Everyday, I see two different business languages that don't connect in meaning. I’m wondering if there is even a middle ground to bridge the two.
The differences depend on beliefs about people. You either believe organizations are complex and social, comprised of people who need to connect and collaborate. Or you believe organizations are machines and people are the cogs (who just take orders from the top).
Business Model Generation, Lean Startup, agile, holocracies, sociocracies, culture, purpose, engagement, learning, innovation, community, networks, design, decentralization, plain english (or your language of choice). This is the language of new organizations.
Productivity, efficiency, re-structuring, shareholder value, control, management speak. This is the language of legacy organizations.
I use the language of new organizations every day when talking about the value of enterprise social networks (ESNs). It lands well with small groups and fits well with aspirations and wishes of those people who genuinely want a change in how organizations are structured and operate. However, over time, the language has lessened in impact. I've been wondering why? Mark Britz has written an excellent post on how the vendors of enterprise social changed their words to suit old business language.
I think it’s also one step further - that goes wider than enterprise social networks. Old business has incorporated new business language into old business models. The language is changing, but the models are not changing significantly. In my case, the power of the words that were used to sell the idea of social organizational change is disappearing. Now we have the equivalent of “new business” greenwash - in employer branding and leadership speak. It leads to workplaces that talk such a different talk from reality that the difference is jarring.
Legacy companies speak of innovation, creativity, design, agile, learning etc. But they may lack the deeper, shared understanding of these ideas that newer organizations possess. And that's why I feel we may not bridge the divide. It comes down to belief: in people, their capabilities, and how you think humans should treat and work with one another. You either believe a human organizations or don’t. To believe the latter but talk new business language makes our lives harder by lessening the impact of transformational ideas, words and evidence.
I'll work every day to prove myself wrong, but at heart I don't think I am. Maybe FB at work will change things, as Carrie Basham Young has eloquently written? But even then the metrics she talks about lack meaning and are still wedded in traditional business models. Has time run out on the promises of ESNs and other hopes for real change in legacy orgs? (ESNs are one small part – definitely not a cure-all). Are you able to bridge the divide?