Oct 26, 2010

Time for a Chief Social Officer?

Stowe Boyd makes a great case for a Chief Social Officer I still think the agenda should be owned by whoever is responsible for building the organizational culture - usually the OD head or the HR head. Or is it time for building a "social business unit" as Dion Hinchcliffe of the Dachis Group blogged recently.

Personally, I think structures are half the solution - and the easiest to do. What really is a challenge is the change in processes which impacts the work of a large number of employees.

Here is an excerpt from Stowe's post:

Likewise, the way we work is changing, too, as we adopt new tools. Kenneth Boulding said ‘We make our tools and they shape us,’ and that is perhaps nowhere more true than in the adoption of social tools.

With the empirical evidence from open social networks, business is moving quickly to apply the network effect to people-based business operations. But actually digging into the social dimension upends some conventional, industrial era assumptions. For example, recent research has shown that that raw intelligence is not the most critical factor in group productivity. Adding a highly intelligent person to a group involved in a difficult task does not increase the likelihood that the task will be accomplished. It turns out, according to Anita Wooley of CMU:

What mattered instead was the social sensitivity of individual members, the proportion of women (who tend to be more sensitive) in each group, and a balanced participation of conversation.

So the capability of a group to assimilate a challenge, and effectively respond to it — or, social cognition — depends on many factors, and less on individual IQ than we might assume. And anything that can increase social sensitivity — either through demographic balancing of groups, or tools or training to help balance conversation — will benefit the company’s resilience and rapport.

So perhaps it should be Chief Cognition Officer? A senior executive that puts practices and technologies in place to make the company smarter? Maybe bridging IT and HR functions?

I am sure these musings won’t make an impact on the mainstream readers of the Harvard Business Review, who are conservative as cats, and most likely to accept the Chief Collaboration Officer idea and title, and reluctantly at that.

But then, they haven’t come full circle to the deepest understanding of network effects: that knowledge, reason, and values are emergent properties of social systems, of people connected. As David Weinberger once said, ‘There are no smart people, only smart conversations.’ And a business is best considered as a network of conversations, as Gregory Bateson observed, way back in the ’60s.

Maybe Chief Conversation Officer?