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.

Advertisements

Investing in social business

In my most recent blog posts, I have focused on the topic of goals and social intranet adoption, in general and for managers. Including a social dimension in personal goals is the key to adoption by the bulk of employees, the late adopters.

Why? Because for many, personal goals are the definition of what they are paid to do, Goals = Work. As long as goals have no social dimension, nothing about knowledge sharing, nothing about collaboration, about creation of intellectual capital, why would you do it. It’s not your job!

But, as I have pointed out before, using the social intranet doesn’t produce benefits that are easy to measure and attribute to actions by individuals, that are sure to benefit your own organizational unit or that can be predicted to occur within a specific time frame – the type of goals we have all been trained to set. These types of goals are rather production oriented, don’t you think? But working out loud, developing intellectual capital or sharing it generously are not about production. It is rather an investment. Something that may pay off, some day and maybe not for your unit.

So, the key to including social aspects into goal setting is to supplement the traditional goals:

You are supposed to produce for your unit for this quarter AND to invest in shared knowledge, relations and transparency for the benefit of the entire organization, some day.

Goals. The challenge to managers getting into social business ways of working?

In my experience, managers are often a stumbling block for adoption of the transparent and collaborative ways of working enabled by social intranets.

Do you have the same experience?

I have tried to wrap my head around why this is so.

  • I’m too busy
  • It’s a waste of time
  • I don’t have the time to re-learn

I have heard those arguments from many, but rarely louder or with more emphasis than from managers. Usually, we find the enthusiasts among the grass-roots or at the executive level. Well, if executives aren’t too busy, have time and have the time to re-learn, why aren’t the managers? The people between those executives and guys like me?

I have thought that they might be the busiest people in the organization, squeezed between pressure from above and demands from below. I have thought that they tend to have a higher average age than the grass root folks. But on the other hand, the executives are usually even older. Finally, it all boils down into one thing for me: Social business is not in line with their goals.

What do the goals of managers usually look like?

  1. They are finite an measurable
  2. They are usually focused on their own department
  3. They are often set by quarter

So what characterizes the benefits of using a social intranet?

  1. They are hard to measure and make tangible
  2. Collaboration increases efficiency of people and work groups
  3. But Working out Loud, transparently may benefit any employee, anywhere anytime (and rarely get tracked back to the origin)

To illustrate #2:

A team may reduce version confusion by sharing documents online instead of shuffling attachments around via email. They may communicate more efficiently etc. But how do you measure these benefits? And how do you measure the benefits of speedier onboarding from having all documents, conversations and discussions in an online community? And, by the way, that team might span several departments with several managers

To illustrate #3:

A successful proposal may be shared by a person in one country, found and re-used by someone in another country, bringing in loads of money (and saving both time in creation and benefiting from lessons learned the first time) but will the original creator get to know about it. Will her/his manager?

Executives supposedly have a focus which is both wider and more long term than the managers. Employees in general think of their professional development long term and may have a bit more wiggle room than their managers.

But, quite simply: The typical goals of managers are virtually incompatible with the benefits of social intranets.

  • Measurable < – > Vague
  • Department < – > Company/Individual
  • This Quarter < – > Some time

So, where is the motivation to change for managers?

Until we start changing the way we set their goals, that is.

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.