Three Forces That Drive Social Behavior.

by Gil Yehuda on October 18, 2010

in Enterprise 2.0,Open Source

As I passed the clearance table at the bookstore, I saw a book whose title caught my eye, and was cheap – so I mindlessly grabbed it on my way to the checkout line. At home I found that it was by a Methodist minister, and was about leadership challenges in a diverse congregation. Turns out, there was a reason it was on the clearance table, it was not very well written; a shame.   But it got me thinking that clergy members have insight into leadership and community, and this could be  relevant to Enterprise 2.0 professionals. Then I came across a fantastic speech by the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom about the role of religion in society and  it addressed what I was looking for. I distilled the religious overtones from the speech to arrive at the following. Let me know if you think this makes sense to you .  (Again my  message here is not one of religion, but of something that E2.0 professionals might learn from religious communities.  That said, I think this speech is worth listening to regardless of your views on matters of faith.)

The speech highlights three ways in which humans manage (and control) social behaviors.  Of these, two are well understood in workplace, and one  is at the heart of Enterprise 2.0.

Politics: The first way we control behavior is by the rule of force. We institutionalize this via government. As governments have evolved, controls are added to prevent the abuse of the governed – but at its core, governance and the rule of law is about the delegation of control over a society. The infrastructure of this model is the hierarchy. Even democracies have hierarchies. And they dispense power in a downward manner.

At its core, the message is “I tell you what to do (or don’t), and you follow; otherwise expect consequences.” We learned about authoritative control from our parents who taught us to consider “because I said so” as a reasonable response.

The workplace inherits this system of social control via a hierarchy of power. Everyone has a boss – and that structure is designed to control behavior – or more softly said – to align behavior toward common goals. Early 20th century business was highly influenced by Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s management theories, which were reflected this model.

“It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.” — Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management

Economics: The second way we control social behavior is by incentives. We institutionalize this model via the marketplace. The marketplace evolved into an exchange of (virtual) goods for (virtual) currency where rewarded behaviors yield more currency and this translates to more choices. Behavior is thus, in effect, controlled – not be the force of law, but by the dynamics of merit.  Marketplaces operate horizontally, spreading wealth as a function of behavior.

At its core, the marketplace provides incentives for those behaviors that society rewards. Moreover, the marketplace is affected by  policies that provide incentive for desired behaviors; e.g. investing for the long-term,  local-area commerce, etc.  Rather than passing a law telling you how much of your income you are required to save – the simple adjustment of a treasury bond’s interest rate will cause the desired social behavior to take place.  We learned about negotiated behavior control from our parents too – when we were a bit older and they started to negotiate with us by exchanging privileges for chores.

Most modern workplaces have evolved from the Taylorian management model and include many marketplace incentives too. Workers can earn financial bonuses and behavioral perks (e.g. flex time, less scrutiny, etc.) by behaving in alignment to the internal marketplace. Dozens of collaborative leadership and organization-motivational theories occupy the modern MBA curriculum.  And most of these could be summarized to the manipulation of carrot and  stick – the incentives and the edicts. Modern corporations operate with both models at play. Management hierarchies are the government that brokers and manages the allocation of power. Motivational incentives are the marketplace that brokers and manages the allocation of wealth and reward.

Community:  And yet, there is a third model of social control that exists in our experience as social human, but was never well understood in the workplace. And it’s this third model that gives us insight into the phenomenon of “Social Business” – or the “2.0 – workplace”.  At this part of the speech, the speaker ties in the role of religion here.  Let me shift focus and apply his words to the workplace instead.

The third way we control behavior is via the covenants that exists in membership communities. Consider the group of people who join to perform various worship rituals together on a regular basis. They are not legally obligated or financially incented to conform to the behaviors of their group, but they do. Other social communities, such as weight-loss groups, bereavement support, local sports, book clubs, and others all share the common features that neither law nor money enforce behavior, and yet behaviors are enforced via some social contract.

Understanding the dynamics of these groups provides insight into the collaborative workplace. And then integrating this understanding alongside the other two models appears to be the key to unlock the mysteries of Enterprise Collaboration. Let me emphasize – just like having management incentives does not eradicate the org chart, having workplace communities does not undermine it either.  And yet, many workplaces are afraid to acknowledge that workers behave with a sense of all three models in place.

To put it in simple terms:  knowledge workers interact using all three models in place.  They know that they have a reporting hierarchy, they are motivated by horizontal incentives, and they naturally form communal bonds with people who share fate and faith.  And yet, management sciences seems to ignore the third element of this reality.  Perhaps this is why Enterprise 2.o thinking has met with resistance.

In the US we are sensitive to separate “church from state” (a statement which has multiple implications, and sometimes misunderstood).  Moreover, most workplaces strive to attenuate conversations that could cause rift in the workplace (e.g. the old adage is that you never talk about sex, religion, or politics at work).  Perhaps these sensitivities cause us to think that communal behaviors are not suitable for the workplace.  I think we may have taken the sensitivity too far.

Inspired by the speech linked above, I wrote about community strength regarding matters of Fate and Faith already. Shared fate is enough to get people to the table and discuss issues.  Shared faith is required to overcome great barriers. After listening to this speech again, I’m encouraged to examine how these forces play out in the modern workplace.  As a follow-up my next post will apply these ideas to some work I’m involved in regarding Open Source communities.  Why Open Source?  To me the Open Source movement is not only an example of business collaboration,  but it also displays elements of a secular religious movement.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Is Collaboration a Crock? | Sonnez en cas d'absence
October 25, 2010 at 6:27 am
Open Source and the “three forces” model. | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog
October 25, 2010 at 8:47 am
La collaboration… une fumisterie ? | Sonnez en cas d'absence
November 4, 2010 at 2:15 am

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: