Last week Greg Smith published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. It was a scathing review of a collapse in culture, ethics and identity at his employer of twelve years.
Regardless of what you think about Goldman’s culture or the substance of Smith’s piece, the phenomenon of how this conversation has unfolded in the public square is interesting as a separate question. Might your company be next?
THE EMPLOYEE REVOLUTION WILL BE TWEETED
Not every company will grab the headlines of traditional media in the way that an anti-Goldman rant can, but the fact is that the conversation about internal employee experience on public channels has been growing rapidly, thanks to the rise of social media.
Even a basic search uncovers reams of dialogue among networked employee communities – grocery store employees, truck drivers – all discussing which companies are better employers than others. Job sites like Glassdoor.com provide social forums for these conversations to reach prospective employees.
While Smith’s op-ed made a big splash in the high-visibility New York Times, many stories about workplace experience start small but go viral. Ask Starbucks about the singing barista rant on YouTube, JetBlue about the memorable flight attendant onboard tirade and subsequent escape down the emergency slide, or Walmart about sites like walmartsucks.org.
Over a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle pioneered muckraking journalism, bringing the harrowing experience of American meatpackers to public light. The new muckrakers don’t need a publisher or a book deal – any employee with a video camera, Twitter account or Facebook network can and is talking about their work in a public way.
Why does employee conversation on social media matter? Because as trust in government and business is eroding, trust in media is on the rise. In fact, trust in social media is growing faster than any other media type. According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, while traditional news sources are still the most trusted media sources, trust in social media saw a 75% boost last year, reaching near parity with corporate media sources.
Source credibility is changing too. We trust what we hear from average employees more than what corporate leaders have to say. The Edelman report asked respondents when forming an opinion of a company, if you heard information about a company from each of these people, how credible would the information be? Between 2011 and 2012, respondents’ view of CEOs as “credible” or “very credible” fell from 50% to 38%. In the same period, the credibility of “a person like yourself” jumped from 43% to 65%, and the credibility of a “regular employee” jumped from 34% to 50%.
Attention corporations: the conversation is growing in both volume and credibility whether you want it to or not. It’s not about controlling the conversation any more. It’s about giving the conversation its due importance within your organization.
WHICH CAMP ARE YOU IN?
Besides the “Head in the Sand” crowd, perhaps we can divide the socially-calibrated corporate world into two legitimate camps:
The Radical Transparency Camp – these companies espouse the view that public transparency is inevitable and therefore they should focus resources on building an environment they wouldn’t mind sharing with the world. Employees have open channels of communication within their firm but are also encouraged to share opinions publically. Often this transparency is even part of the business model. Examples include Starbucks’ encouragement of employee ideas on My Starbucks Idea, IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit revealing methods and work practices in an open-source approach, and Redfin’s forums, which disrupted their competition in real estate by airing the industry’s dirty laundry.
The Social Inside Camp – these companies value maintaining a distinction between public and internal dialogue, perhaps because of the legal or competitive demands of their industry. However, they seek to empower employee dialogue through authentic, transparent communication channels inside the organization. For these companies, their action to support robust internal dialogue is not merely to mitigate risk of the conversation spilling into public spheres; this dialogue supports higher value benefits such as employee satisfaction, retention, client-focus, productivity, and innovation. Examples of companies building social inside include IBM’s BlueIQ program to embed social tools internally and externally, and YUM! Brands’ use of internal social tools to put employees at the center of the company.
How do you react to the increasing volume and credibility of employee voices in the public square? Which camp are you in and why?
The figures vary but in the last several years a major change has begun in organizations around the world. Sometimes the efforts are small and unsanctioned, sometimes they are big and bold, but increasingly businesses are employing social media strategically to engage deeply with both their workers and customers. We see this all the time in the large firms represented in our Social Business Council and elsewhere.
One of the biggest challenges these efforts face, whether they are internal or external, is that engagement via social media is generally perceived as a voluntary activity. As in, workers can collaborate and customers can choose to interact with a business through older channels that are often more familiar and better supported by the organization itself. Or they can engage through social channels. For people to choose the social path of engagement as the most suitable one, there need to be motivations and incentives that are aligned with that path.
As companies seek to ensure the highest level of success with their social business efforts, I am seeing that they want a proven, reliable way to drive adoption of their social business strategy, whether it’s an Enterprise 2.0 initiative, a social media marketing program, or Social CRM effort. But social media is not as deterministic and controllable as the channels that have come before it. It’s one of the reasons I say that adoption of social media can only be co-created. It is as much up to the those engaging to create value, sustain engagement, and build community as it is to those that sponsor them. You can’t own a community like you can buy software or a marketing campaign, social business is a two-way street like nothing quite like it. This makes adoption of social business a very different creature from the way businesses used to engage before.
Fortunately, after over half-a-decade of experience in scale, we can see the broad outlines of adoption, which have stages that are very different based on the state of maturity and overall rate of social business adoption in the organization. In other words, as much as we might like it, there is no “one size fits all” approach to it. Fortunately, we can organize around these different stages, which fall roughly into four parts given below. Specifically, these are:
This post is part of a four part series on social business adoption that will explore each of these phases, with early adoption being examined here. For this effort, I’ve contacted over a dozen experienced social business practitioners, tapped into my research, and aggregated the results of numerous case studies. The outcome is what you see here and while it’s probably as definitive as you’ll find, it’s a necessarily limited view of a rapidly moving new field. Also, in the end, what drives adoption best is whatever actually works for your social business project, and what works best for your project often isn’t what’s in the check lists, no matter how good. Social isn’t as predictable or as deterministic as we might like, and that’s the challenge. Of course, it’s also a large part of the opportunity to drive innovative new outcomes you could never otherwise achieve or imagine. So while your mileage may vary somewhat, the adoption strategies presented here can be a very useful jump start of your social business journey.
Recognizing that that although social business is part of a single continuum across workers, business partners, customers, and the marketplace, that internal use of social business and external uses involve participants that have a very different relationships with the organization. Adoption strategies therefore vary the most between these two groups and so they are presented here separately, though there is often significant cross over, particularly in areas like community management and connecting social business activities to relevant business outcomes and bottom-line benefits.
Note that these adoption phases also take place during the journey of becoming a social business in the large and will be directly informed by that journey. Individual social business efforts, and their adoption strategies, should be loosely connected to what the entire organization is doing and “calibrate” to align themselves in the same direction.
While the blur between internal and external communities continues to increase, for now most efforts are still separate. Listed beow are the top adoption strategies for external social business efforts. Begin with these but experiment along the way and find the adoption patterns that are unique to your environment, culture, and constraints.
As social business scales up and goes external, successful adoption has a new, though often complementary set of requirements. Some of the differences revolve around motivation in that external participants aren’t typically paid to work for the organization like internal participants and so usually have a very different set of reasons they are involved. Other issues that tend to be unique to external social business includes appealing to a much broader demographic and competing with similar communities elsewhere on the Internet.
Note that this list cannot be exhaustive and there are literally dozens of techniques large and small that one can attempt to drive adoption of social business. You should also never forget the fundamental cycle of listen, analyze, measure, and respond. However, these cover the more widely used and repeatable techniques that I’ve seen of the many social business efforts that I’ve examined over the years. I’ll be covered the remaining adoption phases in upcoming posts but welcome your feedback to improve and extend this list.
A social business captures value by empowering its people – employees, customers, partners – to contribute to its processes, products and services. Opening up to new resources allows businesses to incite new ideas for innovation while deepening relationships with constituents. Social technologies enable employees, customers and partners to have a voice in business matters. By allowing more people to participate in processes, businesses must learn to relinquish control.
Over the past few months, I have been writing about how a command and control management style acts as a barrier to socializing a business. Command and control management styles demotivate employees and it prevents them from speaking up. This style, which has its foundation in the military, protects the power of a select few while suppressing groundswell movements. Hence, command and control management styles appear to be at direct odds with social business. Social business is egalitarian by nature, and everyone participates and has a voice. This openness to opportunity and fresh ideas is what leads to moments of serendipity.
I had previously viewed command and control as the same until Charlene Li of Altimeter Group offered a different perspective during her presentation at our recent Social Business Summit. Charlene asserted that leaders of modern organizations must master giving up control, but not command. The distinction between the two words is slight, but critical. Control is having the power to force someone into action. Command is having the authority to direct someone into action. Compared to command, control has a more negative connotation. Leaders who seek to control events often do so by leveraging fear tactics or by limiting access to information. This tactic will backfire with social technologies, which are built to empower all participants to share information.
Leaders who command, do so from a strategic position. Establishing command feels much different than taking control. A commander guides people into action, not coerces people into action. This means leading by example and motivating employees, customers and partners to act positively on behalf of the business and of their own will. Our own social psychologist Kate Niederhoffer spoke at the Social Business Summit about the power of promoting positive behaviors in nurturing a social business. In this scenario, a leader maintains order by reinforcing desired behaviors while ignoring those deemed undesirable.
Unlike operational control, operational command requires trust. In fact, trust often eliminates the desire to control. Building and maintaining trusting relationships with employees, customers and partners is critical for business leaders. This is why I believe that trust is the key element of social business. Once a leader trusts his or her people to do the right thing (assuming people will do good most of the time with proper incentives), he or she can establish command by guiding and supporting behaviors that will bring desirable results.
How is the trust level in your organization? Is your leadership about control, or are they in command?