Posted on February 15, 2017
We live in a time when everything is changing: the nature of work, the rise of technology, and a leveling of power between the individual and the organization. However, many of the organizations that we operate within today are the product of an outdated architecture of power and control. These organizations are static and lethargic, responding to change with resistant behaviors. To survive and thrive in today’s rapidly evolving world, we need to build a Socially Dynamic Organization.
The Socially Dynamic Organization is one that knows how to thrive on change. This new type of organization is based on community rather than hierarchy. Instead of the individual being a small cog in a large machine, the individual is elevated in this new organization through democratized technology, social communities, communication, and creativity. The power balance shifts to be less top-down and more grassroots and bottom-up.
But how do we transform into a more Socially Dynamic Organization? Social leaders that have emerged within organizations are a key part of making this transition happen. Over the last few years I’ve been writing about Social Leadership: social leaders that bridge the gap between formal organizations and social organizations. What’s the gap? The formal organization owns infrastructure, hierarchies of power, systems, and processes. The social organization focuses on communities, reputation, and fairness. There is a dynamic tension that exists between these two organizations: the formal organization has resources and infrastructure, but increasingly the social organization holds influence and knowledge. If we can manage the dynamic tension, we can benefit. Social leaders bridge this gap: they have a place within the hierarchy, but also the respect of their community.
Social leaders are successful because they are invested in co-creating and co-owning the future. They are not afraid of the unknown. They understand that while organizations can still set the direction, they can utilize the community to solve a particular challenge. Instead of telling people what change will look like, social leaders instead ask people to help create the future picture, shaping, and delivering it together.
Organizations that do not want to change have often been highly successful in the past. They view the changes in the market and wider society as mere unnecessary details. They believe they can weather the storm with their traditional, formal strength.
The Socially Dynamic Organization, by contrast, gets stronger with change. Instead of deriving strength purely through infrastructure and hierarchy, the Socially Dynamic Organization is powerful because it has created engaged communities and spaces for its social leaders, employees, and learners to thrive. The Socially Dynamic Organization knows that change is not merely an effort, but it is the backdrop to how everything works.
The resistance to change often sits within communities of individuals who are heavily invested in the status quo: good people doing good work, within a known and static system. To them, change is uncertainty. How do you change this mindset and create an organization that thrives on change?
1. Create social spaces where people can share new ideas organically: Attempting to own and control social spaces is an easy way to hinder emerging social communities and innovation. Instead, give employees the space to share their authentic voice and you’ll discover innovation will thrive. It’s important management does not have a heavy hand in controlling these social spaces. You can create spaces that are formal or informal. For example, Hackathon days within organizations are a formal avenue for employees to experiment and innovate out-of-the box ways to solve problems. Internal social media channels like Slack are an example of more informal social spaces moderated by employees themselves, and not HR or management.
2. Recognize your social leaders: Recognize people who are helping their teams to innovate and change, whether or not they have the formal authority or a formal title. Strong social leaders can emerge from anywhere within an organization. The Socially Dynamic Organization uses success stories to inspire positive change. For example, highlighting success stories of employees acting as “change agents,” giving shout-outs to employees on social media, or delivering more formal awards are all great ways to recognize your social leaders.
3. Listen and involve your employees: Don’t just ask people to offer opinions, but listen to their opinions and take action on them. Involve employees from the ground-up to help co-create new programs—this could be everything from adopting a new travel expense software to new business markets to expand into. If employees give feedback, ensure that your leadership team takes them into account. Otherwise, employees will feel their ideas aren’t valued and they will eventually stop giving them.
4. Failure is key to change: When we start to hear stories of what went wrong, we are starting to change. This could happen on internal social media, in meetings, or during 1:1s between managers and employees. Recognizing and learning from failure is the first step to change and an important part of becoming a Socially Dynamic Organization. Employees should be allowed to fail and not be penalized for it. They should instead be encouraged to learn and improve from the experience.
5. Build a culture of learning: Let anybody learn anything. Provide an accessible, open learning platform with a broad selection of resources that enables anyone, regardless of their position, to learn whatever they want, when they need it the most. Encouraging employees to move horizontally and cross-functionally within your organization not only stimulates them, but also brings fresh ideas and new ways of thinking by helping nurture a cross-pollination of ideas.
6. Measure the change: How do you know if your organization is changing? If you can’t see or sense the change, it’s likely you’re not there yet. Consider developing formal indicators of change to monitor whether you’re succeeding at becoming a Socially Dynamic Organization. Some measures of change might be the number of new innovative projects started to improve your product, the number of old systems replaced with new ones, the number of new markets entered, or the number of new leaders promoted.
Organizations often find it hard to change, and they say it’s because they are like an oil tanker. They have so much mass and momentum it’s hard to move. This is true, but the mass and momentum is an oil tanker that they built around themselves, and it mainly exists in their heads. Change is a mindset more than it is a process.
The Socially Dynamic Organization is an organization that is engineered to make sense of, and enact constant change. If you create the right kind of environment and incentivize your employees, you can begin to transform into an organization that thrives on change.