Yesterday i started a new series exploring the need for a new model of Organisational Design: the move from the Domain Organisation, to the Socially Dynamic one. I introduced a definition of an Organisation as an entity of ‘collectivism’ to achieve ‘effect at scale’, and the specific mechanisms that it used to achieve this: ‘consistency’, ‘conformity’, and ‘replicability’. This Industrial Age paradigm has served us well, building out distinct ‘Domains’: HR, Manufacturing, Quality Assurance, IT, Legal, Logistics, and so on. All the structure of the modern Organisation, and permeating throughout it, a hierarchy, which codifies the power and consequence that enable it to run. Today, i want to consider how the reality of the Social Age has eroded the value of this model, and to consider how the balance of needs has changed.
I’ve written extensively about the context of the Social Age, but to capture a few core tenets, we can see that this evolved ecosystem exerts pressure on the Domain based Organisation in many different ways.
The fractured Social Contract means that ‘Organisation’ is no longer the backbone of ‘Career’: your social network, empowered at scale, is taking over that function, and increasingly both learning, and opportunity, exist outside of the Organisation you are contracted into. Similarly, your authentic leadership, and reputation based power are validated outside of the formal structure, again at greater scale (and hence with greater resilience) than ever before. Essentially we inhabit a parallel democratised infrastructure, which enables us in many ways, all of which are beyond oversight or control.
I often lead a conversation about the Social Age by describing the radical connectivity we experience, again almost all of which exists beyond formal oversight or control, and with great resilience. And radical connectivity is not simply about remaining connected: it’s a conduit of power, held in distributed reputation and knowledge based structures, which differ from formal infrastructure not simply in WHERE they exist, but in their multi dimensional nature. HOW they exist: our social networks are multi dimensional in that we inhabit multiple different concurrent structures (in the NHS in our research in 2018 they inhabited ‘belonging’ to an average of fifteen different communities that helped them to be effective).
This nature of connection also fosters a feature of Emergent Community, whereby in times of need, we are primed to aggregate into short term communities of intent or interest. These may be transient, but can be powerful, and in nature may not purely be consensus based, but rather oppositional: in other words, communities that come together to oppose something, then disperse to be held in potential.
The diversified technology of the Social Age also exerts significant pressure on Organisations, which historically have viewed technology as a formally controlled aspect, and a mechanism of control in itself. People describe in our own Landscape of Trust research that they ‘trust’ formal technology around 30% less than they trust ‘social’ tech: one emergent feature of this democratised availability and usage of technology is that weak voices can claim a space and volume. Instead of the printing press letting us print pamphlets to nail to the church door, we can create blogs, podcasts, subversive videos, and viral communities at scale, all claimed as communities of intent.
A fundamental of the Social Age is the rebalanced power that this gives us: rebalanced generally in favour of the individual, and at the cost of the formal system. You can understand just about any system in terms of power, and the outlook for Organisations that rely on hierarchy alone is bleak. Engagement is a currency that must be earned in the context of the Social Age.
In terms of Organisational focus, social collaboration is of great interest: it’s seen as a way of mining the collective wisdom and brilliance of the people who we have already hired. And it is: but there is a price to be paid, and we have to understand the cost. It’s typically paid in social currencies, and through opportunity and access. Engagement is not something we can demand, so we need to learn how to earn it.
That’s a snapshot of forces that impact the Domain Organisation, which is ill equipped to respond. The issue is not that it lacks strength: it just hold the wrong type of strength, a topic i shall explore further tomorrow.