Aligning Social Business and Organizational Culture

One can login to Twitter, YouTube, Mashable or any number of social networking sites and receive advice on how to use social media tools to improve customer outreach, loyalty and employee engagement.  Some of these posts are mediocre, while others are quite good and provide sound guidance and case studies.  But, they all start with an assumption that social media or social business is an imperative and that all organizations should evolve to this state.   Is this premise correct?

My concern is that in our impatience to encourage organizations to develop social media strategies with appropriate goals and metrics, we have failed to give sufficient focus to the obstacles that they might face.   We do not live in a one size fits all world and yet we sometimes dispense advice as if this was the case.

At a cloud computing conference I recently attended, I heard several speakers promote the value of private clouds and talk about how control was shifting back to the end-users.  They postulated that the role of the IT department was evolving into negotiating services rather than supplying them.   Amidst the facts and figures about money to be saved and speed of delivery, the question arose to the obstacles cloud computing faces.  Without hesitation, the speakers all agreed that organizational culture was the biggest hurdle; it is not the technology that is hard to install, it is the people and culture that are difficult to change.  This same argument has also been given for why some social networks and collaborative implementations work and others don’t.

So what is organizational culture and why is it so difficult to change?  Organizational culture encompasses things that are typically taken for granted by those who exist within that culture.  They include underlying assumptions and norms, expectations, and collective stories or memories.   Cultures may be personified by logos and mission statements and are even reflected in the design of buildings or office campuses.  They convey a sense of identity and provide unwritten guidelines about how things get done.  In many cases people are not truly aware of their distinct culture until it is challenged or they experience a culture that is quite different.

Although organizational culture may be difficult to change, it can be classified and measured.   One widely used organizational cultural framework states that there are 4 archetypes of organizational culture.  Each is typified by different leadership styles, values and beliefs about effectiveness.   They are:

  1.  Internally focused hierarchical/control based cultures
  2.  Internally focused collaborative or clan cultures
  3.  Externally focused competitive or market cultures
  4.  Externally focused innovation based cultures.

While there are two internally focused cultures, a hierarchical culture is concerned with control systems and coordination while a collaborative culture places the emphasis on interpersonal relationships.  The externally focused market culture puts a priority on managing customer service and competitiveness, while the innovative culture is more concerned about the future and managing discovery and innovation.  Each will react very differently to the imposition of social business programs.

While there is no question that social is the way business will be done in the future, there is clearly a need to understand the culture into which it will be driven.   It is important to assess one’s starting point.  Culture change is possible, but it has to be thoughtful, tailored and it will not happen overnight.  Furthermore, this change will require a leadership vision that enables the organization to move from where it is, to where it needs to be.  And depending on the current culture, this might be a short distance or a very long road!

Modified from a blog originally posted by the author in

Surviving the Future: How to Build a 21st Century Organization

We currently live in a hyper connected world characterized by 24/7 access to global communications, with social networks providing ability to self publish and be heard.  We carry more compute power on smart phones than early computers and possess access to information previous generations could not imagine.  Yet, for many organizations, culture and business processes have not kept up.  While business causal has replaced suits and digital has replaced paper, it is not clear that today’s organizations know how to accommodate the more open, collaborative processes that the Internet has fostered and new cohorts of employees expect.

Many companies came of age with hierarchical structures and command and control leadership.   Boundaries were clear and roles rigid.  Yet, despite vast technological change and shifts in how work gets done, many organizational designs  put in place in the last century are still with us.

What should you do?  The following are some steps HR, Marketing and business leaders should take to change culture and processes and, ultimately, enable their businesses to remain competitive.  Social media and social business are transforming the world of work and the only organizations that will thrive are those that have figured out how to use new technologies to their advantage.

  1.  Devise a plan to intelligently implement virtual work and virtual teams.  Despite the recent controversy, they are not going away!  Co-location is necessary for certain jobs, but many knowledge based workers can work virtually with existing technology.    Virtual workers also have a smaller carbon footprint, organizations save money on infrastructure costs and older workers or those with work/life demands can be accommodated.
  2.  Redesign jobs to be modular and allow workers to utilize skills on projects anywhere in the organization.  This  makes good use of human capital, solves skill shortages and can lead to greater productivity and satisfaction among employees.
  3. Redefine the role of leaders.  Encourage leaders to find ways of engaging and not just be seen as ensconced in their offices behind traditional gatekeepers.
  4. Empower employee collaboration.  Provide employees a seat at the table, get their feedback and listen to their suggestions.  They can provide valuable insights and intelligence about trends, competitors and emerging needs.
  5. Train all employees on new technologies.   Many older adults have embraced social networks.  Don’t assume only the  millennials will get it.
  6. Provide guidelines on social media.  Make sure the rules are clear and consequences for bad behavior spelled out.  Your firm’s reputation and brand may depend on this.
  7. Include clients in networks and make innovations more  collaborative.   Social networks are about relationships and collaboration.   Clients’ voices should be heard. They can help articulate their needs and shape new offerings.

We live in a global, fast paced, information rich and boundary spanning era.  We need to create organizations that reflect this.  Otherwise, our businesses will go the way of the fax machine and rotary phone.  They still exist, but no longer serve the purpose they once did.

What do you think?  Contact us at or  call us at 914 234 3917 if you need a road map to the future, training or even implementation assistance.  We can help!  We can also be reached on Twitter @digitalcultured.

The Role of Corporate Values in a Web 2.0 World


There is a shift going on in how we use social media and the Web.  In the era of Web 1.0, the goal was to get people’s attention.  To this end, marketers tried many gimmicks to get noticed and we were presented with swirling logos and sexy content.  Content was considered to be king and the rush was on to be entertaining, funny and irreverent.  Big brands saw this as a way they could be perceived as more modern and hip and hoped it would enable them to attract a younger demographic.


In the era of Web 2.0 there has been a shift.  While content is still important, collectively there is an over abundance of content.  What has become important are relationships and authenticity.  We as consumers want to be engaged in two-way conversations.  We as employees want to be trusted and have our voices heard.  And, we as members of society want our organizations to be socially responsible and accountable.


In a marketplace characterized by increased transparency at one level and scandal after scandal at the other, there is a growing focus on corporate values and corporate social responsibility.  While being financially successful is still considered a virtue, being successful at all costs is not.   We tend to respect those who are successful without losing their core values or exploiting others.  Suddenly after years of turning a blind eye, there is a growing movement to improve working conditions in the China.   One of the most potent lessons of the Occupy Movement is that in the era of social media there are very few places to hide and communities can easily organize and make their voices heard.  If corporations are to be considered people, we need them to behave with a moral compass that weighs corporate profits against societal losses.  


While many corporate brand managers have put together compelling marketing communications campaigns extolling their company’s environmental sensitivity, often their organizations maintain too narrow a focus and fail to reflect on the many ways in which their company’s actions affect the world.  While a company’s specific actions speak of their commitment to sustainability and other causes, to truly provide make a difference, concern with one’s impact on society must emanate from employees as well as management.  It needs to be part of the organizational culture and fabric of how things get done.  The recent Libor scandal certainly brought this point home.


As we continue to reach out across boundaries and live in an increasing global world, organizations need to ensure that their focus remains broad and that they take full responsibility for what they do.  They must have clear cut values and empower their people to act in a way consistent with those values.  In a recent IBM study, three ways were described for CEOs to empower employees.  The first one of these was “replace rule books with shared belief.  Recalibrate controls and build values employees will live out.”   As IBM and other socially responsible organizations have learned, when shared beliefs reflect things that all of society values, we all benefit.  Relationships are about trust, caring and doing the right thing.  In the era of Web 2.0 that is what we expect and that is what we need!




Social Business…Why You Should Care

In the past most organizations had clear-cut boundaries and roles were well-defined.  While they had to be responsive to customers, major decisions were left to management and communications with employees and customers were typically one-way.  With the emergence of social media and non-traditional ecosystems,  interactions tend to be two-way and change can be driven by any number of stakeholders, including employees, partners and suppliers.

 In order to thrive in this environment businesses are deploying and using new social tools and taking advantage of the many new business opportunities. Organizations are evolving to be social businesses, which are defined as those that have the strategies and technologies that allow all parts of their ecosystems to be engaged, create value, form relationships and make decisions.   Social business is the latest step in the evolution of business that began with the advent of the Internet and electronic communications.  In these organizations work is accomplished differently and products and services are created and purchased in new ways.   Since social businesses can adapt to their environments, they are well suited to meet the changing needs of their internal and external constituencies. 

 IBM, one of the company’s leading in social business, has identified three distinct characteristics of a social business:

            Engaged—deeply connecting people, including customers, employees, and partners, to be involved in productive, efficient ways.

            Transparent—removing boundaries to information, experts and assets, helping people align every action to drive business results.

            Nimble—speeding up business with information and insight to anticipate and address  evolving opportunities.

 There are many  advantages to becoming a social business.  Internally these organizations often have better business performance, are more efficient, have better insights and  knowledge, are more aware of new opportunities, have better collaboration , more efficient processes and avoid duplication of efforts.  Externally, they can have lower customer care costs, better customer satisfaction and loyalty, lower marketing and sales costs, better brand reputations and lower product development costs.

 It is difficult for any organization to go from being an isolated entity to being social business, although few organizations are really totally isolated any more.  Organizations need to develop the strategies and tools that will enable them to move along this continuum.    They need to go from having an inside out point of view to an outside in point of view and they have must have technologies that enable collaboration and the sharing of insights and knowledge.

 While increasing employee and customer engagement is usually welcome, not every social business initiative will succeed and it is important that an organization experiments with new approaches, learns from mistakes and moves on when something doesn’t work.  Having leaders who are not afraid to take risks is one important step.  Having employees who know how to be digital citizens is another.  Employees must have the training necessary to understand how to behave and to manage their own reputations and that of their employers.

 Although social businesses may be relatively new entities, the number of social business is growing.  A 2011 social business survey by International Data Corporation (IDC) showed that 41% of respondents have some sort of social business initiative underway. What they found, however, is that these projects vary greatly.  They ranged from grassroots bottom-up employee initiatives to sophisticated and strategic social customer engagement programs.

 So while there is no “one size fits all” way to be a social business, the message is clear; if you run a business, you should think about where you are on the continuum from isolation to integration to stakeholder optimization and develop a plan to transform your organization into a social one.   Otherwise your business risks being endangered.

10 Tips on How to Handle Social Media Policies

Social media is not just for large companies and can be used  by companies of all sizes to create on-line presence, monitor brands, and improve customer service.  Small companies have found success leveraging Twitter and blogs and others have grown exponentially based on well crafted or viral YouTube videos.

Organizations are also using social media to improve employee engagement, locate hard to find candidates, improve communications, promote virtual work and remove geographic barriers.  There are benefits to having employees participate in social media, but to maximize success and avoid embarassing employee actions, business leaders need to:

1.      Recognize and reinforce the positive role  employees  play in shaping a company’s on-line brand.  They can serve as brand ambassadors, promote core values and new products.

2.      Communicate to employees what is expected and how they should engage in social media.
If employees are not aware of what the company brand stands for, they might inadvertently hurt the brand or alienate current and future customers.

3.      Understand how social media can be misused by employees and develop the appropriate social media guidelines and policies.

4.      Train employees and managers on what the  guidelines mean and the specific actions they should take or not take.

5.      Implement and monitor.  Reward those who comply and punish those that don’t.

If you are writing a policy remember:

6.      If a social media user is not an official company spokesperson they should add a disclaimer and state that the opinions and positions expressed are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of their company.

7.      Social media users need to respect their audience and not use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the workplace.

8.      Guidelines need to address sticky issues such as whether  managers should be allowed to friend their employees and vice versa.

9.      Guidelines should be specific, policies that are too broad can be misinterpreted

10.   Protect your company and brand.  Ensure employees do not disparage employers in public.

What are your  concerns about having employees engage in social media and how have you addressed this?  Please share your comments on Twitter @dccTips or Facebook at dccUpdate.

Don’t Blame the Tool: The Case for Social Media Guidelines

Is social media good or bad for organizations and for society?  The debate rages on.  We hear stories of revolutions being enabled by individuals who now have an outlet to share their grievances and the ability to organize across distances, as well as gratified customers who are able to get instant feedback to their questions and concerns.  On the internal side of organizations,  there are stories of how social media has enabled employees to participate in organizational strategies and collaborate with peers in remote locations.  These cases extol the virtues of  engagement and recognize the value of enabling individuals and employees to have a voice.   It would appear that social media is a tool for good and a way for all of us to be heard.

Yet, we also hear stories of misuse, such as a policeman in Albuquerque, New Mexico listing his job on Facebook as “human waste disposal” or an angry  teacher in Philadelphia writing about  her students that “They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners“.  Of course, these displays are not limited to those in the public sector.  There are plenty of stories of employees being disciplined and or fired after writing negative comments about their managers, employers and customers on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. We scratch our heads and ask, what were they thinking?

Should we be surprised at what appears to be in many cases a lack of judgment?  Aren’t these tools new and aren’t many still experimenting?  Or, perhaps many are still a bit giddy with their ability to publish and be heard.  Some, I am sure, are mislead by the intimacy that is created as they sit alone with their computers.   They might not think about how things have a way of being retweeted or going viral.    Clearly, Congressman Anthony Weiner learned this lesson all too well.

So what should we do to protect folks from themselves or our employees and companies from being embarrassed or put out of business?    The simple answer is to develop social media guidelines, train folks on them, implement and monitor them and reward those who comply and punish those that don’t.  But, unfortunately, there is nothing really simple about doing this.  This is probably the reason that only about a third of American companies currently have social media guidelines in place.

One of the lessons many companies have learned in developing and implementing social media guidelines is that one size fits all guidelines do not make sense.  Social media guidelines need to reflect the industry one is in, the organizational  culture, the existing structure and represent the needs of multiple stakeholders.  They cannot simply be created as an HR owned exercise or developed by an isolated committee with good intentions.  If management or employees do not understand what they mean or how to implement them, the actual guidelines will not do any good.  Like all change, there will be resistance, so getting those that are impacted engaged in the process is critical.  And, since this is about communications, one must make sure marketing and communications professionals are included and actively involved.

Employees play a large role in shaping a company’s brand.  They can serve as brand ambassadors and help promote core values or new products.  But, it is important that they know what is expected of them, and how they should engage on both internal social media platforms and external ones.  Otherwise they may inadvertently hurt the brand or alienate current and future customers.

It is wise to take advantage of those organizations that have learned how to do this well.  Many have learned the hard way what works and what does not.  For starters, check out IBM’s, Intel’s and Kodak’s guidelines.  They are on-line and all you need to do is Google them.  But remember this needs to be the start of the process, not the end.   Social media is a tool and like all tools the instructions for use are critical.  Social media can be a source of good or bad…the key is to recognize the value of using the tools correctly and the danger of doing things poorly.   If you  think your employees are not participating in  social media and you do not need to do something about this, you are probably wrong.  I can almost assure you that they  are indeed talking about you!!  But, if you do not have the skill or time to do this yourself, have no fear, you can always  hire a consultant (hint hint)!