Creating the conditions for Social Business (update)

Socbiz - smallThis is an update to an earlier post, which includes the slideset used at the Social Business event of 25th April 2012.

Social Business – what it means and why we should care

Everyone is talking about “Social Business” – but what does it mean and is it just the latest fad? Greater customer satisfaction, more innovation, faster access to knowledge; agile processes delivered via a people-centred organisation. These are just some of the benefits being tantalising promised by the advocates.

Why wouldn’t every organisation flock to this vision of an agile, connected, transparent, people-centred and more efficient business?

Well, maybe it’s not all hype. There is emerging evidence that collaborative technologies are enabling organisations to improve internal knowledge flows and extend the organisation’s reach to customers, partners, and suppliers through “networked enterprises”.  According to McKinsey research, networked enterprises have been shown to deliver greater value through sharing and applying knowledge for decision-making, innovation, customer satisfaction and business success.

Many Leading organisations have glimpsed the future and recognised that survival and growth in an increasingly dynamic and competitive market requires new attitudes and adaptive business models.  These organisations are tapping into the phenomenal rise of “social interaction”, where knowledge and information is freely exchanged. They are creating the conditions for more fluid knowledge flows that will drive innovation and co-production.

But what of the rest?

Hesitation is natural but every day counts in a world where social technology trends develop over weeks. Those at the forefront will gain most. There is only so long a business can wait before it is left behind.  Competitors and customers will move on.  Attracting new talent will become more difficult; employees become moribund.

So maybe doing nothing is the new business risk?

But it’s not always easy to make the necessary changes, particularly in large and well-established organisations. Some of the typical barriers that challenge large organisations include:

  1. Fear of change. People are generally risk-averse. Organisations more so, after all they are accountable to shareholders and other stakeholders. “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” is the usual mantra.
  2. Command-and-control. Who says every organisation wants to be transparent and flexible and invite participation from every quarter? What if senior management do not want a pluralist organisation where democracy rules?
  3. Profusion of tools. The explosion of social software tools is a source of great innovation, but also a lot of confusion. Organisations can easily end up with several enterprise social networks used by different teams or departments, or for different purposes, along with social applications for purposes such as project management or employee recognition, each coming with their own user profiles and activity steams and notions of how connections are formed.
  4. Lack of integration. A legacy patchwork of IT solutions that have only ever been superficially integrated and where every application has a threshold of “good enough” integration to make the system usable but never quite perfect.
  5. Competition from free public social networks. Staff will inevitably compare their experience on an enterprise social network with the one they enjoy on consumer sites such as Facebook. This can be a problem if the enterprise experience suffers by comparison by being awkward to navigate, frustrating to use, or missing important features.
  6. Compliance requirements. Regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare must pay particular attention to whether an enterprise social network meets compliance requirements such as data archiving. Moreover, they might tend to see more risk than benefit in a technology that makes it easy to share information widely when they have a responsibility to keep some categories of information under tight control.
  7. Fit with business processes and workflows. Enterprise social software should ultimately make business and work processes more efficient and adaptable to a fast-changing environment (internal or external).  How will improved knowledge flows and opportunities for collaboration and co-production be channelled into the existing business/work processes?

So, what to do?

Creating the right environment for Social Business

Creating the conditions for a successful Social Business requires a strategic approach that focuses on establishing clear business objectives and strategies, understanding cultural considerations, developing frameworks and managing processes that adapt to the changing needs of the organisation, defining systems of governance, and enabling emerging collaborative tools that integrate with existing workflows.

Despite the benefits of taking an overall strategic approach to collaboration efforts that mix both structured and unstructured methods and techniques, many organisations are using emergent collaboration tools in an ad-hoc and tactical capacity that disconnects users from the other parts of the organisations and perpetuates siloed functions, groups, and people.

Clearly, Social Business is in an early market with much work to be done. However, steps can be taken to adapt to this newer way of working. In the area of adoption, organisations need senior leaders to champion and model the technology; to provide education on the benefits that can materialise from emergent collaboration – for the organisation and for themselves; to keep the lines of communication open, online and offline, horizontally and vertically, creating a more ‘networked’ approach to the internal company; and last but not least, to integrate collaboration tools into the day-to-day activities and workflows of its employees.

Organisations in the vanguard of emergent collaboration must continue to monitor, evaluate, and adapt to changing conditions. The benefits of emergent collaboration can be fully realised by taking a thoughtful look at all parts of the organisation, the business drivers across each department and the organisation as a whole, and the user types involved, all the while communicating and collaborating with all users in an open and trusted environment.

This will demand leadership’s decision-making and accountability as well as significant effort and responsibility on the part of all, however, the end result is a shared and aligned understanding and far more engaged workforce.

Slides used at the “Creating the Conditions for Social Business” event, held at the CBI Conference Centre, London.  


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