Archive for the ‘Organizational Systems’ Category

In perhaps a sign of what’s to come in the field of organizational communications, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently announced that it is launching the Center for Social and Cognitive Networks. The Center will be part of the Army Research Laboratory’s Collaborative Technology Alliances.

Drawing on the fields of social science, neuroscience, and cognitive science, and incorporating the work of experts in physics, computer science, mathematics, and engineering, the Center will study the role of social and cognitive networks in society and organizations.

Read: Rensselaer to Lead Multimillion-Dollar Research Center for Social and Cognitive Networks (RPI press release dated 10.22.09)

The Center’s research will cover five primary areas. Of the most interest to me was topic number two: networks and the transfer of knowledge within organizations. More specifically, the press release states that researchers will focus on “digital traces of collaboration and communication within an organization at all levels to understand how information flows.” Though much of the research in this area will focus on the Army, there is no doubt that the findings will be applicable to a wide range of organizational systems and settings.

In fact, according to Boleslaw Szymanski, Rensselaer’s Claire & Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and the Center’s appointed leader:

The impact of our work will be far-reaching. We are in an entirely new world where Twitter, cell phones, and wireless communication change the way we interact with each other. Together and with the support of the ARL, the researchers in the center will be able to investigate how technology enhances social interactions and how those technologies and relationships can be used to better measure and understand people’s interactions with each other.

Besides the obvious benefits of having research dedicated to exploring complex social and organizational interactions, the Center’s work will help emphasize the science behind communication within organizations. Too often, internal communications is viewed as a “soft skill” promoted by former journalists with a penchant for producing glossy employee newsletters. Research drawn on scientific disciplines will give credence to the field and hopefully help internal communicators earn buy-in from key stakeholders and secure a seat at the strategy-making table once and for all. Phew!

(PS: thanks to a loyal reader–my dad–for bringing this to my attention!)


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I refer to my conversation with Roger D’Aprix, where he predicted a conflict is emerging from the clash of two dramatically different organizational cultures.

He alluded to the concept of Generation F (for Facebook) and the particular expectations these professionals have for their workplace—namely that connectivity and networks mirror what people are accustomed to in their personal lives.

Intrigued, I did a little searching and found that it isn’t hard to collect evidence of this looming battle. Up for debate is whether and to what degree organizations should accommodate the new demands of the emerging workforce. It’s a good question—one that no one seems to be able to answer definitively just yet.

Gary Hamel wrote on this subject for his Management 2.0 blog for the Wall Street Journal, and I found his to be among the more interesting explorations of the topic.

Read: Gary Hamel on “The Facebook Generation vs. The Fortune 500” for the Wall Street Journal

In his post, Hamel presented the viewpoint that a company hoping “to attract the most creative and energetic members of Gen F” will “need to understand these Internet-derived expectations, and then reinvent its management practices accordingly.”

He proceeded to outline 12 characteristics on which companies will be evaluated by this new breed of workers. A few are pillars on which every organization should strive to operate, with or without the Internet: Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it; Intrinsic rewards matter most; All ideas compete on an equal footing.

But others on the list seem to threaten the very ability of an organization’s management team to do its job and reach strategic goals: Resources get attracted, not allocated; Users can veto most policy decisions; Tasks are chosen, not assigned. While the old-fashioned hierarchical approach to management may need a 21st century facelift, I don’t think turning over complete control to employees is exactly what the doctor ordered.

In light of all this discussion about responding to employees’ social media needs, I found it ironic to read just this week that Robert Half Technology released the results of a study of more than 1,400 CIOs. The verdict? Only one in five companies (19%) allows social networking for work-related reasons. The big news is that more than half (54%) of businesses block employees’ access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter while on the job (a mere 16% allow limited personal social networking).

Apparently companies aren’t too concerned with being perceived by Generation F as “with it” (a term Hamel uses in his post). And given the current economic crisis, it’s unlikely that their ability to attract younger employees will suffer from a strict social media policy. But Hamel warns that, once it’s no longer a “buyer’s market for talent”, a company unable to recruit and retain “a vital core of Gen F employees will soon find itself stuck in the mud”.

When it’s all said and done, I hope companies choose to adopt social media for the value it can and will add to a well-planned internal communications strategy, rather than in response to increasing demands from the next generation of connected employees.

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Up until recently, I was pretty convinced that the integration of social media into every organization’s internal communications plan was inevitable. No, not just inevitable. Necessary.

I still think, to a certain degree, it is. But last week, my view was put to the test by a legend in the field of internal communications. I had the honor and privilege of speaking one-on-one with Roger D’Aprix, who IABC has named as “one of the most influential thinkers in the communication profession in the last 25 years.”

I knew Mr. D’Aprix had questioned social media for its drain on employee productivity. In fact, in a 2007 article for the Ragan Report he wrote, “Give it some careful thought before you succumb to the hype and recommend any activity that adds to an already maddening overload problem.”

I was curious to see if Mr. D’Aprix’s position had changed at all given the proliferation in social media over the last two years. I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask him myself…

CS: Mr. D’Aprix, what do you see as the role of social media in internal communications today?

RD: Social media is a phenomenal tool to help people collaborate. The downside, of course, is when it’s used frivolously or in the wrong way, which it so often is. Social media is not an end in itself, but I see organizations making it their primary means of communication.

CS: But isn’t it a necessary part of an organization’s internal communications plan? Won’t organizations that refuse to adopt it be left behind?

RD: One of the things that bothers me about social media is that it’s sort of being shoved down people’s throats. There’s sort of this sense that organizations “must” encourage any form of social media. But where is the demand coming from? I don’t see people clamoring to blog inside organizations. What I see are professional communicators who are trying to keep up with the times, and they think social media is the best or only way to do that.

CS: But regardless, doesn’t the use of social media ultimately benefit the organization?

RD: I’m struggling with whether this is really a solution to a problem, or a solution in search of a problem to solve. I wonder if social media might actually just compound the whole process of communication.

CS: In past articles, you have criticized social media for its negative effects on employee productivity. What is your current take on this?

RD: There is a tremendous amount of noise and information being passed around. Inevitably, what people will tell you is that they are drowning in information. They are bombarded with things they couldn’t care less about. What is this going to do to the amount of important information they can actually retain?

CS: Aside from perhaps decreasing employee productivity, how is social media affecting the way organizations are functioning?

RD: The bigger part of the problem is that the old hierarchical, autocratic approach to managing people is coming face-to-face with something that is emerging right now—a more collaborative team approach. Changing values are coming up against an old system and old values. What happens is anyone’s guess.

CS: And you believe technology and social media are playing a large role in this culture clash?  

RD: Absolutely. Inevitably, organizations will have to change to become less bureaucratic in response to a different organizational system, much of it at the hands of social media. I see a fair amount of conflict down the road because of this. I believe this is the most interesting time in my whole internal communications career—I am interested to see what it will look when it all comes out in the end.


What I ultimately took away from my conversation with Mr. D’Aprix is that, yes, social media is sort of inevitable and, in some cases, even warranted. But its introduction into organizations carries greater implications than those of just another communications tactic. Social media represents more than a change in how we transmit messages—it represents a change in how we view management systems and, in turn, how organizations operate.

But is social media, as Mr. D’Aprix suggested, merely a solution in search of a problem?

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