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Social media and organisational change: some thoughts on how to manage it

Social media and organisational change: some thoughts on how to manage it

by Lee Hopkins on July 16, 2012

in miscellaneous,tools


Introducing social media into an organisation is fraught with danger, particularly because the four foundational ethos of social media—Truth, Trust, Transparency and Accountability (what I have dubbed ‘the 3Ts & an A’)—are foreign to it.

Existing processes are threatened by social media’s introduction, people are threatened by it, even the organisation’s culture itself is threatened by social media.

Thus, if an organisation wishes to engage effectively in the social space, it needs to manage change within the organisation at all levels—senior, middle and operational.

Two types of change

There are two types of change: planned and unplanned. Planned is when someone, usually a change agent, enacts a specific set of efforts. Planned change is often a direct response to a perceived performance gap, a reaction to a problem that needs resolving or the result of the discovery of an opportunity to be explored. Usually planned change is enacted by managers in a logical, thought-out manner.

However, unplanned change is something prompted by an external driver, such as market forces, economic crises and opportunities, or social change. Typically, organisations react quickly to these prompts, seeking to minimise any negative consequences and maximise any possible benefits.

Forces of change

Just as there are two types of change—planned and unplanned—so there are two ways that change can visit an organisation: from internal sources and from external sources. Internal forces of change include such events as a change of ownership, changes in the products or services of the organisation, changes to processes and changes in the measurements of effectiveness. Internal changes are not so obvious to the outsider and are sometimes ‘kept quiet’ by management so as to not alert competitors or the marketplace.

External change often causes quick reactions from an organisation’s management. External forces for change include politics (for example, a change of government or a change of policy), legislation (for example, anti-spam legislation), markets (for example, foreign companies entering the home market) and technology (for example, the convergence of technologies and the ubiquity of smart phones).

Cultural change

Organisational culture is the pattern of an organisation’s shared beliefs, values, expectations and assumptions. Another way of expressing it is, “It’s how we do things around here.”

An organisation’s culture has a strong influence on a person’s thoughts and behaviour, and culture affects all elements of an organisation and its operations. The culture itself can significantly impact upon any change initiative, either in a positive way or a negative way, so that it must be taken into account in change processes. But have no fear, even the most rigid of cultures can undergo significant change under the right circumstances.

Gagliardi[i] recommends the following approach to culture change:

1. Educate stakeholders as to why change is necessary;

2. Communicate the new culture that is desired;

3. Use value statements to embed the new cultural requirements;

4. Give people the skills, knowledge and capabilities they will need to work differently;

5. Create processes, systems and ways of working that enable people to put the new values into practice; and

6. Use performance management and rewards to enforce desired behaviours.

Change can happen at different paces. New companies can experience rapid evolution of organisational culture as they stretch and grow at a consistent pace. Established companies move at a sometimes seemingly glacial pace; they tend to approach change in a more structured and slower pace. Established companies may not seek change until it is forced upon them by a merger or acquisition, or until adverse media attention or (and this is where social media comes in) undeniable changes in the business and social environment.

Technological change

Companies are more open to change wrought as a result of technological innovation; it seems that employees expect things to change at work when they see the world around them changed by technology. Similarly, managers and leaders are (or at least should be) very aware of the constant, rapid technological changes taking place in their industry and in the business and society around them.

When Apple released the iPad and it was so rapidly adopted by CEOs of organisations, IT departments around the world found themselves having to rapidly rethink how they approached network security. Anecdotally, the CEOs picked up an iPad on the weekend and came into work on Monday asking the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) or CIO (Chief Information Officer) to get them ‘hooked up’ to the network so they could read their emails and documents at home on their new toy. Network IT protocols that had been carefully created in order to protect the ‘jewels’ of the organisation had to be rapidly rethought and reconfigured to allow the insecure iPad secure access to the data behind the firewall.

Change leadership

Most change initiatives, especially radical and unplanned changes, require effective leadership—not just from the senior executive team, but from leaders in all levels of the organisation.

Recent studies into effective change leadership show that change processes that go on to have workforce support have key elements: good leadership, an appropriate change model, room for negotiation and compromise, and well-planned communication (which is, as a business communicator and psychologist, a subject close to my heart).

Many recent Australian studies into the public sector have found that a prominent and active CEO was important if the change initiative was to succeed with the workforce.

Successful change management consultant Robert Miles has summarised the leadership of change in the following terms. First and foremost, radical change (the sort of change that social media introduces into an organisation) requires that it be vision-led. Few are better than the CEO for epitomising, living and articulating that vision. The vision itself must stretch the organisation and its capacities beyond its current horizon.

Secondly, Miles argues[ii] that for a successful change initiative there must be a total-system view. That is, all major elements of the organisation must be not only included in the change, but carried forward by it.

Thirdly, Miles argues that for a change initiative to be successful there must be sustained organisational learning taking place, so that people and processes begin and continue to develop simultaneously and in harmony.

Miles provides a four-step framework for planned organisational change leadership:

1. Generating energy for transformation:
· Confront reality; · Create and reallocate resources; · Raise the bar; · Model desired behaviours.

2. Develop a vision for the future:
· Visioning process; · Model business success; · Analyse the total system; · Focus on the transformative initiatives.

3. Align the internal organisational context:
· Restructure; · Implement infrastructure; · Reshape the culture; · Build core competencies.

4. Create a transformation process architecture:
· Education and involvement mechanisms; · Co-ordination mechanisms; · Feedback and communication mechanisms; · Consulting support.

All four processes reflect and feedback on themselves and with and amongst each other.

Any leader-directed, planned change initiative needs to aim for eight targets:

1. Purpose: to clarify or create a mission and objectives;

2. Technology: to improve equipment, facilities and work flows;

3. Structure: to update organisational design and co-ordination mechanisms;

4. Tasks: to update job designs for individuals and groups;

5. People: to update recruiting and selection practices; to improve training and development;

6. Culture: to clarify or create core beliefs and values;

7. Strategy: to clarify or create strategic and operational plans; and

8. Objectives: to set or modify specific performance targets.

Sometimes, these targets for change are approached by management with ‘fad’ solutions that promise much but fail to take into account the real situation and the people involved and so end up failing to deliver on that lofty promise. This is obviously a pity. Better to address problems systematically and thoroughly, rather than rely on questionable quick fixes.

Furthermore, change managers must recognise that the above targets are highly, repeat highly, interconnected. For example, a change in what the organisation does (its tasks) will almost always be accompanied by a change in technology (how it does those tasks). Changes in tasks and technology usually require changes in the structure of the organisation, including changes in authority structures and communication patterns, as well as changes to the roles of those impacted by the change (usually, just about everyone in the organisation in some form or other).

These technological and structural changes, in turn, necessitate changes on the part of the organisation’s members—they may need to develop new skills, for example, or acquire new knowledge in order to perform their changed roles and work with the new technology.

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming Ark Group report, ‘Social Media ROI’.

[i] Gagliardi, P. 1986. The creation and change of organisational cultures: a conceptual framework. Organisation Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 117-134

[ii] Miles, R.H. 1997. Corporate comeback: the story of renewal and transformation at National Semiconductor. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco

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