I wrote recently about the types of power that exist within organisations: individual power, based upon our relationships and sphere of direct influence, hierarchical power, which is codified within the formal defined power structure of the organisation, and networked power, reputational authority held and amplified by the community. My original writing in the space was around resilience and understanding how the different powers compete, but today I have been reflecting more upon how organisations need to understand and utilise all three. They are, after all, in a struggle for control of the story, so we will be better off if we understand the dynamic.
In the old world the battle was primarily between individual and hierarchical types of power and facets of the ecosystem ensured that hierarchy generally one: organisations had mass and momentum and were able to broadcast their message with a loud voice, whilst the individual was limited by communications technology and transport systems that kept them primarily local and only able to communicate synchronously, locally. In the Social Age, the individual is substantially empowered and enabled by the democratisation of technology, the democratisation of communication, the rise of social collaborative technologies, and evolved sociology that allows them to maintain multiple strong social ties that ever greater distances, whilst the organisation finds its power eroded by an inability to dominate the story through volume alone, and the fracturing of the Social Contract.
In this new ecosystem, the ecosystem of the Social Age, we seen the emergence of networked power, not just individual authority held through direct connections, but amplified and interconnected authority held within the community itself. Individual authority can challenge the hierarchical nature of the organisation, but networked authority can fully subsume it if it so chooses.
This struggle for control typical of the Social Age: there is one dynamic of change which is familiar, the dynamic between the individual and the organisation, between individual power and hierarchical authority, but we have also seen the ecosystem itself change, the emergence of networked power at wide scale, and, to the various democratising damp occasion effects, the erosion of formal and hierarchical authority.
In my own frame of reference, this is why Social Leadership is so important: as older forms of power and control are eroded, we need to find new mechanisms, new types of power that are formed as a dynamic between the individual and the organisation. Contextual and consensual authority, which can support and enhance formal power, but only on a foundation of trust and permission.
I suspect we are at a point of evolution in the nature of organisations themselves: the emergence of new currencies, not purely financial, but reputational and validated by the community itself, the evolution of work which will lead to organisations contracting not simply with people, but with communities of expertise, and of course the rise of the new technologies, machine learning and augmented reality to name but two which, as they mature, will transform both the marketplace of work, and the nature of work itself. And we’re just at the start of that journey.
The formal organisation will not win the struggle for control, but it may be able to forge a new contract, one that is fairer, with individuals, and if it is able to do so, it will be able to leverage new types of power, to co-create a future that is more resilient and more fair.