Monthly Archives: July 2009

Social Business Movements

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Image: Courtesy of Geek And Poke

There’s a lot of hot air out there about Enterprise Social Software or E2.0: It will change the way we work, connect, engage and live. Just buy some cool technology, get everybody plugged in and Voilà: your Enterprise 2.0 is ready to change the world.

Not so fast, my friend. Aren’t we forgetting something?

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Loic Le Meur called this screen ‘IM Overload’, many people have declared Email Bankruptcy and I’m constantly plagued with Twitter overload. Let’s not forget, we’re talking about fairly advanced users here. On other desktops I’ve seen Outlook’s with more than 20,000 unread messages, no folder, no filters, no hope. Hate to break the news to you: these are the majority of participants in the new world of Enterprise 2.0. And you better have a game plan ready for them.

In order for Enterprise 2.0 to work, you need to tackle the organization from various different angles:

1.) Assess the current communication structure within the organization starting with Interns going up to the C-Level suite.

Find the lowest common denominator and build upon it. Sure, it might be great to start implementing Social CRM from the get-go but I’ve seen too many extranets and enterprise communication platforms collecting dust in the corner that I rather focus on small steps than approaching this issue with too large of a technology jump.

2.) Utilize the native and second nature usage of technology by Millenials to communicate to the organization how future generations will interact with technology.

This living example can be one of the catalysts for change, give gatekeepers and energy-draining naysayers one less reason to stand in the way of organizational transformation.

3.) Org charts might be good as a snapshot of the organization but the real story is in the corporate culture.

I’ve worked in offices that prided themselves on change as a core value but once you changed the coffee brand, the whole office was in uproar. I had no idea changing the soap in a bathroom could lead to numerous comments on the Extranet. Maybe the only time people really used the Extranet. To truly change a business, you need to change the culture. And that might just be the toughest job of them all.

4.) Get everybody involved.

At least, let everybody know what you’re doing. It might just be the Customer Service department that wants to transform its business based on social principles. But nothing will change unless the legal department gives its blessing, the marketing department understands the benefits, the executive team hears about the ROI – well, you get the picture. Building goodwill amongst all constituents is key to a successful Enterprise 2.0 implementation. And a real transformation of the business.

5.) Make your ROI case.

Nothing gets executive management more excited and alert than a nice, fat ROI case study. Successful pilot projects and small wins will generate momentum within the organization and lead to bigger projects and even more momentum. Having a few successful projects under your belt will also serve as an insurance against roadblocks and failures down the road.

6.) Identify the change agents within the organization.

They might not be the gatekeepers or upper management but these change agents are your most valuable asset. The Wall didn’t come down because the Uber-Leader made a historic decision. The Wall came down because people couldn’t be stopped anymore. Major changes tend to happen through movements, not decrees.

7.) Evangelize executives and support their goals.

Unless the organization you’re dealing with is on its last leg, this business has been successful for years, maybe even decades. While there’s growing evidence of the value and benefits of Enterprise 2.0, businesses are understandably skeptical of the real costs and the real value of this new construct. Aligning the Social Business goals with the stated goals and value of the organization as well as explaining to business people in business terms the benefits and risks of this change will turn a possible storm into a pleasant breeze.

8.) Let them play.

We all know how hard it can be to adopt new technologies. It took me quite a while until I saw the value of Twitter. Asking a Boomer CEO to tweet will go nowhere because you’re asking an over-worked executive to add a few more tasks to his list. Asking the company to play with technologies will change perceptions dramatically. Create a Wiki with a group and let them play with it. And ask the advanced users to talk about their experience with various tools and how it enhanced their lives and made them more productive.

9.) Create a movement.

All of us imagine a better world, a world we can believe in. An inspiring workplace. A mentally challenging workplace. A workplace that gives everybody the feeling to contribute to a greater cause. These dreams and imaginations inspire passion in people. And spark new possibilities. All the small projects that were initiated, all the meetings with stakeholders, all the usage of new technology will give people the courage to initiate larger things. Bigger things. Life-changing things.

It will not happen overnight. But it might happen quicker than you think.

The age of Corporate Enlightenment

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The Age of Enlightenment is often seen as a historical anomaly, a brief moment in time when numerous intellectuals believed in a society based on common sense and tolerance. The Enlightenment was not really a holistic philosophy, it was more a set of values shared by thinkers all around the world: At the core, Enlightenment was about freedom, democracy and reason.  The Enlightenment brought a rise of the public sphere in Europe. This includes academies, the book industry, journals, coffeehouses, debating societies , salons and freemasonic lodges. See any parallels to our current information revolution and new forms of public spheres we’re experiencing each and every day?

While the human experience has been radically changed by the Enlightenment , businesses overall have been stuck in the Middle Ages. Or, at least, in a system where Wall Street resembles Versailles and figures like Merrill Lynch’s CEO John Thain (redecorating his office for over $1 million during the height of the Great Recession) make Marie Antoinette look like a street worker. It’s very apparent that big businesses have reverted to principles of oligarchy, aristocracy, the divine right of kings and theocracy. Yes, I said it: theocracy. In the corporate world the deity is interchangeable – Shareholder Value one day, data the other. Nothing against a good belief system but it has no place in the boardroom. And these varying belief systems are mostly to blame for the current Great Recession: CEO’s that sacrificed the long-term future of a company for short-term benefits and quick bonuses. Outrageous executive compensation packages combined with a middle class squeeze. Mindless belief in data and algorithm that almost brought Wall Street down and ended life as we know it.

The advent of social technologies has unleashed a consumer force never seen and experienced before. People expect things to happen immediately, any delays or excuses are not acceptable anymore. We used to believe yesterday’s news were boring, now we find today’s news boring and expect real-time experiences. This applies not only to news outlets; this applies to all businesses. If you’re not real-time very quickly, you’ll vanish. Focusing on real-time makes strategists and product developer cringe: What will happen to all these neat and thick road maps, the inspiring goals and objectives? What will happen to day-long workshops hashing out the strategy of the future? They’ll disappear. And will be replaced with discussions and collaborations how to deal with the ‘here and now’.

That’s where the concept of a business based on social marketing principles comes in.

At their core, real-time businesses have to be social. Only if you burn down the silos, open the communication flow to all participants in the value chain (not only consumers – vendors, suppliers, employees, etc.) will you be successful in the evolving real-time world. Good companies will use consumer feedback to improve their products and services. (And some are already living this model.) Great companies will anticipate consumer needs before they are even aware of their own desire. The goal will be to be redesign your car while you’re driving it. (Talking about Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals!)

It requires more from businesses than just writing a check to consultants and agencies. It requires for them to become enlightened. To understand that the clowns on CNBC are screaming louder and louder because they are beginning to grasp that things will never be as good as they were for them.

And so much better for the rest of us.

Businesses and institutions were developed to reign in chaos, silo people and make the world manageable to them. In the future, life will be more chaotic and each of us has to find ways to manage this new-found freedom. The last enlightenment lasted around 100 years. One reason why it ended was the top-down construct of  this philosophy, lead by a few. The new age of corporate enlightenment has chances to last much longer because it will be designed from the bottom-up.  And change life, work, organizations – basically everything – for the better.