beacons of gondor, social media, organization development, Toby Elwin, blog

This social media fad will ruin organization development

Beacons of Gondor, smoke, fire, social media, Toby Elwin

Where there’s smoke, there’s social media fire.

I’ve heard it all too often and continue to cringe hearing organization development (OD) and human resources professionals lack of effort to understand social media.

The organization development profession is in a, social media, world of trouble.  Social media delivers all the intended qualities of OD.

The difference? Social media is more organic, more genuine, more sustainable, and delivers more impressive community results than OD has ever been accepted to do.

The OD world is under invasion by social media.  Social media is the most important communication and collaboration tool since the smoke signal and evaluating social media is time to move beyond fight, flight, or friend.

What does the social media fad have to do with business? How is this social media fad related to organizational development (organization development)? Do you ask yourself if you should bother to learn about social media?

What is crucial for today’s work environment has to include:

  • Involvement,
  • Communication,
  • Listening, and
  • Collaboration

These all make for any organization development (OD) practitioner’s short list of requirements crucial to successful OD interventions.

What does OD have to do with social media? Surprisingly, an awful lot, like:

  • Involvement,
  • Communication,
  • Listening, and
  • Collaboration

Fight the Social Media Fad

Both OD and social media seem to have more in common than appreciated. But why is it the practitioners most likely to need involvement, we OD folk, so resistant to social media?

Why is it an organizational discipline that requires communication, so eager to ignore social media?

Why is it a group so reliant on listening, so adverse to social media?

Why is it a profession where collaboration is vital to understanding, so suspicious social media has a hidden agenda of coercion?

I worked for a decade [the 90s] in marketing, but for the past 10 years I’ve been an OD consultant and living within organization transformation, learning, leadership development, strategic planning.

In 2007 I came upon social media with a marketing mindset, whoa, things had changed. Instead of interruption or command and control marketing, social media [or Marketing 2.0] looked to contribute and collaborate. The first rule in communication:  know your audience.

Organization Development Lost Along the Way

If you are not looking at how social media has prepared us for collaborative business, you are forgiven, if you won’t look, you are at serious risk for relevancy, both as an OD professional and an up-to-date professional.

Every OD professional relies on communication and usually a change management communication plan is a critical component for change and for any transformation to succeed. Marketing communications has a natural affinity towards effective change; after all marketing hopes to motivate action and change management or OD hopes to motivate action.

So what are the rules? Well, here is a quick hit list of 21 from Brian Solis

21 Rules of Engagement:

  1. Discover all relevant communities of interest and observe the choices, challenges, impressions, and wants of the people within each network
  2. Participate where your presence is advantageous and mandatory, don’t just participate anywhere and everywhere or solely in your own domains (Facebook Brand Page, Twitter conversations related to your brand, etc.)
  3. Determine the identity, character, and personality of the brand and match it to the persona of the individuals representing it online
  4. Establish a point of contact who is ultimately responsible for identifying, trafficking, or responding to all things that can affect brand perception
  5. As in customer service, representatives require training to learn how to proactively and reactively respond across multiple scenarios – don’t just put the person familiar with social networking in front of the brand
  6. Embody the attributes you wish to portray and instill – operate by a code of conduct
  7. Observe the behavioral cultures within each network and adjust your outreach accordingly
  8. Assess pain points, frustrations and also those of contentment in order to establish meaningful connections
  9. Become a true participant in each community you wish to activate, move beyond marketing and sales
  10. Don’t speak at audiences through canned messages, introduce value, insight and direction through each engagement
  11. Empower your representatives to offer rewards and resolution in times of need
  12. Act, don’t just listen and placate — do something
  13. Ensure that any external activities are supported by a comprehensive infrastructure to address situations and adapt to market conditions and demands
  14. Learn from each engagement and provide a path within the company to adapt and improve products and services
  15. Consistently create, contribute, and reinforce service and value
  16. Earn connections through collaboration and empower advocacy
  17. Don’t get lost in translation, ensure your communication and intent is clear and that your involvement maps to objectives created for the social web
  18. Establish and nurture beneficial relationships online and in the real world as long as doing so is important to your business
  19. “un” campaign and create ongoing programs that keep you part of day-to-day engagement
  20. “un” market by becoming a resource to your communities
  21. Give back, reciprocate and recognize notable contributions from participants in your communities

New View of Organization Development

Read the list again with an OD practitioner lens, then reread the list as a social media practitioner. Seems there is far more in common in the process than many OD folks are willing to admit.

OD is a planned, organization-wide effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and viability.*

Doesn’t seem there is much in common with social media. But it is not the intention I’m interested in presenting, it is the process.

Social media marketing programs usually center on efforts to create content that attracts attention, generates online conversations, and encourages readers to share it with their social networks.

The message spreads from user to user and presumably resonates because it is coming from a trusted source, as opposed to the brand or company itself.**

Social Media Fad and Organization Development Ruin

So, do OD folks who rail against social media really miss out on the most elemental of OD prerequisites: involvement? Are they afraid things will get beyond their control and this fear manifests itself in blissful ignorance of social media or wishful thinking for social media’s demise?

Seems to me ones railing against social media’s involvement, communication, listening, and collaboration is really railing against the most basic principles of OD. OD has never been a completely accepted business driver, so OD practitioners looking for a way to gain traction can do little harm learning social media.

Where social media is sometimes called Marketing 2.0, OD struggles to even get to an OD version 1.0 foothold. Perhaps social media practices are less the threat and more the enabler for an open, transparent organization.

I don’t know, what do you think the gap is?

Involvement might be the secret for those who get neither social media nor organization development. Let’s keep this under our hats.

No doubt I got some things wrong, or left out some important ideas. Please let me know what you think and suggestions you have for me to add value.

*Wikipedia: Organization Development

**Wikipedia: Social Media

Bonus: How Virgin Media use social media as a key part of their internal communications strategy

If you found the above post interesting, you may enjoy Social Media, Fight, Flight, or Friend – Organization Development presentation below.

[slideshare id=11788307&doc=socialmediaandoda-120228142246-phpapp02]

I delivered the presentation in 2012 at the St. Louis OD Network conference: The Shifting Role of Organization Development in Business Conference in St. Louis.

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Comments 6

  1. Thanks for this post! It gets exhausting trying to get OD folks to engage in Social Media when there is so much opportunity for collaboration, knowlege sharing, and business development!!! How do you maintain the energy?

    1. Collaboration, knowledge sharing, and business development seem the foundation of organization development and the leverage social media uses to connect people like never before.  Why does there seem to be a lack of organization development folks to connect the two?  I guess it is the lack their lack of creativity.

      When I want to connect people I look at all ways available for them to share and collaborate towards a shared vision of what can be.  The cost of failure is too high not to. 

      Do some professionals fall back on the few tools they were trained and comfortable with?  I guess, but then I would not call these people professionals.  A professional is dedicated to lifelong learning.  Social media that is not in their radar shows a lack of opportunity to gain relevance.

      Spending a decade in marketing and graduating with an MBA and marketing focus in 2002 I could have just folded my tent when social media landed or worse try to shoe horn social media into the neat compartment of marketing I knew.  I looked at social media as a fascinating opportunity – and sought to learn.

      An organization only grows when their people grow.  A professional is only a professional when they are relevant.  OD has no divine right in the fear of social media, but, as you point out, that they don’t see the opportunity in their field is nerve racking.

      I think you were rhetoric in your question of how I maintain enthusiasm.  The same way you do when you work with clients or students when you teach:  the enthusiasm is cached when you see the adoption of a concept and the ownership of insight.  Pockets of brilliance …

      Thank you Priscilla.  I appreciate all the work you do up at Massachusetts Bay Organization Development Learning Group, the group offers a great place to be a professional.

      Your comments are always welcomed and a cider noggin at Rosie’s Bakery next time in Boston, my treat …

  2. Toby, I think part of the reason that OD and HR have a tough time with social media (at first, anyway) is because of nature of the jobs they typically do.

    HR in many organizations has been focused on transactions:  get people hired, paid, evaluated and promoted.  So when you are genetically encoded to manage and execute transactions that are very structured and controlled, it can be a stretch to engage in conversations that are unstructured and driven by the group.

    Similarly, some OD functions function merely as trainers.  They assess needs and then create the training and intervention curriculum.  They set the agenda.  They establish the intended ROI and results measures.  Social media is less subject to direct measurement and is often discounted.

    I think both HR and OD seek behavior change, however.  So social media can be a powerful tool to engage the company’s people about its culture, capabilities and direction.  Social media reflects the reality that change is driven by behavior, especially among people who are respected.  Those who are most respected may or may not live in the typical hierarchy.

    How HR and OD create value for organizations will change – partly because it is a necessary evolution and because the people within their organizations will increasingly embrace social media, whether HR and OD are ready to embrace it.  I don’t expect OD to jump out front with social media until some respected early adopters start telling their success stories.

    Meantime, we keep our eye out for success stories and positive deviants.

    1. HR as a transactional service. HR as compliance. HR as a competitive strategic service. Those three provide dramatically different outcomes. In today’s lean organizations every department needs to focus on how they improve revenue or improve margins or do both. One of those three options is likely headed for even more outsourcing, more likely two of the three are likely headed for even more outsourcing.

      Organization Development, well, now we are headed into the netherworld of talent. Is OD an HR function, management function, or organization-wide function? Because, as you say above, assessing needs, creating, implementing, using agendas, ROI, and results, that all sounds like core business, no matter the line, the function, the industry, or the country of assembly.

      Respected adopters have embraced social media, about 4 or 5 years ago. To be relevant in today’s business environment it is less of a nice-to-have skill and more of a proven competency – if we want to remain relevant.

      Someone with your klout, action, and social media involvement, as well as success, shows what can be done to spread ideas, connect, collaborate, and build new designs – all that is great in organization development. So, are you a great communicator who happens to use social media to highlight your work in OD or a great OD practitioner who happens to use social media? Or both?

      I keep my eye out for people to learn from, no matter their field or their vocation. Success can be reviewed for the bright spots and adopted as well as modified.

      Thank you for the comment Greg.

      1. Toby, I agree that OD should live in the business – choosing and developing people should be part of the work. Yet many business units get focused on THEIR transactions and view people as mere plug-in components.

        In the strongest organizations I have seen, people and org development are integrated.   OD figures out how to become a strategic partner that enhances performance without unecessarily disrupting the positive momentum that may exist.  Serve as a positive example, and let people copy their actions.

        As for communication, purpose comes first, the tools come second.  If social media is the best tool for the purpose, then use it.  If a face to face conversation is most effective, then have it.

        1. Agree.  Just as organization design (reporting roles, span of control, power) follows strategy, communication follows purpose.  But communication channel/medium can re-purpose the communication to leverage uniqueness in the channel.

          I bet you have not done a mass mailing via the post office for a long time – your adoption of social media to deliver messages, capture thoughts, engage others, and discover puts you ahead of the curve, and back to Priscilla’s comment, change demanded reaction, not stubborn denial.

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