Middle management is ground zero for government’s digital divide

As I have mentioned in the past, the biggest hurdle to fulfilling the ambitions of Gov 2.0 and enabling government institutions with Open Government principles, has nothing to do with technology. Sadly, the biggest hurdles to achieving the promise of a new era of government enriched with technologies enabling access to and participation with government is completely about the existing culture of government.

There exists, without a shadow of a doubt, a massive “digital divide.”  Many organizations just assume ignore this fact of reality.  But it is undeniable.  It would be unfair to call this technology gap amongst the government populace as having age as its root cause. It is also unfair and would be, to be completely blunt about it, an egregious error to take a strategic tact at closing this technological gap by simply waiting for “generation Y” to emerge into positions of authority over the next couple of decades.  That approach is for the weak and unwilling.  People taking that approach are not the change agents we should have in place working to make things better.  Those people are not working.  They are waiting.  That approach is like watching your favorite baseball team in the playoffs and hoping the other team does something wrong so your team can win. 

Those of us in government who are rolling up our sleeves and drafting position papers, strategic plans, and trying out an abundance of tools and services in order to weld government with the social media practices almost all of us realize are, to put it most succinctly, one of the major mechanisms by which any of us will actually get in work done in the future, understand that workforce and organizational culture is the the biggest blocker to any utopian vision we have to overcome. 

Those of us who have accepted this simple truth also realize that we’re not doing enough to mitigate this problem.  As written by Publivate:

If there is a frustration, it is that I believe there are no or at least not enough actions aligning to the agreed upon problem of engaging culture blockers. Culture gets mentioned, everyone agrees, and then conversation turns to a technical or implementation discussion. We need to – arguably, have to – dig into the culture change deeper and on a regular basis. To not do this is robbing important momentum from public sector social media evolution.

There is no perfect tool or similar silver bullet that will correctly change culture.  There is a combination of elements that need to mix perfectly in order to make the culture change stew.  Actually, its not so much stew as it is a combination of ingredients to make a high-end gumbo.  And like any good gumbo, it needs constant stirring ((any of you who have ever made homemade gumbo in the past know exactly what I’m talking about.  The key to good gumbo is a good roux.  And doing the roux right means stirring it constantly for the first 10 minutes of cooking time)) from the very beginning.  Constant stirring with no deviation from attention.  Almost like have a newborn baby around.

Most social media programs initiated within large enterprises (government institutions included) start from the bottom up. These grass roots, borderline guerilla tactics are typically initiated by social media believers full of energy, and most importantly, belief.  In fact, it is belief that these grass roots mavens have in abundance.  Digital natives (as Nick Skytland refers to them) are totally immersed in a social media existence.  Sharing so much text, imagery, and data about their lives is completely natural.  It is fair to say that they know no other way to be

So middle management exists as ground zero for the social media digital divide.  How can we approach ground zero?  What is the strategic plan to sway the middle management populace from social media skeptic to believer, adopter, and maven?   I argue that the digital natives are not best positioned to make such an approach.  Because they know no other way, they have a perspective that clouds their judgments and impacts their ability to strategically convert those mired in the middle.  Phrases such as “because social media is so cool” and “this is just how things are done now” have little to no weight with middle management.  Yet it can not be disputed that the energy is there if only because the craving to evolve the workplace is so intense. The digital natives are ready, yet uncoordinated.  The pockets of activity they engage in can easily be coordinated by first defining what the endgame is and pairing that goal with some mile markers to pass as they walk the entire organization towards Oz.

While digital natives may be the ones to do the heavy lifting, senior levels of organizational leadership need to help set the tone with enough participation to indicate validation of the cause.  It wouldn’t take much to be honest.  If one senior leader email to the troops per month were posted internally as a blog post instead of being sent to all@insertyourorganizationhere.gov with comments turned on, that would probably do it. And if one of those leaders invited everyone in his organization to connect with him/her on LinkedIn, that would further support the cause.

That’s pretty much what the digital natives need at this point.  Validation signs.  And a plan. Or an equivalent orchestrated guerilla tactics and coordinated underground efforts with tangible, measurable goals.  Approaching the middle from the top and the bottom will reduce the gap.