Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Social business in 2012 : the threats from within

I have been going through some of the predictions for the 2012 Social Business Year (for instance, here, here). It is clear from these and other predictions that the potential of Social Business to transform our corporations has been widely covered, so I thought I would concentrate on the two or three threats that I see lurking over social business delivering all its promises

What is social Business ?

I am sure that there are countless definitions of social businesses, and it is important, in this post, to state what I understand by that : continuous (and with increased speed) adoption by corporations of new social trends (individualized consumption describes it well, in The Support Economy), through new social technologies and, slowly, emergence of a new social role for the corporation, this impacting and transforming its nature as a joint stock, limited liability, profit focused institution.

The threats from within, 1: too much power

I have seen the guys leading E2.0 initiatives become very popular within their own company and even more outside it. This is a dangerous position, because corporations are still political beings, and there will be adversaries arising from other functions or corporate initiatives and working to have the E2.0 guys brought back to their initial influence level.

Remember, if you are to succeed, and before the CEO becomes the explicit sponsor of your drive to transform into a social business, you need some political clout and much seniority in the team. Because initial success you will have, and followers you will breed ! Established structures (middle management, other leaders, some functions) will see you as their particular enemy and will try to bring you down.

My point here is not "they are wrong, you are right so go on with it". My point is, social business and E2.0 is all very well, but you'd better prove some business benefits quickly. And not, let's be clear, by bringing in some intelligent slideware from consultants (I am a consultant, disclaimer), but by achieving results trough some of the key assets that social business is supposed to build in a corporation, like renewed engagement, improved business intelligence, market influence, and, someday, increased consumer benefit.

It might happen that you'll have to work strongly to defend your own ideas of what "customer benefit" is though ...

The threats from within, 2: the new normal

What happens if you avoid the political trap ? There is this very normal trend of some teams that manage social business or enterprise 2.0. within their company, when they start to reach success : we are the ones who know about this stuff, so you should now adopt the new ways ! Enterprise 2.0 is the new normal !

That is human nature ! For folks that have been battling to see their beliefs adopted by their companies, basking in their own success and popularity, when they reach it, should be seen as normal.

Well, it isn't. Social Business is about adopting permanent change as the new normal (see how Fast Company describes the Generation Flux). It is why, after the principles and practices of Social Business for a particular company are strong enough (meaning that they are effectively adopted), I would suggest having the team prepare to move on to operations and let another team reinterpret what the former one did, and bring in its new ideas, views on technology and on strategy.

The key question is, how is the team in place going to bring in the next ones ? Well, it might just have to reinvent some HR practices, like L&D or talent management, and also go into tough personal mindset evolution. Now, that would be something

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