Missing the Point: Control, Leaders & Social Technology

“Over the last two decades, the world has changed substantially. The economic, political, social, corporate, and personal rules that now apply bear scant relation to those applicable two decades ago. Different times require a different script” writes Kenichi Ohmae in his book titled, The Next Global Stage. Coming to terms with this shift is often easier said than done. When we get used to certain rules – and have learnt to apply them successfully, adjusting to new rules that require a different game plan is tough. Just ask the current herd of Springboks!

One of the most significant of rule changes concerns the growing use of social technologies within society and especially amongst the younger generations (X and Y). The impact of this is beginning to be felt within our organizations and Jensen and Klein in their book, ‘Hacking Work’ suggest that a tipping point of Gen Y in the work place will occur between 2011-2014. Of course this trend will play itself out over time globally. In the face of this the response by leaders is not encouraging. A couple of weeks ago I was involved in a social technology boot camp with a large retail organization with several of the senior leaders present. As much as it was emphasized that one of the shifts required would be an understanding that the control of the conversations has shifted – just look at WikiLeaks – and that an essential leadership conversation in this emerging new world of work is that of ‘control.’ It was a message that fell on deaf ears. Post workshop talk was littered with both overt and subtle tones of being in control. The understanding seemed to be that these new technologies were mere ‘channels’ to market – channels that could and should be controlled.

Such talk misses the point altogether. Whilst these ‘new technologies’ are, in a very narrow sense, channels to market, the revolution they are fuelling extends way beyond such constrictions. They are changing the way people relate and communicate. They are forcing new conversations in transparency, openness and authenticity. They are impacting the very DNA of our organizations and as such require a deep rethink in how leaders lead. Exploring this deeper territory seems to be too threatening for many leaders. Of course one can understand this – such conversations and where they may lead promises a bumpy ride but there is no alternative. It seems easier to flag the concerns (and there are legitimate concerns) rather than embrace the shift – and with that the possibilities.

Engaging the impact social technology will have on how we organize, lead and manage our work place, both internally and externally, will go a long way to determining whether or not we have a future.

If this message rings some alarm bells or resonates and you are looking for a place to start let me recommend three simple things you can do:

  1. Read Charlene Li’s book ‘Open Leadership: how social technology can change the way you lead’. This builds on her earlier co-authored book titled, ‘Groundswell’. Read ‘Hacking Work’ by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein. If this doesn’t scare you, nothing will.
  2. Explore some aspect of social technology with which you are not familiar: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn …doesn’t really matter what it is. You may need help in this and don’t hesitate to ask someone. Tip: Look on the home front first!
  3. Get a group of 20 somethings and have a conversation with them around the subject. Ask a lot of questions and listen hard.

Control. Alt. Delete.

2 thoughts on “Missing the Point: Control, Leaders & Social Technology”

  1. Miz says:

    thanks for this…. it helps so much with understanding how some generations are using generational theory and social media to bolster an existing world view rather than transform to the next.

    How would you recommend starting a non-threatening dialogue with those who consider or are perceived as “power brokers”?

  2. Keith Coats says:

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for your response. If by “power-brokers” you mean those in authority I would think that much would depend on the organizational culture that is present – this would mediate your approach. If it was a culture which welcomed challenge and robust conversation then the approach would differ substantially from one where this was not the case.

    It could be that you position the engagement from a personal standpoint (“this is what I am learning / discovering / thinking about”) or chose a relevant corporate ‘vehicle’ (a conference / strategic process / team meeting etc…) and use that as an engagement platform. A third option would be to ‘swarm’ – find others around you who would want to engage in this subject and start a conversation. Joel Barker – an expert on paradigm shifts within organizations likens this third option to ‘tinkering’ – an informal / hidden process that eventually achieves new insights from which the broader organization can benefit or which induce a paradigm shift.

    Hope this helps in some small way and do let me know should you make progress on this.

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