The social enterprise is a myth

The social enterprise is a myth

Summary: We're told that millennials look for different things to those of older generations and that we need change inside companies to retain talent. Survey results suggest otherwise.


There is a fascinating ongoing poll at LinkedIn that asks the following question:

What is the most important factor that keeps you in your current role?

The illustration at the top shows the overall results but it is only when you break down those same results by age group that you get a better sense of how different age groups respond.

Warning: these results have to be read with some caution because they rely on individual LinkedIn profile data and not everyone completes those to the extent necessary for this poll analysis to be wholly accurate. In this case, only 47% of respondents have included their age. Even so, there are enough responses in the reported 18-29 age group to start drawing inferences. (33% of the total that report their age.) However, this should be tempered by the fact that this group is wholly self selecting and took the time to provide an answer.

age group resultAnd guess what? Contrary to everything that social enterprise wonks tell us, salary and career progression come out way above other factors for this group. Should that surprise? No.

I have had this argument with many 'social anything' promoters and the question I always raise is: 'When people come into a particular company, what are they really looking for?' I get a multitude of answers but they almost always center around the idea that somehow, people want to replicate their private lives through access to social tools, they want drop dead simple solutions with which to do their job all wrapped up in a great company culture that values ongoing learning. I argue this is the wrong answer. 

Instead, I argue that new hires want exactly what I see in this chart -  a great salary and the opportunity to progress (i'e. enhance position and paycheck.) They may think that what the social crowd says is what they'll get but that doesn't happen in the real world. It is only as people get older that they value things like work life balance more than other factors. I equally argue that in order to advance one's career, the one thing that will absolutely hold people back is being disruptive in any way. The pressure to conform is strong in many companies and even more so in uncertain times where holding onto a job comes above pretty much everything else. 

Recently, I checked in with one of our grandchildren who is 22 and works in a call center. The company uses an SAP system which he describes as 'crap' because it takes forever to do things. I asked how this affects his ability to do the job. The answer was not surprising. 'You find ways to work around the 50 odd clicks needed to get something done.' I asked whether a better system would be welcome. That question had never occurred to him and again it doesn't surprise.

Contrary to what I hear from 'social anything' folk, the vast majority of people go to work to get paid and hopefully advance their careers. They're not sitting around pondering how much better the workplace could be if only they had the latest shiny new social toy. 

Now check the following graph for the 45+ age group:

45 age groupOnce again, salary comes out on top although now, we see work/life balance as the second most important thing that people value for keeping them in their job. That doesn't surprise either given the current economic uncertainty. The only age group where company culture tops the results is in the 37-44 age group. Even there, career progression is a close second. Training and development is consistently the lowest ranked factor for all age groups. 

What I am seeing in these results is a repeat of the past. If I put on my 'fresh out of school' hat on and think about the things that mattered at that time, I would have chosen the same as the 18-29 group. The same goes for choices I would make in every age group in this poll with the exception of the 45+ age group where I would have valued company culture first and work life balance second. 

The 'social anything' crowd know that in order to bring change, company culture and top leadership buy in are critical to success in bringing that change. However, when I hear the hard luck stories around social adoption and change I am left thinking that it is often the second and third tier management that are truly critical. Yet this is the group that is the most resistant. Why? This survey would seem to provide the bones of an alternative argument. 

That is, if salary and career progression are consistently top of the pops across age groups then how are you going to behave in the real world? The answer is self evident. You will do everything possible to preserve the status quo. It is only after you have achieved your work goals that attention goes elsewhere. 

Where does this leave us? The ongoing debate about the effectiveness of 'social everything' seems to have skewed in favor of those who seek to maximise the impact on the final consumer. In other words, it has become another marketing tool. However, its real effectiveness is questionable when the dominant platform is Facebook which in turn has an advertising business model and which has seen brands walk away because they don't find it as effective as the social crowd would have them believe. 

I believe that in order for any business to become social in the way that many suggest, you have to start from the inside. You have to think about developing behaviors which encourage the taking on of social with the obvious rider that there has to be something in it for the person tasked to behave in a more social manner. That would imply the building of a learning culture where the customer and employee truly matter and where the default advertising model is challenged. 

Unfortunately, that is not what we see in the real world. If anything, Brian Sommer's description of the 'ossified' corporation seems far more likely to be the case. And if you believe that to be true then is it any surprise that the LinkedIn poll provides the results that it does?

Of course you can always argue that since we don't have all the age related data, overall results are the only ones that matter, regardless of age and that therefore my argument is full of holes. You can also argue that I have implied answers to questions that were not raised. I think that second argument is harder to make stand up. I am suggesting that despite the rallying cry of the 'social everything' crowd, the results jibe with the past. In other words, nothing much has changed, even for those who can be regarded as social in the sense they have a LinkedIn profile and are active enough that they want to know the answer to the question posed. 

In the meantime - what would you say? Do the findings of this poll connect with what you know or experience in your current job?  

Topic: Social Enterprise

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  •, dual sim android

    salary first,i'm 29 years old
  • Introducing facts not into evidence

    You are using non sequiturs here. I am guessing that you have never seen an effective Social Enterprise. They do exist. Some companies stumble and fall when they spend too much time on "governance" or fixate on "facebook-like" walls as you seem to be doing. However, Social Enterprise is far more than a Facebook wall. It is about assembling virtual teams within a geographically dispersed organization by using social information.
    Your Non Advocate
    • i'll disagree

      I believe the author stated it well, and the evidence is that social enterprises are a myth. I fall into the 45+ range and I am much more concerned about salary and work-life balance than any social enterprise attempt at my company.

      Additionally, you state that the author has never seen a social enterprise. Well, neither have I. Can you give examples of companies that have implemented a social enterprise?
      • The author stated it in the "Warning"

        These survey numbers are complete bulls--t and so every conclusion drawn from them is utter nonsense.
      • Employee Retention Employee Productivity

        What difference does work-life balance and salary have on social enterprise? Will you not use a particular tool based on your salary? The article is basically stating that after the Rain Dance, there was rain, therefore rain dancing causes rain.
        Your Non Advocate
    • FWIW

      I have and continue to work in virtual teams around the world that are assembled on a needs basis and then are collapsed. I didn't say I agree. I said I observe - 2 different things.
      • managing teams is a social enterprise?

        team foundation server is your answer then
        • TFS manages projects

          It does not allow you to find the best .Net developer in the company or the best engagement with experience in a particular widget that your company will deploy. So, no, TFS is not a social tool. SharePoint, either OOB or with add-ons such as AvePoint is a social product that allows you to collaborate with geographically dispersed teams and assemble virtual teams, not based on hiearchy, but on fitness.

          Fundamentally, this article asks the wrong questions. Why anyone would make a comparison to SAP and social enterprise is beyond my comprehension. That is like stating the dirigible is a great way to meet people. The two are completely unrelated.
          Your Non Advocate
    • Social information?

      "It is about assembling virtual teams within a geographically dispersed organization by using social information."

      What exactly is 'social information'? Is it different from plain-old information? Enterprises have been sharing information since the stone age. Occasionally a new technology comes along that changes how that communication flows, like the carrier pigeon, telephone, or email.

      The question is whether or not "social media" changes this communication much over, say, email and document storage of various kinds and the answer seems to be no.

      For the majority of my career the absolute LAST THING that I need is more information flowing. My biggest problem is filtering the communication down to where I can still get work done despite all the communication.

      Every social media experiment that I have seen just created more information flow with less relevance than what comes by other channels thereby adding overhead rather than value.

      The new fresh-out-of-college crop seems to end up working just like everyone else does and seems fine with it. They jab at their cellphone more for outside-work related things, but that is about it.
  • Interesting Info

    Although this article does lack some solid evidence, this information can be useful for any organization as a starting place for hiring and managing the workforce. It would be interesting to see follow up studies done on this.

    Mosaic Technology
    • Decisions

      I'm going to throw this one out there.
      I think that you have to look at the data, not statically in terms of, "I'm in a job because..." but in the rationale that supports a decision to join or leave a company.
      e.g. Millenials are more likely to join or leave a company because of the culture. etc etc.
      I know I've left because of culture, but now that I'm getting a little bit older, and I have a kid, I'd chase the dime to support my family. Culture would now be secondary to money.
  • Pretty much obvious, really.

    People work to get paid. It's been this way since the dawn of industrial age, and probably longer, hasn't it? The #1 reason most people go to work is to get a paycheck to generate income for supporting their family.

    Everything else comes second; whether it is career growth or work/life balance. That is pretty obvious too.

    The new fad of ''Social Whatever'' doesn't change that. The only way ''social'' is going to make any inroads to the emterprise is to improve either the company's or the individual employee's earnings capacity. It doesn't.

    It adds cost and complexity and asks employees to make themselves less valuable by giving away their knowledge to lesser paid employees who will be used to replace them.

    Is it any wonder that real people living in the real world with real bills to pay don't buy into the social lie?

    Just my own $0.02 USD as a voice from the IT trenches these last 30 years.

  • everyone knows that SAP is ugly

    but how it relates to the 'social enterprise'?
    • It doesn't...

      ....the point is that my lad had never *thought* of an alternative.
      • and what if

        the young gentleman had found and implemented a better call management software, it would somehow have made his company a social enterprise?

        Same everything, but to make his work done he now needs to make two clicks instead of fifty - and the whole company becomes something different from it what was before? Really.

        I rest my case.
        • ...but but but

          ...we're told that a social enterprise is one where the sharing of knowledge and information is encouraged yet he is working in an environment where it isn't made clear or obvious that he can at least think about these topics.
          • What is his social infrastructure?

            What tools, methodologies or processes are in place that encourages social collaboration? Clearly, you cannot mean SAP.

            A lot of people in a company is not a "social enterprise". It's just an enterprise. Without encouragement - either through tools or methodolgies - an enterprise will remain an enterprise.

            Furthermore, your grandson' inability to recognize the potential for improvement is merely anecdotal and says more about your grandson than anything else.
            Your Non Advocate
  • I don't know about a full-blown "social enterprise," but . . .

    I don't know about a full-blown "social enterprise," but - it would really be nice to improve communications within most businesses. There's a really big need out there for improved communications, especially between the lowest level, the customers, and the top level.

    All too often I see the "ivory tower" effect in action, killing the business because the top level ignores the bottom. Many businesses would improve by an enormous amount if their top level execs would actually bother to actually leave the ivory tower every once in a while and see what happens at the bottom.

    A new method of communications inside a business doesn't have to be "social," and it doesn't have to be like Facebook. It just has to work. And it has to be totally ignorant of position and pay grade. Everybody should be able to communicate with everybody else on an equal level, without having to go through a hierarchy or cutting through red tape. And everybody should be encouraged to use it, even the board members and CEO.
    • Agreed

      It seems to me that in medium-to-large businesses, the management have no idea about how the business actually works.
      They don't seem to know anything about the processes or equipment required to produce their products or services.

      I suggest that's why their first response to revenue problems, is to sack the workforce.
      If they spent some time "in the trenches" they'd soon discover the real reasons (e.g. inadequate equipment or training, ridiculous administrative procedures, etc.).
  • 2 things are VERY wrong here.

    As great as LinkedIn is, surveys on it are not scientific or statistically valid. Running a Survey on LinkedIn is like standing on a street corner asking people if they'd be interested in answering your survey, then recording the answers of those who say yes. You are going to have a lot of people whose answers you DON'T collect, and their perspectives could be (and likely are) VERY different from the rest. Trusting a survey from LinkedIn as fact is a pretty risky thing to do.

    Second, I've never seen ANYTHING (except Dennis Howlett's silly article above) that suggests that the Social Enterprise excludes money and advancement. To the contrary, I'd suggest the Social Enterprise is ultimately about getting your work done in the way you feel most comfortable, so that you CAN be promoted and earn more. In general, people are not going to move away from the things that have motivated them for centuries... money, power, food, shelter, family, sex, etc. Take those "givens" out of the mix, restructure the survey to address the things that improve someone's productivity, run it in a statistically significant way, and THEN I'll listen.

    Until then, this article is just drivel from a curmudgeon.