Monday, February 07, 2011

Social media: a new type of hammers for change facilitators in organisations

This is a column Sibrenne Wagenaar and I have written for the management site. I thought it might be worthwhile to translate it. The translation is mine (with a start by Google translate). We wrote this for the change facilitators working in and with organisations on change.

Many change processes fail because there is too little attention for the sub-public discourse. Social media can play a role in connecting the public discourse and the sub-public discours in organisations. Change management has to improve and we see social media play a key role.

The need for change as an organization is hardly disputed, but we observe that many organizational change projects that are not successful. Homan mentions in his book, Organization Dynamics (2005) that 70% of the change processes do not yield the desired result. The culture of interaction which you can create using social media has powerful features that are supportive to change processes. Through social media you can easily overcome silos and organisational boundaries and focus on the issues that people feel passionate about. Online silence is also an indication that people lack interest.. whereas in a meeting people may feel they have to respond politely.

Many change programs put the main emphasis on the formal side of change but without a new meaning in local communities there will not be any organisational change of substance. Homan refers to this as a 'sub-public' discourse. Employees may agree at conferences, but hold their own informal opinions which may not be expressed. Back at work they continue in the old way. There is little real movement and change as a result. A good facilitator is aware of both types of discourses and works to connect both. We believe social media can play a role because of the possibility it offers employees to contribute their own opinion as to interact with others.

Examples of creative use of social media in change trajectories

Here are some examples of creative use of social media to encourage you as change facilitator to experiment with different media:

* Prepare for the change trajectory using an online discussion to hear how people perceive the need for change and use this to form a core team. Invite people who care for the cause, or just people with different ideas and give them a role in the organizational core team that will closely follow and be engaged during the trajectory. This way you focus on creating a core group based on involvement and intrinsic motivation, rather than by function. Where a good representation of all departments in the core are important remains.

* Focus on online interaction rather distribution of (electronic) newsletters during a change process. Often an online or paper newsletter published to keep everyone informed. With social media you can make this much more interactive. You have the media to run more quickly into contact with the true opinions of people: linking the sub-public and public discourse. A manager decided to be available every Friday on an internal channel called Yammer (a Twitter-like a service on which you can send short messages). Everyone in the organization could ask him questions which were answered immediately. Thus a completely different dialogue than the employees were used to.

* Encourage an "outward-looking" view by using social media
dashboards. Many organizations suffer from an "inward-looking culture. Employees keep each other so busy with internal politics and procedures that there is little room for looking outward. In a strategic change project a social media dashboard setup can be a powerful intervention, which can be followed by number of employees. Let them periodically summarize what they notice and what this means for the organization. Or stimulate number of different departments to be actively following certain trends on Twitter. What do they learn from this?

* Make the individual network of people in the company visible and ensure that these networks can be used more effectively. This can be either via an online platform or use of each other contacts on LinkedIn. Many employees have a profile on LinkedIn, but do not use the opportunity to contact new people in their 'second ring'. Winkwaves describes an interesting example of a company that wanted to invest in Portugal, and through an online knowledge cafe found out that the wife of a employee was Portuguese, with good connections. A valuable link for the company.

* Neutralize power relations that communication about the changes influenced by the use of social media. In every organization there are formal and informal 'communities'. Such a community is formed by so-called 'carriers' of a particular vision of reality. This accounts for differences in power influencing face-to-face group dynamics. By using an online medium (eg, a private group on Facebook or a private Posterous group) communication gets leveled a little more and you can try to break certain power relations. There is ample room for everyone to express themselves online, unlike in a meeting where the boss speaks first or shows his body language. Interesting example: an organization where several employees on Facebook complain about the quality of personnel. The organization has taken these signals serious and started to talk to these workers.

* Let people see the problem from other angles by using youtube-like movies. Ask outsiders or departments for their opinion film it and put it online; whether in a password protected environment or openly on youtube. The advantage of a protected area is that people will talk more freely about problems. Because everyone in the organization will have access to the movies, the impact is much greater. Allow space for comments.

Is working with social media than the panacea to all change processes? Certainly not! The design of a good, flexible process and the quality of process management are still important success factors. In some cases it may be that the trust among employees is so low that they do not wish to express themselves through social media either. But there is a world of new approaches open to facilitators of change processes. We have little insights in the level of experimentation with social media in change processes. What are your experiences? Let us know by posting a comment!
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Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. We all can agree that social media would democratize management in organisations. I guess the main barrier for using social media, is culture. The top management may not be receptive on the use of social media at the workplace. Any advice on how to overcome it?

Joitske said...

Hi Roanyong. Sure, management may not be receptive because they are not using it and don't know it (fear of the unknown or what's different). It helps to show them power uses (setting up a dashboard?) or show how other companies are using it for their benefit. It also helps to make it manageable for them. Show some small steps. What have you tried?