Previously, I’ve written on the topic of the gap between IT people and business people and how it's eroded, if it hasn’t disappeared altogether in most large companies.
Thus safe in the warm glow attending the fact that everyone is, finally, working closely and effectively together, I was somewhat less than overjoyed to realise (belated, compared to everyone else, I think), that there is a new divide emerging.
This new divide – which apparently widens daily – is between the old workforce and the new. I am not talking here, necessarily, about age. What I am talking about is the difficulty that a certain segment of the workforce is having grasping the rapid shifts in the way that business is done, mostly because of new collaboration and social media tools.
The cause of this reflection is a presentation I was giving yesterday to an internal audience at the bank. We’re trialling a raft of social media technologies on our Intranet, including blogs. I was explaining how, in the new world of work, it is possible for any voice to be heard, no matter how junior. I was trying to communicate that in this new world, anyone with an audience is in a powerful position to effect change. In other words, you don’t need to be a senior executive to have the chance to cause radical shifts in the way we do business.
That was a concept that I just couldn’t seem to communicate. People were comparing social media tools with employee engagement surveys. Why, they wanted to know, would change be something they could influence with a blog, when employee engagement and other internal feedback mechanisms were (perceived) to be ignored?
I’ll admit that the new communications tools we have are a radical shift compared to the mechanics of traditional feedback.
Let’s examine the traditional communication flows: A message is sent from senior leadership to employees via some mass broadcast medium such as email. Senior leadership sends out their annual engagement (or whatever it is called) survey, and gets and aggregated view of what people thought of their messages. The individual voice of each employee is not generally part of the results. Or, when there an individual level feedback mechanisms is in place, leadership gets a sanitised version via their staff.
This aggregated view provided to leadership of the internal population is very useful when what you want to know is a trend. But you can’t get to the details underlying what you are being told when all you have is trend data.
The communication flows for an organisation with social media are quite different. When the leadership sends out a message, an individual is able to use mass communication mechanisms to respond. Their thoughts are not aggregated into the trend, and the detail of their opinion is visible to all. When these opinions attract a readership, they are not only public but have the weight of a crowd behind them.
Engagement surveys do not have these characteristics.
Back to the workforce gap. My inability to communicate the concepts inherent in social media are symptomatic of the fact that there are those who are simply not ready to embrace these new ways of working. These are people who cling to the old command-and-control centric style of organisations. And they just can’t see, today, how these new baby steps into social media have the potential to change their workplace in the future.
The big concern is that those on the wrong side of the workforce gap will, over time, experience a loss of influence and be increasingly marginalised.
But these are people with valuable skills and experience. We need them to be successful. We have people in our institution with decades of experience. You can’t go out to the market and just buy that in. It takes years and years to grow it organically.
Closing the workforce gap is likely to be a significant priority for us, depending on how successful our initial trials are, and this was driven home to me as I left the room: one of the attendees remarked: “I guess we’re all too old for these new things”. I was surprised, then mortified: practically no-one in the room was all that old.
A priority indeed.