Euan Semple came late on Thursday afternoon to the Enterprise 2.0 Summit, managed to stick to the time plan for his talk and found kind of the formula that put together what many speaker and participants in discussions had been looking for: It has to do with love. After all, we simply love being connected.
A search for meaning and purpose was more or less prominently part of almost all presentations. - Or was it what I focused on? I think after testing, experimenting, creating prototypes, enjoying some first enthusiasm, experiencing some negative feedback as well and having the opportunity to step back and think a little, it's definitely the time to question what is actually happening, what we are doing with all this 2.0 buzz and why we are actually doing it.
That's why I don't like these overly holistic generic approaches anymore. Listen, engage, talk to your customer - improve your company and make more money. Or: Go for change to preserve things as they are. This will not work.
If employees are asked to engage, to participate, to share, something must be in there for them. They must get something out of it. Money is still a very important driver, but as we know, most of it is going somewhere else. So why should we create more value inside the company, if not much of it is coming back?
Satisfaction and meaning can be other important drivers. To play with that, the company needs to know what its employees are actually out for. Or, it needs the ability to cope with the fact that employees are simply doing it.
That's where the holistic approaches might help to understand, but still: Most of it is two old guys (a consultant and a CEO) talking to each other and agreeing that they are on the right way. Not really a change-scenario. (And I'm old enough so that I may say that...)
Dion Hinchcliffe is a wellknown master of the holistic wizardry, unknown to me until yesterday was Jon Husband with the idea of wirearchy. Wirearchy is the new hierarchy for the networked age it is "a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology." It is a decription of changing processes and priorities that can describe what is going in (for this who wonder), but as far as I know for now, it does not explain very much. And I can hardly imagine it as a framework or a principle to get things going.
To get things going, we need a purpose. I think it's important to consider several types of purposes: We as starters need a purpose to shape our activities, to convince managers and get some funding. That has to deal with the goals of the company, with ways to improve business. That sets the stage for what we are doing.
On the other hand, employees whom we are expecting to become active, to participate or to do something, do also need a purpose. That kind of purpose has to deal with their own goals, their curiosity ans their daily work life. Introducing new ways of working and new processes at the same time, is often asking for too much. The most effective first purpose is generally to get things done easier - after all, it's just work, and work, as well as organisations, are there to get things done.
But that's often not enough in the long run. Communication creates curiosity, new connections tend to open new horizons. And generally - those who are willing to do more, are most probably those who by nature tend to look further ahead. The consequence: Efficiency is not enough as a purpose. It helps as a starter, but ways to add meaning to a job a far more effective. Zwi Segal from Motiva Research showed some figures to show that employee engagement is an important business issue. According to his research, each unengaged employee costs up to 10.000 € per year. I'm not convinced that compamies as a whole and corporate programmes can do a lot to foster employee engagement. The possibilities need to be there, but engagement comes out of the employees themselves - or maybe out of the relations and the detailed working environments their managers shape for them: Can the company goals be aligned with their own goals, or is money the only thing that holds the world together?
Of course change can be imagined here as well. Jon Husband argues that organisations are here to get things done and therefore will never be democratic (even if they are wirearchic instead of hierarchic). I agree as far as how thing need to be done, that's what organisations are here for. But if I allow myself to also go for a very general holistic approach, Umair Haques "New Capitalist Manifesto" and his survival guide for future companies come to my mind. Only those companies that listen to the world are ready to survive, those that don't just fulfill some superficial needs (that they often created themselves), but that add some real value for their customers: improve their health, their education, their lives. To me that means some deep democratization about what needs to be done (not only how) - and I don't believe that one leader can take these decisions, but that it needs a social and connected organisation.
The are very wide conceptions of purpose - but the term also works in a narrower sense. Purpose, together with usability, creates the social glue that makes applications like social intranets work. That's one of the findings of Jane McConnells latest Digital Workplace Report. Employees won't use tools if they don't help them, but they also won't use them, if it's complicated.
Change was another big topic. Enterprise 2.0 practitioners consider themselves as rebels, Susan Scrupski who runs the 2.0 Adoption Council is about to set up something new that will be a network of change agents; change is - in different variations, as purpose - kind of everywhere.
What does change mean? Ist it just new ways of working, new processes? Is it related to the search for meaning? And is it something that happens only inside the company? I think it has to do with meaning and it can't stay only inside the company.
It's a personal thing, and if it touches peoples' lives, it touches society.
That's why it can't be just related to proceses or efficiency. If we change (whatever) to make companies more efficient, we help them to make more money. If that's all, we strive for change to do more of the same, to preserve the status quo. Even worse: The money does not even help the companies or it the people who work in the companies - it goes somewhere else, it goes to the people and companies that own the companies. I wrote more about that recently in the context of Noam Chomsky's thought on Occupy and change.
If we talk about change, we have to keep in mind that we have mighty instruments that can change much more than just work - remember the "New Capitalist Manifesto"…
It does not start at once. But there are hints that change does not happen within or because of processes and companies, but despite them. Discussions about management support are a good example. Luis Suarez has a very strong opinion about middle management: "Forget them." And he considers everything between the CEO and the professional as middle management. They should not be asked for support or permissions, if they want, they can join the change, if not - they will most probably feel the consequences themselves.
Researchers have a different opinion: "Middle Managers are key", says Jane McConnell. They need to be informed and integrated, because people will listen to them - and they have the at least formal power to block change. The difference, says Suarez, is a matter of perception: Middle managers are perceived as key, because that's their traditional role, but if it comes to change, they are not.
The new role of managers - that idea has been around for longer - is that of facilitators. They should create an environment that allows people to do their jobs. Management is a service function that does not necessarily have to do with leadership. But I assume things go better, if both can be combined.
Managers are not the only ones who are faced with that shift in their role. The same happens to other central functions - especially to communications. The main function of a communications department is not that of a publisher or gatekeeper anymore, it is to facilitate. In an Enterprise 2.0 environment, everybody can be a publisher - the main task of a communications department is to create an environment that makes it possible and to help employees to get into it.
Not even the creation of content is a privilege of communications; moderating and setting up guidelines are rather the content related tasks that are now expected from pros inside the company.
The shift from an editor to a coach or facilitator is reflected in internal corporate media. And some experts are very keen on not even using the term community manager to describe this new set of skills and functions: Management would already mean to bring too much of old and unwanted behavior in that scene. Communities don't want to be managed - they need to grow on their own, but they might need a kick from time to time in order to get started or to keep going.
It's quite easy even for communications people to agree on that, but we're still far away from standardized solutions or recipes to achieve that. And I have to say: I have some doubt that self organizing self motivated communities will ever really happen inside the company. Again - it's just work, and we're too used to having managers or rules around to just do anything; and what's even more important: work itself is not the main purpose of life. It's good to get it done and then get out and do something else.
Thats probably one reason why still some traditional functions of communications - telling stories, creating tangible visions, explaining things, and most important now: creating campaigns that make people think and talk - will still be needed.
Get out on the surface
So what do we do with all these thoughts now; how far does it help to understand what's going on and to shape strategies for the near future?
There are many starting points to understand the value of social connections for companies; but what's the use of it for people? They can socialize outside of work…
Again there is Euan Semple who delivered one of the best descriptions of the personal benefits from using social media for business: "How can you be a thought leader if no one knows what you think?"
I think that says it all - and I really don't want to start all over…