Social Business and the Command & Control Excuse

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Post by: Sigurd Rinde

A few days ago I had the usual pleasure of reading one of Euan’s posts, where there was one paragraph that triggered something in my mind:

“On the same day I get an email from a senior official in a government job saying “I’m beginning to think that the inherently democratic nature of social media tools is the very reason why they are being restricted or marginalised in some organisations.

After all, the traditional notion of command and control is still very much alive in the dark heart of many business places – symptomatic of a deeply entrenched need for power….?”

When Social Business meets feet-dragging old school hierarchical organisations it’s quite natural to raise the obvious “but Social Business does make sense, so why not embrace it?”. And what is a more natural explanation than “it’s the hang to command & control”.

On first glance I do “buy the argument” but then…

…I think it’s something entirely different.

Think “accountability”. Say you’ve been given a task, accepted it, and now you will have to answer to somebody or somebodies, or even the whole firm. But then you need help, from your peers or your subordinates:

Now you’re facing the obvious need to transfer accountability for that specific task to an assignee, otherwise you’d be out on a limb. Sure, if you’re in a good old hierarchy and have subordinates that’s doable by decree and the “enforcement” is easy come next bonus meet.

But if you need help from peers, or even a superior, maybe even from some other department, how easy is it then to nail accountability on that assignee? How would the organisation enforce that? 

It cannot. That would be against the hierarchy’s very design so you’re basically stuck with subordinates for help, or do it all yourself.

Transfer of accountability must be visible and recordable, but that’s not enough, an orderly transfer of all what the assignee needs to do the job properly (anything else is unfair and ineffective) is crucial. You cannot just say “do this” then leave, you need to transfer all pertinent information, the full context, before even an acceptance can be had.

Proper handover!

In other words, transfer of accountability, handing over the key for all to see as well as all information, is a sequence of activities in itself, it’s proper process. And that process must be embedded in the framework to ensure proper recording and the full transfer of accountability.  

And here comes the Social Business “situation” in: As there is no clear distribution, no process engine nor framework to handle such, including the transfer of all pertinent information and context, the situation becomes all too similar to nailing your boss’s boss to be accountable for a task you have tried to give him when passing him in the hallway. If it works, you’re in luck, but hardly a mechanism to build effective businesses on.

Social Business would indeed be able to open up the hierarchy so “resources” can be more effectively used disregarding organisational silos and walls. But it does not address the accountability transfer issue, instead it lazily blames the lack of enthusiasm on some notion of “need for command & control”.

I think the reluctance to adopt is healthy, nobody wants to be accountable while soliciting help does not allow proper transfer of accountability. That’s like being responsible for what some strangers are doing on the street outside your house. Do not expect that to happen.

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