What’s Changed?

On December 10, 2013, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

what's changed at work image john sumser dec 10 2013 on hrexaminer.com

All around us are examples of people trying to bring participative media (and its ideals) into the organization.


Never before has your opinion been worth so much and so little at the same time. A well placed bit of social media can twist a vendor’s arm. Two or three grumpy restaurant reviews can empty a bistro. Books and records are made and broken with consumer reviews. Company employment brands respond to public scrutiny.

It’s the triumph of the consumer, sort of.

As the disintermediation of publishing continues, the power of self-expression is taking all sorts of shapes. Loud, polished voices (with a gift for virality) climb out of the noise. The bulk of contemporary individual publishing is an attempt to feel good (or at least to not feel helpless). Meanwhile, the number of suppliers is shrinking as the big players gobble market share

The impact of participative media on civic life shows as hope and dreams in idealistic narratives about coups in the middle east. The naysayers claim that online writhing about social injustice is “slacktivism”, political gesturing without the requirement for action. The theory that one’s opinion matters is central to the growth of Facebook and Twitter. It’s far removed from the reality.

All around us are examples of people trying to bring participative media (and its ideals) into the organization. Rooted in notions like consumerization of the enterprise; cross hierarchical collaboration; broadened access to knowledge; sharing and turn-taking, many of the experiments crash and burn. There is some reason to believe that the ideals simply don’t fit organizational realities.

One way of thinking about organizations is that their need for structure (and policy) is proportional to their ability to be intimate. Intimacy in groups only happens when everyone in the group knows each other. By the time an organization has 250 members, many people are strangers. At 1,000, everyone is a stranger. Strangers can not be intimate with each other. (That’s sort of the definition.)

In the absence of intimacy, policies, processes and procedures (policing) is a necessary evil. Things that you can assume in a family context have to be spelled out as the group grows. Many of the odd artifacts of big organization life are driven by this dynamic. It takes work, discipline and clear boundaries to maintain a clear identity.

It doesn’t take long to hear the refrains of well minded visionaries as they sketch a future of flat organizations full of collaborators. The leap from participatory media to social justice in the workplace is a small one. Many small fortunes have been made attributing this perspective to a rift between generations.

It’s no surprise that there are changes in the expectations that new workers bring with them. But, new members of the workforce have always been surprised at the difference between school and work. What’s different this time is that these viewpoints are being nurtured

Today, I was speaking to the CEO of a very successful internet startup. “My biggest problem with new workers,” he said, “is getting them to understand that being in a start up doesn’t mean doing whatever you want to. It means having more focus and less freedom of choice. They are almost always surprised.”

Stingy employers who were unwilling to invest in the latest generation of technology are responsible for the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) phenomenon. That, in turn, led to a series of successful ‘trojan horse’ marketing campaigns by small vendors who beat the enterprise procurement process. By getting individual employees to adopt their ‘free’ tools, they were able to build demand inside their customers.

Somehow, the combination of theses two trends coupled with the ubiquity of pseudo-facebook design is the foundation for more democratic corporate interiors. While new workers seem more likely to buy the notion, older workers are facing the same old age-discrimination and pension deflation.

What’s really changed?



 
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