The organization is a social network. Social networks are conduits of information. There is no doubt that information goes up and down in the company/social network. But this is like saying that the body has arteries that contain blood, which, in turn, carries oxygen. Describing traffic is not the same as describing purpose, let alone describing the overall purpose of the whole system. The sum of the whole traffic of blood and oxygen in the body does not equal a human being. Similarly, the total information traffic in the company does not equal ‘the company’
However, many managerial positions are in fact Information Traffic Regulators, or, at least, most of the time, this is what people in managerial functions do. Even in the digital era, there is still a lot of Human Gatekeepers, Traffic Wardens and Information Tsunami Generators.
It’s easy to dismiss these things as superficial caricature, but, it stops being a caricature when you ask people ‘what they actually do every day’. I have asked my clients many times in the past years to recognize themselves either in what I call World I (the information and communication world) or World II (the behavioral, social interactive world). Once I have described the characteristics of each world (see Homo Imitans Chapter 3, which you can download here), 90% of managers agree they live in World I.
As important as shifting information and using communication is (as it is for the blood to carry oxygen to remote places) this is not what the company is about. In designing jobs, we have to be critical and honest, and assess how much of what we say the role ‘does’, is purely translated (or may become translated) into Information Traffic Management. If so, there is a problem. We are hiring carriers of oxygen when we are expecting brains making decisions.
People in organizations spend a significant amount of time diverting information, directing traffic, devolving bits of communication or indeed, producing, mostly digitally, tons of information to be distributed tsunami style (think of the language ‘cascade down’). Some of this may be needed, of course. The issue is when Information Traffic Management becomes de facto ‘the job’.
Watch out for your own warning signals. Tip: record ‘what you actually do’ during the day.