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The Promise of the Social Enterprise

     The most rewarding job I’ve ever had was when I worked at the North Carolina Department of Insurance. I was the sole technical support (desktop, LAN, Server, Firewall, etc.) for a group of about forty insurance regulators whose job it was to put corrupt insurance companies & agencies into receivership and absorb their assets. I was shutting down crooked insurance companies – it was a beautiful thing.

     The best job I’ve ever had, however, was with a dot com startup. When I was at the startup it had about three dozen employees.
     I was on a first name basis with the CIO and the CEO.
     I’d sit and talk relationship woes with the CFO.
     The Chairman of the Board saw it as a personal challenge to try and make me flinch, so he would throw punches at me in the hallway.
     Every other Friday quitting time was noon. We worked our asses off the rest of the time – this was our chance to let loose. You could go home early if you wanted to or, you could decide to stay. If you stayed, weapons came out – water pistols, suction-cup dart guns, you name it. The CEO would take out the key to the liquor cabinet and they would order food. One night of particularly exuberant reverie, the CIO decided he wanted to start a band. Somehow (I still have no idea how, I think I was the only sober one that night, so I know it wasn’t me) everyone got it into their heads that I offered to play bass in our company band. I found this out on Monday morning. I never played bass before in my life, but I figured, what the Hell – I bought a bass on the way home that night. The IT Director was going to teach me how to play.
     It was a great group of people I worked with, but all that was just the icing on the cake. It wasn’t how well I got along with everyone… it wasn’t the fun we had in the office… it wasn’t even that I shot the CIO with a Nerf gun…

     The reason this was the greatest job I’ve ever had is that it was my company.
     When we had staff meetings, the whole staff was there – and the whole staff had a voice. They understood why they hired the people they did. We were intelligent, creative people with value to add to the company. Regardless what your daily responsibilities were, you were expected to offer your input on every subject and that input was taken seriously. What I said was not only heard, it was listened to – I helped to guide the company.

     It would be impossible to overstate the culture shock that struck me when I went from this environment to a company that had over three hundred thousand employees in over one hundred countries and an IT budget that would make dozens of national leaders blush. I went from being a critical engineer of a beautiful machine we were building together to feeling like a cog on a wheel in an insignificant mechanism of an impossibly large, complex locomotive – driven by an equally large man I would never meet.

     The potential – the promise – of the Social Enterprise is to nimbly slip through that antiquated, bureaucratic structure and replace it with a beautiful machine, engineered by the intelligent, creative employees.

     I see two fatal errors as I watch the Social Enterprise movement develop and slowly build steam…
     The first error can be pinned on the vendors. My research is not quite complete yet (and may never be with the rapid proliferation of tools) but the vast majority of what I’ve seen so far, amounts to little more than collaborative micro-blogging suites. As I’ve said enough times to be annoying now; without comprehensive integration with critical Business Information & Knowledge Management – it’s just chat.
     The second destructive force I see… Of those organizations who are actually considering implementation of Social Information Management, senior management perspective tends to be one of either simply enabling more efficient collaboration or some form of internal crowd-sourcing. They are continuing to follow the far-too-typical-by-now narrow-minded, short-sighted bottom lining.

     What the right Social Information Management tool can offer is exponentially greater than that.

     Why do people love working for startups?
     People want to use their talents they’ve worked so hard to develop. People want to grow, through challenging their limitations. People want to take pride in ownership of an organization they help build and steer. People want to contribute and be recognized for their contributions. People want to matter.
     Some people’s talents lie in managing people – most managers have little talent for managing people. The reason people clamor for promotion is because that’s the only way they can see to achieve the level of ownership and engagement that’s generally only possible in senior management roles, or in startups. Of course the money doesn’t hurt, but it’s not nearly as important as people make it out to be.
     The proper Social Information Management tool, implemented with an open, transparent, constructive policy, can unlock the vast potential lying dormant in every larger organization and forge a path toward an Egalitarian Meritocracy – Peter Principle be damned!

     The great beauty of an Egalitarian Meritocracy is not that it benefits the organization by discovering apt leadership or that it benefits the members through offering otherwise unattainable opportunity – it strikes a symbiotic synchronicity between the two and benefits the whole in a much more profound way than the parts ever could alone.
     The great potential of the Social Enterprise is not simply efficiency – it’s energy – it’s engagement – it’s a voice – it’s empowerment.
     The great promise of the Social Information Management is not chat – it’s personhood.

March 14, 2011, 09:51:55 am

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