Connecting and engaging inside your organisation

David Wilcox has been leading a debate on how to better network and engage RSA Fellows and points out that members of an organisation (or community for that matter) exist in three states: join us , join up or join in.

‘Join us’ puts the organisation at the centre, you are merely a number. There in name but not in heart or action (think of those worthy causes you joined, donate to but think no more of). ‘Join in’ means you start becoming a more active node in the organisation but it still suggests a centre-led, rather top down approach (that’s largely where the RSA is at the moment). It’s the ‘join in’ part that gets interesting. When we join in we’re taking an active step forward. We’re becoming an integral part of the network. Part of the hive. In this mode ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, get picked up by anyone, change starts to happen. Quickly. Virally. Outside of central control.

Interestingly, I saw a similar concept presented at Digital Shoreditch this week (from a more commercial angle) that likened these three states to human evolution: ‘join up’ equates to hunter gatherer societies, ‘join us’ is the old industrial model and ‘join in’ (yes, you guessed it) mirrors networked civilisations.

This week a few of us met at the RSA (in person and via a Google Hangout) to talk about how we get more people to join in. How can we better harness the power of digital and the nature of social networks to take the RSA to a new level? Imagine the potential for positive change if we could harness even another ten percent of Fellow-power!

To help us on the way, Stuart McCrae, one of IBM’s social media evangelists, took us through the things they’ve learned using social media to internally transform an organisation. The big take away for me is the need to manage the cultural evolution from ‘join up’ (old world) to ‘join in’ (new world). Don’t under estimate the resistance and the need to create internal champions who can motivate and support peers to, first, see value in the network and then use these new models of engagement.

We’ve got to recognise the value to the network, not just to ourselves, when we contribute. That makes social networking about social learning too. Altruistic, even. Reward is an important part of a peer network, recognising and rewarding the people in our networks that share the good stuff – the stuff that helps us solve our problems, discover new ways of doing things and generate belief in our own ideas. These people already exist in organisations but before social media connected us globally across space and time, they were largely out of site for most of us.

This changes how we work as well as what we do. That means we need some parameters around the network. Not so that they constrict, limit thinking or inhibit collaboration, rather so they protect the network, its members and the organisation. All social networks need guidelines. Offline these have evolved over time and are generally taken for granted, online there’s more of a need to write them down – to be explicit. They should be positive and proactive not pedantic and limiting. And address how the organisation behaves as well as members. For example, when someone on the network takes a line counter to the organisation (and clearly incorrect to the point of being potentially damaging), explain why and let them correct it – never delete by decree or delegation because if you do the trust is gone and the power of the network starts to erode!

There’s an interesting counterpoint at play in success. Social networks are inherently bottom up and user powered. In IBM, BlueIQ worked because it had buy-in from the very top. You need both otherwise time is wasted overcoming resistance. Subversion is good, it creates new sparks of knowledge, it leads to powerful innovation, but when you’re spending your day subverting weak, out of touch or incompetent leadership, that’s no good for anyone.

And on to innovation. Good networks aren’t static, they are bubbling with new ideas. You can introduce some good agile methods into the network to tap into this. Create rapid jams – make them fast and keep them short or the energy dissipates. Then use the power of the network to refine and focus the ideas. And that brings me right back to the work I’ve been doing on citizen engagement and the cyclical process of: Educate > Ideate > Deliberate > Decide.



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