Enterprise social networks and assimilation – resistance is futile

i want to borg
Enterprise social networking is perfectly suited for the so-called onboarding process.

I say so-called because no dictionary I have lists the word, which is sort of at odds with the fact that they do list the rather unlovely deplane. But I digress. I heard this same claim from Jive, SAP (Jam) and IBM (Connections) at a Eurocloud event last week courtesy of Alan and David @agile_elephant.

It seems academics prefer the phrase organizational socialization, defined as:

a learning and adjustment process that enables an individual to assume an organizational role that fits both organizational and individual needs. It is a dynamic process that occurs when an individual assumes a new or changing role within an organization.

I've been onboarded. Into the Mars way back in the day. Mars prides itself on high performance enabled by a strong culture, and boy were my colleagues keen that I got that culture.

The presentations last week (rather than my time at Mars, promise) prompted me to look up the Wikipedia entry for the Borg, the reason for which will become obvious by reading this if you're unfamiliar with the species:

Borg is a collective proper noun for a fictional alien race [in] the Star Trek franchise. The Borg are a collection of species that have been turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the Collective, or the hive. A pseudo-race, dwelling in the Star Trek universe, the Borg force other species into their collective and connect them to "the hive mind"; the act is called assimilation and entails violence, abductions, and injections of microscopic machines called nanoprobes. The Borg's ultimate goal is "achieving perfection".

The Borg's most famous utterance – they speak as one – is "resistance is futile", and yes that gentleman in the photo is dressed up as one. (It's a shame you can't see his left eye clearly, a sophisticated ocular implant allowing Borg to see beyond the human visual spectrum. Thought you'd want to know.)

Digitizing the analogue

I opened my presentation to the 3M ThinkTANK conference last year with a look at how our first forays in the digital world are, naturally, informed by the analogue. We moved from mail to email, from files and folders to files and folders, from desktops to desktops, etc. Only much later does it occur to us that digital has unprecedented qualities – that search and discovery is preferable to filing, and new forms of communication may beat email for example. And so it seems here.

We are digitizing the onboarding process and throwing everything at new recruits – connections, organisational knowledge, the cultural norms, the inevitable jargon and acronyms, the videos, the e-learning modules, etc. It's ultra-onboarding. We seem incredibly keen to get them up that learning curve ASAP to, well, assimilate them – albeit without the violence and cyborg adaptations.

But don't we want to celebrate heterogeneity? Don't we want new recruits to think differently for at least a good while? To maintain that counterpoint to fuel dissensus? The question then is, how can we wield these technologies to enable the influence to be bidirectional? The academic definition does refer to the needs of both the organisation and individual after all. How can we help Bob onboard Big Inc. into his world while Big Inc. onboards him into its? How might we connect Big Inc. into Bob's network, not just Bob into Big Inc.'s?

Social business

There's a deeper challenge for this process in the context of social business, which as you can see should you review that 3M stack above I consider to be much wider and deeper than procuring an enterprise social network.

Social business, aka Enterprise 2.0, is about coalescing the right people with the right skills and knowledge and connections and shared values at the right time to create shared value. The coalescence will include employees, and increasingly partners and suppliers and alum and freelancers and customers and anyone with the right contribution in the right form at the right time.

What then does onboarding mean when the role of employee is increasingly difficult to differentiate from everyone else in the mix?

[Photo credit: cropped from the original by Sam Chills.]