Enterprise social networking: End of the road for The Boss

Perhaps I had been a bit too hasty with my indictment of the valuue of social networking in the workplace in my previous article. HootSuite CEO wrote something in his Fortune article the other day that caught my attention:

The CIO gets crowd-sourced: Back in the day, writes TechCrunch’s Rip Empson, the CIO was god, “sitting in his high chair in a grey suit barking orders, making the product decisions for big companies with even larger user bases.” And little surprise. Stakes were exceedingly high: Choosing the wrong product could doom a company to years of clunky, ineffectual computing and cost millions.

These days, software decisions in enterprises are increasingly made from the bottom-up. Free SaaS solutions like Dropbox and LastPass percolate through the workplace organically, introduced casually by employees.

It is indeed a likely scenario that increased use of enterprise social networking (ESN) applications like Yammer (which Microsoft recently acquired for USD1.2 billion) will empower employees in the real sense and shift the currency of corporate power away from traditional organisational hierarchies.

ESN will not really create any new organisational dynamic. It will merely formalise and make vastly more efficient what is already going on in most organisations; i.e., the office politics surrounding influence peddling and informal networks and relationships amongst employees. Just as 21st Century social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter have put a clear metric on one’s degree of influence (e.g. number of followers, number of retweets, number of shares, the new “reach” metric on Facebook page posts, etc.), ESN will likely make evident in measurable terms individual employees’ influence across the organisation in the same manner.

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The boss will no longer be the fountainhead of guidance. Employees who garner the largest number of “followers” and “subscribers” will. But all that will of course be a double-edged sword as transparency tends to be. Influential employees who were once able to wield said influence “under the radar” of management will lilkely be obliged to play their old game in a public forum if ESN does fly in the corporate setting in order to compete.

The latter rests upon a really big “IF”. As I asserted earlier, the whole premise underlying the take-up of ESN in the workplace is based on the assumption that the same sort of personal motivation that fuels rabid social networking outside of the office will take hold within the environment of a business organisation. Ultimately it may still depend on the organisation’s culture. Sharing and collaboration quite simply comes naturally in some cultures — specially corporate cultures where employees trust one another and, more importantly, trust their senior leadership. In dysfunctional low-morale organisations where that sort of trust is absent and where employees are disengaged from their leaders, it is likely that no amount of technology — whether new-wave ESN or old-school collaboration platforms — will get people to talk to each other, share, and engage in warm and fuzzy love-ins outside of their small in-the-know cliques.

For now, long-established office oracles and politicians who sit in their cubicles dispensing tips to new-starters, whispering convenient backdoors to over-engineered systems, and pointing colleagues to brilliant procedural workarounds can rest easy.

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