Practitioners and Social Media

Last week the organizational change practitioners meeting took place in San Francisco. The topic was social media and change management and we were delighted to have Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter as the speakers.

Just like the previous two meetings of our group in Belgium, we aimed for peer-to-peer learning and commercial pitches are not allowed.

Grant & Notter are the authors of the book Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, which is not just another book on social media. In fact, their book is one of those rare books that talk about the ‘social’ and not so much about the ‘media’; so no endless descriptions of technology, platforms or apps. Humanize is about the effect of social media on our organizations.

Over the past two years or so, social media has been reshaping society and the way we connect as human beings; as if we have acquainted new kind of literacy. However, our organizations are still stuck in the pattern that has been configured by the Industrial Revolution. And as the authors state it in the book:

The challenge here is not to do social better but to do our organizations better.

From that perspective they tackle the blind spots of leadership, strategy and HR.

One more quote to pinpoint the importance of their book:

When we as individuals move into social media in a business context, we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. The mix of business and personal leaves us guessing, and despite the familiar terminology, we really don’t have precedents that help us truly understand what the business implications are of friending, liking, or commenting.

A large part of their book focusses on four core characteristics that matter if we are to humanize our organizations. They are: open, trustworthy, generative and courageous. There are even detailed worksheets for those of us who really want to work-out and assess their progress.

This being the context we are in today, we started an open discussion between the authors and San Francisco based Organizational Change Practitioners. The following points are the take-aways from that discussion:

  • Instead of putting the focus on fighting resistance, the four characteristics highlight the importance of building resilience.
  • All of us agree that technology is no longer an excuse for not humanizing our approach to organizational change initiatives. Platforms such as Yammer, Rypple and all kinds of other in-house online platforms facilitate the listening-part of the communication that is needed during change projects.
  • One of the downsides of social media is the tremendous speed at which communication happens; thereby often being inaccurate and erroneous. How do we respond in such a context? It seems that ‘waiting until we have all the accurate information before we communicate’ is no longer accepted. Hence, authenticity replaces perfection. The speed of social media changes our style of communication towards a more authentic one.
  • How do we deal with the mix of our different personalities on the web? After some time on social media it becomes very difficult to maintain a professional online self, separate from the private online self. Luckily, our culture of appreciation changes at the same pace. It seems that it is OK to see the ‘full self’ nowadays. Moreover, if we fail to display / unveil that part of our authenticity publicly, it may even become a signal of less trust. It is no longer OK to uphold and withhold the private self in order to maintain a trustworthy professional self.
  • Social Media Fatigue? We often find ourselves saying: ‘Another social media platform? Give me a break! Do we really need an extra platform to update al the time?’. What matters in this respect is that we need to stay human and see for ourselves what the added value of each platform is. Don’t try to be someone you are not, else it will be an extra job on top of what you are doing.
  • So how do we sell the importance of social media to the boardroom? Knowing that C-level executives want to keep things under control, love numbers and adore clear-cut business cases, we may be in for a disappointment. At present, the only way to make a strong case for the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’ is to present the opportunity cost of not doing it. Suffice it to say that we only need to invert the 4 characteristics of humanize in order to make that case: closed, hostile, degenerating and fearful.

Together with Garrett Gitchell who was the host for the San Francisco session I would like to thank the participants for the insightful discussion. Also, an extra shoutout to Maddie and Jamie, who came all the way from Washington DC!

PS: I did take a few video-shots – but unfortunately my camera died a few days later and I’m still trying to recover the shots – I’ll keep you tuned on that as well.