Culture can be your organization’s greatest strength. Too often it is the most powerful source of rigidity as cultural change takes time, disrupts operations and can be difficult. This leads many to see culture as a constraint on strategy and a barrier to transformation. Literally hundreds of books have been written about culture and the culture card has been the death knell of innovative strategies and ideas.
Culture resists change for many reasons, not the least of which is that there are few tools or approaches to changing an organizations values, beliefs, norms and the other elements of culture. There are too many people to change and too much change to create for each individual. Besides culture only changes when the organization faces a near death experience, the burning platform, and lurching from crisis to crisis is no way to run a company.
Social organizations are demonstrating that culture change can become an organizational capability, one that can count on the ability to mobilize and change the culture on a repeatable basis. They recognize that change does not come exclusively from top down communications and traditional change management processes. They have looked beyond cultural rigidity to see that the nature of change is changing in the face of competitive, technology and management innovation.
Every organization is social, but few are social organizations with the ability to change behaviors, beliefs and values by tapping into the knowledge, experience, ideas and insight of the organization. Rather than telling people what to believe through corporate communications, social organizations achieve culture change through mass collaboration. These organizations use social media in ways that support individuals discovering and deciding on their values based on sharing and seeing the value of others.
It can start as simply as expressing a viewpoint on a cultural issue that gets the debate started. Bill Marriott’s blog is one of an increasing number of social media solutions where executives engage the organization in a discussion of direction, ideas and values. Social media based solutions like IBM’s values jam may get the ball rolling, but social organizations know that just talk is cheap and changes little.
Social Organizations ‘recompile’ the company culture by giving the organization meaningful work to do that spans organizational and process boundaries. They do this through creating mass collaboration that brings people together via social around a meaningful and compelling purpose.
You cannot change values, beliefs and norms just by talking about them or exercising values through trivial tasks. Values change through a social process of testing, evaluation, examination and interaction that leads to change. That is the essence of the collaborative cycle supported by mass collaboration. It is the way in which social media can be applied to turn culture from a constraint into a capability.
It is true that culture changes one person at a time. With social media based mass collaboration, Social Organizations are creating an environment where we all change the culture together.
Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald are the co-authors of Fall 2011 book, The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees.