Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Social Business


   Despite a couple of years’ worth of posts, Social Advantage is a new blog.  How come?

Well, I started off posting about social advantage at another blog, called the New Social Business.

I’m writing about how employers can manage the social aspects of their organisations, and develop social capital, and ‘social business’ seemed to be a good description for this.

However, social businesses are generally thought to be ones which have particular ‘social’ objectives (meaning: positive outcomes for health, education, poverty, environment etc).

But ‘social business’ at least seems to be interpreted more closely to what I mean than ‘social enterprise’.  See, for example, this description of the differentiation, taken from Investing for Good:


Social Business

A social business is a business with social or environmental objectives whose surpluses are principally used to maximise financial return for shareholders and owners.


Social Enterprise

A social enterprise is a business with primarily social or environmental objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.



So, I thought that calling my blog ‘the NEW social business’ would separate my social capital focused business from a social enterprise type of business.

But I never really felt happy about the title.  In a later post, I’’ll describe why I’ve picked the name (and address), Social Advantage, for this one.



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  • Wednesday, 25 February 2009

    Face to face, tweet to tweet


           I’ve been reading quite a lot about social media over the last few weeks, and as a result, I’ve been considering my own investment in and use of this technology.

    I’m still spending a lot of time blogging – writing, reading, and commenting. The reading part at least has been made significantly easier now I’ve got an iphone, and have downloaded Google’s Reader onto it. This means I can catch up on the latest feed updates in any spare five minutes, and love the ability to quickly scroll through all the latest posts from the fee hundred feeds I’ve subscribed to.

    I’m putting more time into podcasting, although I still feel very much an amateur at this. But working with Krishna on TalkingHR is great, and I’m slowly beginning to feel more confident with this, and able to start planning new developments as well.

    And I’m also starting to get hooked with Twitter. I think what made the difference here was abandoning the desire to only follow those people I know (not many of whom use Twitter). I’m now following most of the HR people I’ve been able to find (using lists provided by HR Zone and Steve Boese to add to those I was already following). But I’m also following the great and good of the social media world, and following their conversations has highlighted many interesting points, links and resources.

    All together, I grow increasingly convinced that social media provides a great basis to both increase knowledge / the rate of learning, and to develop relationships.

    So, I’ve been thinking about a recent post from Matthew Taylor on his RSA blog, contrasting the use of social media to the power of face-to-face communication:

    "The big question is whether on-line collaboration will always be much weaker and shallower than off-line or whether it is simply that we haven’t yet developed the tools to compensate for the absence of the kind of face to face dynamics seen yesterday in Washington."


    I don’t think it is shallower. I probably actually know a lot more people through social media than I do through having met them in person (meaning that I have some sort of relationship with them, and that I could call them up, email them, or DM them on twitter, and they’d have some sort of understanding of who I am – as opposed to someone I met at a conference a year ago who has probably forgotten the fact that we even met). And some of these connections have grown quite deep – I feel I could trust the person, even though we’ve never actually met.

    The tools are here, and you're missing out if you're not using them.



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    Saturday, 21 February 2009

    More on Ctrl-Alt-Del


    Over the next couple of days, I'm going to be continuing the series of posts on the 'global reset' that I began earlier this month:


    Firstly, I've been thinking about my response to Jo, who challenged me to think more clearly about the changes I believe may be coming.  However, although I've thought about this in a couple of different ways, I keep on coming back to a diagram I used in my Digital HR webcast with Knowledge Infusion,  and another webinar with Kennedy Information, last year.  This is it (slightly updated):


    Pressures for Change 


    The diagram suggests that two key factors associated with the business context (the competitive environment, and new technology), and another two factors linked to the employment relationship (the demands of the organisation, and changing expectations of the individual) are influencing workforce attitudes.


    • In terms of the environment - globalisation; increasing focus and importance given to human capital; and also to internal diversity, supporting increasing external diversity (of customers, partners etc) are leading to increased sensitivity and intelligence in approaches to business.
    • Organisation pressures focus on the increasing proportion of work which is knowledge-based, and also the proportion of knowledge that is included within 'non-knowledge based roles' (it's becoming increasingly difficult to identify roles in which knowledge isn't now a key component).  This means that work is increasingly intangible and leads to increasingly disparate levels of performance between the strongest and weakest employees., therefore emphasising the role of talent management.  And knowledge work can be done anywhere, so virtual teaming is increasingly important.
    • Individual pressures focus on what I call 'millennial expectations' which are especially evident in the millennial generation, but I think are also increasingly prominent in the rest of us as well.  These expectations are supported by a desire to be treated as individuals, with our own identities and needs for self-actualisation, but also a growing need to be part of a community.
    • The key technological change is the growing access to, and comfort with, new media, including social networking, and web / knowledge 2.0 applications, enabling user driven content.


    The factors impact on workforce attitudes through customer, investor and stakeholder attitudes (none of us are employees alone), and also by the recession.  This is driving some factors forward (for example - talent management: we need to get much better at understanding what good performance really looks like, and rewarding it effectively), and constraining others (for example, millennial expectations - people are increasingly happy to have a job, and forgetting about their desire for meaningful work).  However, the greatest impact of the recession is to increase the attention we're giving to this whole picture, which has the potential to increase the rate of change, regardless of the strength of the individual forces.

    And here are some of the changes I think may result from these forces.  This diagram is still very much work in progress, but is the best answer I think I can give to Jo.


    Social factors slide 3


    • Culturally intelligent management is a response to the increasingly global, diverse environments in which many firms now operate.  It implies an increasingly sensitive, empathetic and personalised approach to people management.
    • Conversation based development recognises that the key improvement tool in a knowledge based environment is the conversation that people have which each other, and attempts to increase the quality of the conversation in order to improve business performance.
    • Transparent communication is a result of the use of social media - if you're reading this, you recognise the effect.
    • Team orientation is a response to the increasing expectations of the workforce - it doesn't ignore the individual, but focuses on individual within a social context (individual and team at the same time).
    • All of this is based on relationships based on trust, or it doesn't work at all.


    There you go, Jo.  I hope it helps - any suggestions?

    Of course, I still don't know whether the 'global reset' will actually encourage these changes to take place, and will come back to this question over the next few days...



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    Friday, 20 February 2009

    Talking HR Show #011 (Trust at Work)


    Listen to the show

    (Sorry about the quality of my line!)

    Show notes:


    02:45 mins Krishna: introducing trust and work, the Edelman Trust Barometer.
    03:50 Jon: other recent debate, eg at Davos.  recent violations in trust.
    07:00 Krishna / Jon: defining trust as an outcome, an element of social capital.  Ken Blanchard Companies' model of trust.  Emotional currency.
    10:50 Krishna: people who don't trust anyone or anything and the need to meet expectations.
    14:10 Caller from Guatemala: question on role of trust in a new business venture - trust depends on motives and the problem is that people are often selfishly motivated.
    18:00 Krishna: issue of differences in trust in different countries.
    18:30 Caller: people use trust as a strategy.
    21:00 Jon: trust in personal relationships as an analogy for trust in business; trust and its relationship to employee engagement (referring to Richard Edelman's  on FIR podcast).
    25:20 Krishna: summary of Edelman Trust Barometer, including results for different countries.  Edelman's advise to use social media to enhance engagement.  How trust is influenced by other' peoples conversations (comments on ecademy and one of Krishna's clients.
    33:30 Jon: linking this point on influence to Edelman's findings that people need to hear something several times.
    35:45 Krishna: also need to connect the story to the bigger picture; and to deliver on what is being communicated.
    37:30 Jon: how important is the lack of / fall in the level of trust? - is it a short-term blip or a fundamental breach will which require very different thinking?  Do we need to develop tighter bonds to ensure the future performance of the organisation?
    41:50 Krishna: the need to build trust one conversation at a time.  Some organisations and leaders realise this is important, include in surveys and reports etc.  We need to understand whether our people trust us.  McKinsey research - we tend to research people who are closer to hand - we need to be visible.
    47:45 Jon: a possible psychological explanation for this.  Trust in local HR people vs perceived credibility of function.  The role of social media in building trust - do people need to meet face-to-face?
    Krishna: experience of building trust at a distance (without face-to-face or even voice-to-voice contact) - but social media isn't for everyone.
    55:45 Jon: other evidence for the opportunities for using social media to develop trust: dating sites etc,
    Krishna: a personal perspective - do we feel we trust others, are we projecting our feelings about trust onto them?


    Check out the resources we referred to on the show:



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    Tuesday, 17 February 2009

    MLab Management 2.0: Peter Cheese, Accenture


       Peter Cheese focused even more on how Generation Y is changing management work.

    You probably already know, or have access to, all the statistics concerning the four generations in the workplace, so I’m not going to repeat these.

    However, Cheese did provide a useful summary of Gen Y’s characteristics (from Don Tapscott).  The main one is Collaboration:

    “Having a high degree of influence with networks.  Expecting to contribute to thought leadership and having a different view of authority in the workforce.”


    The unfortunate side effect of this characteristic is that Gen Y can appear needy.  But this is actually about us (there were mainly baby boomers in the room) as parents – we need them to receive certificates for coming 5th, not them.


    These characteristics of Gen Y do (should) have an impact on talent management and organisation:

    • Talent strategy –what skills and capabilities are needed
    • Employee value propositions targeted to specific talent segments such as Gen Y
    • New sources of talent accessible in different ways
    • New leadership and people management demands
    • New ways of learning and accessing knowledge
    • Collaboration and networking as management and organisational mantra
    • Enabling better innovation and engagement
    • Rapid change and organizational agility – learner, more networked.


    Web 2.0 can help.  Marketing used to be three channels and is now multiples.  It’s the same in conencting to talent both internally and externally.


    More importantly, we need to think more strategically – so relationship capital (Cheese’s term for social capital) – rather than just people.




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  • Monday, 16 February 2009

    MLab Management 2.0: Bruce Rayner, You at Work


       Bruce Rayner’s presentation also helped to demonstrate the impact of web 2.0, particularly for a Generation Y audience.

    Web 2.0 offers a variety of benefits:

    • Employees who interact socially with each other work harder
    • The most engaged employees spend up to one hour a day on social networks, the least engaged employees do not.



    • 25% of employees use online social networks to interact but two thirds of companies ban social networks (and this proportion is increasing)
    • This is a turn-off for employees (28% of <25s are frustrated by lack of social interactions with colleagues, 33% fo <25s are frustrated by restrictions over use of the web.


    Rayner’s take on this is that taking a slice out of each day for social networking doesn’t decrease the ‘value adding wok’ slice - it increases the overall pie.  It:

    • Develops the psychological contract between employer and employee changes
    • Leads to increased trust, and higher creativity and productivity
    • Blurs the distinction between work and play. You put “’our whole self in’.


    Rayner also described how web 2.0 adds value to his firm’s products (flexible benefit solutions):

    • 70% of employees wouldn’t be able to say what their flexible benefits are
    • When they do understand, they tend to undervalue their benefits by about a third
    • Social networking can be a more important employee engagement tool than traditional benefits.


    You at Work have therefore developed a new offering, Meet at Work, which incorporates their employee benefits platform and web 2.0 facilities.  This helps stimulate interest in benefits, allows employees to trade benefits etc.


    My main learning: Meet at Work is a really nice example of how existing compensation and benefits arrangements can be made more social through the use of web 2.0.  Benefits potentially provides a useful basis for this extension as it is already about increasing engagement, and social networking fits alongside this agenda.  However, I don’t see any reason why other HR technologies can’t be transformed in this way as well.




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  • Sunday, 15 February 2009

    MLab Management 2.0: Jack Hughes, TopCoder


       Jack Hughes, CEO at TopCoder, gave a very interesting presentation at the MLab conference which helped demonstrate how web 2.0 is changing management work.

    Top Coder works with a virtual community of 200,000 independent software developers to create software for the clients of the company / community (clients see it as a company, developers see it as a community).

    The developers are a diverse group of individuals who want affinity in an area that they are interested in.  The diversity extends to their contribution – what they put in, and also what they take out.

    So for example, project management is a community function, not a business function.  It is performed by one set of community members, whose output is the input for other members.

    The arrangement works because TopCoder:

    -   Doesn’t seek to control the community members.  What governs their interactions are the company’s values, not control.

    -   Uses a very flexible approach to reward in which different compensation models are used for different types of work.  For many developers, winning a programming tournament may count for more than payment for the program that they’ve written.  And TopCoder recognises that many members join and stay part of the community just to be part of the community – to enable them to have discussions with other community members about community issues.


    My main learning:  the case study demonstrates how ‘HR’ will have to change as organisations increasingly get work done by people outside the organisation: you can’t necessarily treat people providing external human capital in the same way that you do people on the inside.

    (To add further complexity to this, Hughes suggests TopCoder provides an example of the way organisations are becoming increasingly blurred – people won’t necessarily be inside or outside an organisation except at a very abstract level.) 




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  • Saturday, 14 February 2009

    MLab Management 2.0: Donald Sull, Commitment Based Management



    The context for this event, and the need for management 2.0, was provided by London Business School professor, Donald Sull.

    There has been a fundamental change in the nature of work over the last couple of decades, moving from routine, hierarchical work to an environment where 40% of the US workforce (by headcount, more by value add) is co-ordination work.

    The result of this is that employees are often spread all over the world, and management can’t see what they’re doing.  “Our HR colleagues may cringe” [I don’t see why?] but we can now longer tell people what to do.

    One way of responding to this situation is to stop thinking about the organisations as a hierarchy of power or a bundle of competencies, and start considering it to be a nexus of constantly shifting networks of promises!

    Ie organisations are simply groups of people making promises to each other in order to something done.

    So a better way to get stuff done may be to simply manage expectations and commitments (like a ROWE).


    My main learning: I thought Sull presented a powerful description of the way that the world of work has changed.  I’m not so sure that CBM is the best, or even an appropriate way to respond to this situation.  My diagnosis of this is that because co-ordination work is based on relationships, we need to manage, or more properly, encourage, these, even more than we did before.  If this is true, then simply managing outputs against commitments would be taking us in the wrong direction.



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  • Thursday, 12 February 2009

    Social capital's impact on productivity


    Selct Minds productivity   A study conducted by SelectMinds showed the size and health of a worker’s network of contacts are also closely tied to a worker’s perception of their productivity.

    • 86% of the employees surveyed say they are most productive in their jobs when surrounded by colleagues with whom they have a good relationship/rapport



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  • Thursday, 5 February 2009

    Corporate social responsibility and the global reset



    On Monday's Talking HR show, I spoke about how businesses need to prepare for the longer, as well as just the short-, term.  And I mentioned the World Economic Forum leaders' call in Davos for a 'fundamental reboot' of the economy.  This reboot will be partly structural, led by the 'global redesign initiative' to reform banking, regulation and corporate governance; and supported by other initiatives, such as Obama's curbs on executive pay.  But I think it needs to be largely cultural as well; it needs to be about a new way of doing business.

    This point is coming through strongly from many different areas, including many / most? of the leaders at Davos.  But I still wonder how much things are really going to change.  There's almost as much push back as there is momentum forward.

    Take this article on CSR by Stefan Stern at the FT.  Stern suggests that "now the recession’s here we can forget all that nonsense about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and get back to trying to make some money".

    He describes my uncertainty about momentum and push-back as a "mismatch" between "politically correct rhetoric" and "the reality of what managers have to do every day of the week".  And he concludes: "we need to cut through the well-meaning waffle".

    So in Stern's view at least, nothing's going to change.  We're just going to carry on with reducing levels of trust, happiness and engagement, and assume that organisations designed for the 20th century still do the job today.

    I don't believe we're going to let that happen.  And I hope that there are enough CEOs and business leaders in the world who for their own sakes, and the sakes of their companies, as well as any progressive or humanistic principles they may have, will ensure that we don't.

    Stern provides a couple of examples of the 20th century leader.  One is Terry Leahy, CEO at Tesco:

    "In an article for the Daily Telegraph last week, Sir Terry let off steam about what he sees as the growing risk of over-reaction by governments and regulators in the current crisis. We risk losing sight of a few fundamentals: 'free trade in competitive markets, enabling individuals to pursue their own interests, and all within a clear framework of law,' he wrote. Do-gooders, whether they mean to or not, are likely to do bad.

    Yes, he went on to say, the role of something called 'green consumption' could also play a powerful role for good, in cutting the use of carbon.

    But it is obvious where Sir Terry’s priorities lie. In a lecture in the same week he told suppliers that they would be coming under increasing pressure to cut the prices they charge Tesco this year. How worried is Sir Terry by the thought that his suppliers may be forced into finding cheaper and potentially less environmentally friendly ways of producing their goods? Not very, would be my guess."


    I do believe that CSR and more generally, the rebooted economy, need to be supported by more government regulation.  Tesco does need to be constrained before the whole of the UK is covered over in concrete and fake clock towers.  But both CSR and the rebooted economy also need to be supported by a real desire to engage.

    Compare Stern's and Leahy's comments to those of Jeffrey Immelt, GE's CEO, speaking at the BSR CSR conference last year (on the video).  Echoing the Davos leaders' call for a 'fundamental reboot', Immelt notes that the current economic crisis represents a 'reset' - not just a part of the standard business cycle:

    "The era of transparency; accountability for corporations; responsibility - is profoundly different today versus where it was even six months ago...  You've got the run the company with trust - compliance, governance and transparency...  a long-term dedication to people.  Companies need to stand for something - they need to be accountable for something more that just the money they earn..."


    Immelt also suggests that "people who understand this will prosper in the future, people who don't understand that will be left behind".  I tend to agree - GE's going in my HCM fund, and Tesco's staying out.



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