Friday, 2 March 2012

The concerns of Social Enterprise

This post is the fifth in a series of six that deals with Social Business and Social Enterprise. The goal of the series: to explore the pros and cons of Social Business and Social Enterprise, given the current odds, and fast-forwarding to business opportunities now and in the near future

This post is about the concerns of Social Enterprise. While yesterday's was all about the concerns of Social Business, this one will take those concerns and apply them to Social Enterprise. An enterprise is a company with 10,000 employees or more, regardless of geographical dispersal (my definition)

So. Here we are. I gave my view on how we used to be naturally social and the current state of affairs: businesses trying to close the void of anonymity and re-establish trust. I then suggested how Social Business has tried to close that gap, and why that works.
One step further I dove into the Social Enterprise, first giving my view of the workings of the current Enterprise, then showing how it could greatly benefit from Social in order to solve its core problem: the survival of the fittest.
Then, I switched hats.
I put on my curmudgeon hat and had another look at Social. I voiced my concerns about Social Business, its challenges, its extremely high dependence on people for data quality and business information, as well its cannibalisation of your current business offerings.
Now, it's time to voice my concerns about Social Enterprise. And well about time, after this long introduction...

1. What is an Enterprise?

The Enterprise: a place where anonymity thrives. If you're lucky, you can get to meet 50% of your colleagues - the rest will have left before you can even get their names. All you know are your 50-100 direct colleagues, half of whom you've never met, nor will ever meet.
An enterprise is an organisation where your colleagues aren't intimate friends, but complete strangers

2. The social pleonasm

Have you ever heard of the Social Entrepreneur? Social SMB? The Social corner store? They are social by nature.
Annual pay rises, bonuses, rewards, compliments, gratitude: if you're one of the five employees in a corner store, you'll know exactly who gets what, when, why and how. You either witness it yourself, or your boss tells you (and / or all), or the grapevine whispers it into your ear.
When you are at such close proximity to all who make up the entire company, it's just hard, if not impossible, to miss the major individual events for all its employees

3. The anti-social Enterprise

An Enterprise is anti-social by nature.
An Enterprise functions, because anonymity thrives highly. I'm not a conspiracy theory kind of guy, as I don't like to live in the past - you can't change the past. So whether it's intended or accidental doesn't matter, but within an Enterprise all kinds of actions take place that keep you alienated from the company: take-overs, re-organisations, management changes, personnel manager replacements: 10, 5, 3 and 1 years for those respetively, on average.
Even when you make agreements with your direct manager, his boss, the HR department or whom- or whatever, an enterprise is known to unilaterally change the Rules to the Game - if you're lucky, with some notice

4. The Ultimate Enterprise: the Perfection of the Pillar to Post Play

Is it a goal? Is it a means? Regardless, it's a result, and the status quo. "Orders from headquarters" will be the final answer you get even when you try your very hardest to challenge a proposition decree nibbling off yet another limb of your own.
You check first with your direct colleagues - most of which appear to either not have taken notice, nor issues with it. Then you contact a few of your favourite colleagues, half of which appears to be subject to a different rule, and the other half (naturally) agrees with you - half of which have found some way to settle this but then they have different managers each.
Then, in the end, there you are: all alone. Fight or flight? Or bend and break?

5. The promise of Social Enterprise

Citing from two posts ago:

Social tools - unstructured information and knowledge can flow freely across all the political, regional and hierarchical boundaries of an Enterprise, cutting through all the meat and bones that usually form such a thick layer to penetrate

I can see where this would help realising a few extra business opportunities, but this kind of information sharing in general would connect the dots enterprise-wide as well. Yes goal, but yes also threat - as usual a strong(est) point is also a weak(est) point in some other context.
Sharing information across the entire enterprise? How about sharing all the information that the average corner store has access to? Performance, reward, potential, salary increase?
The concrete or swamp ceiling enterprises somehow magically have, where promotion simply drops dead after age 40 or 20 years of service, which ever comes first, might become apparent to all - turn into a glass ceiling and break, sharding everyone below.
That would seriously undermine the entire concept of how an Entrprise functions, if not utterly destroy it

6. Gamification of the Enterprise - reversed

While the above could and probably would be simply forbidden by some kind of "Social Enterprise code of Conduct" that employees would be forced to implicitly adhere to, the disgruntled will find each other and share the information via countless other channels outside the Enterprise. This time, the joke will be on the Enterprise, in stead of its employees.
Social will introduce a new kind of Unions into the Enterprise: a multi-headed beast that can't be corrupted. In stead of one-for-all, all-for-one, selective groups will use their added value to undo their exploitation.
Next to that, the usual crown princes will combine forces and demand an even bigger share

And as current Enterprise reward systems are, handing out fixed bags of money to business unit managers half-way through the year based on expected turnover, the cut for the non-aggressive will be even less than it always used to be, and they'll start to become really seriously undercut this time, maybe even having to turn in money while the economy and company profit is doing swell.
When those find out and organise, via the same ubiquitous Social information sharing system, they might find out they've been cash cows for years on a 0-1% annual pay rise

7. Extending Social outside the Enterprise

All this might be (serious) collateral damage, as long as employees compare their own performance and rewards within the Enterprise. But Social is contageous, and if you learn to like or love it during your work, chances are high that you'll be Social on some other network(s) as well, and meet similar people from other companies - need I say more?

8. Undoing global differences really quickly

We've witnessed outsourcing and offshoring, largely enabled by differences in living standards between countries. We've also seen many companies having a good part of their workforce in India or other countries, to profit from that.
What if - what if?! - those Indian colleagues learn that their Western counterparts make 10-15 times the amount of money, just because they are doing the same work in another continent or timezone? Of course they couldn't exploit that situation within their current company, but they can get a job at a competitor in "the West".
Triple damage there: low-cost Indian lost, competitor achieved a skilled and relatively cheap resource, and you probably paid for all the training to lead to that as well - not to mention the fractionary cost of providing him with Social Tools when he was on your side...

9. Simply ignoring the command & control

Check only the drawing of Hugh MacLeod in my benefits of Social Enterprise post, and you'll get the point: the Gervais principle:

A sociopath-entrepreneur with an idea recruits just enough losers to kick off the cycle. As it grows it requires a clueless layer to turn it into a controlled reaction rather than a runaway explosion

The clueless layer is there to absorb the bottom-up information flow, while freely letting the top-down flow through. It functions like a veil; the puppeteers (Board of Directors) can see through it, but no one on the outside can see what they're doing. The clueless layer is in fact made up of many thin clueless layers, hiding one from another.
And as long as it's intact, the Enterprise will function as usual

Social will bring transparency to the Enterprise, all across the board. And like any old-boys network the average Enterprise is, they thrive on secrecy and anonymity. I honestly don't see a bigger threat to the existence of Enterprises than the side-effects that Social Enterprise will bring

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