People are really not that stupid…

If you know me at all, you will have realised that I am an early adopter.  Social media – in fact the whole social momentum thing – is no exception. I have welcomed it with open arms, embracing it like an old friend. And with only a few notable exceptions – Measuring Social Influence and Talent Communities being two – I am wholeheartedly sold on the value.  It’s here to stay and we had better get used to it.

But despite all my energy, passion, knowledge and, more recently, commercial application of the social subject matter, it’s taken me a long time to learn a very important lesson. You see, after spending far too many years talking to organisations about their people issues and the need for change, I have finally realised something: The people That I’ve had the hardest job convincing, from CEO’s through to HR/Change management professionals are not, in fact, that stupid.  No. In the vast majority of cases, they completely understand. They just don’t show it.

The last 18 months have been a revaluation to me in a number of ways, but chief amongst those is the clarity I have between two different types of people:

  1. Those that genuinely don’t understand what you are talking about or see the value of what you are proposing, despite the evidence
  2. Those that completely understand it but the proposal, or the implications cut deep into their own insecurities or values

More often than not, the second type do a damn good job of masquerading as the first – with total commitment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid either! 😉 (Shut up @neilmorrison) Im old enough and ugly enough (I said, shut up @neilmorrison) to understand politics and the subtleties of leadership and human behaviour.  But when you work as an independent consultant, you suddenly see these people, now your clients, through a new lens. As a fresh pair of eyes, you see things that you just sometimes miss as a permanent member of staff – especially at management or leadership level. I was never completely convinced of that but I am now.  Of course, this independence can rob you of any real insight into the inner workings of the people agenda in an organisation, especially in the early days. This obviously works well in terms of clarity and objectivity, but it also can give you a distorted picture of the dynamics – the power bases, the alignments and so on.

And so it is that I have come to be much more aware of how people react both to me and the work that I do. And it is this clarity around the issue of those in group 2 that has been the biggest eye opener.  The insecurities amongst these people obviously vary – ego, fear of losing control, loss of self esteem, challenge to ambition etc – but the reaction is almost universally the same:  Weave a complex web of misunderstanding, process and procedure that slows progress down to sufficient levels so that they can either a) Control it or b) Stall it as long as possible. Either way, its incredibly frustrating, especially when you know that the employees are generally perhaps more willing than the leadership to move forward.

However, I have also thought – through reference to experience – that as consultants we might possibly be seen in exactly the same light by the client – weaving a web of nonsense, perhaps for personal gain, and stubbornly refusing to see the value in what the other party is saying. After all we are only human.  The truth be known, we are probably not that far apart. Ultimately we are still obsessing over the minutia of the social phenomena (or its latest manifestation) and both parties – corporate leadership AND the consultants and agencies – are missing the bigger picture.  It’s like obsessing over the wheel: “It might run over my foot”, instead of considering the opportunities for global transportation.

Just as the the web made organisations accountable to their customers, the social phenomena, and the media through which it is spreading, will make organisations accountable to their employees. The challenges your organisation faces – tactical and strategic – are already known by the people in the business, at all levels. All the talent you will ever need as an organisation to tackle these problems already resides within the business. And the answers you need to navigate to future success lie within these people. Despite what you might think.

Opening up the water cooler conversation through honest, open and frank internal exchanges – offline as well as online – can literally change lives. To focus on the process, the fears, the project, the case study or the fee, is the quickest way to ensure that the fundamentals outlined in the above paragraph are missed.

So for now, its back to stretching those listening and influencing skills. To patching up a gash or two in someones insecurity – including mine – in an effort to raise the bar and the level of conversation. Social is here – lets not let the minutia get in the way of exploiting the opportunity of a lifetime. For everyone…

1 Comment

  1. Thought provoking and interesting post with a huge amount of truth and facts, compliments to you Gareth.
    So we seem to have a small percentage (my estimate max 25%) that get it, that adopt it and who reap the benefits of SM, and then all the rest the fence sitters, the doubters and/or all those that simply do not understand.
    That said who is it that get it? – here a mix of the Fortune 100/500 and others outside this, why it can hardly be said that there is a pattern. I met recently with a USD 10 bill global Fortune 500 company that has barely begun looking at SM and its opportunities!

    My take is that one of two things will happen. 1. the global war for talent will intensify (and despite current economic climate, it has in many industries only slowed down slightly) and companies (management teams) will realise that they are loosing out big time if they do not have a very strong and active SM policy/presence, why there may suddenly be a strong demand and flurry of activity in this space
    2. It will be a slow and steady ‘seeing the light’ process, with more and more fence sitters getting down on the right side of the fence and starting to understand and use SM.
    With majority of those in management positions being anything from their 40’ties to 60’ties (and only 30-40% of these really getting/understanding SM) it may be a question of the younger Gen Y getting a foothold before a true change will be seen.

    Having myself only just through having time on my hand had the opportunity to learn about the world and opportunities of SM, I think the biggest obstacle is ignorance as to what SM is, what it means and what impact it can and will have going forward.

    That can only be achieved through relentless pumping information and explanation out into the market, – tiring and with no guarantee of success/adoption but only way.


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