Social networks will displace business processes, not socialize them

1Executive Summary

“Socialized business process” — the idea of adding social tools to traditional business processes — is unlikely to work in the long term. The enterprise is now transitioning to social network–based communication as introduced by social tools, and there is a fundamental conflict in communication models with business-process-centric business. The attempt to make the socialized business process work may be part of the adoption problem reported in the social-business industry.

The shift to social network’s pull communication, where individuals more or less subscribe to information sources, will run counter to business process push communication and eventually invalidate it. Push-and-pull communication styles won’t jibe, and pull lines up with the transition to social network–based communication. Most notably, this will undermine business processes and the collective-collaborative organization that evolved in parallel with business processes. The shift won’t take place in the way that email led to organizational flattening. Rather, it will invalidate the rules and roles of business processes and turn the process logic into just another kind of information passed along through the social network.

It may be obvious, but companies that are more oriented toward a connective-cooperative style of work will get more benefits from social networks than those that are less so. Stated more strongly, those wishing to get the boost that many believe is inherent in this lean, self-innovating, fast-and-loose model of work will have to actively move away from the cultural principles of slow-and-tight, twentieth-century business.

In order to better explore these rapidly changing dynamics, this report presents a psychodynamic cultural model for business called the 3C model. The name is based on three sorts of business culture:

  • Competitive: wheel-and-spoke organization, decision making by edict, feudal or clan culture
  • Collaborative: pyramid-and-processes organization, decision making by elite consensus, slow-and-tight culture
  • Cooperative: network-and-connections organization, laissez faire decision making, fast-and-loose culture

We also explore various archetypes of individuals’ psychosocial matches with the various flavors of companies. The freelancer and follower archetypes, for example, do well in cooperative settings, but they are poorly matched with entrepreneurial organizations (which may explain Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent edict excluding remote work.)

High-performing companies of the near future will be operating based on looser ties among individuals in and across businesses. Many more of them will be supported by next-generation cooperative tools. Individuals in these companies will have more autonomy, and there will be more opportunity seeking when compared to the largely slow-and-tight, risk-averse companies that are dominant today. The value of consensus is falling in a rapidly changing, unstable world where there is a higher premium for business innovation and more uncertainty than ever before. And this leads to a devaluation of business processes, in particular those business processes intended to direct human agency and to act as a surrogate for management directing employees’ every move.

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Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

researcher-at-large Stowe Boyd

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2 Comments Subscribers to comment

  1. Dave Duggal Monday, May 13, 2013

    Good report. I agree with overall premise, though I’m not sure it is binary question between structured procedural work and unstructured work, but more of a continuum.

    Many organizations, if not most, have to comply with complex regulations within, across and beyond their organizational units. There are also some policies that promote safety, security and transparency. In addition, there is certainly useful automation that perform functions or facilitate decisions. All of the above are premised on some notion of models of an organization that make this possible.

    The real problem is static, unyielding, uncooperative, slow changing, gratuitous procedures.

    I believe what we need are environments that enable people to ‘negotiate’ automation based on context to optimize their interactions for organization objectives. Shift focus from fixed procedures to goal-orientation. Be as flexible wherever possible, by default, and procedural only as necessary.

    This requires greater technological sophistication than either an unstructured or structured system.

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    1. I agree with some of what you’re getting at. But generally, I think the answer will reside in intelligent foundational systems, like unbreakable document management repositories like Interlinks, and real-time monitoring of messages to block traders from making guarantees, or to prohibit the inadvertent sharing of confidential information.

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