Dear CEO. Or owner. Or boss. Dear leader. Things are a real struggle for you lately, aren’t they? No matter how you try to adapt your organization, things just won’t click. Am I close? If so, this post is for you.
I’m a history and economics geek, but you probably aren’t, so I promise I’ll spare you. I just want to share the most-macro view of the history of work.
- First we hunted and gathered
- Then we farmed
- Then we worked in factories and our work became specialized
- Now we’re connected
That’s it, humanity summed up in four ages:
- Hunting Age
- Agricultural Age
- Industrial Age
- Social Age
The Social Age officially started with the demise of the Industrial Age: September 15, 2008. The day Lehman Brothers collapsed.
(Another way to think about all this is the transition from execution to expertise to … hopefully … empathy.)
If you’re a business leader, and things have been especially hard for you lately, that’s why. You’re operating by Industrial Age methods, and that age is behind us.
Are you yelling at your screen yet? Throwing things at it, even? I can hear those screams now. “But what about the Digital Age, which started in the 1970s with the proliferation of computers? Or the Information Age, which started in the 1990s with the broad adoption of the Internet?” Both of those advances – computers and the Internet – were absolutely essential for the Social Age to begin. They were necessary but not sufficient.
No. It wasn’t until we connected to each other via our computers, plugged into the Internet, that we were able to co-create this brave new age of work. Of humanity. Of “Thank God that’sover! Whew!”
I’ve been studying the Social Age for about the last five years – since well before I realized it was an actual age I was studying! That revelation only came only a few years ago, with the help of Mark Babbitt, my co-author of A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive. The Social Age is the headliner in that book. And our number one observation? Companies, and leaders, are missing the most important aspect of the age. As we urge throughout the book,
More social. Less media. Please.
(My friend Ted Bauer, who edits the Open for Business blog we have here, has also written about how companies often forget the first word of ‘social media.’ It’s a big mistake.)
Now let’s get to the point of this post: You are the point. You, as a leader, with all the trouble you’ve been having lately navigating the ever-changing, chaotic, downright terrifying business environment out there. Am I close? Are things just not like they used to be? Not like you studied at B-school? Not like your mentors taught you? Or like your parents, coaches, and teachers led you to expect? Not like how it was when you were younger and still proving yourself, in order to land the role you have now?
That’s right, things are different – fundamentally, incredibly, entirely different than anything you learned in the Industrial Age. Just like a factory is nothing like a farm, so too a Social Age company is nothing like an Industrial Age one.
More social. Less media. This new age is only barely about the technology, the media. It’s all about the humanity. The social. So here is some advice:
- The platforms and tools you use aren’t all that important. Sorry Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. Sorry Chatter and Yammer and Jive. All of those tools, those media, are absolutely helpful and in a broad view necessary to run your business today. But none of it is sufficient.
- Want to know what is sufficient, as in absolutely non-negotiable? Being social. Putting people, not process and hierarchy and title, front and center in your leadership. That’s why I insist…
- Your success or failure right now, this year, and ever more over the next five years, is going to be determined by only one thing: How social are you as a leader? How social is your organization’s culture? In other words, how human is your leadership?
We are no longer in a world of profits first, people second (or never). Today, the business environment demands you put people and profits together. And guess which one comes first? Guess which one you can’t ignore with a promise to get back to later, when you’re more able to focus on “extras” like morale, culture, recognition, collaboration, and other hard-to-metric-ify things?
That’s right: the important half of the term social media, that’s what. The only part of that two-word term that matters even a little.
Welcome to the Social Age. It’s a much more rewarding environment to be in. Leading can be joyful, instead of a frustrating struggle. You’re allowed – no, required! – to bring your soul to work.
Or don’t. And keep struggling. Until your board finds someone new to lead. Someone modern. A leader who knows that the Human Side of Business is the only side of business.
As it should always have been.
A former version of this post appeared on Ted’s previous blog.