companies that we worked for. It represented a broad trade off between our time and loyalty against their security and reward. Do a good job, conform, be selfless, and be rewarded with security, progression and a natural career home.
And yet along the way something went sour: dizzy with our economic success, we lost sight of the person within the human resource, the soul within the machine. The mechanisms that should have kept us safe, that should have nurtured us, evolved to eat us whole. The Social Contract fractured under the pressure of restructure, change and costs saving. It’s not the change which is at fault: it’s the mindset behind it.
As organisations grow, they codify what they do into system, process and rules. The enforcement of those rules leads to the emergence of an entity of control. Many organisations end up in this space: wanting to be enabling and inclusive, but perceived as distant, controlling and lethargic. Adapted to todays world, but unable to adapt to tomorrows.
Agility will come through people: united within coherent communities, engaged in fair and equal ways to do a common work. Rewarded for their efforts and loyally protected.
It was organisations that fractured the Social Contract by coming to treat people without trust, without respect, without fairness. And it’s the organisation that will reap the cost if it’s unable to find a new balance. Do we each, as individuals, have a responsibility to engage? Yes, but only to ourselves and each other. It’s not the role of the individual to beg the organisation for fairness: it’s the role of the organisation to earn it.
In the Social Age, we are slipping into a world of portfolio careers, fragmented pathways that will see us engage with and move between multiple roles, multiple organisations, multiple modes of engagement, from full time to freelance to voluntary, and a host of grey spaces in between, where we are not entirely sure which rules apply. We will belong to sense making communities that help organisations do better, even though we are neither contracted to nor work for them. Similarly, it’s the stranger in our networks who may help us individually succeed. It’s an evolved sociology and an evolved framework of career.
The challenge of organisations is this: the mechanisms that kept us safe in the old world are the mechanism that inhibit us in the Social Age.
In the Social Age, what counts is synchronous feedback and support, learning on demand, respect and recognition, equality of opportunity, open access, trust, authenticity, permission to collaborate and engage, social responsibility and dynamic change. And if we are not given this, we will claim it.
Let slip the dogs of war: let us tear away the layers of obfuscation and decay. Let us rip asunder the contract that treats people as collateral, that exploits and controls them. Let us earn trust and award respect and recognition. Let us lead by example and be unafraid to relinquish control.
Adapted organisations recognise that their challenge is not to be good today: it’s to be excellent tomorrow. Because it’s not just the market that’s changing: it’s the entire ecosystem.
The Social Age is not a change in technology, it’s not a change in law. It’s not simply a change in how the office looks or what employment contract we have. It’s a change in sociology, a change in society, a change in the world around us. It’s the rise of the community, the separation of ‘organisation’ and ‘career’, away from one tightly wound and interlocked entity to a state where one is entirely independent of the other, and loyalty must be earned, not assumed.
These are not hollow words: the Dynamic organisation understands that in order to drive change, it must change itself. The structures and strictures of the old world are archaic in this one.
Let loose the dogs of war, tear down the rules, let go the controls. Make change happen. Make change work. Make your organisation better. Before it’s swept away.