Part 4: The Potential of Social Networking Enabled Organisational Change
Social networks are the actual communities that emerge from introducing enterprise social media solutions (see Part 1). In this article we examine the potential for social networking enabled organisational change, building on the specific case studies provided in Part 2. We will focus on answering the two questions:
- Could social networking improve the current approach to organisational change and lift the level of success?
- What is the potential role of social networking in helping employees support each other and create successful organisational change?
Social Networking Enabled Transformational Change
As discussed in Part 3, Strategy& identified three obstacles to successful organisational change; change fatigue, the company’s skill at driving transformation, and the limited staff engagement in how transformation initiatives are selected, planned, and implemented.
For social networking to play a significant role in transformational change it needs to go a long way to addressing each obstacle. Arguably, social networking can address, at least in part, the three obstacles as follows:
- reduce change fatigue; engage employees directly, get them to develop a personal perspective of the company objectives for change and involved in problem solving. Management has a major role to play in helping to guide thinking and resolve competing priorities.
- improve the companies’ skills at driving transformation; engaging a broad-base of employees will provide access to new approaches and staff resources and identify powerful enablers such as: revealing hidden talent, identifying local change agents, and discovering relevant employee experience
- improve the way transformation initiatives are selected, planned, and implemented; broad-based employee engagement is now far more feasible than in the past before social networking tools became prevalent. This may be the biggest cultural challenge for many companies who take the safer route to engage employees as required on a “needs-to-know” basis. Some companies have had significant success in adopting an open approach to transformation. (see Part 2, Blue Shirt Nation and Salesforce.com examples taken from Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li)
Social Networking Supports Best Practice
Let’s consider social networking’s capability to support a few best practices ideas identified in Part 3, (e.g. Anderson and Ackerman Anderson and Strategy&). What support can social networking provide these practices?
- Develop a culture diagnostic & dynamic; use social networking to help gather early feedback, then dynamically as required to test ideas and progress. It is typical to use online surveys, polls, forums and facilitated workshops.
- Engage through employee pride and commitment; use social networking to engage employees in the project objectives using multi-media channels, and turn into online idea generation and problem-solving activities that contribute to the activity definition and then progress of the project
- Encourage informal peer networks; social networking provides a continuous project feedback loop, supported by online feedback forums, such as tweets/instant messaging, emails, polls, surveys
- Project governance is critical to success and especially for multinational (or even multi-site) stakeholders it is essential to build the stakeholders community; social networking enables remote collaboration and wide-engagement of stakeholder groups
For at least these practices, there seems value in the application of social networking. As mentioned in Part 3, if you are interested in this complex area of organisational change, there are additional significant best practices identified in their original (non-social networking) context as discussed by Anderson and Ackerman Anderson and Strategy&.
A Social Networking Model of How Employees Support Each Other
Sustainable change, it is often said, starts from within – as opposed to being initially foisted on an individual. Social networking supports how people collaborate to solve problems. Peer collaboration brings together alternate perspectives and enables solution development within acceptable collective norms.
So how do people change behaviours and attitudes?
Let’s assume that organisational change occurs in a similar manner to personal change, a reasonable assumption as people are at the centre of both types of change. Consider a personal behavioural change model (problem identification-to-resolution cycle) from a well-respected behavioural “Stages of Change” model (stages bracketed).
The stages when described in terms of organisational change might be expressed as:
- Issue validation: from a single employee sharing an opinion on an issue within the company and receiving feedback from others (Pre-contemplation)
- Problem definition through discussion with like-minded folk (Contemplation)
- Collecting information about change and how to proceed. (Preparation)
- Creation and execution of collaborative approaches to address the issue (Action)
- Maintaining the change (or issue resolution behaviors) and successfully avoiding former ways. During this stage, staff become more assured that they will be able to continue their change in other areas and may develop a sense of empowerment. (Maintenance)
The stages suggested describe a social networking model for staff engagement within a change program. The advantage of this approach is that it has scale (applied to small or large problems) and it also engages participants throughout the entire cycle. Furthermore, this type of problem solving potentially embeds the use of social networking to address future change initiatives. Recall the Blue Shirt Nation example in Part 2, people used their social networks set up for a specific purpose to later address adjacent community needs, changing the way people worked in the process.
In short, social networking introduces a process of social problem solving through collaboration to:
- engagement of employees with common goals, creating a real ‘community of interest’
- develop a solution acceptable to the community that achieves the mandated change goals
- build broad-based employee engagement and acceptance of the change by those involved and
- increase the likelihood of sustainable change through community reinforcement.
Validation of Social Networking’s Role
Earlier in this article we provided several examples of the successful use of social networking in organisational change, including the Blue Shirt Nation and Salesforce examples. However examples alone are insufficient as they don’t tell us about the best means of deploying social networking, any boundaries of application, or pitfalls to be avoided.
We need further evidence of where social networking projects have been successfully incorporated across a range of companies. This evidence must show a consistent manner and demonstrate repeatability in delivering successful outcomes.
There is progress in creating a repeatable framework for applying social networking to demonstrate repeatability of successful outcomes. For example, Cathy Campbell has developed a valuable methodology for using social networking within organisational change projects.
There are many other discussions on corporate social networking applied as part of organisational change programs to create a cohesive company culture (Canfield), and how to ‘unfreeze’ old attitudes and commence the change process (Torben).
In Part 1, we considered the potential for social networking to address efficiency issues within companies in terms of tackling traditional problems in a new way. Creating measurable value for the business case or return on investment calculation were also discussed.
Then in Part 2, we argued that there is huge potential for social networking to contribute to internal company strategic activities such as; increasing organisation agility, improving staff engagement, and enabling product innovation.
Finally in Parts 3 and 4, we covered the issues of transformational change and the role of social networking. Social networking is an exciting development that may over time change company cultures, through devolved problem solving and collaboration across a broad base of employees and creating ongoing sustainable change.
Whilst there is a growing base of evidence supporting social networking’s application, further research should demonstrate the best means of deploying social networking, any boundaries of application, or pitfalls to be avoided. Social networking is not a panacea as it may not suit all types of companies or applications so you should consider the unique circumstances of your company before introducing new social media capabilities.