Book Review: The Social Organization By John Ingham

Paul Carder reviews John Ingham’s new book The Social Organization

Jon Ingham’s latest book focuses on “how we can make organizations and the work of their people as effective as possible”. That could almost be the strapline for Work&Place, so it is no surprise that we were keen to get a copy and review it here.
The Social Organization is in three sections. Part One explores the context of social capital and analyses how and why HR and others responsible for talent management need to foster and develop social capabilities. Part Two provides practical guidance for developing higher quality connections and social capital by improving the alignment and effectiveness of organizational architectures, including through workplace design.
I found Part Three useful to think about how the physical workplace and service culture can impact on organizational employees at different stages. This section outlines how HR and related professionals can identify and implement appropriate changes throughout the whole employee life cycle. This includes initial recruitment and job design, social learning, performance management, employee retention, talent management, organization development and the role of social media and other technology as well as social analytics.
Throughout the book, Jon’s view of organizations as social communities comes through: i.e., groups of people, with a broad range of human experiences, wants and needs. To manage this social community he argues that we therefore need to understand and think more deeply about human disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience. To me, this is one of the great appeals of this new book: its trans-disciplinary nature. As a result, the book should appeal and apply fairly equally to strategically-focused professionals working in many disciplines. Jon has written extensively about HR in the past, so it is interesting to read the world view through this lens. But the book also ranges across organization design, organization development, internal communication, learning and development, recruitment, reward, IT, knowledge management, corporate real estate and facilities management.
Developing Social Connectedness.
The Social Organization makes a specific point about the need for organizations to move on from developing individuals, to enabling networks and relationships between employees. Simply focusing on individual performance does not necessarily result in team, division or whole organization performance. The latter needs a functioning social relationship between the people who need to work together. These points are supported by case studies from leading companies, to further illustrate how relationship-based strategies can be implemented successfully to increase organizational performance.
The book argues that HR must focus much more on supporting groups than it does just on individuals as it tends to do today. Not just designing the whole organization, and designing for individuals – things like job design – but focusing on the design of groups.HR must ensure that the right groups are included in organization structures, with processes for teaming, and for developing communities. And that those teams are supported by the right type of digital workspace, with the physical workplace, so that groups can be as effective as they can be.
Jon argues that we also need to focus much more on organization development interventions, helping to create higher levels of trust between people working in organizations. And, to help move the focus on, from ‘what’s in it for me’, to ‘what’s in it for us’. He states that if managers can move up the agenda for HR, from a focus on individuals to a focus on groups, then organizations will achieve much more.
What about ‘place’?
There is a Chapter specifically on “Designing the Workplace”, in which Jon Ingham proposes that “organizations consider the workplace as an important strand of their organization architectures and the workplace is therefore considered a key element in the OPM” – the Organization Prioritization Model. And he has considered the work of many workplace strategists whose names will be familiar to readers of Work&Place – such as Kerstin Sailer (UCL), Nigel Oseland, Philip Tidd (Gensler), Christine Congdon (Steelcase), Zhonghua Gou (Griffith Univ.) and others. But we should not be parochial or stove-piped in thinking about this book. It presents a useful way to reflect on both the social connections necessary across organizations, and the ways of harnessing these social connections across all management disciplines, working together.
The Organization Prioritization Model
This is taken from a video interview with Jon at much more on supporting groups than it does just on individuals as it tends to do today. Not just designing the whole organization, and designing for individuals – things like job design – but focusing on the design of groups.HR must ensure that the right groups are included in organization structures, with processes for teaming, and for developing communities. And that those teams are supported by the right type of digital workspace, with the physical workplace, so that groups can be as effective as they can be.
Jon argues that we also need to focus much more on organization development interventions, helping to create higher levels of trust between people working in organizations. And, to help move the focus on, from ‘what’s in it for me’, to ‘what’s in it for us’. He states that if managers can move up the agenda for HR, from a focus on individuals to a focus on groups, then organizations will achieve much more.
What about ‘place’?
There is a Chapter specifically on “Designing the Workplace”, in which Jon Ingham proposes that “organizations consider the workplace as an important strand of their organization architectures and the workplace is therefore considered a key element in the OPM” – the Organization Prioritization Model. And he has considered the work of many workplace strategists whose names will be familiar to readers of Work&Place – such as Kerstin Sailer (UCL), Nigel Oseland, Philip Tidd (Gensler), Christine Congdon (Steelcase), Zhonghua Gou (Griffith Univ.) and others. But we should not be parochial or stove-piped in thinking about this book. It presents a useful way to reflect on both the social connections necessary across organizations, and the ways of harnessing these social connections across all management disciplines, working together.

The Organization Prioritization Model
This is taken from a video interview with Jon at https://youtu.be/9xPuiEYleQ0

 

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