Recently I was part of an innovative process design to explore how a business could either make or save money through the use of using social technology. The participants were put into groups and the process involved incubating and hatching ideas with lots of participation from all involved. There was no shortage of ideas on both sides of the fence!

As I looked through all the various ideas – some obvious and others less so, it occurred to me that there was one major common theme underpinning both sets of ideas. It was quite a startling epiphany, although on reflection, I shouldn’t have been surprised! Underpinning virtually every idea around either making or saving money by using social technology, was the issue of control. To realize any of the ideas put forward the issue of control would first have to be address. If the ideas hatched were to be developed into useful practices then leaders would need to relinquish control. It was that simple; it was that complicated. I have written on this theme several times and said it in various ways before, but never had I seen it as clearly and practically demonstrated as this exercise revealed. It was amazing! Any leader or business unit head would look through the list of ideas and immediately recognize the validity of so many of them. So why not implement them? Well, It would mean relinquishing control. Control of time, of information, of space, of processes and even perhaps structure. All the pegs which leaders like to hang their hats on would be under question and that is well…just too hard to entertain.

Charlene Li in her book, Open Leadership writes that whilst letting go control may not be comfortable or easy, it is inevitable. Of course letting go control requires doing so at the right time, at the right place and in the right amount. Perhaps the first step is the recognition that you are not in control! The reward is ultimately not the quest for control but rather, the ability to influence the outcome. Influence and not control will be what shapes the outcomes in the new world of work. Leaders will need to understand what this means and social technology – compounded by a generation arriving in the work place who ‘get ST’ – will be the tipping point.

Maybe the starting point for leaders is not the intimidating philosophical issue around control, but rather a discussion as to the benefits of social technology going forward. From this springboard tackling the deeper shifts required by leaders might then prove to be an easier pill to swallow. The reality is…there really isn’t a choice!

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