Social media for senior managers

This is the second of my conversations with Michael Cook on Organizational Development.

Michael:

I was thinking about the metaphor you used in responding to my question, that “social media are like new languages”, then after reflecting on that idea for a while I re-read your response and realized that you had actually said “social media are new languages” not like new languages, they are actually new languages. I was jolted into realizing where much of my current challenge is coming from. I keep attempting to learn about social media by comparing them to something I already know about rather than recognizing that while they have aspects that are familiar they are truly new phenomena.

So now I am wondering, email is email and it is ubiquitous. Anyone who has used email for any amount of time has had instances of recognizing its limitations. For one, it does a terrible job of conveying context and tone. Yet, there is no doubt that many of my clients (most of whom are senior managers, 45+ years of age) will do as I have done and think of an ESSP (Emerging Social Software Platform) as a glorified email system, and when I make a suggestion that they consider writing a blog they will give me the “devil eye” and shrink back like I have suggested maybe we hug. Since these are very likely the people in an organization that stand to gain the most by endorsing an investment in some form of social media, where would you suggest I begin a conversation with them about the topic and when is the right time to bring in someone with a technical background to support any signs of interest? It seems to me that starting with a product discussion is probably not where I would want to begin.

Harold: Once again, let me rephrase the question – “How do you start the discussion about social media with senior managers who think of technology as just more IT products and platforms?”

I like to start any conversation with a client from a business perspective. IBM describes the current situation as such:

The rapid growth of social networking and mobility has enabled people to tap into the experience of others to accomplish anything – ranging from their work to the way they purchase goods and services.

This pretty well sums up what is driving business change. People can connect to anyone, anywhere and at any time. This changes all the control systems that organizations have developed over the past century: pricing, pay, hours of work, product development, jobs, customer service – you name it.

The challenge for business leaders is to manage work with porous organizational boundaries. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. We need to change our mental models and even invert the management pyramid.The typical branching organization chart does not reflect the way that work gets done in networks. Work is really done in the white space within and now outside the organization.

Work today has few time or geographical boundaries. As our water coolers become virtual, social relations online will be the glue that connects us in our increasingly distributed work. Every little tweet, blog post, comment or “like” online shares our individuality and humanity. These actions help us be known to others in the digital surround. They help us build trust to get things done, be productive and innovate. However, we cannot benefit from professional social networks unless we engage in them. This requires more than merely mastering the technology. It means being social in our work. Not using social media to connect, contribute and collaborate is like sitting in a closed office all day.

According to McKinsey, the main reason that businesses today use social media is to increase the speed of access to knowledge. It’s not a question of why we should understand social business but what can we do to survive and thrive in what has become a social business ecosystem. Social media are necessary to keep up.

Here is an indicator of the changing nature of business in a highly networked and social marketplace; the “app” market:

This rapid adaption to what customers want requires a very different organizational structure than at many companies. It must be able to adapt rapidly to new information and it must move that information around rapidly … Staying engaged and being adaptive – the successful companies will have both of these attributes.

To stay engaged with interconnected markets, business must get more social. Social learning, which can involve many of these web social media, is how we get things done in networks.  Most organizational value is created by teams and networks, not individuals working alone. While learning may be generated in teams, this type of knowledge comes and goes. Organizational learning really spreads through social networks. Therefore, social networks are the conduit for effective organizational performance.

Blocking, or circumventing, social networks slows learning, reduces effectiveness and may in the end kill the organization. Senior managers need to understand social media in order to support learning in social networks which will enable practitioners to produce results.

5 Responses to “Social media for senior managers”

  1. Jon Husband

    I was thinking about the metaphor you used in responding to my question, that “social media are like new languages”, then after reflecting on that idea for a while I re-read your response and realized that you had actually said “social media are new languages” not like new languages, they are actually new language

    I think learning how to work in, and be in, social networks as an adult, in a workplace context, is very similar to the process of learning to function effectively in a second or additional language.

    Reply
  2. Lars haahr

    Interesting thoughts ón language, languaging, – Ciborra suggested to understand IT as a stranger, a guest that we have to welcome, and host, and is f or sure inspired by some phenomenlogists in this Line of thought

    Reply
  3. Ben Widdowson

    Hi Harold,

    This article was a fascinating insight into how social media can be perceived by senior managers.

    I would like to build on an interesting point you made.

    “The challenge for business leaders is to manage work with porous organizational boundaries.”

    I believe as you suggested, mental models need to change. With that change one can begin to see how the challenge of managing porous organizational boundaries, becomes an opportunity to extend your enterprise.

    Enabling and encouraging employees to connect and share data with customers, suppliers and partners outside the organizational boundaries could yield huge improvements to the business.

    Great article. Thanks

    Reply

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