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 www.Biznology.com

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.