The Need for Balance In the Digital Age

For the last year we’ve been researching and working with all different types of organizations in the areas that relate to the use of digital, and especially digital social technologies. One of the most important factors for success (or failure) that we’ve consistently found is balance between three big aspects of an organization. They are depicted in the outside circles of the diagram below:

When we think about our organizations this way, we can start to make sense of challenges that we are facing, successes we have had, and things that we will have to work on to thrive going forward. Here is an example:

More than one of the organizations we studied have set themselves up over the course of the last few years in geographically separate units–some spread over a state, and some over the globe. These decisions represent a set of strategic and structural commitments (the top circle on the diagram). In two of these organizations, the units are still set up functionally so that they still have need to work together remotely, which is another strategic and structural commitment. In both of these organizations, however, they are still heavily using email and the telephone (the bottom-left circle on the diagram) as a way of interacting. The combination of these two facts is having effects on the people (the bottom-right circle). First, it is overloading each person’s email inbox with an average of hundreds of unread items per day, a fact that results in lost productivity and even stress and anxiety for some people. Second, it is having an effect on their relationships, since their interactions are limited to more one-to-one interactions now than if they were either physically co-located, or using a communication method that was more many-to-many than email or telephone.

Here is another example:

One of the organizations we encountered had at least a few employees who were digitally fluent. One of the member of the marketing staff had thousands of Twitter followers, and was actively engaged in Facebook, YouTube, etc. (the bottom-right circle). The leadership, on the other hand, was not very digitally fluent (the bottom-right circle). As a result, the leaders were not only unaware of the people in the organization who were digitally fluent, but they had set the organization’s strategy and structure (the top circle) on a course that treated social media marketing as just another channel through which they could push traditional marketing messages. They also did not allow the digitally fluent marketing staff access to tools that would have enabled them to reach out to a customer base who were showing signs of readiness to engage with the organization through YouTube, Twitter, etc. The overall outcome was not positive for anyone.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that the organizations who are thriving in the digital age are the ones who don’t just dump their resources into one or another of these areas by investing heavily in new tools, or by making grand plans for digital engagement, or by hiring a team of “social media rock stars.” In fact, doing one or two of these things in isolation may result in negative results by upsetting other aspects of the organization. The organizations who are thriving are constantly working to maintain the right balance between their strategies (where they are trying to go) and structures (how they organize themselves to get there), their tools (what technologies they will use), and their people (the skills and relationships they need).

Oh, and by the way, SociaLens has developed some clever ways to help organizations evaluate, improve and maintain this balance. If you would like our help, please contact us at christian[dot]briggs[at]socialens[dot]com.

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