In April of 2010, my small consulting firm was acquired by Dachis Group, and almost overnight, I became a social business consultant. My expertise had been change management – helping organizations transform from one stage into another. Change management involves things like introducing new technologies and processes, managing large-scale mergers and acquisitions, and other kinds of business transformation.
Going forward, my job was going to be helping companies transform into social businesses. But what is a social business? I found that although this seemed like a simple question, it was not an easy question to answer.
It’s obvious to anyone that’s paying attention that social and mobile technologies are changing the business landscape. Every customer has a global publishing platform in their pocket or purse. A customer who is frustrated, say, waiting in a long line, can whip out a mobile phone and loudly vent their frustration to a network that might include hundreds if not thousands of friends. Positive and negative word of mouth can cascade rapidly through social networks around the world.
Customers can walk into your store and instantly compare your prices to your competitors. If they don’t like your price or terms they can order off the web, even while they are still in your store. An angry employee can leak confidential company information in ways that are virtually untraceable. The list goes on and on.
Yes, we all know we need to change. Most of us anyway. We know that we must transform in order to keep pace with this networked, complex and uncertain world. But change into what? When you ask that question, you will find that there are not so many clear and simple answers.
There are many consultants and technology vendors – Dachis Group included – who are racing to support companies as they transform into more agile, networked, connected companies. We’ve been helping organizations manage enormous amounts of fragmented social data, understand their performance, and then optimize operations, marketing and entire relationship dynamics in order to transform their business for years. But a clear, simple, easy-to-understand picture of the 21st-century networked enterprise is hard to find. In April of 2010 I could not get a clear answer from anyone. So I embarked on an investigation – a quest if you will – to understand what a post-industrial company looks like. I had many questions:
What is a connected company? How does it work? How can companies become more flexible and adaptive to change? How does strategy change? What does it mean to manage a connected company? What does it mean for leaders? How can we begin the journey?
Two and a half years later, I am happy to say that these questions do have answers. I found companies that are already well-along on their journey to connectedness. The future, it turns out, is already here, if you know where to look. Companies large and small have solved pieces and parts of the puzzle, and by putting the pieces together we can start to see the outlines of what companies of the future will look like. How they will work. What leaders and managers will need to do differently.
Younger companies like Amazon, Google, Zappos, and Rackspace have an advantage, because they were born in a digital age and don’t have as many deeply embedded industrial habits as many of their competitors. But some industrial giants, like IBM and General Electric, have already completed major phases of the transformation, emerging better and stronger than before. Some companies, like W.L. Gore, Nordstrom, Whole Food Markets, and Ritz-Carlton, have visionary, fluid, flexible strategies and organizational structures that will require very little change.
The fact is that connected companies are not an imaginary thing. They are not science fiction. They exist. In fact they are all around us. But we need to learn how to see them. We need to unlearn a lot of the business maxims that we have taken for granted.
And it’s really, really different. In fact, some of the things that will need to happen are almost the opposite of the way things are typically done today. For a change management professional like me, I can see that there’s a mountain of work to be done, and the larger the organization, the more difficult change will be.
But there’s also a lot to be excited about. The connected companies of the future will be great places to work. They will tap into the natural human energy, enthusiasm and passion that is now languishing in gray cubicles all over the world. They will provide an environment where people can make their own paths and fulfill their potential.
I’m proud to announce that today we are launching my new book, The Connected Company, a clear, simple picture of where we are headed, and where I am now convinced we all must go if we are to survive and thrive in this new connected world. The book is full of simple pictures and diagrams, as well as numerous examples of companies that are either already connected or well on their way. It’s a roadmap to the next century of business. I hope it can help you on your own journey.
Check out the book here or join us for an upcoming webinar entitled “The Connected Customer”. The live webinar will be held 11am ET October 2nd, 2012, and registration is now open at http://social.dachisgroup.com/webinar-connected/.