The Social Business Equation for Success
Consider the following equation:
(desire to be social) x (social collaboration platform) = (explicit knowledge) + (business intelligence)
The equation above is simple enough for anyone in business to understand. The power of the equation, however, is only one which businesses are beginning to make the most of.
The use of collaboration tools in business has often promised much in terms of increases in performance, efficiency, better work/life balance etc. Any of us who have been exposed to these over the years will recognise that while they may have some benefits they have not become the panacea for all corporate ills.
Most often new computer systems intended to improve the business lives of those using them have flourished in the beginnings when corporate leaders are focused on them providing demonstrable return on investment, essentially justifying their choice and actions, only to wane and disappear over time into a state of irrelevance when the organisation forgets why it embarked on the project and returns to business-as-usual.
So it was for much of the 2000′s that the enormous pre 1999 millennium compliance bubble eventually burst and we had to contend with an overarching management suspicion that IT was a necessary evil in the organisation. More recently, however, a new phenomenon has come from the consumer market to shake the foundations of corporate IT, one which has real benefits, very low training requirements and addresses the fundamental “prime directive” most people have: to be social.
I am assuming that you as a reader have at least heard of Facebook. Its success is down to the fact that it acts as a medium for people to share information and keep in touch. Of course businesses have also moved onto the system and it is used as a marketing platform for products and a way to build customer loyalty. Fundamentally, however, its success can be attributed to that prime directive: people are interested in what other people are doing. People like to share what they are doing so we have a market and a consumer.
I am glossing over Facebook’s inherent solution to keeping people geographically very widely dispersed in easy contact with each other. Of course the telephone has allowed us to do this for a long time but Facebook brings a different dimension, if not number of dimensions to social human interaction.
…these people don’t recognise that by allowing people to be social at work, the things that matter to the Board are improved.
So why therefore do we struggle with the concept of using social tools in business? Many CEOs and business leaders think that social has no place in business. They think that it’s about results, and process, and efficiency. They’re right, but these people don’t recognise that by allowing people to be social at work, the things that matter to the Board are improved.
My equation attempts to model the explosive effect bringing social business tools to the inbuilt desire of people to be social to the results it brings to business. What do I mean by “social business tools”, though?
For me, social business tools are defined as anything which allows people to present, store and share information in a way which allows others to reuse, improve, feedback and develop to the betterment of the original content.
You may be familiar with blogs, wikis, tweets, forums, idea jams, activities, instant messaging, web-conferencing, and the myriad of other tools out there. All of these allow the user to share information and get feedback from other participants. They also, however present another important facet of social business tools – providing context to the information.
…[email is] like standing in a shower of information which your colleagues decide to pour over you…
How many emails do you receive each day? It’s like standing in a shower of information which your colleagues decide to pour over you every day. It’s very inefficient for soliciting feedback from any more than one person and can be very wasteful of computer resources when you need to ship information around to more than person.
Social business tools provide new, more appropriate, places for the barrage of information you receive. They allow you to collect relevant information together, invite participation in that content and store the results in the same place. They don’t explode the volume of data by the number of users. They track the changes and can audit the work done on the content. They provide tools to allow the end user to tune what is relevant to them and to allow them to broaden the information net they have to other areas of the organisation than they might have previously.
For the management, who consider the introduction of social business tools to be tantamount to encouraging people to goof-off all day at work in mindless distractions, social business tools bring a new level of visibility to what’s going on. Modern analytics tools can be brought to analyse the sentiment, trends and dynamics of the social business solution. These tools give the management of an organisation insight they never previously had into their business.
But for the management of an organisation, the blinkered view of social business bringing time wasting diversions is one which could ultimately lead to the demise of their business. People nowadays are used to consumer social tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and the likes. Younger members of staff, essentially the future of the organisation, work in ways which business is not geared up for. The reliance on email by the so-called Generation Y is many times less than their parents. For them, an instant message, a tweet or a status update on someone’s wall is more convenient and as satisfactory as their predecessor’s reliance on email.
Every organisation to some extent relies upon the knowledge in their staff’s heads to deliver the end results it uses to make profits. The amount of re-learning staff have to be involved in due to churn is an opposing force to the progress the company needs to make in order to out-perform its competitors, to gain market share or to deliver the growth its shareholders expect. Many attempts at solving this problem have been made in the past, the most obvious being training of staff. How many man-hours are expended training staff in organisations on the basic knowledge they need to do their jobs? How much money is wasted in the time after they receive this training while they become fluent in the tasks in hand?
By using social tools to provide the facilities to capture knowledge as it is generated through the normal run of business and have that curated in such a way that anyone involved in the business can absorb that information, by osmosis in most cases, presents a far more dynamic and cost-effective approach to capturing and deploying the tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge the new worker needs to get on with their work. I am not advocating the replacement of all training with a wiki, or another social tool, but instead am preaching that forums, wikis, blog posts and mechanisms whereby questions can be answered by subject matter experts when required is a far more efficient approach to knowledge dissemination than traditional training tools.
I believe, therefore, that my equation approximately models the kind of improvements any organisation can expect to receive when a social business implementation is considered and executed with care. If it is not believed in by the management, is executed poorly or if the organisation is not committed to improvement, it will surely follow the fate of any other technology implementation.
Implementing social business tools is … about addressing the fundamental ability of the staff in an organisation to share, and be gratified for doing so.
Implementing social business tools is not about technology, however, it’s about addressing the fundamental ability of the staff in an organisation to share, and be gratified for doing so. It’s about taking that force and using it to improve their working lives and improving the health of your organisation.
If you’re not considering implementing social tools in your organisation I believe you may be signing the long-term death of your organisation – either to being overtaken by its competitors or being subject to the exodus of its best staff because their expectations are different. Don’t let that happen to your organisation.