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  • Rob Caldera

The Theory of Social Entanglement, Part 2

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“...progress is not just a question of choosing between individuals and the state. Increasingly, we are choosing another path, one predicated on the power of networks. Not digital networks, necessarily, but instead the more general sense of the word: webs of human collaboration and exchange.”

- Steven Johnson, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age

In the quote above, author Steven Johnson may be talking about how to tackle large, societal challenges in a new way (choosing an alternative to either top down, centralized planning or completely decentralized, unfettered markets), but it can also apply to how companies need to approach the challenges they face in today’s turbulent environment. This peer networking approach, or building a connected culture as I call it, is the second key step in the drive to social entanglement, which is characterized by fluid, emergent, responsive behavior (click here for Step 1, Adopting a new leadership paradigm).

2) Build a Connected Culture

If a company is going to be nimble enough to move at the “speed of change” in our exponential world, then it needs to be intimately connected from top to bottom, from center to the edge, with instinct-like reactions -- easier said than done. So how to enable this?

For starters, I believe that organizations need to revisit enterprise social networking. Sure, many companies already use Yammer or Facebook Workplace in some capacity, but many of these deployments haven’t lived up to the promise of Social Business (as mentioned in an earlier post). It was an over-promise, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing to it. Instead of adding these tools as just another communication channel, they need to be implemented as a new way of working, with the mindset shift and proper training, so that people can learn to become “social business savvy” (a topic for another post). That is when the true transformational benefits begin to kick in.

This means looking beyond the social networking aspects and embedding a full collaboration strategy throughout the company where collaborative processes are weaved into all value-chain activities. Social tools can be particularly helpful for enabling both structured collaboration and emergent co-creation but shouldn’t be the only method. “Offline” approaches, with agreed upon processes that foster collaboration, are also necessary to embed collaboration into the culture.

Design a collaboration framework that mixes both online and offline and provides the guidance and support required to build it into everyday work. In addition, foster the right conditions (e.g. mutual respect, trust, knowledge sharing) for collaboration to blossom (hint: adaptive leaders can help).

But that’s not all. Connected companies also need to approach change management very differently. Change is not something to manage. It’s something that must be allowed to flow through your organization with little impediment, even serving as a catalyst for innovation. Shape and mold the change to meet your needs instead of trying to manage it like a project.

In a connected company, a “change manager” can be anyone who has shown adaptive leadership traits. They would play the role of a facilitator and coach to help everyone own the change rather than be negatively impacted by it. However, until your company has reached the level of maturity where you have adaptive leaders available, skilled change management professionals can serve as guides.

To help facilitate the process of becoming a change-ready organization, the concept of a change platform should be considered. It’s not a “platform” as in an IT solution, although digital enablement and new tools do play a big role, but instead is a combination of technology, tools, guidelines and governance in an enabling framework that makes it easy for anyone at any level to get involved or even initiate change ideas.

A change platform allows change to bubble up (instead of being forced downward), problems to be diagnosed, pulse of the company taken, solutions suggested, change agents identified (volunteers), and employees to organize. It facilitates small experiments (about the change), which in turn helps broader change to be introduced more rapidly with less friction (and less mistakes) – it greases the wheels, so to speak. Introducing a change platform is a recognition that change is a continual process, a natural state, and not something that should be treated as one-off projects. More on the change platform concept here.

Building a connected company also requires deconstructing your organizational structure. While social initiatives and change platforms will help employees bypass or “cut through” the existing hierarchy, ultimately eliminating (or greatly reducing) the rigid hierarchy and putting in place a more fluid scheme will get you closer to the ideal state.

There is a lot of great work being done in the area of non-hierarchical organizations. For example, Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations model, which is characterized by self-organizing and self-managing teams that take responsibility for their own governance and how they interact with other parts of the company (known as “Teal” organizations) is well worth exploring. Similarly, another great example involves structuring the company around small, autonomous units (or pods) that are microcosms of the entire company. Each pod is empowered to react quickly and independently to deliver value to customers (internal or external) without disrupting other business activities (see Dave Gray’s The Connected Company). Nevertheless, these are just frameworks to help you envision new possible ways of organizing; not out-of-the-box models to implement. You must find what combination of self management and vertical structure works best for your culture.

By building a connected culture, in combination with grooming adaptive leaders, your organization will be taking a big step towards becoming future-ready. But there is one more shift needed that we’ll explore in Part III.

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