Social goal-setting, the key to turning middle managers in favour of collaboration and knowledge sharing?

Social business transformation is usually driven from the top or bottom of the organization hierarchy (or both in combination). Visionary leaders who lead from the front, by example, or skunk work initiatives from desperate people in the front line who see the potential of solving their hard-felt personal and business pains through working more efficiently together and through ease of sharing and communicating online.

Too frequently, middle management turns into a stumbling block, either by simply being passive or by even actively working against the change. Usually, it’s attibuted to lack of time, to being squeezed from both above and below, from being buried in administrative routines and systems or to the majority of middle managers being somewhat older and hard to teach new tricks.

There might be some truth to these claims, but behind them I see another reason: goals.

In December, I published a series of posts regarding setting social goals and this is where I believe we find the core of this challenge. As I state in Investing in social business, a key contributor to widespread change in the way work is done, is to change the way work is defined, and a major part of that definition is goal setting. What do the goals of middle management typically look like?

  • Increase sales by your team by x%
  • Reduce costs in your department by y%
  • Produce z units of whatsits
  • Develop q new products with a sales potential of ö money

Looking through the lens of the benefits of social intranets, where’s the broad sharing of experience, where’s the helping of colleagues, where’s the investing in the future of the entire organization

A substantial portion of the management of corporations happens through splitting up measurable goals into increasingly granular segments down the hierarchy. But, somewhere along the way, the shared goals that may be less easy to quantify are lost. And, you usually get what you measure. We have to reintroduce the common good into managerial and departmental goal-setting, through embedding collaboration, knowledge sharing and helping of colleagues near and far.

Fine, you may think, let’s include things like: Network size or growth in the goals for managers and employees alike. Or sharing of documents (or downloads and other signs of appreciation of shared documents – much better since it rewards quality or usefulness of contributions made). Or intensity of dialogue generated by contributions made or similar signs of impact). A very interesting approach is the engagement dashboard from IBM Research. (Of course, the ultimate move would be to automatically track re-use and economic impact of shared documents and contributions, maybe even single components like slides or text paragraphs. But that might be a bit of overkill.)

But, that would still not be good enough in my view. When it comes to conventional goals, managers aren’t measured on their personal contributions, but on the contributions of the team they manage, right? Why should social goals be any different? Let’s take goals like the ones in the previous paragraph, aggregate or average them for the entire team. Now, we’re talking! That would be a great step towards establishing social goals for managers to supplement their traditional ones.

Next, we should start analyzing those results for correlation with business results. Then we could start doing more useful work than repeatedly having to explain the business benefits of working as a social business.

Setting social goals, the key to changing the ways of working?

Social. Goals. Two concepts that we’re not used to bundling. Like combining lobster and mashed potatoes. “Social” sounds friendly and positive while “Goals” are square, constraining and pressing. But I think it’s time to rethink.

For years now, we have tried to convince people to break out of the email bog, to stop withholding hinted-at knowledge (since they believe it gives power), to quit hoarding information instead of releasing it and to dare to both ask and help colleagues they might not know already. The greater portion of the population we manage to see the light, the harder the resistance from those who remain. Quite naturally, of course. You advance where the resistance is the weakest.

Why care? you might say. Because the benefits to all of people working transparently, sharing and helping increase with the proportion of employees who are on board while, at the same time, having a major portion of employees sticking to their old habits, restrains the rest of us and force us to manage both the old and the new, all the time.

So which arguments do we get back from the opposition? Usually a version of “I don’t see the point to invest the time in learning new tools and to change my habits just to play around with this social stuff. I have work to do.” The key I see in this statement is in the italics at the end: For them, social isn’t work. It’s not even another (never mind better) way to get work done. It’s just frosting on the cake. Social isn’t work. Which brings me to the headline. If we are to get these late adopters to change their ways, we have to make working openly an integrated part of their work. And, for many of us, a major part of the definition of our work is in the goals we are told to work towards.

So, adding a social, collaborative or knowledge sharing dimension to the definition of personal and departmental goals, will lead to a change in the definition of the work that should be done.

Social is something you are, not a tool you use

We’ve got all the tools implemented, but people don’t use them! What’s wrong?

Unfortunately, this is not too uncommon a statement. Organizations buy and install software for internal collaboration, pay the bill and then pray that staff will find them and use them just because they are there.

Sure, some curious enthusiasts may find the new “cool tools” but you will not reach widespread adoption for a very long time unless you supplement the social enablement with changes to the way the organization works and with communication and motivation for the employees.

Watching several sessions from IBM Connect in January on Livestream triggered me to summarize some input from there and adding some of my own.

The mindset you should encourage carries a set of characteristics:

Show trust in others to earn trust by others (and be worthy of trusting, of course) – Guy Kawasaki

All positive, productive relations and social interactions are based on mutual trust. The fastest way to gain the trust by others is to start displaying trust in them. This goes for companies trusting their customers (generous return policies to encourage trying of products as in Guy Kawasaki’s examples) as well as executives trusting their associates with not misusing the openness of social intranets.

Default to openness  – Chris from Lowe’s (sorry, I didn’t get his family name)

Is there a good reason to keep “it” under wraps? No? Then work “out loud” as Lowe’s called it. Let others see what you’re working on and what you have achieved. Save your documents as public files, make your bookmarks public, update your status frequently. If there is no reason to keep it to yourself, you may just as well let your work speak for you. And, you never know who may stumble over it and be able to help you improve it or get unstuck. At the same time, your work may be useful to someone else, increasing efficiency and maybe inspiring to new and better ways of doing things.

Default to “yes”Guy Kawasaki

Being positive pays back. If you respond positively when others ask you for help or favours (within your capacity of course – because not delivering on promises is not good for building trust). If you help out when you can, your network will help you out when you need it. Maybe not exactly the same person you helped out the other day, but since your positive attitude has been on public display, your “karma-account” will be positive.

Dialogue, not monologue

Monologues may communicate your experience or view to others, but they aren’t great for building relations. Just how popular is the guy at parties who keeps talking about himself and listens to nobody else? Just like offline social life, being social online is a matter of listening and responding. It’s a new medium for behaviours man has cultivated for centuries.