Why �Collaboration' Is Outdated and Unworkable

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Seven Tips on How to Navigate the Social Media Transformation�

Tips to bring more balance into your life as a leader.

You think your company is doing great stuff because it's all about collaboration, and you have all the tools in place for efficient information-sharing in a secure environment, right? Then you're likely to be a power wielder in the company, and you're almost certainly male. And your model is choking the heart and soul out of your company.

That's the message of Barry Libert, CEO of social software provider Mzinga and author of the book, 'Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business.' I spoke with Libert last week, and found that he makes a compelling argument for moving beyond the traditional business concept of collaboration.

Libert is a strong advocate of embracing the same values in the workplace that we embrace at home, such as caring, consideration and nurturing, and he sees social media as an enabler of that. He's emphatic about distinguishing between tapping the 'social Web' and relying on traditional collaborative software. Check this out:

I'm not arguing that collaborative software hasn't evolved since Lotus Notes 20 years ago. But what we're focused on now is the behavioral aspects: How are we going to act? What are we going to value? What is going to change our leadership view? How can leaders acknowledge that employees and customers appreciate your vulnerability and transparency, and then not act on that? I think the really cool thing about social media, which is different from Lotus Notes, is that Lotus Notes was behind the firewall-it was inside the organization. What I love about the social media Web is that everybody has a voice. I could provision you on Lotus Notes or SharePoint-I let you in, or not. In the social media world, I let myself in, and I let myself out. I have complete control. So the center of power has shifted to everyone, and organizations are not as big as everyone. Everyone is bigger than the organization. I think [company leaders] will be forced against their will to accept the fact that social media will become the dominant way in which we communicate, and they'll have to join the conversation if they don't want to be left out. So social media is, 'I want to talk about whatever I want to talk about.' Collaboration is, 'How do I improve my profitability?' They come from very different places.

True enough, Libert is coming from a place that makes its money selling social media products to businesses. But I can accept that he's on to something here. For one thing, it's clear that the values Libert wants to advance in business tend to be those that are more naturally held by females, and anything that advances those values is likely to advance the balance between men and women in the workplace, from the wages they earn to the power they wield. Traditional collaboration and the tools associated with it have done nothing to help us achieve that balance.

It so happened that I spoke with Libert after having read a paper recently released by� the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology titled, 'Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success.' Among the conclusions it drew was this one:

For women who do enter technical careers in industry, persistent barriers to retention and advancement have been documented, including: isolation and lack of access to influential social networks and mentors

So I asked Libert, what's to prevent social media from being dominated by the social network structure that's dominated by men? His response:

If we're not willing to accept in the physical world the construct of leading from the heart in a nurturing way, then I'm as fearful as you are that the social media world will be overrun by male-dominated values and systems. I remember the days when it was all about separating your business and personal lives. Then it was all about how technology, primarily cell phones before the Internet, were forcing us to balance our business and personal lives-that was Phase 2. Phase 3 was integrating our personal and business lives. Now, what I see are business and personal lives in a more nurturing environment, to say that they're going to be one and the same. I'll carry a single persona with me, and a single set of values. I don't mean tomorrow-as long as men rule, we'll carry two sets of values: I'll beat you up and bludgeon you in the business world, and I'll care for you at home. I'm of the view that that doesn't work, that it ultimately destroys your soul, and it destroys businesses, and it bludgeons your customers and employees. So I think we're going to find a time and place where there won't be a separation in our lives of our personas and our values. I don't know when that will happen, but I think we'll become heartfelt leaders and participants.

A final note: Libert isn't oblivious to the practical need for companies to protect their proprietary information and systems, so he's not advocating a wholesale relinquishing of control over all of that. He is saying, however, that we need to introduce more balance into the equation. So on the question of what corporate leaders should be doing to protect and secure their operations, Libert insists that it all comes down to balance:

I think [the question at hand] is even more profound than that. [Corporate leaders are] fighting the fear itself: losing control, being emasculated. That's what they're really frightened of-hearing things they never heard before, like that they're not good leaders. My view is that organizations will have to play an editorial role-they will have to put in terms of service for their employees. In the socially networked, social Web world, where anything can be said about anybody, and anything can be distributed freely, companies are going to have to embrace this reality. Once they embrace it, they'll have to deal with it and think about what are the policies that will enable balance to be created. Right now we have complete imbalance-you have organizations that are completely shut down, emotionally and informationally, and they're struggling against a world that's completely open on the other side, called the social media world. I'm not a guy who's arguing for opening up every organization to every piece of information. I'm arguing the reality here that those are two disparate portions of the spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is the social media Web-everything's open. And the other side of the spectrum is corporate secrecy. Neither of those two things works, any more than it works that 97 percent of leaders are men and 3 percent are women. That's now a world imbalance, and so my view is organizations will find a middle ground where they'll embrace both sides-all the secrecy and protection they need, and the openness and transparency that people want, to find a good middle ground so that they will set guidelines about what can be shared and what can't be shared. And I think people will appreciate that editorial guidance.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post

Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.



Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.