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Welcome to “The Social Organization”

by Mark P. McDonald  |  October 3, 2011  |  6 Comments

Personally we have never been more social.  Online we use social media to connect with friends, share ideas, mobilize support and express our selves.

Professionally we remain socially isolated behind firewalls and management’s concerns about relinquishing control while retaining responsibility.

The irony is that while organizations are working feverishly to participate in social media marketing, they see it as something that is more relevant outside of their company than inside.  I spoke with a CEO of social media software company who could talk for hours about the power of customer collaboration, yet when asked if he applied his tools in house said, ‘this is not for us, we do not work that way.’ It seems like the last frontier of social collaboration just might be inside your company.

Creating a social capability and a capacity for collaboration inside your company presents challenges at all levels of the organization.

  • Leaders, executives and managers who do not want to let go of their authority, resources, responsibility or control,
  • Corporate functions, like HR, Finance, IT, etc., who see social media based collaboration as competition for their role, creating IP risk, or wasting employees time,
  • IT professionals who concentrate on providing tools leading to a strategy of ‘provide and pray’,
  • Individuals who are reluctant to stick their necks out and share, or to get involved as they have been burned by similar initiatives in the past.

It seems that while everyone wants to be social on the outside, inside they continue to operate as always on the inside.   While there are some good books on social marketing, Adam Metz’s The Social Customer is one, there is little in the way of advice, process, tools for bringing social media inside an organization.

That is the focus of a new book by Anthony Bradley and myself called “The Social Organization: how to tap the collective genius of your customers and employees.” The book is now shipping both electronically on Amazon and out to bookstores.  The book will be featured at Gartner’s Symposia this fall in Orlando, Barcelona, Australia’s Gold Coast and Mumbai.  Executive Programs members will receive a complimentary copy.

The book is based on looking at companies that have done more than deployed social media tools, but incorporated those tools into the core of their operations.  In the process they have become social organizations, which is something different than having social media deployed on your intranet.

If your organization is trying to be socially outgoing with customers but socially shy internally or even anti-social when it comes to how you work inside the firewall, then this book offers an approach to building collaborative communities that achieve results not possible via traditional top-down task forces or end-to-end process teams.

Future blog posts will present ideas about what it means to be a social organization and asks you to share your comments.   To get things started, I thought I would describe the issue we have focused on, talk a little about the book itself, and invite you to read the first chapter by following this link to The Social Organization Website.  The site is publically available, after a brief registration.

Other links concerning the book include:

Harvard Business Review Blog Post : All organizations are social but few are social organizations

Financial Times Interview about the book.

The Social Organization Facebook Page

A blog post from my co-author Anthony Bradley

More to come, not as marketing, but more of a discussion and collaboration on the challenges, concepts, tools and experiences of making where you work as socially dynamic, inviting and engaging as how you are trying to sell what you do to customers.

After all, why do you have to lead a double life, social at home and cloistered at work!

More to come and please let us know what you think.  Is it time for work and your organization to become social?  What is holding it back?

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

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Category: book-review  leadership  management  social-media  social-organization  strategy  web-20  

Tags: cio-leadership  social-media  social-organization  strategy-and-planning  web-20  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on Welcome to “The Social Organization”

  1. Jacob says:

    Hi Mark,

    First of all congrats on the book. I’m curious why you think the word “social” is more applicable than “collaborative?” I find that the more I speak with executive and decision makers the less they are receptive to “social” anything within the enterprise. “Social” doesn’t convey any type of business value where as “collaborative” does.

    Everyone is pushing social business, social enterprises, social collaboration, and everything else as being “social.”

    Personally, I’ve been trying to stay away from anything “social” and have noticed much greater receptiveness. What do you think difference between “collaborative” and “social” is and why did you go with the term “social?”

  2. Mark P. McDonald says:


    Thanks for your comment and you raise a good point regarding social and collaboration. We chose the term ‘social’ deliberately as it describes a new type of organization based on new ways of working and management that incorporate collaboration but in ways that people do not normally think of when they think of collaboration.

    Collaboration as an idea and a set of technologies has been around for years. The term collaboration is described as a value of technology to the point where it has lost much of its meaning. Every software package marketing pitch I have seen lists greater collaboration as one of its benefits. And it is true when you talk about collaboration as people working together, sharing documents, and participating in a workflow or as part of a team within an existing management, organizational and process architecture. All of these are accurate descriptions, but they tend to be thought of as new procedures for how people work rather than an entire new way of working.

    While collaboration can be revolutionary compared to compartmentalized work, it does not fundamentally change an organization. You can collaboration without fundamentally changing the way your company works for example: we now process orders via a shared environment. I can see the ‘limited threat’ the term collaboration makes as probably one of the reasons why you are getting greater receptiveness with companies. It is more of what they know, it is easier to buy, and it improves what they do rather than fundamentally changing how they do it or how they manage it.

    Collaboration, in this sense, may change things but it does not challenge things because in its implementation it fundamentally supports the status quo — at least at most companies. Your point is right as the book uses the term ‘mass collaboration’ as the means by which a company becomes a social organization. But having collaboration does not make you a social organization.

    A Social Organization seeks to capture a new way of working and managing that surely includes greater collaboration, but also seeks additional goals than improving the way people work together to get changing the fundamental relationships in the way people work and how they are managed to achieve one or more of the following goals:

    Increasing innovation by allowing ideas to emerge, socialize and come from anywhere in the organization.

    Raising speed, the ability of people and groups to form, to work together yes, but take action in ways that often cross formal organizational boundaries.

    Accessing individual insight, energy and experience that is often restricted into formal channels is another aspect of social that we are seeing social organizations leverage.

    Raising customer, employee, supplier and others engagement via removing restrictive work practices and limits and encouraging them to participate to find the means together to achieve a shared purpose.

    All of these things challenge traditional, hierarchical, and process based management and leadership structures.

    I do use collaboration tools to create this, in part, but there is more than just the tools or the idea of creating common spaces for people to perform their existing work tasks. All of these things really do challenge management but in ways that lead it to be more inclusive, participative, engaging etc.

    Here is an example that might illustrate the point. I can create a collaborative work environment that includes common information, shared workflow, etc. People can use it to perform their work, as they know it now and improve that work using things like business process improvement and quality techniques. However, a collaboration facility does not fundamentally challenge the work that is being done. I just do it faster, involve more people, but everyone plays a role and knows what to do.

    Contrast that with a social environment where the purpose is clear but the means are not. Given the freedom to determine their own way of working in one of our case examples the company took a process that normally took 18 months and got the same result in less than 5 weeks.

    Please notice the emphasis, they did not follow the same process; they pursued the same result.

    In the social example the result brought together more than 500 people from across the company to share their knowledge, coordinate their tasks and change one their own to get the result the company needed in a globally coordinated way. Does that involve collaboration, yes, but it involves more than the way people work together.

    Sure social is a buzz word term and its easy to see that in the books title, but we use social to describe the organization – what it becomes as it adopts new ways of managing and working that include mass collaboration. So yes the two are related, but they are not synonyms. We have found that company’s can be collaborative and have collaborative tools but not be a ‘social organization.’ More on this in another blog post. I apologies for this is a long response to a simple question but I hope it makes some sense.

  3. Jacob says:

    One of the reasons I brought this up is because I’m working on something for McGraw Hill, more along the lines of a strategic guide on emergent collaboration. One of the things I have found interesting is that while writing I kept interchangeably using the words, social business emergent collaboration enterprise 2.0 and others. It’s funny, once you start writing a book on something then the terms actually start to matter.

    Reading your comment again makes me question what terms make sense. I suppose at the end of the day it all comes down to how you explain things. Over at CMSWire I argued that there was no such thing as a social business:

    Of course collaboration has been around since the dawn of time, the reason why I have been settling on emergent collaboration is because to me it signified a new way to collaborate which requires new management models, new technologies, new strategies, and new ways of thinking.

    Every company I have worked with or researched has told me that they have fundamentally changed as a result of collaboration, employees open up, they begin to trust one another, information begins to flow both ways, and employees get a sense of belonging within the enterprise.

    It seems as though we are both referring to the same thing just using two different terms to describe it; therein lies the problem. For me emergent collaboration is mainly about strategy and evolution and then secondarily about the technologies that help enable that to happen.

    I realize it’s a lot to discuss via blog comments but I welcome a phone conversation any time!

  4. Mark P. McDonald says:


    Thanks for your comments and follow-up. Blog comments may not be the best way to carry this out and I read you post on CMSwire. Just a few quick thoughts.

    In the work Anthony Bradley and I did prior to the Social Organization Book we identified a tangible difference between companies that collaborated ‘technically’ and companies that collaborated ‘socially’. We agree that the issue is one of strategy and management, not technology, but there definitely is a noticeable difference in companies that collaborate well — but largely along formal organizational or process lines and those that collaborate differently — along lines of shared interest in a particular purpose. That readiness to cross org and process boundaries and the resulting energy and innovation it generates is what makes an organization social.

    Take a look at a blog post we made on the Harvard Business Review that describes this in more detail. It will also be the subject of a follow-on post on this blog.

    You are correct in that how people name things is important and emergent collaboration probably shares many of the same characteristics of the mass collaboration we have found social organizations engage in. If you want please read the first chapter of the book, at


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