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Leaving the room I’m not in, anyway

Originally posted on my blog, Talking Salmons.

Sometimes in the office, I have to leave the room. My boss-ish (I have three), and his boss often go back and forth about the evils and pitfalls of social media. I’m never invited to the conversation–big people talk and all of that, but I hear every word.

Before I get in to the convo that drove me from my roost this morning, a bit of context.

I’ve been chipping away at the DINFOS barnacles since January, trying to expose the hull so we can build from that. Most businesses do things out of tradition (it has worked before) or comfort (it is safe/easy) that may or may not be the best approach to a current problem. In the case of social media, most legacy approaches aren’t compatible (booooo email!). Social media requires a drastic change in workplace culture–not only because the tools are new, but the way people interact must also change.

Regardless, and social media trendiness aside, huge and small corporations alike discovered the social media concepts attractive to the public have immense time- and cost-saving benefits for corporate processes. Typically dubbed “Enterprise 2.0“, the idea is that many social media trends (blogs, wikis, social networks, file sharing) are translatable to business practices.

Translatable, that is, once culture is revolutionized. Otherwise, leveraging social media is like selling a new printer to someone without a computer.

This is where things get very tricky. It’s a two-front war for social media in the workplace.

On the Western Front is social media training–what it is and how to use it; just like teaching someone the new copier or holding new quarterly training on the CEO’s new business philosophy. On the Eastern Front, however, is the quagmire of changing how people solve problems and interact. This can’t be overlooked. Social media is more than just getting people to log in to wikis, it’s a very different approach to interaction and work processes. Adoption rates of SM initiatives in the workplace often stall. Sometimes it’s because an initiative is poorly implemented, but often enough it’s the second front to the internal culture social media revolution–the work ethic and philosophy of the individual worker.

Whereas back in the day, I might think I should hold on to all of my knowledge. If my boss or coworkers wanted to know about my specialty, they’d have to come to me. My turf was my worth. My lane kept me employed. If someone else knew how to do what I did, I might get fired.

Not true, but information hoarding is usually how we work. Even with email, I must send out information to one set of recipients. It’s closed and temporary. Anyone else who wants to know the same info must be sent another message from someone in the know.

What companies are finding out is that when a fundamental change in workplace culture happens, contributors are not fired because they’ve given up their secrets, they are embraced by the emerging collaborative community. Although everyone might have my slide shows from past presentations, for example; I am still seen as the go-to person when people have questions. My job shifts from being a content creator to being a content manager. I, in my frequent contributions, empower others to grow and learn. I contribute to the health of the organization and give people a sense of ownership when they contribute to my projects, and likewise I gain when I contribute to theirs.

This is actually the area I’m the most interested in. There are untold thousands of social media advocates and snake oil salesmen touting the cure-all benefits of interfacing with the public through social media. Far fewer, it seems, are those who instead are focusing on the introspective approach to social media–how companies can harness the feelings of ownership and contribution amongst employees, while allowing managers far greater oversight and confidence in the day-to-day operations of a business.

This brings us to the present and the latest conversation by those who decide how much day-to-day sway I have. I am always elated to hear my boss(es) talking about work instead of golf or family visits or bands or church outings; so there was that going for them. Working in a quiet corner of the building makes tuning out the conversations that do transpire a bit trickier, but I normally rock out my headphones. Every once in awhile, my ears perk up when I hear key words like social media, collaboration, wikis, silly, security nightmare or young people. Remember, I’ve been beating the SM drums since January, so these guys have all heard my pitches about collaborative atmospheres, culture revolutions, wikis, blogs, standards of practice, unified Web presence–all of that.

In this particluar case, in the hour before most people show up for work, the boss(es) were discussing “working together on documents.” Bigger boss was talking to smaller boss about how they were having a hell of a time working together with other groups on document authoring. Apparently there are emails galore about certain documents. Different people have different versions. It’s hard to know what changes were made by what section and when. There’s no way of getting comments together in one spot to discuss possible changes…on and on.

WIKIS WIKIS! I screamed in my head, trying to punch through any barriers to thought projection I might have picked up during my six years of bureaucratic morass. Small boss must have picked up on my cues.

“What about a wiki? We could put some of these things on there,” small boss said.

“Maybe, but if we used a wiki, what would happen to the way we normal did things? Would we have to ask people to change their routines? Would they just go to the wiki instead of the shared drives and documents they normally went to?” big boss asked.

“Ah, good point.”

“See? Just saying ‘wiki’ is more than just saying ‘wiki.’”

“Ok, so what else can we do?”

“Well, I think we’ll schedule some meetings and try to get these emails under control.”

And so I left. Even when you lead a horse to water and even when you kick it in the knees and shove its head under, dumb bastard might still die of thirst.


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