Organisations as Culture Filters – Social Media and Culture Change Series Part 1

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This is the first of a series of posts about Social Media and Culture Change. My aim is to share my thoughts and learning around social media and how it can help transform organisations as well as connecting organisations (well the people in them) with the ever increasing communities that are developing in these new social spaces.  I also hope that others will want to contribute, validate or challenge what i post.

This first post will look at Organisations as culture filters.

What i find interesting about this is the contrast to how people interact with their friends, peers and social networks in their personal lives and how they conduct the same kind of functions within the work place. This contrast is essentially why i have titled this organisations as culture filters, however we do have to accept at this point in time there are logical reasons why this is happening, but that doesn’t mean that it should continue.

The following i hope provides a helpful comparison and is a broad view, which i feel applies across the public sector and perhaps the private and voluntary sectors as well. but i can’t comment on those.

Personal Life

  • we pretty much all have mobile and flexible lifestyles
  • personal devices are multifunctional – mobile phones are also music devices, personal calendars, email clients, GPS devices and internet browsers
  • our interaction with technology is shifting from traditional methods of using keyboards and a mouse to speech and movement recognition, the nintendo Wii is a great example of how this technology is transforming and creating new opportunities for engagement with technology and networks on a global scale
  • We have greater freedom to choose what we want in terms of what technology choices fit within or broader lifestyle – apple mac or PC, windows or linux, nokia or iphone, broadband or wifi, digital tv or satellite/cable, the choice is pretty much ours in all cases, depending on affordability and practicality.
  • ease of upgrade – we all “secretly” want the latest gadget or at least strive to have the best fit gadgets for our lifestyle and it can all be achieved easily generally via an upgrade or a download or even swapping with friends and colleagues.

This personal life has also evolved a culture behind it which is fundamentally different to organisations and this difference can not continue, something has to give.

Aspects of the Culture

  • we now tend to have an “us” culture and not a “me” culture
  • communication is one to many or many to many and not one to one
  • we prefer digital not analogue
  • we prefer flexibility and mobility over fixed and stable
  • we have a consumer control environment and not an organisational control environment

Organisation/business life

  • there is a move toward flexible and mobile working but the technology has not yet caught up to effectively support that approach for all, so it still feels exclusive to a lot of people.
  • you may not even get additional work devices to perform your job, a PC of some kind or maybe a laptop, mobile phones are meant for mobile calling and are not meant for mobile working and multifunctional purposes, even if they are capable, they can often be disabled of their core functions.
  • we still very much interact with a keyboard and mouse (unless of course for accessibility reasons you are already using alternatives)
  • there is corporate control over the desktop and over applications which may or may not be supportive to an individual.
  • new products and applications are often blocked and often access to web based services is blocked.
  • there is still very much a corporate police role in the public sector as a whole which is more about risk aversion then risk management. Managers often talk about new tools being socially based and a waste of time, they only have a negative impact on teams. This distracts from the view that managers don’t manage people they manage time, which in my view is counter productive and often encourages misuse.  The reality is that the web/internet as a whole began as a “toy” and was for some considerable time seen as something for tourism information and academics and not online business and interaction. If we could only learn from the last 15 years we would be embracing the new wave now.

aspects of Culture

  • Command and control culture, top down and everything in order
  • communications has elements of one to many, however the feedback loop is often closed and doesn’t effectively feed into improvement but rarely provides many to many.
  • strong support for digital, but there are barriers, sometimes outside of public sector control over usage and take-up
  • we encourage flexibility but often lack the skills and knowledge to manage this new way of working effectively. How often do you hear, there are some jobs that simply can not be flexible. That may be accurate due to current business processes and technology, but unless you ask the questions, what does someone need to perform this task from home or on the go, you will never truly have a flexible workforce
  • Organisations still want and demand control, there is a political aspect which often conflicts with some of the changes required. But strong leadership will always be effective when massive change is inevitable.

The role of social media/web 2.0…

Social media for me and from personal experience has proved very useful. i can find tools that connect me to others with similar interests, i can connect with others who can help me, i can also help other people i am connected with. All of this has essentially been done outside of a “corporate framework” and has been achievable because all of the tools i have started to use are web based and are easy and simple to use.

Social media or even web 2.0 depending on whether you look at tools or outputs, has shifted culture towards a new way of thinking. For me the world seems much smaller, flatter and collaborative then previously thought and witnessed.

New generations (so called digital natives) are working in groups to solve problems and are seeking and discovering new ways to connect with each other. Now whilst i believe the future will be very different, most of us now seem to be split between personal life and work (the old don’t mix business with pleasure scenario). New tools are increasingly blurring that line and new business models are emerging.

In terms of change and rapid growth and adoption of new technologies, we have all been here before, the dot.com era, showed that. Whilst the majority of businesses failed during this time and lots of people got their fingers burnt, some great innovative companies succeeded and have continued to grow and dominate their field.

The reality of these new approaches is the fact that the cost of failure is small or non existent, the risk to participate and try new things has reduced significantly that anyone in there bedroom can become the next big thing and try many versions of something without needing huge capital funds to get off the ground.

I have recently started to believe that social media and web 2.0 is more than just technology it is a statement about you, a direction of travel for most people, if you participate, it actually says a lot about you –  for example:

  • you want to be part of a community and many communities regardless of geography or religion or race or ability.
  • you want to share what you create and are happy for that to be passed around the globe and reproduced without making any money from it, only recognition.
  • you are happy to tell everyone what you are doing at any given time, from “making a cup of tea” to “just seen something hilarious”
  • you want to explore and evolve your identify (avatars, second life, WoW, online gaming etc)
  • you are happy to share information (often not normally shared) about yourself with friends and friends of friends and even networks and communities
  • you don’t see organisational barriers to learning and sharing knowledge, information is power and we all seem happy to share
  • you want to be part of practical communities who can make a difference, who can influence and enable large scale change.

This is a new way of thinking and one which challenges most of what people hold dear to them now. The reality is everyone still has a choice and that is what makes it so appealing. I can participate if i want to, and it doesn’t have to cost me anything to do that.

The new thinking is very altruistic in its nature as it ensures that the wider network succeeds even if some individuals loose the ability to gain relative to what they contribute. That does depend on what you want to get from it. It seems to be a global exchange system, where you can do someone a favour today and in return they will help others on the basis that when you need help you will get it. Very new world and radical, but it seems to work and it is growing rapidly. I for one, support this as when you are actually part of it, you don’t feel alone, you feel connected with everyone and that is a powerful thought to hold on to.

So as this post comes to a close, it is worth exploring, why these tools seem so popular and how they have rapidly integrated themselves into our daily lives and are on the verge of transforming organisations and to some degree countries themselves. My next post will focus on this topic – “What is driving the culture”

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