Challenges of Social Business in the Workplace

A couple of weeks ago the smart and talented folks from Bloomfire approached me through Twitter to ask me whether I would be willing to participate on an interview around Social Business and be featured on the series of bloggers and influencers they have got going on for a little while now. Of course, I couldn’t deny it such a generous offer, but even more so when the whole entire conversation and the follow-up interview happened through social tools (Twitter and Google Plus) and not a single email was exchanged throughout the entire process! That’s right! Here is a vendor that truly believes on walking the talk, leading by example, utilising other social networking tools than their own, that may be available out there, just to continue to add value into the overall discussion around open knowledge sharing, collaboration and getting work done more effectively. Who knew, right? Why aren’t more Enterprise 2.0 / Social Business vendors doing the same thing? 

While I let you all ponder around that particular question, I thought I would take a few minutes today to share over here some tidbits of the content of the interview itself we did go through that I think plenty of you folks may find rather interesting and perhaps a bit thought-provoking, too. More than anything else because in one of the questions put together we talked about what are some of the main challenges behind Social Business in the workplace today, June 2014, and somehow the answers that came through were not the usual suspects that you see coming up time and time again. 

So, what were the questions you may be wondering, right? Well, you could find them all at the interview itself under the heading “Meet Luis Suarez”, or check the list below: 

  • Tell me about your career 
  • What are some of your hobbies
  • What do you find interesting about the social space? 
  • Where are some of the challenges you have identified in the social space? 
  • What advice (or insight) can you share about utilising social tools to leverage workplace learning?
  • What are your top 3 favourite blogs to follow?

Yes, I know this may well surprised some of you and bring up a good giggle or two, but I do still read blogs. Daily. At a time where vast majority of the conversations seem to be happening through social networking tools, there I was suggesting what were my top 3 favourite blogs at the moment. Oh, don’t worry, won’t tell you about them over here, you would need to go and read the interview itself to find out. Yes, I know! I am just such a tease, aren’t I? :)

Talking about teasing you all about the content of the interview, I think I’m going to take the liberty now and include one or two of the questions and their answers over here, so you folks can take a look and see what you would expect from it and what we talked about. And since the title of this blog entry is around current challenges of Social Business in the workplace, what a better start than sharing the response to “What are some of the challenges you have identified in the social space?”: 

At one point in time I thought that one of the main challenges was technology itself where in itself it became a barrier of entry, specially, for those people who may have been a bit apprehensive of what it could do for them. But, over time, as you get more and more experienced in the field through lots of hands-on, walking the talk, leading by example, you realise that the main challenge we currently have at this moment is management, specially, senior leadership.

We are constantly witnessing how, time and time again, the traditional top-down hierarchy (and not just within the business world, but in a societal level as well!) feels very much threatened by this new way of interacting and participating called social networks where information is on longer power, and where we are transitioning from knowledge stocks into knowledge flows (cf. John Hagel).

That democratisation of knowledge where knowledge shared is power is becoming increasingly more of a challenge for management and senior leaders, more than anything else because they are finding it a bit of a challenge to transition from that command and control mindset into one of leading the pack through merit, participation and overall knowledge sharing as they are just one more of the nodes of the social networks they are part of already. The challenge for them is to transition from the traditional vision of management into one of leadership. Open Leadership.

From there onwards, and perhaps now thinking in more practical terms of how to get started with it all I also ventured into answering this other one question: “What advice (or insight) can you share about utilising social tools to leverage workplace learning?” as follows: 

To start using them TODAY! Don’t wait to be told it’s ok to make use of them to do your work. Don’t wait for your peers to dive into social networking tools, just because you don’t want to be the first one; or for your direct manager, or middle manager or senior leaders to tell you it’s ok to make use of them. Don’t wait for them. Just dive into social networks and start building your digital footprint, your digital brand helping people get better at what they do by sharing your knowledge out in the open, transparently, and collaborating much more effectively with those who may need of your help, skills and expertise.

Over time, you would start to understand how we are moving, rather fast!, into a world where we constantly have to keep demonstrating our thought leadership, expertise and what we really passionate about, so that it gives us a chance to meet up other people, connect with them, learn with them and eventually rather cooperate or collaborate with them to become better at what we do. So, again, don’t wait, start making use of social tools today, whether it’s a blog or any of the major networking tools out there and jump into the bandwagon. Leave that fear behind, the “what would they say if I start using …”, the “I don’t have time for this”, the “I don’t know what to share or talk about”, the “I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of others, never mind total strangers”, etc. etc. Just pick up that one or two topics that you are really truly passionate about and starting sharing with the world that passion for the next few years to come!

Thus, there you have it. The challenge AND the opportunity while embarking on the so-called Social Business Transformation journey. It’s now down to us all to make a choice and decide where we would want to go and what would we doing to help spark those social interactions. Yes, it’s a choice. And a personal one, for that matter.

So, what’s yours then? Keep hiding away or jump into the bandwagon of the Social Era with both feet?


Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.

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8 Comments »

  • Matthew says:

    Very cool Luis. You stated that there was no email exchange at all, but IF you were paid at all for your time, was there any contract for signing exchanged through email or more generally speaking, how do you handle such confidential matters that one may not want to be in the open social media stream?

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Matt, many thanks for dropping by and for the feedback comments! Yes, I know what you mean and that’s one of the questions I keep getting all the time in terms of how I make things work for private, confidential matters. In most cases it pretty much depends on the context, which then leaves out plenty of the major social networking tools out there like FB, LI, Twitter or G+. The thing is that vast majority of client paid work I am currently doing happens on the ESN platform of the client, which means the content can be hosted public, or private, depending on that context and confidentiality of the information shared.

      What I do is to essentially fragment my interactions in such a way that instead of challenging them all through a single tool, like most people tend to do with email I diversify it often enough depending on the client, the context, and the tasks at hand. An example, last time I exchange private, sensitive files with a client happened through IBM Connections, on the SmartCloud for Social Business :-))

      Not everything is just the public social networking tools. There are lots of choices out there. It’s just a matter of picking up the one that matches the closest to your client’s needs and your own :-D

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      • Matthew Hall says:

        Luis – thanks for the insight/share. Keep up the good work and inspirational leadership.

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        • Luis Suarez says:

          Thanks, Matt, for the kind feedback. That’s my goal to, at least, keep adding my ¢2 hoping other folks would benefit from it and as I am starting to re-surface more and more into the external social streams I am hoping to write along how things are going in this whole brave new life of an independent trusted advisor who still doesn’t use email to collaborate and share knowledge across.

          Social Networking FTW!!

          Thank you again for being there and hope we will have a chance to meet up F2F some time soon! Whether in the US or over here in Europe! Take care.

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  • Hi Luis,
    Nice to see stuff boiled down to its essence. (Plus the usual Luis flourishes, of course.)
    It would be interesting to know how many of the ‘resisters’ of a top-down mindset are in fear of losing their power?
    Perhaps they’ve acquired it through inheritance, accident, shareholding – anything except merit.
    Or maybe they consider that their unique perspective wouldn’t be understood by the ‘lower orders’, even if they were to share it.
    When email first came in, analysis revealed that many middle managers were just ‘message passers’. People just started leaving them out of conversations and they were exposed and, presumably, moved out of the way.
    It’s a bit different at the higher echelons of the company. I guess the answer is to find those senior management willing to engage socially and show the non-participants the value (e.g. better understanding of what’s going on – in both directions) and see if participation spreads. If it doesn’t then ‘engagement’ should perhaps be raised as an agenda item at board meetings.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi David, many thanks for dropping by and for leaving such wonderful set of comments. Greatly appreciated. I think you are on to something with that feedback. I am not too sure about the numbers of those “resisters”, but I agree with you that if there is anything that social networking tools would do is expose those very same people and confirm whether they are there for merit or by “accident”, whichever the latter may well be. What I think would be interesting is that those who are there due to merit are the ones who would be more than willing to dive into the world of social networking, because it would be an opportunity for them to showcase and demonstrate their expertise and (thought) leadership and essentially help everyone understand why and how they got there and how they can help enable the rest of their networks to excel at what they already do. The networks, that is.

      It’s fascinating the item you comment on around email and how middle managers were perceived back in the day. Looks like a decade has gone and middle managers are still there, as ever. I suspect the very same thing may well happen with those middle managers while embarking on social networks. Like I wrote on another blog post they are the social bridges between different groups, senior leadership and people in the trenches and their ability to adapt to the new reality where they are just not the passers of messages is going to be key. They are just as much bearers of conversations flowing in both directions, something that perhaps through email it wasn’t happening that fluidly.

      And 100% on board with your idea about finding those senior managers willing to engage socially and nurture them. They will probably be the ones setting up the stage and agenda to help progress companies into the 21st century and become socially integrated enterprises, which is the main challenge by most of them at the moment. Lots of work to be done. Just like in the good old times with other technologies :)

      Thanks again for the wonderful feedback and for dropping by! Greatly appreciated.

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      • You’re welcome. Agree with you. Including your point on the restrictiveness (ie non-social) aspects of email.
        I think that ‘effective working’ should always be the goal. I worry a bit when the goal is expressed as ‘social’ anything. Social is the mechanism, not the destination. It’s something a lot of ‘evangelists’ (not you, of course) seem to miss.

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        • Luis Suarez says:

          Many thanks for the follow-up! Love your commentary about “effective working”, which I think is spot on! I, too, make a differentiation between efficiency and effectiveness and give me the latter any day and “social”, like you said, to me, is nothing more than just an enabler that allows me to get my work done in an effective manner, i.e. achieving certain results while also providing me with the opportunity to build personal business relationships that may, or may not, transcend work boundaries. Wish other folks (and I would include evangelists on that group as well!) would realise how technology, whether social or not!, has only got that role of being an enabler and never the final destination as some people think. Once we would make that switch I can tell you we would all be much better off, because, finally, we would be able to shake off that tech fetish that has been dragging us down for decades already!

          Time to level up the game, get work done more effectively using the (social) tools at our disposal in context to achieve the results we need. And help build those relationships accordingly. To me, it’s that simple ;-) hehe

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