Predictions Social Business in 2012, Part III: Transforming Your Organization

This is the last of three posts I’m writing on predictions and priorities for Social Business in 2012. You can read the first and second prediction posts for more context.

Prediction #3: Connected leaders and employees will create sustained competitive advantages through a culture of sharing. This year will see some companies pull ahead of others because they are able to collaborate, innovate and execute better and faster thanks to an ingrained culture of sharing.

This is the year that companies get serious about investing in their internal social business capabilities, simply because it helps create and sustain a fast-moving, innovative and collaborative culture. It’s one thing to have a Facebook or Twitter presence run by a small social media team in your organization. It’s a totally different ball game that truly social businesses are playing when thousands of employees are connected externally as well as internally.

Culture is often dismissed as the “soft” underbelly of business. But as business leaders like Jack Welch (GE), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), and Herb Kelleher (Southwest) have written, culture is what creates and sustains a great company. And while a company can be successful with a “command and control” culture, I believe that companies that embrace openness (see my book “Open Leadership” for details) and encourage a culture of sharing will be much better positioned in the long run.

There are two ways I see culture changing because of increased sharing enabled by social technologies. The first revolves around connecting your biggest advocates – your employees — with your customers. The second is connecting your employees with each other.

Empowering Your Employees To Connect With Customers

No matter how many people you have on your social media team, it won’t be enough to meet the groundswell of customer interaction demand. To do that, you have to create your own internal groundswell, embodied in your employees.

Let’s go back to Dell. In my first prediction, we saw Dell dealing with flaming notebooks in the summer of 2006. Since that time, Dell has made it a mission to get closer to customers. One way they’ve done this is to train employees on how to use social media on Dell’s behalf. To date, over 5,400 Dell employees have taken one or more social media certification class and more than 2,000 have taken the full 8+ hours of classes to become fully “social media certified”.

According to Altimeter’s benchmarking surveys, advanced social businesses have roughly 20 people working on their social media efforts. That means that Dell effectively has 100 times more people engaged in social media than the most advanced social businesses.

This means that Dell understands customer needs at 100 times more points throughout the organizations, and has 100 times more people poised to jump in and support customers. It’s also 100 times more people looking at ways to improve and innovate the business on multiple fronts.

Many organizations will look at the immense costs (and risks) of training even a significant minority of employees and take a pass. It’s beyond their ability to comprehend so many people freely speaking on behalf of the company, beyond the grasp and control of corporate communications.

But look at the huge benefit to companies that do make that investment. Dell is building a competitive advantage deep into the organization that will difficult for competitors to emulate. It doesn’t replace great products but in the long run, 2,000 points of connection will give Dell a better way to facilitate faster agile design processes.

What’s the actual cost/benefit of social media training and empowerment? Here’s a back of the envelope calculation. Let’s assume that those 2,000 Dell employees had 8 hours of training at the opportunity cost of $50/hour. Add in trainer time and being generous, it’s roughly $1 million or about $500 per employee. I’m pretty sure Dell is realizing at least $500 in value just this year from the engagement of those connected employees.

And what if you are worried about something going wrong? Two ways to get your mind around this. First, your employees already interact each and every day with your customers – and you train and trust them to do the right thing and exercise good judgement. Second, things always and inevitably go wrong. To my first prediction about practicing every day transparency, you have to be able to feel comfortable with this new level of openness in order to have the confidence to empower your employees.

Connecting Employees Throughout The Organization

A hot trend right now is the adoption of “enterprise social networking” (ESN) where a company uses software to connect employees socially within the enterprise. This can be either as a standalone service (like Yammer or Socialcast) or integrated into a collaboration platform or suite (like’s Chatter, IBM Connections, or Sharepoint with Newsgator). Think of it as Facebook-like status updates behind the firewall.

I’m finishing up a report that looks at these ESNs and one of the most interesting findings is that it’s increasingly the leaders of the organization that are behind the adoption of these technologies. The reason: They see it as a way to transform their organizations, simply by creating the opportunity for people to share.

The result of sharing is that barriers between departments fall. Silos get broken down and the power distance between leaders/managers and front line employees becomes smaller. And it also creates opportunity for new leaders to emerge, where they are defined not by their title or how much budget they control, but seen as a leaders simply because they have amassed followers.

In the end, culture is defined simply the by the values, norms, and practices of how we get work done each and every day. The intractable nature of some cultures means that in order for culture transformations to happen – and to happen quickly – the new norms and mindsets not only have to established and trained, but also reinforced over and over again. Here are just a few ways that a culture of sharing can help achieve real business results:

  • Share information about a project to reduce duplication.
  • Find experts who have solved a similar problem before.
  • Solve problems together, faster.
  • Streamline processes in real time.
  • Identify innovations, big and especially small. And just as importantly, execute them quickly.
  • Gain confidence in distributed decision making because of greater information sharing and transparency.

These benefits as well as action plans will be included in the ESN report (sign up to be notified about the report when it is published).

The crucial action for leaders in 2012 is to make the commitment to these ESNs and to participate by simply sharing *how* you achieving your business goals. The practice of leadership requires constant focus on the important while addressing the urgent. Culture is important and can’t become a sidecar to the pursuit of hard goals. It’s just the other way around – culture becomes the foundation through which you will achieve those crucial goals today and in the long run.

So if you have these tools in house, share something every single day to support and grow your culture of sharing. And if you don’t have an ESN yet, look into how you can quickly get one in place

Your Social Business Journey

That’s it for my 2012 predictions and priorities. To summarize:

Prediction #1: Consumers will reward transparent companies with their loyalty. Companies must get courageous with transparency and make it an every day occurrence. Or they will face the wrath of outraged customers.

Prediction #2: Your customers want to be known. Your customers don’t merely want you to understand their needs or pain points. They want you to know them as individuals anywhere and anytime they engage with you.

Prediction #3: Connected leaders and employees will create sustained competitive advantages through a culture of sharing. This year will see some companies pull ahead of others because they are able to collaborate, innovate and execute better and faster thanks to an ingrained culture of sharing.

One thing I hope you see is that becoming a success social business has at its core being a successful business, period. The tactics and etiquette of social business may be unique, but the foundations are rooted in solid business strategy and practice.

All the best to you in 2012 and be sure to share examples of how you are doing on your social business journey. We will all benefit from your generosity and insight.