By Dave Crisp
After two posts on social media looking at how businesses and HR are managed internally, it’s a good time to ask, "What’s really new here?"
The short answer is: "Both more and less than we think."
You may recall my major premise is we need everyone to adopt “new” leadership skills, but of course they aren’t really new. The behaviours needed to make leaders exceptionally effective today have been around through all of human history. It’s just that only about 18 per cent — fewer than one in five leaders — use them, even after 100 years in which they emerged as the most powerful styles.
In relative terms, 100 years is less than a blink in the 100,000 plus years of human history during which command-and-control leadership was most effective. We’re creatures of habit and evolution is slow.
Social media arrived on the scene as a phenomenon less than 10 years ago and, as business tool, it’s hard to say it’s even truly launched yet, maybe dating from only one year or so ago among the largest, most well-resourced users. So there’s lots to ponder and plenty to learn in a future that’s arriving with greater speed daily.
Fast Company’s newsletter this week highlights an opinion that effective ads on Facebook follow the same criteria our grandfathers would recognize as good marketing. Maybe, but the headline "Advertise Like Your Grandfather" is patently wrong. We appeal to the same things in customers and we have to catch attention powerfully and quickly, but what catches and how fast are arguably quite different.
Similarly, a few weeks ago speakers at a Strategic Capability Network event recommended a principle for policies for social media use within companies — following the same principles we’ve always used as standards of behaviour for staff — give no revealing confidential information (about people or the company), pay attention to decency and don’t libel anyone and so on. All the same things we’d ask people to sign as a code of conduct 40 years ago.
But the similarities fade when we recommend telling the unvarnished truth as we now want it. Instead of a PR face on problems, we expect everyone from the lowest to highest levels to own up, apologize and explain how things will be improved. More jurisdictions are even passing legislation to allow people and organizations to apologize without increasing their liability as if they’d admitted wrongdoing. We are striving to enable instant and automatic whistle-blowing without recriminations and that will eventually include public revelations that even today would be questionable.
The web site Talent Management highlights the increasing use of collected data to predict and guess secrets we might want left unrevealed. On the pure HR side, we’re moving toward very publicly posting individuals’ results — public performance appraisals — and struggling with how, not whether, to do it, something we’d have said would never be appropriate. Yet we still expect bosses to adhere to the principle of dealing with problem behaviour one-to-one in private or with only legally required witnesses present.
Some principles stay the same but the tone, timing and emphasis surely shifts toward more open discussion of pretty much everything. We hope for more sensitivity around the feelings of those involved and a search for the best ways to make it OK for everything to be transparent to anyone with the slightest need to know. Privacy is still a major concern, but now we struggle with how to achieve the transparency everyone wants while protecting the fundamental privacy individuals expect to take for granted.
Like it or not, social media drags these questions front and centre and won’t let us escape dealing with them. The good news is , sooner or later we have to recognize the paradoxes all this creates — where opposites are not only true, but valued by everyone. The only way to resolve paradoxes is to actually think, reflect on the opposites and try to find a workable balance that incorporates at least some of what’s best for everyone. Some call this "common sense."
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
Whether we like it or not, this is where we’re being driven. I can’t wait for the day when we face the challenge squarely to make this the number one principle in every situation. Are our courts up to it? Are our institutions? Are we?