Successful social business stories from Germany

I recently published a guest post called „A German perspective on successful social business stories“ on the Ripple Effect Group blog.

Many know of examples of social business transformation in the Anglo-American hemisphere, but in the past few years some German companies have stepped into the limelight. In the post I present the stories of adidas Group, Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental and highlight some unique approaches these companies took that contributed much to their success and might in the end be rooted in certain German cultural norms and traits.

Everyone is a Change Agent but there is only one Change Agents WorldWide network

Change Agents WorldWideI recently became a member of Change Agents WorldWide. It’s a global network of experts from very different fields, but we all have a common vision and passion: We help organisations thrive in the 21st century!

If you only have 2 minutes, I recommend flipping through the slides below to learn more about CAWW.

In the 20th century people were busy creating the most efficient companies the world had seen to that date. Every company introduced processes, procedures and structures to manage every little single aspect of the organisation.  Companies adopted a mindset of control, distrust, opacity and shareholder value. By doing so they alienated employees, partners and customers. Paradoxically, these are the very same people who keep a company running!

Whilst these people felt powerless against the de-humanising companies of the 20th century, the tide has started to turn. As we move into the 21st century („The Networked Century“), traditional companies need to evolve into networked companies. Companies are not at the center of networks anymore, they merely form part of it. This changes pretty much everything we know about companies:

  1. Why companies exist: Shareholder Value vs. Stakeholder Value
  2. What companies do: Consumption vs. Sharing Economy
  3. How companies create value for themselves and the ecosystem that breeds them: Short-term Profit vs. Sustainable Outcomes

These fundamental changes do not affect just  one industry, one company, one department, a single employee or manager. It affects everything and everybody. It affects people, processes, structures, culture and technology. Since this change is so complex, there is no single company in this world that can provide the expertise and credibility to facilitate the necessary change.

Imagine a company with a rigid structure trying to tie hundreds of experts to it, that are then controlled by overpriced and frustrated managers and supported by a thick administration layer and located in expensive offices. We are everything but that!

What is Change Agents WorldWide?

  1. A group of psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, technologists, management consultants, marketeers and other professions.
  2. Expertise in organisational design, (organisational) psychology, organisational learning, social business, collaboration & communication, knowledge management, innovation management, gamification, enterprise technology, change management and other disciplines.
  3. Solo change agents that work independently with a large variety of organisations and enterprise change agents that work as intrapreneurs within organisations like Deutsche Bank, Disney, UNICEF, BASF, Evonik, Walmart and many others.
  4. A lean network that thrives on distributed leadership but has no managers.
  5. A learning and evolving ecosystem fueled by passionate and engaged people connected globally and virtually together.

 How can Change Agents WorldWide help you?

  1. You have a business problem and believe it could be (better) solved with new business thinking and technology? Contact us! Seeing is believing, which is why we have created Project Green Room. It’s free of risk and charge! It allows you to pose your business problem and questions to the change agents that best know your industry and have the most expertise in the required field. If you like what you see and feel that change agents could provide sufficient value in helping you with your business problem, you are free to engage with selected change agents without having to give up access to the wider network. Please feel free to contact us to discuss Project Green Room or contact me directly.
  2. It takes knowledgable, curious and courageous leaders to make the shift from a traditional to networked business. But the managers and employees of your company are stuck in their daily business and ignorant to the changes around them? Engage us to help educate and coach decision-makers to prepare your organisation for the change necessary. We are not only good in creating the right content, but also in knowing how to influence people and facilitate change.
  3. You are looking for sponsorship opportunities? We are currently working with leading universities, but also social technology vendors to spread the messages near and dear to our hearts, i.e. the changing face of business in the 21st century. You can download our first free e-book or tune in to the webinars we have done to date.

How to engage with Change Agents WorldWide?

Additional information

Have a look at what some fellow change agents (link to the entire team) have written about their involvement in the network.

There are currently 3 change agents in Germany. If you would like to chat further, please do let me know.

Crumbling infrastructure - change or be changed

Change or be changed!

There is a lot of talk about how 20th century organisations need to change to be successful in the 21st century. And when we say organisations need to change, we actually mean people, as they make up and shape organisations.

Change is a process, not an event

Change is a process, not an event. It is underpinned by a learning process, as depicted below:

The learning process visualised

The learning process visualised. (Source: Author)

The end of the process may be fuzzy and thus be without concrete end date. However, the learning process is coming to an end once a person has learned a new skill, behaviour or technology and is first consciously and later unconsciously applying and using it. Traditional IT change management has always been about the changing technology itself. Change requests are raised for new features. Communication is tailored towards explaining new functionality. The traditional change management process is often part of an IT initiative with a defined start and end date. Becoming a 21st century company is not purely about introducing new technology. It is about new work models, new (social) contracts between employer and employees, new behaviours, a different corporate culture and organisational structures. Unlike technology, this is all rather fuzzy.

In the past ten years many organisations have experimented with new (social) technology to address existing business problems. Many of them focused on the technology aspect, some paid lip-service to the importance of behaviour and culture, though few really lived it. Changing technology is something tangible and can often be implemented by a project team. A business case is construed based on the most disputable facts. And of course, a start and end-date is set, ideally within a short timeframe to deliver results and be predictable. Organisations did themselves a disfavour though, as these projects did not yield the promised results. Many of them are now going through the Trough of Disillusionment, rethinking and redesigning the early initiatives. Other companies have been more realistic and strategic (holistic) about their initiative to evolve from a traditional to a social (connected) business. It’s not about implementing a set of technologies but about becoming a 21st century business. A great example is the Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany. Joachim Heinz of Robert Bosch GmbH presented the journey of his company at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris. What is noticeably different to other companies is the realistic and holistic design of the change process. Joachim said that it will take between 7 – 10 years. It may sound like a long time, but again probably realistic for what the company is set out to do and based on what kind of actual change we have seen in the past 10 years.

Change or be changed!

Change or be changed!  When you listen to the conversations between E20 practitioners in general or at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in particular it is often like preaching to the converted. But then they return to Planet Earth and reality kicks in. People immersed in their day-to-day work life don’t see the need for change, are afraid to change, have other priorities. Change or be changed. While it is a true statement, it immediately creates resistance because it is seen as a threat.  Change is a learning process as depicted above. The question is whether we could and should accelerate the process. So I asked this question on Twitter during Joachim’s presentation at the E20 Summit and it evoked pushback from people, whose opinion I value and trust.

Could and should we accelerate change?

Could and should we accelerate change?

With its strategic and long-term programme Bosch is actively facilitating the learning / change process. In a sense, it is also accelerating the process. Maybe it does take 7 – 10 years instead of 10 – 15 years. What we should not be aspiring to is to let change happen, especially when meeting resistance.

A Change Acceleration Programme

We can’t expect people to simply change. At the same time we often can’t afford to wait until people are willing to change. In a recent client engagement I created a Change Acceleration Programme (partly inspired by General Electric’s Change Acceleration Programme) to plant the seeds for change. Based on an overall strategy it comprised a large number of concrete tactics, nudges and messages to help people change. Some of these tactics and nudges were derived by applying the Influencer Framework (Amazon) for specific people (CEO, COO etc.) and roles within the 40,000 employee strong organisation, others based on my own experience from other engagements or inspired by other practitioners.  The initial tactics and nudges were targeted primarily at changing employees‘ behaviour from ‚working in silos‘ to ‚working out loud‘. The better you understand the motivation and ability of single individuals the better (and quicker) you can help them change and learn new behaviours, skills and technologies. (Shameless plug: 21 of my fellow change agents of the Change Agents WorldWide network just published our first e-book ‚Changing the world of work. One human at a time‚). Below is just a very short list of change tactics that were part of the programme:

  • Supporting key company events
  • Reverse Mentoring (Video; Reverse Mentoring at Bosch)
  • Email-Free-Friday / Meeting-Free-Friday
  • Flow of Work integration (Desktop, Mobile, IM, Office, Email, ERP)
  • Ask Me Anything
  • When To Use What Matrix
  • Before/After Scenarios
  • Card decks for specific roles
  • A day in the life of…

Sometimes, your posters, brown-bag lunches, user manuals and other communication and education material is simply not enough. You will need to find more creative ways of nudging people into the right direction and facilitate the change process. The tactics above and their exact content and approach depend on the organisation and should therefore not be simply copied.

To sum it all up, I believe we could and should accelerate change by facilitating the underlying learning process and influencing behaviours. For that we will need to zoom into the individual and group layer, rather than talking about big-splash change that is orchestrated only on the organisational level.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

Engaging the workforce

16 interesting event formats to engage your employees

Many traditional businesses are exploring ways to adapt to the 21st century and become social businesses. A social business is a fancy word for a networked business or connected business. In the end it’s about networks and connections and its radical impact and mindshift to the way businesses have operated in the 20th century.

There are various ways of building and strengthening networks, including employee networks within companies. The idea is to tear down corporate silos, strengthen the corporate culture, improve employee loyalty, leverage the collective intelligence but also to have some fun! One of the most scalable ways is the use of an enterprise social network or social Intranet. It allows employees to connect with each other based on joint interests and work beyond all departmental silos, locations and hierarchies. Whilst the introduction and use of such platforms comes with its own challenges, it is still the most preferred method for connecting a company’s workforce because of its scale and value.

But actually there are many other ways and formats of bringing employees together. Carsten Rossi from Kuhn, Kammann & Kuhn recently published a great list of online and offline events (German) that have the power to bring together employees from different departments, divisions, hierarchies and locations of a company. Some of them can also take place on or at least can be facilitated through a company’s enterprise social network or social intranet increasing its usage. Since Carsten’s list is in German, but I find it interesting and valuable, I thought I would briefly list the ideas and events in English:

1) Corporate Commuter App
This app facilitates connections among commuting employees and allows them to organise shared rides from and to work. (Author’s comment: SAP has already developed an app that could be used by other companies.)

2) Top Chef
Employees of a global company that love to cook can show off their talent in the company’s cafeterias. Local recipes can be exchanged and discussed on a Cooking Community on the company’s enterprise social network.

3) WorldCafé “worldwide”
See link to Wikipedia.

4) Corporate Quiz Duel
This could be first facilitated online and quarter, semi and finals could be held in real life. Format could be similar to ‚Who wants to be a millionaire‘ or similar.

5) Film Series
Based on a rough concept, employees in one office location create the first part of a movie and then pass the result on to the next office location. Progress and discussions take place on the enterprise social network or intranet.

6) Academy on the road
Employees that are traveling to other office locations present in Pecha Kucha style a project or innovations of his own office. All presentations can also be collected on the company’s intranet or similar.

7) ExOlympic Games
Instead of the usual company’s soccer tournament, the ‚Exotic Olympic Games‘ are held. Activities could be for example Stacking or Mental Arithmetic.

8) Sandbox Days (inspired by Google Creative Sandbox)
Every company needs to address some big questions. Once a year it could organise a Sandbox day in different locations, where people come together to find answers to those big questions. At the end of the day the answers are presented to all participating locations.

9) Crowd Choir
Based on apps like Crowdflik groups / choirs could meet in different office locations and choreograph a previously chose song.

10) Citizen Day
Employees can talk about their social engagement outside work. On the company’s Intranet they can showcase their work through stories, photos and videos. Other employees can vote on the different engagements. The one with the most votes will be supported in a next Citizen Day.

11) Lunch Roulette
Why always go with the same colleagues for lunch? An app could help to pair people from different departments and roles to meet for lunch to learn about each other’s work. This could also be based on interests. (edited 27 Feb: There is an app for that called Mystery Lunch.)

12) Skill Swap
An idea by Clay Hebert.

13) Tracksuit Day (I would add it to the list)
The adidas Group organises once a year a track suit day. Employees are asked to come to work in a tracksuit. They can then upload their photos or videos and others can vote on them. This takes place on the company’s Intranet and has been a great success.

Some of the event formats above are clearly targeted ‚only‘ at creating a stronger team spirit.  But there are others that can yield more immediate work-related results.

1) Corporate Barcamps
Similar to public barcamps this event format brings together employees to discuss various aspects of a pre-selected topic. Aspects are discussed and presented in various sessions organised by attendees rather than by a central committee. An extension would be to include partners, suppliers or even a completely external audience.

2) Innovation Slams
Employees present innovative ideas within a certain timeframe. These are rated and voted up on by others.

3) Jams
Jams can involve many hundreds and thousands of employees since they primarily take place online. Collaboratively employees work on predefined questions and challenges. Most jams are time-boxed between 24 and 72 hours. IBM has been a poster child for jams.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

clock

Corporate website trend: From static to real-time information

Summary: Moving ‚from static to real-time information‘ is the first corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Whilst static content will probably always be the biggest share of content on a corporate website, companies should think about what kind of information and data they could make available in real-time. One example is broadcasting the Annual General Meetings of a company.  There are already a number of companies that do this, for example ThyssenKrupp, Metro and Lloyds Banking Group (see screenshot below).

Lloyds - Real-time information: AGM

Lloyds Banking Group – Link to livecast of AGM

 

But there are more exciting examples of offering real-time data. General Electric (GE) has one of the most progressive corporate websites. One of the little features is seen in the screenshot below:

GE - Providing real-time information: HR data

General Electric – Highlighting career opportunities on the homepage

At the bottom of GE’s homepage they display the current vacancies in the country from which you are currently visiting the website. It is a nice integration into their HR systems, probably some recruitment / job database. It is personalised and helps to raise awareness of other areas that certain stakeholders like journalists, investors, analysts etc. might not usually go to. However, we should not forget that these stakeholders have potentially a large network and can thus also become a qualified multiplier for job referrals.

Although not real-time another interesting idea from GE is the use of figures. See screenshot below:

General Electric: Using figures to ease complexity

General Electric – Using figures to draw attention and highlight important information

Figures are used to capture attention. They are easier to digest than lengthy text. Of course, it would be even more useful to have figures in real-time. Imagine your company has set out on an important CSR initiative. Rather than simply creating beautiful reports on an (in)frequent basis or, worse, long after the campaign has ended, key figures (KPIs) should be immediately available in real-time. Of course, this requires technical prowess, suitable systems to capture and exchange data and also the confidence to publish such information in real-time.  But if companies don’t even trust themselves, why should consumers?

The appetite and need for real-time data is real. Companies should review their content, but also business objectives and audience to identify suitable opportunities to move from static to real-time information.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

© Picture Credit: Khairil Zhafri

Influencing Human Behaviour to Increase Enterprise Social Networking Adoption

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

In my previous post, I promised to elaborate on one of the three pillars of successful adoption – people. Changing people’s behaviour is hard, but not impossible. It just takes more thought than some blunt incentive scheme or gamification strategy. Successful adoption of an enterprise social platform means influencing human behaviour.

Humans behave in certain ways, sometimes illogical ways. This is the result of evolutionary processes, education, cultural norms and tools. For example, in the absence of better suited tools people have come to use email for everything from private communication, team collaboration to audit trails and task lists. Now many people automatically turn to email without giving it a second thought.
For an organization to grow and evolve with their social network, encouraging positive and discouraging negative behaviour is critical. We need to provide certain stimuli. These stimuli vary greatly and depend heavily on the desired behaviour, the audience, their current behaviour, tools, and culture.

Recently, gamification has moved into the limelight as part of a change management initiative. It describes the application of game mechanics in a non-game environment to nudge people to take certain actions. It is an interesting concept and can indeed be helpful in influencing behaviour in the short-term if applied correctly. However, as with everything there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you recently followed the #e2conf hashtag of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, you may have stumbled across the hashtag #badgeburnout. It reflects the view that too often gamification is reduced to handing out badges. That’s the ugly. The bad are tactics that incentivise the wrong behaviour. Companies create leaderboards of people that created the most content, have most comments, likes etc. But how meaningful is that? Have you ever thought about creating a leaderboard for people that wrote the most emails, received the most replies, cc’d the most people? Ask yourself, do you roll out a collaboration and communication platform to create as much content as possible or do you roll out your platform to solve business problems? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to have a good insight into the activity on your enterprise social network, but I think activity data only shows the health of your community. In the quest for showing value organisations turn to data that is easily available and unfortunately use it in the wrong context.

So, what’s the good? A good gamification strategy aims at business metrics and not just project metrics (e.g. engagement, number of visits, most active group and others). For example, if you want to improve the performance of your regional sales teams to increase leads or revenue why not make that kind of data visible? Why not rank them according to those metrics instead of competing based on how many discussions they created last month? In most cases companies have the data. It’s a matter of identifying the right data sets to influence certain behaviour and making it available where it matters.

Change Agents WorldWide

How to increase adoption from your enterprise social network

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

This week the McKinsey Global Institute published a report on unlocking the value and productivity through social technologies. While it was light on actionable recommendations, it provides a superb overview of how social technologies impact both the consumer and enterprise market. A great seal of approval!

Over the last decade more and more organizations have started looking into the use of social technology to solve business problems. We are now at the threshold going from experimentation to institutionalisation. But how do we take what we learned in pilot deployments to the next level and apply it across an entire organization? How do we get people comfortable with new technologies and the dynamics that come with them?

Three years ago I published three blog posts with the title: ‘Second-wave adopters are coming.  Are you prepared?’ The articles talked about the challenges organizations have to address to move beyond the early adopters championing a new technology to the rest of the organization. Much of what I wrote back then still rings true today.

No doubt, adoption is critical especially for social tools because of network effects. The more people use them (both actively and passively as lurkers) the greater value they can potentially generate. That is certainly one of the reasons why organisations seem to be chasing the Holy Grail of Adoption. However, it does beg the question: is adoption the new ROI of collaboration? Are you deploying an enterprise social platform to achieve high adoption? Does a high level of activity equals business value? I would argue no. It reflects first and foremost the health of a community, but you deploy enterprise social networking platforms to solve certain business problems.  Activity and hence adoption is a good project metric, but not a business metric. This observation has a big impact on your adoption tactics, the messages you send to employees and the (social experience) design of your technical solution.

In a recent presentation I talked about the three pillars of successful adoption for an enterprise social networking platform, which include technology, organization and people.

I focused on the people aspect in particular, as this is the most interesting and challenging part of introducing social tools.

In future blog posts I will look in more detail at how to influence people and encourage them to change particular habits to ultimately achieve a successful introduction to their social platform.

Alumni relations in a connected world

I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

Let me ask you a question: are you still in touch with a company where you worked previously?

I assume most of you are, but who you are in touch with: HR? External Communications? Probably not. In reality, you probably still have connections with someone from your team, colleagues that you shared an office with or others that you met through communities of interest (including social groups) while with the company. People connect with people and not with companies and their corporate functions.

This simple observation has a profound impact on the way companies go about their alumni relations. Unless you are McKinsey, most alumni programmes today look something like this:

When an employee leaves the company he is invited by HR to be part of the alumni network. Frequently they will send general news and updates about the company as an email and/or shiny magazine. Recently, companies have rolled out corporate alumni platforms or started to use Ning, LinkedIn or other social media channels to stay in touch with former employees and facilitate connections between them.

In all cases, the value for the company and for alumni is more than questionable. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that most alumni programmes suffer from poor engagement and low return-on-investment. The problem is that the approach to alumni relations is currently flawed. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Do alumni want to connect with HR?
  • Do alumni want to suddenly engage and network with people they don’t know?
  • Does this approach offer intimacy at scale and help build meaningful relationships?
  • Do alumni remember and want to go to yet-another website destination…to do what exactly?
  • What value does corporate news, job tips, discussion forum really offer to the alumni?
  • What value does it bring the company?

If I was put in charge of an alumni programme I would radically change the traditional approach. My alumni programme would:

  1. Enable employees to connect with anyone inside my company
  2. Encourage employees to connect with other employees outside my company
  3. Give ownership to alumni

Enable employees to connect with anyone inside my company

Often, alumni relations start once an employee leaves the firm. I would argue that this is too late. It is difficult to start building relationships once an employee is out of the door. Better to do it whilst he is still with the company, because alumni relations start the day an employee sets foot into the office.

Before the arrival of social tools, hallways, cafeterias, smoking corners and office parties were the few places to meet colleagues you did not directly work with. Unfortunately, these do not scale very well. These days, many organisations have piloted or perhaps implemented an enterprise networking solution. It allows employees to collaborate with each other beyond physical borders, discuss topics they are interested in and connect with like-minded people. That way employees can build their own network of respected and trusted colleagues. The stronger an employee’s network, the more likely she is to stay with the company.

That also means that organisations should not restrict the types of groups or communities of interest that employees would like to create, unless they violate company policy. If there is a group of people crazy about wines or football fanatics, why not provide them with the means to connect inside the company? The money saved for other initiatives to improve employees satisfaction, and thus retention, will make it even more worthwhile.

Encourage employees to connect with other employees outside my company

As sure as death and taxes, an employee will leave eventually. What is one of the first things she does, when she hands in his notice and leaves the company? She reaches out to everyone she knows in the company, says goodbye and leaves her contact details. If she hasn’t yet, she will also start connecting with colleagues on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. This can be a laborious undertaking, and in most cases employees will miss some of the people they met during their time at the company. But they are likely to stay in touch. People connect with people.

So, if I know that people leaving my company connect with my employees using external social media channels, why not encourage and facilitate this activity to begin with? As alumni programme manager, I would look for ways to lower the friction for employees to connect with each other on external networks, too. Easier said than done. I shall delve into details on how exactly this might look like in my next blog post.

Give ownership to alumni

Basically, I would ‘outsource’ parts of my alumni programme to the rest of the company. Nonetheless, even as someone leading such a programme for a company that has become a social business, I still need to be in touch with alumni. Alumni will pick up most of the relevant information or gossip from former colleagues. Thus, general company news or news about other alumni is a nice-to-have, but does not build much trust or engagement. I need to offer more than mere updates from the company: ideally, something that alumni feel proud of and passionate about even when they have left the firm. For example, it is said (http://www.corporate-alumni.info/survey_corporate_alumni_networks_summary_english.pdf) that Ben & Jerry’s donate a percentage of pre-tax profits to philanthropic causes, and invite their corporate alumni to decide where the money will go. I could not find confirmation of exactly how this works, but even if it is not entirely true, similar concepts are worthwhile to explore.

This calls for a radical change in the way we think about alumni relations. Alumni managers will depend on many other people in the organisation to make this change happen. Management needs to understand the different dynamics in a connected world, a formalised social media training programme needs to be implemented to enable employees to use external social networks, IT needs to put the technical foundation in place for employees to connect both inside and outside the firewall, and many other steps are also probably required.

If you are an alumni manager, I would like to ask you to challenge the status quo. Think beyond what every other company does today. Think of what could be. Think of alumni as employees that never really left, and then ask how you can create a genuine value exchange to strengthen the ecosystem that supports your firm.

The evolution of business

[ I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

The social business movement appears to be in full swing. Over the past weeks, I have read time and time again that 2012 will be the year of social business (Business Computing WorldSXSWWe are social). In terms of awareness, I totally agree; in terms of achieving our goals, perhaps that is too ambitious in such a short time period.

I believe that the notion of 2012 being the year of social business is rooted in a misunderstanding of what social business actually means. I do not intend to go down the slippery road of trying to create a definition.. Instead, some time ago I presented four concepts that highlighted the differences between traditional businesses using social media and social businesses. Judging by the comments it received it did a decent job at explaining what a social business is. Now, almost a year later though, I realise that it failed to show the evolutionary process required to move from a traditional business into a social business.

Graph-0.3

Picture credit goes to my colleague Giulio Martinelli

In my view, pure disconnected and social businesses represent the extremes of a continuum. To date they only exist in theory. In between you can plot any business on this planet. As the continuum suggests there is no such thing as ‘THE’ social business. It is not black and white but offers shades of grey. As time goes by we will see more organisations moving closer towards adopting characteristics of a social business and thus changing the way business is done in a connected world.

Traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset

In the past years organisations started to experiment with social tools inside and/or outside their firewall. Many of them created corporate presences on social networks adding these channels to their more traditional communication channels without changing their business attitude. Success? None! The failure was / is devastating and a true shock to the system. Nonetheless, most organisations can still be found in this category – traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset. No matter which channels and tools these organisations use, let them be social or not, these companies haven’t freed themselves from 20th century thinking yet.

Traditional businesses with a social business mindset

Forward-thinking and agile organisations have learned that in a connected world, business-as-usual is no more. They understand they need to listen to, engage and connect with the marketplace. That is why we now see HR departments connecting with potential talent on Facebook, Customer Service departments helping clients on Twitter or Business Development departments putting out thought-leadership pieces on the company blog. I call these organisations traditional businesses with a social business mindset. These are not social businesses.

I assume and would hope that this comes as surprise to many. Let there be no doubt: arriving at this level is for most organisations a huge challenge and already an amazing achievement. The way to here is long and thorny, but the rewards are plenty. However, compared to what could be these rewards might be rather small. The main problem is that at this level corporate functions still own the connections. This simply does not scale.

social_spectrum_4Picture credit goes to my colleague James Bray

Social Business

A social business is a truly connected business. It connects its employees with each other and them with the marketplace. Corporate functions are now part of the networks rather than owning and controlling the relationships. In my view, a social business creates intimacy at scale by democratising roles and responsibilities and encouraging employees to build their own brand (no, this is not a definition).

Intimacy at scale
How many connections can a HR department have with graduates, experienced hires or alumni? Do you think the HR department can ever have as many or more close relationships with their network than employees have with theirs? How well do social business efforts of a HR department scale compared to the company’s employees?

What can be said for the HR department is also true for other corporate functions like Marketing or Business Development and even R&D. Using your employees’ networks rather than relying on just your corporate functions will have a much greater impact on your business. This has fundamental impact on organisations’ social business strategy and programme!

Democratising role & responsibilities
To achieve intimacy at scale, corporate functions need to forego some of their control. (Did someone say ‘trust is cheaper than control’?) It is inevitable. We have already seen it in some pockets of organisations. For example, some companies have implemented new collaboration and communication tools. Users do not have to go through IT anymore to set up a group or community: they simply create a group and invite others. Open innovation approaches have been adopted by some companies saving the central R&D department considerable amounts of money. Some managers have adopted an open leadership style openly discussing decisions and gathering feedback from employees. Experience shows that this does not end in anarchy. IT, R&D, Management and so on provide the boundaries within employees and others can engage. However, corporate functions that have traditionally been outward-facing have shied away from the idea of democratising their role and responsibilities. In a social business, this will change.

Encouraging employees to build their own brand
This may be true only for certain industries such as professional services. In this industry especially, people are the most significant asset: the industry is about people, their knowledge and relationships. If you want your employees to participate in social media, do not make it about the company, make it about them. People are selfish. Help them understand how they can use social media to build their own brand under the company’s umbrella. If they have the means to build their own networks and enjoy working for you, they will help to show the human face of your company, will be willing to amplify corporate messages and even give it a relevant spin for their connections and networks. After all, your employees should be your greatest advocates. As companies evolve, we are beginning to see organisations not only encouraging their employees to engage on social networks, but expecting them to do so. (see Grant Thornton UK Social Media Policy Video [Disclaimer: Grant Thornton UK is a Dachis Group client. The video was created by Grant Thornton UK, not Dachis Group]).

When we look at the characteristics of a social business, we will need to answer new questions. Do companies need to incentivise or even reward employees for engaging in social channels? If every employee is expected to become a customer service agent, how do companies organise for this scenario? Do job descriptions for roles in a social business need to be altered? Can employees with large networks ask for a higher salary? Do employees indeed identify with their company and are they true brand advocates? These and many other questions will need to be answered, as organisations move to become true social businesses.

Starting to adopt a social business mindset and engaging with the marketplace is a first step in the right direction. However, it’s not the end of the journey! As businesses evolve, we will see true transformation supported by organisational design, change management and process reengineering expertise. If you are heading up a company or corporate function and are seeking to create (social) business strategies, ask yourself or your consultancy, whether they scale. If they don’t, you may be missing a trick.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

From traditional business to social business

When businesses ask for a social media strategy, what they are often really asking for is: Get me a presence on Facebook, Twitter and the like. The mantra of cultural and organisational change that is required in the social web seems to ring hollow. To be fair, it is not their fault. With a traditional business mindset it is hard to see why a presence on Twitter or Facebook is different from the corporate website. After all, these tools can seem to be just another communication channel.

When I talk to clients about the social web and its impact on businesses, I often use four key concepts. These concepts seem to help to explain the broader implications of social tools and why a mere presence on the social web will have a very limited business impact.

From Transaction to Interaction

Traditional Business - TransactionIn the good old days traditional businesses produced a product or service and the customer bought it. End of transaction. Over the years, they have distanced themselves from their customers. Traditional businesses live in their ivory tower from which they look down on their customers. They introduced call centres to shield themselves from customer complaints. Every so often, they introduce a new product and market it heavily using print and digital channels. Nowadays, they can also be found on Facebook and Twitter talking about their new product. They produce it, the customer buys it. End of transaction.

Social Business - InteractionA social business however, is all about interaction. It sees itself on an equal footing with their customers. Of course, it still wants their money. After all it is a business and not a charity. But a social business listens to what its customers have to say. It is eager to get feedback, both positive and negative. Negative feedback is acknowledged and addressed in an honest and transparent way. It sees it as an opportunity to co-create new products with the help of its customers. A social business operates in public and not from the heights of an ivory tower. A social business does not simply sell products, it sells customer experience.

Example
A customer of Zappos once tweeted that she had ordered shoes for her birthday. A customer representative got in touch with her asking about her order number just to make sure that the shoes would arrive on time for her birthday. You think that is difficult? Not for a social business. It is where its customers are and listens to what they have to say. It is all about interaction and customer experience.

From B2B / B2C to P2P

Traditional Business - B2B:B2CA traditional business has successfully created a wall between its customers and itself. Only particular departments are allowed to interact with the outside world, for example Marketing, HR, Customer Service. The rest of the business is shielded away from any external distraction to ensure employees are productive. Humans work in a traditional business. They have a face, but they can only show the company’s face. Sorry, company policy. Nowadays, traditional businesses have developed their own recruiting platforms. They also have a presence on Facebook, where HR advertise for new vacancies and post recruiting tips. They are really proud of this achievement. The traditional business can connect with potential recruits on Facebook. But actually, when they join they will see that Facebook is blocked. Sorry, company policy.

Social Business - P2PA social business understands that people want to connect with people and not with businesses. If customers are looking for help, they want to talk to a real person, not a company. A social business acknowledges and is proud to employ many smart people not just in HR, Marketing or Customer Service. It employs them, because it trusts them. It wants the world to know about them and enables them to connect to the outside world. That is why social networks are open for everyone and people are still productive. A social business manages by objectives, not by presence.

Example
Mary from the HR department posts new tips on Facebook, and not the HR department. A small but subtle difference. A highly talented engineering graduate asks on Facebook what life is like on an oil rig in the North Sea. Mary has never been on an oil rig, but she knows engineers who have. One engineer answers the question on Facebook, visible for everyone. It is John, not the company. People connect with people, not with companies.

From Gatekeeper to Platform Provider

Traditional Business - GatekeeperA traditional business clenches on to its old powers. It believes it still owns all the connections between customers and partners. If a partner would like to talk to another partner, he needs to go through the company. It manages in order to survive. According to a traditional business, shared knowledge is only worth half as much. Better to control the gates.

Social Business - Platform

A social businessunderstands that today’s technology enables anyone to connect with anyone, whether the business likes it or not. The gates are open. A social business knows if it simply keeps managing connections, it will survive, but if it facilitates connections it will thrive. Hence, it provides a platform for customers and / or partners. It is comfortable letting people discuss the business, its products or completely different matters. It facilitates and does not manage.

Example
Dell, a computer manufacturer runs a Facebook Page about Social Media for Business. Yes, Dell is not in the business of providing social media services. But it uses the group as a platform to stay connected with existing customers and potential customers. Dell provides more value than it can capture (in the beginning). That way, Dell stays in people’s minds. Dell may not always be the best choice, but I bet, the next time a member of the FB page is asked for computer advice by a friend, he will also mention Dell.

From Hierarchy to Network

Traditional Business - HierarchyA traditional business has a rigid top-down communication structure. News from the top is passed down through the ranks of the organisation. The middle management is powerful as it acts as gatekeeper (see above). Open and transparent dialogue between the top and the bottom of the traditional business is difficult if not non-existent. Furthermore, technology provision in traditional businesses have manifested in department silos. Few employees know what other departments or teams are working on. Cross-departmental connections are made in the cafeteria, at the water-cooler or in the smoker’s corner.

Social Business - NetworkContrary to popular belief hierarchy still exists in a social businessbut it is heavily supported by an underlying network. Communication flows are bi-directional and cross-departmental. The middle management has lost its power as gatekeeper and is now functioning as platform provider. It provides a platform for the management and employees to communicate and connect. Employees can see what other teams and departments are working on. Increased visibility leads to better decision-making, improved customer service, superior products and ultimately higher sales. At the same time a social business also acknowledges that people connect with people not just because of work but also interests. Therefore, it encourages employees to form communities of interest or purely social groups. This creates stronger bonds between employees which leads to lower turn-over rates. If an employee does leave, they are more likely to stay in touch with colleagues, not the business. Remember, people connect with people, not with companies. (see P2P concept).

Example
By now, many organisations have or are in the process of implementing a social business platform which enables employees to communicate with the senior management and also across teams and departments. Some of the most advanced and innovative organisations that have adopted this approach can be found in the Social Business Council.

No doubt, more concepts exists. However, I believe many of them are part of the ones I have outlined above, i.e. From Control to Trust (B2B/B2C to P2P; From Transaction to Interaction), From Management to Open Leadership (From B2B/B2C to P2P; From Gatekeeper to Platform), From Employee to Brand Ambassador (From B2B/B2C to P2P; From Transaction to Interaction).

If your social media strategy is all about setting up a social media presence, jump right in. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up accounts. There are gazillions of tips out there telling you how to increase your follower or “Like” counts. However, if your social media strategy is about business impact, you need to go back to basics. Understanding the key concepts and the broad impact of social tools on businesses, will help to deliver value. In the end, that is what business is all about, delivering value!


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz