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Traditionally, we’ve thought of corporations as organizations that had clear boundaries, formal procedures, and well-defined authority structures. In contrast, social movements are seen as more spontaneous and fluid. The term social movementA type of group action that is focused on specific political or social issues. refers to a type of group action that is focused on specific political or social issues; examples include the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the gay rights movement. Leaders of social movements depend on charisma rather than authority to motivate participants to action. Contemporary management theory, however, is showing that the lines between the two are blurring: corporations are becoming more like social movements, and social movements are taking on more permanence. Just as companies are outsourcing specific jobs, so social movements can contract out tasks like lobbying and fundraising.
We are more connected, at least virtually, than ever before.
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Corporations can implement initiatives that mimic a social movement. Consider how the CEO of one bank described a program he introduced: “The hierarchical management structure will give way to some collective activities that will improve our effectiveness in the marketplace. Decisions won’t flow from a management level to people on the line who are expected to implement those decisions.…We’re telling everyone, choose a process, figure out what and where the problems are, work together to come up with solutions, and then put your solutions to work.”Davis, G. F., McAdam, D., Scott, W. R., & Zald, M. N. (Eds.). (2005). Social Movements and Organization Theory. Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 283. Thus, more and more leading businesses are harnessing the mechanics of social movements to improve how they will manage their businesses in the future.
Social networkingSystems that allow members of a specific site to learn about other members’ skills, talents, knowledge, or preferences. refers to systems that allow members of a specific site to learn about other members’ skills, talents, knowledge, or preferences. Companies use these systems internally to help identify experts.
In the world, at large, social networks are groups of individuals who share a common interest or passion. Poker players, dog lovers, and high school alumni are a few examples of social networks in action. In the corporate world, a social network is made up of individuals who share an employer and, potentially, other interests as well. But in the pre-Internet age, managers lacked the tools to recognize or tap the business value of in-house social networks. The company softball team was a social network, sure. But what did that have to do with the bottom line?
Today, social networks are starting points for corporate innovation: potentially limitless arrangements of individuals inspired by opportunities, affinities, or tasks. People feel better and work better when they belong to a group of other people like themselves.Rummler, L. (2007, July). Corporate social networking updates definition of women’s groups. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from http://www.talentmgt.com/newsletters/recruitment_perspectives/2007/July/380/index.php. This new attitude toward social networks in the workplace has been fueled by the growth of social networking sites like Facebook.
Facebook was started by then-college student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 as a way of connecting a social network—specifically, university students. Since then, Facebook has changed the way organizations connect as well. Some companies maintain a physical presence on Facebook that allows consumers to chime in about their passions (or lack of them) for corporate offerings, news, and products. Starbucks has adopted this model, asking consumers to help them revive their product lines and image.
As Zuckerberg told the Wall Street Journal, “We just want to share information more efficiently.”Vara, V. (2007, May 21). Facebook opens its pages as a way to fuel growth. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB117971397890009177-wjdKPmjAqS_9ZZbwiRp_CoSqvwQ_20070620.html. And, in the information age, that’s what social networks do best. Companies are applying the online social networking model of open and closed groups to their corporate intranets, creating secure sites for employees in different locations to collaborate on projects based on common interests, management directives, and incentives. For example, IBM’s pilot virtual world will let Big Blue employees use chat, instant messaging, and voice communication programs while also connecting to user-generated content in the public spaces of Second Life, another large social networking site. IBM also opened a virtual sales center in Second Life and, separately from the Second Life partnership, is building an internal virtual world where work groups can have meetings.
The use of online social networking principles can open the door to outside collaborations. For example, Netflix offered a million-dollar reward to anyone in the company’s social network of interested inventors who could improve the algorithm that matches movie lovers to new titles they might enjoy. Companies like Procter & Gamble and InnoCentive are tapping social networks of scientists to improve their products.
Social networks fueled by passion can help managers retain, motivate, and educate staff. They might even help Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg with an in-house dilemma as his company grows. According to the Wall Street Journal, the world’s most dynamic social networking site has “little management experience.”
In a 1993 article, Harvard Business School professor David Garvin defined a learning organizationAn organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights. as “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.”Garvin, D. (1993, July–August). Building a learning organization. Harvard Business Review, 78–91. The five building blocks of learning organizations are
A virtual organizationOrganizations with members who are geographically apart and who usually work by computer e-mail and groupware while appearing to others to be a single, unified organization with a real physical location. is one in which employees work remotely—sometimes within the same city, but more often across a country and across national borders. The company relies on computer and telecommunications technologies instead of physical presence for communication between employees. E-mail, wikis, Web meetings (i.e., like Webex or GoToMeeting), phone, and Internet relay chat (IRC) are used extensively to keep everyone in touch. Virtual companies present special leadership challenges because it’s essential for leaders to keep people informed of what they are supposed to be doing and what other arms of the organization are doing. Communication in a commons area is preferable to one-on-one communication because it keeps everyone up to speed and promotes learning across the organization.
Wikis provide companies with a number of benefits:Tapscott, A., & A. D. Williams. (2006). Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio.
With more and more companies outsourcing work to other countries, managers are turning to tools like wikis to structure project work globally. A wikiAn Internet-based method for many people to collaborate and contribute to a document or discussion. is a way for many people to collaborate and contribute to an online document or discussion (see “The Value of Wikis”). The document remains available for people to access anytime. The most famous example is Wikipedia. A wikified organization puts information into everyone’s hands. Managers don’t just talk about empowering workers—the access to information and communication empowers workers directly. People who are passionate about an idea can tap into the network to make the idea happen. Customers, too, can rally around an issue and contribute their opinions.
Many companies that are not solely virtual use the principles of a virtual organization as a way to structure the work of globally distributed teams. VeriFone, one of the largest providers of electronic payment systems worldwide, has development teams working on software projects around the world. In what the company calls a “relay race,” developers in Dallas working on a rush project send unfinished work at quitting time to another development center in Laupahoehoe, Hawaii. When the sun sets there, the project is handed off to programmers in Bangalore, India, for further work, and by morning, it’s back in Dallas, 16 hours closer to completion. Similarly, midwestern Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC) outsourced some design work to Chennai, India. Having U.S. and Indian designers collaborate 24/7 has helped PCMC slash development costs and time, enabling the company to stay in business, according to CEO Robert Chapman. Chapman said, ““We can compete and create great American jobs, but not without offshoring.”Engardio, P. (2006, January 30). The future of outsourcing. BusinessWeek.
Virtual organizations also pose management challenges. In practical terms, if everyone is empowered to be a decision maker but various people disagree, how can decisions be made? If all workers can work at the times they choose, how can management be sure that workers are doing their work—as opposed to reading Web sites for fun, shopping, or networking with friends—and that they are taking appropriate breaks from work to avoid burnout? There are also challenges related to the virtual environment’s dependence on computers and Web security.
In today’s fast-changing world, organizations are becoming more like social movements, with more fluid boundaries and more participation in leadership across all levels. Social networks within corporations let employees find out about one another and access the people who have the skills, knowledge, or connections to get the job done. Continuous learning is important, not just for individuals but for organizations as a whole, to transfer knowledge and try out new ideas as the pace of change increases. Virtual organizations can speed up cycle time, but they pose new challenges for managers on how to manage remote workers. Communications technologies and the Web let employees work from anywhere—around the corner or around the world—and require special attention to managing communication.