11 Apr. 2012 | Comments (0)
Using social media to accomplish a meaningful purpose involves more than providing new technology and praying for success. Successful mass collaboration places new requirements on an organization, particularly its managers. While many organizations are technically ready for social media, they should question the readiness of managers to embrace new ways of working collaboratively to achieve social success.
Why? Because social media and mass collaboration fundamentally challenge the relationship between responsibility, resources, and management. Normally, managers accept responsibility provided it comes with control of the resources required to deliver on that responsibility. The connection between responsibility and resources sits at the heart of management authority, control, accountability, and organizational design. Look at an organization chart and you will see the distribution of resources and responsibilities — the currency by which managers measure themselves and compare themselves to their peers.
Unfortunately, this control is the antithesis of collaboration. Relinquishing control to create space for collaboration challenges managers who rely on their authority, experience, and positional power to achieve results. And managers who exercise their authority over a collaborative community will defeat the purpose of social media-based collaboration and turn energetic and innovative communities into just another form of corporate task force.
While it sounds obvious that managers can compromise collaboration with prescriptive control, the relationship between resources, responsibility, and management is one of the most frequently asked questions in organizations looking to apply social media to achieving meaningful business purposes. Collective responsibility is a thorny issue and it takes a different level of management maturity to break the idea that if there isn't one person responsible, then no one is responsible.
Manager as Guide
Effective managers in social organizations embrace a different style of management and leadership. In our research for the book, The Social Organization, we found a style of management based on the manager/sponsor as guide rather than leader. In this role, the manager/sponsor works across three levels to drive three important outcomes:
- Participation. Increased participation can be created when managers/sponsors work within a community to ensure an open dialog and discussion of issues, ideas, contributions, plans etc. Participation is critical to community engagement and creativity, especially when pursuing a meaningful purpose means fostering and allowing a difference of opinion.
- Purpose. Purpose requires the manager/sponsor to step outside the community and assess its progress toward achieving its overall goals and objectives. Purpose reflects the foundational idea behind the community. Managers/sponsors act as guides by knowing when to ask how a particular thread contributes to the community purpose.
- Performance. Performance of the community requires that the manager/sponsor bridge collaborative innovation or ideas and the organization's formal management structures and processes. Without a focus on performance, community-based ideas often stay within the community. In this regard, managers/sponsors are advocates for community ideas and insights across the enterprise.
Participation, purpose, and performance represent the goals for guiding management and the requirements for effective managers/sponsors in mass collaboration. However, it takes a particular type of manager and management team to foster the type of mass collaboration that taps into the collective genius of your customers and employees.
Do you or your managers have what it takes to lead mass collaboration? Ask yourself or your managers the following questions to determine if you and they are ready for social media:
- Do managers rely on their formal authority to deliver results and fulfill their obligations, or do they achieve results through influence, teamwork, and engaging the talents of their team?
- Do managers have to be the most senior, experienced, or knowledgeable person on their team? Have they achieved the position based on being the best in their discipline? Is their influence based on personal capability or interpersonal leadership?
- How does executive leadership respond to ideas, insights, or innovations that emerge from the organization rather than going through formal channels? Does the executive team believe that the future of the organization is his or her responsibility alone or is it a shared responsibility of everyone in the organization?
The criteria embodied in the questions above and discussed in greater length in The Social Organization appear steep, but they are not insurmountable if you match social-media purpose to management ability. That is a fancy way of saying that starting small and scaling based on the expanding capability of collaborative communities and growing management capacity provides a path for every organization to become a social organization.
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 3/26/2012.
View our complete listing of Leadership Development blogs.