When Will “Social Business” Become Social Change Business?

by cv harquail on January 7, 2010

Why aren’t we be re-creating the worlds of work and commerce, as we implement and develop the social media tools that make it easier to work- together?

Just a quick rant here, triggered by and not quite in response to Rachel Happe‘s post on The Social Organization & Womenomics. In her post, Rachel wonders whether a truly ‘social’ organization or business might be more accommodating to the real-world, real-life pressures of managing work and family demands, not only for women but also for men.

I am glad to see someone with Rachel’s insight and influence writing about gender relationships, work & family in relation to socially-mediated organizations and business — why shouldn’t we be designing remarkably better organizations?

Why shouldn’t we be re-creating the worlds of work and commerce, as we implement and develop all these great tools for working together? this is what feminist looks like mirror.jpg

Alas, I fear that a whole lot of people talking about “Social Business”, Enterprise 2.0, Organization 2.0, Wirearchy, and the myriad of labels for “organizations facilitated internally by social media” are missing an important issue, one that Rachel only begins to untangle for us.

They may be making business and organizations more effective at getting work done, but they aren’t paying much attention to making businesses support us.

Many of these advocates of Enterprise 2.0 emphasize that new tools will bring about new work patterns, and new work patterns will bring about new social relationships.

This is both true, and not true. It is true in the sense that technology always changes behavior – whether or not these changes are intentional or desirable.

However, it is not true that these changes will be radical or that they will transform our world for the better. This is because too many people are thinking inside the box, and not even considering how we could completely rebuild organizational structures, and in so doing, remarkably change our world.

Too much technology, not enough vision.

The conversation about social media and organizations is too much about ‘business change’. This conversation should be about ‘social change’.

The vision of the organizations these new media will create is not feminist enough, not inclusive enough, and not revolutionary enough. We need to talk about how to use these technologies intentionally to transform human relationships within and across organizations, and human relationships inside, outside, and in relation to work.

Otherwise, we’ll simply re-inscribe the same old oppressions, the same old tensions, and the same old disappointments we already have about work and organizations. We’ll just be able to talk about them more easily on Mixx or Pringo.

To be sure, there will be changes from ‘social business’:

  • Hive minding means that more people will get a chance to contribute to knowledge and participate in innovation.
  • Shared decisions making and cross-functional expertise will make power more networked than individually-based, and thus more people will have influence.
  • More transparent organizational boundaries will make it easier to hold organizations accountable for their words and their actions.
  • Market-power dynamics that shift control over products, brand and reputation from organizations to customer communities will make stakeholder alliances more influential.
  • Mobile, distance, collaborative, project-oreinted work tools will make results more important than facetime, relaxing location and timing constraints and increasing productivity.

But where is focus on values?

Where is the visioning that considers:

– What could innovation  be like if people felt invited and valued?

– What could organizational democracy and engagement  be like if we intentionally flattened hierarchy and opened decision-making processes?

– What could organizational openess be like if we actually valued customers, suppliers, and organization members as much as we value shareholders?

– What could flexible work processes be like if we not only designed them to increase productivity but also designed them to increase freetime, time off, family time, and recreation?

Too much work, not enough life.

Why is the conversation all about making work more efficient, without focusing on making life or the world better? When will ‘social’ business become social change business?

There is a link here between social business and womenomics, and between organization and feminism:

If organizations really value what is social about us– not only about our work processes but about us as people —  they (businesses) and we (workers) would intentionally create businesses that reflected feminist values.

Social media already resonates with feminist principles of leadership and community, so why shouldn’t these principles also intentionally shape whole organizations as organizations bring social media tools and norms inside?

When will ‘social’ business become social change business?

I promised a few colleagues that I would be a little more authentic, and a little bolder, about calling attention to the opportunities that feminist, inclusive, social-change oriented principles could bring to business this year…. so here’s the first step.

Rant over– discussion just beginning. Join me?

Thanks Rachel, Cali, Donna, The MamaBee, MissRogue, Beth, Lena, Vanessa & Jill for the nudge.


Rachel Happe January 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

Thank you for articulating this issue much better than I did – if we don’t accommodate social needs into our organizational design and structures we will have failed at creating truly ‘social’ businesses. In fact, we are living with a lot of the negative consequences of technology now (being always on) without much help to limit/manage its intrusiveness.

Thank you for the great post!
.-= Rachel Happe´s last blog ..What Online Communities Will Expose in 2010 =-.

cv January 8, 2010 at 10:25 am

Rachel, that’s one of the reasons I’m glad to see you, JimStorer and the Community Roundtable digging deep into the challenges of creating, sustaining, and leading an organization’s online community (inside, outside or across boundaries). As you all have been unfolding those challenges, you are addressing them with a set of norms and values that make me hopeful about ‘change with intention’… thinking especially about how you consider the role of the community manager to be a mediator and translator drawing many individual pieces and concerns in to a coherent whole. Another promising trend is the shift (at the Dachis Group, with Hargeddon’s E2.0, and at Wirearchy) from attention on implementation to attention on leadership w/re: to implementation. And, the challenge to think even bigger than that…. our next opportunity. cv

Jon Husband January 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Important points very well articulated.

As for ‘wirearchy’, I’d argue it’s mainly about ‘social’ change … an important change / shift in power-and-authority relations. Most people checking into wirearchy initially assume it’s about technology, something I feel I take considerable pains to disavow. It’s true that absent hyperlinks and the digital infrastructure, etc. of today’s ‘wired’ world, there wouldn’t be the emergence of a new organizing principle I call ‘wirearchy’ but it’s the socio-political effects of interconnected flows of information and exchange upon which I am concentrated .. horizontal peer-to-peer exchanges, discussion, action planning and engagement-on-purpose that is different from traditional top-down dynamics.

The main point of ‘wirearchy’, as I see it, is to foment and carry out social change .. in organizations and in our respective societies, by engaging people and helping each of us become more responsible for what we think, know and do.

Sue Fernandez March 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Great piece! I’m reminded of a session take away that puts it simply as organizations need to “Be” social and not make it a task to “Do” social. That seems to separate the herd and you can see the results in those that learn from this.

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