Monday, 16 March 2009

Controlling the Social Business


338px-Police_brutality.svg   One of the interesting questions involved in developing a social business is how do you develop and manage social capital, given its intangibility.  Can you actually manage it, or do you just need to let it emerge?

Case studies contained within Jive’s report, which I reviewed in my last post, provides some input into this issue.


The need for process, discipline, common vocabulary

Cisco provides a good example of an organisation which is successfully using a control based approach to developing the social business.

Jive refers to John Chambers’ video interview with Harvard Business Review last year (see my post on this here) predicting that the next wave of corporate innovation and productivity growth will be about amplifying the power of people.

Chambers explains that new collaborative work styles and applications enabled by Web 2.0 will be powerful tools for the successful enterprise of the future. If anything, the movement is happening more quickly than he expected.

And Cisco has found that the major barrier to becoming more collaborative has been the company’s existing / previous control based culture:

“I think the stumbling block that we all trip on is we’ve been successful in command and control, and therefore we know how to do it very well.”


However, it’s clear that Cisco believe they can still control this move towards increased collaboration:

“It will be built around something that actually our children, and young people invented in social networking… Except we will bring it to business with process, with discipline, common vocabulary, common review cycles, resource allocation, top management focus on it, etc.”


Viral growth and social interaction

I think the case study which provides the most contrasting view is of the development of an employee social community, EMC|ONE (Online Network of EMCers), at the storage technology giant early in 2008 (and which has similarities to the case study from BT I posted on last year):

“Jamie Pappas, Manager of Social Media Strategy for EMC, said a decision was made to allow participation to grow virally without any sort of internal marketing splash that mandated or forced employees to join.

Within just three months of that soft launch, however, more than 2,000 employees had registered in order to post comments and other contributions, and more than 40 sub-communities had emerged. As of early 2009, more than 11,000 employees had registered, which is about one-third of the entire company.

One of EMC’s most controversial decisions was whether or not to let employees chat about topics that are less business-specific, such as the best restaurants near each local EMC office or local community activities. Although there is ongoing internal debate about whether these conversations are appropriate, they have been allowed to happen.

‘I am a firm believer that the social interaction aids the business interaction,’ Pappas observes. The result has been personal, social connections that engender trust and make for healthier working relationships.”


The solution

For most firms, an appropriate combination of approaches is going to provide the most useful approach.  Perhaps letting people get used to using social media for their own purposes (the EMC approach), but requiring participation in those areas that are mission critical (as per Cisco).  But even these areas can be developed collaboratively rather than imposed.

As Jive’s CEO, Dave Hersh explains;

“There needs to be a fair amount of structure behind the scenes, but you can’t impose a specific working order on people… social business [software'] works best when you let the people drive what’s most important.”



Picture credit: liftarn



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