Enterprise 2.0 & “Social Business” is a Means to an End

by Kevin Jones on November 23, 2010

There is some debate as to whether “Enterprise 2.0″ is a grandfather, if “Social Business” is taking its place or if they are both dying on the vine or as vibrant as can be.

There is also talk of a new Open Leadership, of how business is really a social activity.  Andrew McAfee perfectly points out that this information is not new.

If you’re saying that people are important, that businesses are inherently social systems and that social dynamics matter for performance, your insight is about 80 years old. If you’re saying that businesses would be better served by becoming more social, you’re once again decades behind the frontier. Same thing if you’re advocating that leaders be more open and attuned to the cultures and conversations of their organizations and customers. Ditto with emphasizing people, process, and technology. Maybe it’s important to say these things once again and maybe it’s not, but no one should pretend that it’s novel.

Bingo.  This isn’t new.  No – wait.  But it IS new.

Why? Because very few practice it.  It is decades old in theory, brand spank’n new in practice.  Anytime we hear the strings of this cord, we think, “Wow.  Now THAT is a good idea!  But how to we use that?  UG!  I don’t have time to think about that.  I wish I did, though.” And, often the matter is dropped.  Then, later we hear it again and agree with it more vehemently than we did the first time.  Still, no change.

Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business (call it what you like) gives us the ability to accelerate theory into practice.  Yet, if we focus there we will be disillusioning ourselves. Enterprise 2.0 is only a means to an end.  It is a possible tool – one gateway an organization can go through to create a culture which is what we all hope it might be some day.

But can theory become reality?  Dennis Howlett, a social scientist, says no.

…the kinds of management and structures you need in order to make these ideas work in a sustainable manner is almost non-existent. Command, control, power and status have a huge part in this. And no amount of putting lipstick on those organizational pigs will change the fundamentals…In the real world, (social anything) will continue to fail until it is wrenched away from the marketing hand wavers and put into those of organizational social scientists and HR professionals who are genuinely empowered to help bring change. We are a very long way from achieving that Nirvana.

I am not an expert on the marketing side, but on the internal side I have some experience and I would agree.  Why?  I can’t say this enough – what we are doing is trying to change culture and the way we interact, collaborate and trust each other to further the goals of the organization (which should be the collective goals of those in the organization).  It is not about how to use a tool.  It is about developing organizations which are high performing.  Organizations which are so incredible inside that their awesomeness hits the ball out of the ball park time and time again.  One where employees (and contractors) want to stay to work because they believe in what is happening inside.  Where they are free to take risks and advance a cause.  And everyone is involved.

E2.0 is not the focus.  ”Social” is not the focus.  There are pieces that lend toward the real org goals.  We need to work on clearing out confusion, taking time to be innovative, conversing with each other in an organization in a way that truly works, creating an environment that lifts the goals (not simply supports) – and this need to be accomplished  by people who are intrinsically motivated to act rather than those who need to be acted upon.

E2.0 and everything social need to be in context of what we are really trying to do.  It should not be something extra or new.  Rather it must be one tool in the tool chest.  Focusing on it outside of a healthy perspective will only damage us in the long (and even short) run.

On a personal note…

We all change as we learn and grow.  I started down this road with a Training focus.  Then, it broadened to Learning (thus, the name Engaged Learning).  Then it moved toward performance improvement overall.  Then, to using social technologies to increase performance improvement.  It is changing again.

Although I will continue to work with an emphasis on “social,” my focus must and will be on improving the overall culture (it always has been, whether I recognized it or not).  Creating nurturing organizational environments, helping others clear out the chaos, confusion and those things which are unnecessarily complicated and which divert our best efforts, helping organizations (people, really) to realize that they can act independently (yet as part of a larger whole) rather than be forced or coerced into acting, and to step back and allow inspiration to flow rather than fill time up with activities which allow for little more than rote actions.

Few want to tactically talk about changing culture – it is too big of a beast to tackle.  So we take it in parts.

Notice, although implied, the focus is not on improving culture, but changing it.  Because cultures MUST CONSTANTLY change in order to be effective.  They must ebb and flow with the needs of those in the culture.  There isn’t a perfect culture, for when we think we might have found its blueprint, the landscape changes.

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  • http://twitter.com/hjarche Harold Jarche

    “First we shape our structures, and then our structures shape us.” ~ Churchill

    HR/Training will not lead this change; organizational leadership & management will. Work structure reform is the fulcrum for change. It will have to be as significant as “Principals of Scientific Management” (1911) and Henry Ford’s assembly line.

  • http://www.itsinsider.com itsinsider

    This is an awesome post Kevin. Really. You are evangelist of the day. :-)

  • http://engagedlearning.net Kevin D. Jones

    Fully agree, Harold. HR/Training or any other such cannot lead the change needed. They are too narrow in scope of effectiveness. And although I agree that work structure reform is key, it only comes after a ‘change of heart’ for lack of a better term.

  • http://engagedlearning.net Kevin D. Jones

    Thanks, Susan. You are too kind. Maybe I can stretch this into the IEoY next year :-)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sameerpatel Sameer

    Great post.

    This discussion around Enterprise 2.0 vs Social Business is largely sell-side hyperbole / inside baseball that does -nothing- for customer organizations and practitioners who are executing hard, day in and out.

  • http://engagedlearning.net Kevin D. Jones

    Right on. New buzzwords most often are used to sell something (either a product or a new twist on an old idea) but they give little direction on how to execute with it. That is the tough stuff. Sure, we may get the system in the organization, but then what?

    Too often these are sold as THE ANSWER, when, in reality, they can be part of the answer, but rarely are they the full answer.

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