Why go social inside the firewall?

By Perry Timms, thought leader, HR Practitioner, Social Business Entrepreneur, Advisor to the CIPD on Social Media & Engagement and Visiting Fellow – Sheffield Hallam University

To decode this headline please read:

Social =  collaborative technologies

Firewall = the digital barrier to stop your company technology from cyber attacks

Social Media.  If you’ve read one story, blog or feature you’ve read a hundred before.  Yet we ARE still learning about the impact social and collaborative technologies are having on how we work and live.

So we still need to talk about it.  And there is something about the use of social media INSIDE an organisation that is still yet to take hold.  Some people have managed it brilliantly.  Many haven’t even attempted it yet.  Others have and it has failed – fuelling the thought that social is a fad and won’t catch on in the “real world”.  That failure isn’t a technology fail though – it’s a cultural, attitudinal and even skills failure.

Here’s WHY you might want to socialise internally.  Using a technology platform or more of course.  Yet it isn’t all about the technology.  It is about culture, attitudes and skills.

Reason 1.  We’re made to be social.

From our very first moments outside the womb, we develop the need for social bonding.  Why?  Because that’s how we – as a helpless newborn being – get food, water, warmth, shelter.  Work on production lines, via in-boxes, on call centres or serving customers from counters is only mildly social.  If at all social.  Much science of productivity is questioning this format for work.  800 repetitions of the same thing is pretty dull and machine like.  Yet we ask people to do it and be good at it.  All. Day. Long.  We could look more into the variables and what that does to our energy levels and cognition.

What IS proven is that oxytocin (the social bonding chemical in our brains) is a powerful driver of our behaviours.  We have a need for this social bond and that’s why we go stir crazy either stuck in an office, lab or shop floor on our own OR with people we’re not bonding with.  Indeed the “loneliness” chemical – interleukin – has been linked to heart failure and premature mortality.  Social literally keeps us alive longer.  It certainly energises us in the way dopamine – the laughter or happy chemical – also does.

Reason 2. Work needs collective intelligence.

There’s no such thing as an expert any more.  Why?  As soon as you think you know something, the fast paced modern world shakes it all about and things are different.

We are often now facing complex or even chaotic sets of problems to which there’s been no precedent set or answers made.  So we need ingenuity, ideas, insight and execution.  In the IT world, in order to get software right as first time as possible people code in pairs.  Not alone and then test, iterate as a duo.  Then release for fail-fast testing to then refine.  That’s why most software now works better than it used to and we don’t get “the computer system is down” on the end of the line.  Generally, it’s not a case of “too many cooks” it literally is a case of smells like team spirit.

There is absolutely no such thing as best practice.  There is though, wisdom of the crowd and the sharing of breakthrough solutions or fixes/work-arounds.  This can be prolifically and rapidly deployed using internal social networks where the popularity of helpful posts allows for detection and attention to be given rather than another email with the red exclamation of importance sat in an already cluttered inbox.

Reason 3.  Social is a leveller.

The chain of command, the decision making escalation and the cross-divisional politics are largely negated and navigated through using enterprise social networks.  Most people are on a level – there’s no hierarchy.  Whoever posts has the right to post whatever their position in the company.  If it’s right, it’ll gain attention and that person will have leadership, authority and credibility.  Meritocracy not autocracy.

One of the biggest delays and causes of unproductive work is the hierarchy and bottle-necks on decisions and sign off from busy executives.  Because they don’t have enough thinking time, they ask you to come up with a business case and cost it, do the ROI and the likes.  Once that’s done, they will sign it off as it at least looks like you’re considering a range of factors.

Yet on social, the system really will help you think it through and distribute the effort, input and decision thus avoiding bottleneck executive schedules.  Some companies insist now that executive sign-off is a thing of the past and ANYONE in the company can veto or endorse an idea.  It’s made for an agile and inclusive way that means people are behind new initiatives not puzzled by their appearance.  Alignment and fit come naturally and politics vaporise with this new level of understanding.

In summary

So 3 key reasons; individual energy; collective wisdom and smoother paths to progress means social media adoption internally isn’t a recipe for chaos.  It’s tapping a state of flow we’ve made less of than we should.  We have processes but they’re like playing a symphony in 50 short bursts not one continuous score.

Orchestras are made of virtuosos but also harmonic sections all working together to create the wall of sound.  Internal social networks are like inviting your people to join a chorus instead of sitting humming into their own personalised playlists.

Melodic work?  Sure.  The rhythm of collaborative productivity.  The sound of socialised success.