is your organizational culture based on fear or trust?

Phot by SeenyaRita

Photo by SeenyaRita

I just came across this article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, in which she makes the case for enabling regular office workers to work from home one day a week.  She makes all the right points — about how this would cut down on traffic, emissions, hassle, sick days, etc. etc. — but I really focused in on what she said were the obstacles, or barriers, to making this change.

She lists:

  • accountability
  • collaboration
  • trust
  • personal responsibility

What interests me about this list is how similar it is to the attributes necessary for successfully integrating social media into an organization.

Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable touches on many of these attributes when she talks about their Community Maturity Model. Her model provides a very clear way of thinking about how ready your organization might be for “socialization,” by looking at your organization’s

  1. Strategy
  2. Leadership
  3. Culture
  4. Community Management
  5. Content & Programming
  6. Policy & Governance
  7. Tools
  8. Measurement

Going back to RM Kanter’s list of barriers, I would assign all of these to Rachel’s category of culture. To me, this is the category that touches on and cuts through all the other categories.  An organization’s culture both determines and is determined by the organization’s leadership, who are largely responsible for devising strategy and the policies & governance that are supposed to support that strategy.  Even the tools that are used and the measurements that are valued are determined by the organization’s culture.

What it comes down to is this:

Is your organization based on a culture of fear or a culture of trust?

Now, sure, few organizations will jump up and say “Fear! We base all our actions on fear. Thanks for helping us clarify that.”

But fear is what lies behind distrust.  And distrust means that managers don’t trust their employees to be accountable, collaborative, or responsible.

Does this look like your organization?

In terms of working from home:

  • It means they don’t trust their workers to work from home and still get the work done on time and done well.
  • It means they don’t trust their workers to actually work from home rather than spend the time eating, shopping, or gadding about town.

In terms of socializing the organization, opening it up to the use of social media:

  • It means they don’t trust their workers to properly represent the organization online.
  • It means they don’t trust their workers to keep confidential information private.
  • It means they don’t trust their workers to respond to negative comments in a constructive way.

It means that they don’t trust their workers.

When I wrote last spring about the importance of creating an organizational social media policy, I commented on how trust should already be the cornerstone of an organization’s relationships with its employees anyway. I mean, you trust them with so much already:

It’s been said that companies would do well to remember that they have to trust their employees on these issues every day already — every time they talk to a customer, deal with a member, gab with a vendor, or work with a sponsor, you are trusting them to represent you and your brand responsibly, with discretion and integrity.

If you haven’t hired people you can trust to behave like responsible adults, then there is a deeper problem.

If your organizational culture is based on fear, then there is a much deeper problem. You might like to call it being “risk-averse,” but please believe me: this will cripple your organization in the days and months to come.

3 Thoughts.

  1. Pingback: Links for August 16, 2009 | Eric D. Brown - Technology, Strategy, People, Projects

  2. Hi Beth –

    Thanks for another great extension of some of the stuff we’ve been working on. What is so interesting is Jim & I have recently been talking a lot about our Community Maturity Model and how the different competencies we cover change in priority as a community matures. One of the points that came up is that in the first stage, culture has to be one of the key priorities because if you don’t have the cultural foundation for social media and community, all the rest simply doesn’t matter.

  3. Pingback: Links for August 16, 2009 « Technology Strategy Center

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