Monday, 30 March 2009

The Competitive Society


   I’m looking at changing the name of this blog to ‘Competitive Society’ (and also moving it to

I’m still not comfortable that, given its other connotations, Social Business (even the New Social Business) is the right name for what I’m writing about, ie an organisation that invests in social capital.

Perhaps it needs a completely new name?

So how about the Competitive Society???


I like the name because:


  • I like the word ‘society’.  People normally associate ‘community’ with social media etc, but I think society is more apt:
    • People tend not to be just in one community, but many communities.  The most appropriate unit to analyse the social business is therefore the individual – or the organisation as a whole, not its constituent communities.  Society expresses the idea of a cluster of communities, and so I think it nicely expresses the social aspect of an organisation.


  • Competitive Society therefore suggests the possibility of gaining competitive advantage by investing in the social aspects of the organisation.  Spot on!


Unfortunately, a competitive society also sounds a bit like Thatcher’s Britain on steroids.  Which isn’t quite what I want.

Let me know what you think…



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  • Thursday, 26 March 2009

    Web 2.0 and HR: Ignorance is not bliss


      "Like it or not, Web 2.0 is unleashed and a part of everyday life, but does HR really know what to do with it? Christiana Tollast examines how HR can harness this powerful beast, and use it to its own advantage."


    I'm quoted fairly heavily in this article in HR Zone.  Take a look.


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    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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  • Sunday, 15 March 2009

    Jiving with the Social Business


    Jive Social Business   I posted recently on the reasons why I’ve changed the name and address of this blog from Social Business to Social Advantage.

    One firm that still seems to feel ‘social business’ is an apt description for an organisation that invests in social capital is Jive Software.  It’s new Social Business Manifesto describes the need to lead organisations proactively into the age of the Social Business:

    “The Social Business allows and rewards open conversation between colleagues... It relies on the power of social connections to shape new products and services, and to propel new revenue and earnings growth. It embraces Web 2.0 technology in the form of Social Business Software to enable this critical change.”


    See the video for more explanation on this:



    Although the white paper discusses the role of social capital, it doesn’t make it clear how the social business depends upon social capital.  To me it is clear: a (New) Social Business is one which invests in developing social capital.


    Welcome to the Social Business revolution

    I really like the way that Jive positions the social business:

    ”The biggest change in the way businesses work in more than a decade.”

    “Now, more than ever before, success depends on your ability to realize the transformative value of your people, ideas and relationships.”


    I agree with Jive that the social business connects the global workforce and improves generational workforce performance.  I’m less sure about empowering individual productivity.   Organisational productivity yes, but there is sometimes going to be a trade-off in terms of making individual employees LESS productive (eg taking time to share knowledge with other people) to increase the productivity of the whole.

    I think this is what Umair Haque is describing in his Harvard Business / Edge Economy post, the Smart Growth Manifesto (referenced in the Jive report):

    “Creativity, not productivity. Uh-oh: Creativity is an economic four-letter word. Why? Because it's hard to measure, manage, and model. So economists focus on productivity instead -- and the result is dumb growth. Smart growth focuses on economic creativity - because creativity is what let us know that competition is creating new value, instead of just shifting old value around. What is economic creativity? How many new industries, markets, categories, and segments an economy can consistently create. Think China's gonna save the world? Think again: it's economically productive, but it's far from economically creative. Smart growth is creative -- not merely productive”


    Social Business Software.  The Application for Everyone.

    I also like, in general, Jive’s explanation of the role of social business software in driving the social business, although I wouldn’t include it in the definition in the way they do (I don’t think a social business needs to embrace web 2.0):

    “A class of enterprise technology that supports natural, human, peer-to-peer connections and the group contributions and conversations that are required to drive success in the future.

    Social business software builds on the best principles and applications of Web 2.0.  It combines the power of social networks, where individuals share ideas, criticisms and information that benefit the collective, and makes the most of emerging forms of communication, including wikis, video dispatches and blogs.  Social business software is… inherently social, creating an environment where listening is a virtue and cooperation is understood.  It can be applied… internally, to support teamwork that reaches across org charts and time zones to produce truly transformative results.”

    “It provides a platform for capturing and sharing conversations and insights around a variety of subjects, and it can become a foundation for creating communities of interest that link companies with their customers and business partners. Yes, Social Business Software facilitates collaboration and teamwork. But it doesn’t get hung up on formalities, such as the functional roles of participants or complex workflow processes that could get in the way of sharing ideas and information quickly.”

    “Across all of the strategic areas of your enterprise, Social Business Software is the most important technology investment you will make moving forward because it is the only software that truly unlocks the value of your Social Capital.”


    Social capital, the new competitive advantage

    However, I’m not so keen on Jive’s descriptions of social capital:

    “Social Capital harnesses the value of the knowledge, relationships and interactions of people in and around your company.”


    Yes, absolutely.  But:

    “When your best people work on your best ideas in an open, transparent, collaborative way, they create a completely new kind of asset called Social Capital.”

    • I don’t think this is what it’s about.  When the best people with the best ideas work together, they create an output – an impact on the business.  Social capital is the input to the action – it’s what enables them to work together in this way.


    “Social Capital is created when the connections between employee, partner and customers are combined with business intelligence.”

    • Business intelligence is one thing than can enable the connections between employees.  But then so can a nice staff restaurant.


    “Social Capital is what your company gains when its best people with the best ideas can take the right actions, actions that speed all sorts of time-to-business outcomes—from reducing costs to driving new product innovation and increasing sales and marketing effectiveness.”

    • It’s got to be about more than just the best people with the best ideas taking the right actions – what’s social about that?


    “The faster the best ideas are translated into decisions and actions, the more Social Capital you have.”

    • No, the more decisions and actions you’ll have (potentially)!


    “Every time any employee walks out the door, years of Social Capital walk out of the door with him or her.”

    • Sort of.  Social capital can definitely deteriorate (assuming we’re not talking about a lone operator) but the employee doesn’t take it away with them (in the way they do their human capital), it simply disappears (unless it’s recreated by the people who stay).

    Here’s my first attempt at a definition.

    Social capital is the intangible capability that is produced by people working together with each other in an organisation.  It’s development is supported by effective leadership, sound HR and management practices, organisation development, facilities management and the use of web 2.0 / social media tools.


    How’s that?


    See also:



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  • Tuesday, 10 March 2009

    Moon shots for Social Advantage


        The management thinking which relates most closely to my own viewpoint, and which I’m describing on Social Advantage, is Gary Hamel’s perspectives on management 2.0.

    This was originally described in Gary Hamel’s book, ‘The Future of Management'.  Hamel argues that management will evolve to look a lot like web 2.0, and will therefore be more adaptable, innovative and engaging. He lists the key criteria of both web 2.0 and management 2.0 as:

    • Everyone has a voice
    • The tools of creativity are widely distributed
    • Its easy and cheap to experiment
    • Capability counts for more than credentials and titles
    • Commitment is voluntary
    • Power is granted from below
    • Authority is fluid and contingent on value-added
    • The only hierarchies are "natural" hierarchies
    • Communities are self-defining
    • Individuals are richly empowered with information
    • Just about everything is decentralized
    • Ideas compete on an equal footing
    • It's easy for buyers and sellers to find each other
    • Resources are free to follow opportunities
    • Decisions are peer-based.


    These characteristics underpin the new list of 25 moon shots which is included in this month’s Harvard Business Review.

    There are clearly some links between these and Social Advantage.  Just as web 2.0 is also called the social web, management 2.0 is about a more social type of management.

    But there are some differences too.  Here’s why I believe Social Advantage provides a more powerful way of looking at opportunities for social innovation within your organisation:


    1.   A purer focus on social ways of managing

    ‘The future of management’, and the ‘25 moon shots’ are actually more about the need to innovate management practice than they are about social management (Hamel just guesses that the result of this innovation will be management 2.0).

    For example, in the ‘moon shots’ article, Hamel suggests that to move on from management 1.0, organisations need to deal with a number of critical problems:

    “How in an age of rapid change do you create organizations that are as adaptable and resilient as they are focused and efficient? How in a world where the winds of creative destruction blow at gale force can a company innovate quickly and boldly enough to stay relevant and profitable? How in a creative economy where entrepreneurial genius is the secret to success do you inspire employees to bring the gifts of initiative, imagination, and passion to work every day? How at a time when the once hidden costs of industrialization have become distressingly apparent do you encourage executives to fulfill their responsibilities to all stakeholders?”


    I think Hamel’s thinking on management 2.0 gets coloured by some of these additional problems.

    I’m not saying that management shouldn’t deal with these problems, or that organisations can’t innovate management in ways that aren’t associated with social capital.

    But if you’re looking for ideas about managing the social aspects of your organisation, you’re more likely to find it here than in Hamel’s writings on management 2.0.


    2.   A focus on outcomes rather than activities

    Hamel’s lists of web / management 2.0 characteristics, and the moon shots for management are about ways of managing.  They’re approaches or activities, things that we can do:

    • Ensure management serves a higher purpose
    • Embed the ideas of community and citizenship within management systems
    • Use natural as well as formal hierarchies
    • Reduce fear and increase trust
    • etc …


    While these are all good things, they’re not actually going to be that useful unless they produce results.  And in general, it’s a god idea to focus on the results not the activity.

    Social capital is the outcome or result of management 2.0 / a more socially oriented way of managing.  It makes sense to focus on this and then work out what activities are needed to produce it.


    3.   Not so tightly prescribed

    As I said above, the moon shots for management are all good things.  In general terms.  But they’re unlikely to all work equally well for all organisations.

    Social Advantage provides a framework for organisations to choose the type of social capital that will be most relevant for them, and to then identify the activities that will be most appropriate for the particular organisations, its context, challenges and capabilities.


    More shortly…


    Photo credit: Astronaut David R. Scott, Apollo 15 commander


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  • Thursday, 5 March 2009

    Social Advantage


        I thought I’d describe a couple of the key insights behind my new Social Advantage book.

    Firstly though, what do I actually mean by Social Advantage?


    Competitive advantage through social capital

    The book is really about social capital – the value of the connections, relationships and conversations between people working in, or otherwise associated with, an organisation.  The focus is internal - we should use the term relationship capital, not social capital, for the relationships spanning outside an organisation – eg to customers etc.

    And because social capital is capital, not just a resource, it goes beyond simply helping achieve existing goals that much better or more easily.  It actually provides a direct basis for competitive advantage – ie having the right sort of social capital enables an organisation to do new things, to set new or more stretching business goals.

    And as it gets more difficult to compete through a novel strategic positioning, or a particular set of core competencies, the opportunities for social advantage are becoming more and more important.


    Key insights

    • Social advantage depends on identifying one or more capabilities that will act as an organisation’s mojo – providing the focus for the development of the right type of connections, relationships and conversations.
    • It can be developed via a broad range of activities, from effective leadership (communityship), HR and management actions, OD (organisation development) interventions and web 2.0 tools (note, despite much prevailing thinking, use of social media is not the only way to develop social capital).
    • It is developed by focusing on the right connections, relationships and conversations, rather than on business results, or the particular activities that have been chosen to develop it (knowing that in the right social environment, improved business results will naturally follow).
    • Social advantage can’t be driven by any one function (IT, HR, Communications etc) in isolation, but needs a broad commitment from across the organisation for it to develop.


    More soon…


    Photo credit: Wendorf; Wlocka


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