Playing the Enterprise Social Hunger Games
Not long ago, a spark ignited inside a dystopian society, and the people staged a revolution against the oppressive, all-powerful leadership. But when the revolution failed, the leaders punished the people for their bold actions, instituting harsh policies that sent all but a few into a state of fear and despair.

This is the plot of "The Hunger Games," yet it also seems familiar for enterprise employees who have felt restricted and oppressed at work. And though companies don’t send sacrificial tributes to battle to the death each year, mechanisms of control like annual performance reviews, budget cuts and downsizing pump waves of fear into employees’ veins.

Today, the people are in a revolution against their employers, fighting to work how and when they want with enterprise social networks. So what does the future hold for this movement? Just like in the novels by Suzanne Collins, enterprise collaboration is bringing hope, change and progress, but there will also be pain, regression and uncertainty. The outlook isn’t all rosy. Happy endings are not guaranteed. The people will win this battle, but they will never escape the fact that just around the corner, another massive change will send the world spinning again into war.

This is the theme of the Hunger Games, and this is the reality of how social software will ultimately play out in the workplace. We will fight now, and many times again in the future, for more control and innovation in the way that we work. So prepare for battle upon battle, fellow employees, as we are all just tributes, and the Enterprise Collaboration Hunger Games are only just beginning.

The Oppression

When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Make only polite small talk in the public market.” -- Katniss Everdeen, pg. 6, The Hunger Games

In "The Hunger Games," the Capitol is omnipotent. Citizens live in constant fear due to the Capitol’s psychological warfare of monitoring, information control and resource constraint. Citizens learn to be quiet, stay in the shadows, and to not cause trouble. The alternative is often death.

In the Enterprise, employees have begun to feel that traditional hierarchies and processes are oppressive, causing unhappiness and a lack of productivity. Cubicles without windows. Archaic computing systems. Departments and teams separated physically and culturally. They feel voiceless, powerless, and at the mercy of those that lead them. To speak up is to cause certain turmoil. Until recently, employees accepted this culture as the norm despite their distaste and fear for the status quo. Nobody wanted to be the first to ignite a revolution in the workplace.

The Collective Spark

I keep wishing I could think of a way to ... to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their Games.” -- Peeta Mellark, pg. 142, The Hunger Games

It takes decades for the citizens of Panem to share secret whispers and learn that others are ready for a revolution. Like a rush of water to a weak dam, Katniss and Peeta tip society over the edge and gather overwhelming support to become symbols for change. During the Hunger Games, they form alliances and take care of each other as supposed lovers, which is enough to send society into a bold show of support.

In the Enterprise, it Is largely a combination of Gen Y employees, Communications teams and HR professionals who have come together and agreed that existing forms of communication are no longer acceptable. At the same time, they want more out of work than just a paycheck -- recognition, satisfaction and a voice. They want leadership to know that employees are more than just cogs in a machine. The number of advocates for change has grown as visionaries connect at the water cooler and on public social media sites. The collective digital citizens are now ready to take the situation into their own hands, deciding that they will no longer let corporate leadership make all of the decisions about how people connect and how work gets done.

The Revolution

Listen up. You’re in trouble. Word is the Capitol’s furious about you showing them up in the arena. The one thing they can’t stand is being laughed at and they’re the joke of Panem.” -- Haymitch Abernathy, pg. 356, The Hunger Games

Despite the Capitol’s expertly crafted plan to control its people via the bloody Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta find a way to outsmart the Gamemakers. The Capitol launches poison, monsters, and myriad other deadly challenges at the tributes to ensure their death. But Katniss and Peeta’s suicide pact forcedsthe Capitol to pivot and declare them both winners. This small victory was the spark that ignites the revolt against the Capitol by all Citizens of Panem, but at the same time, it forces the Capitol to take even more drastic measures to maintain its position of control. All out war ensues, obliterating much of civiilization.

As employees have ignored rules by launching their own social networking tools without permission from powerful groups like IT and the C-levels, companies have tried to squash this revolt. They block public social networking sites. They issue strict guidelines about appropriate use of the Internet. They force employees to use archaic and homemade computing systems. They monitor peoples’ use of the web.

But with each new rule and law, the people have found ways around leadership, and a tipping point eventually was reached. F100 companies have launched successful pilots of social software; departments can show ROI by using social media to improve customer experiences. IT, Communications and HR are cooperating to launch joint initiatives that are safe and secure. Ultimately, some of the best leaders are participating in enterprise collaboration projects.

This slow change doesn’t come without consequences and pain -- but in the end, the people are achieving their goal -- creating a collaborative, open, social enterprise where democracy trumps hierarchy. We are now nearing the end of this revolution as leaders accept this trend and embrace that social software does provide a better way to work.

A Future of Peace and Fear

… on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years. But there are much worse games to play.” -- Katniss Everdeen, pg. 390, Mockingjay

After bloody battles, mass murders, power struggles and despair, the era of The Hunger Games ends with peace and democracy. No longer are children sacrificed, and no longer does a totalitarian government control everything. Life is simply normal -- but this is not a happy ending. You see, after so many years of oppression, the people of Panem know that peace is fleeting, and change is inevitable. Fear is so burned into their hearts that they never stop questioning what they see, wondering when the next wave of change will reignite their all-consuming panic.

The Enterprise Collaboration Hunger Games won’t end as you might expect either. There is no final triumph. This struggle to change the way we communicate is only temporary, one of many in the past, and many to come again in the future. You will get your social intranet, your mobile apps, your real-time knowledge sharing. But there will also be something else that soon disrupts enterprise communication. It is with a naïve heart that employees believe that enterprise social will be the final frontier in the power struggle between leadership and the people.

So prepare yourselves, change agents and social evangelists. We will repeat this cycle of fighting and winning and losing over and over when another disruptive technology makes its way into the enterprise. Enterprise Google Glass to record your every step during the workday. Virtual reality meetings on-demand, at home or at work. You can’t stop looking over your shoulder. Don’t let your fear dissipate. There is going to be another revolution, and you are going to play. It’s just a matter of “when.”

So, Happy Hunger Games, enterprise employees. Take pleasure in the current outcome, but never stop anticipating the fear of the future, for another unknown disruption is right around the corner. And it’s going to change everything, again. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Title image courtesy of TheFinalMiracle (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Carrie, check out her The 8 C's of Social Software Success: When Employees are Your Most Important Customers