Voices Of The Corporate People

W. Kandinsky - Squares with concentric circles
W. Kandinsky – Squares with concentric circles

How can organizations become “social”? Adapting companies to the social economy so they can meet the requirements of empowered and connected customers requires some massive internal transformation. Even when leaders understand the necessity to shift away from old models and modernize their organizations, they hardly know where to start.

To decide to join the social dance floor is a first, smart decision. But then, what? “Deploy an internal social network” says the CIO.  “Publicize a new Vision & Mission statement” says Internal Comms. “Hire a consultant” suggests the Strategy dept. “What’s a social organization?” silently asks HR. All classical, outdated and unsuitable answers in our social age.

In fact, what is at stake here is a deep culture change. Tools are important enablers, but they don’t trigger the necessary transformation on their own. Changing the corporate culture and actual behaviors of employees at all levels, across functions and geographies, is a huge challenge. One size certainly doesn’t fit all. But it doesn’t help to over-complexify the issue. What’s really needed is action: tangible activities that advance organizations into the social world.

Let me suggest a very simple and pragmatic approach to this transformation. It goes with 2 steps only: getting ready, then acting; and a culture change framework that I named ‘Voices’. Because I believe that becoming social is pretty much about freeing the voices of the corporate people: listening to what they say, encouraging them to communicate and connect.

Get Ready

If it’s about culture change, one has to understand the existing culture that is to be changed; and who will help, versus who’s not. This point is particularly important because we know now (except for some top leaders overestimating their impact, maybe) that large-scale change requires much more than the executive team’s determination. Social can’t be top-down. It takes a network to spread a network culture.

1.      Understand the baseline situation. Where does the organizational culture currently stand in terms of perception and efficiency? Where are the pain points?

Companies are sitting on massive amounts of scattered data which, if linked and made sense of, form the best foundation for a transformation initiative. The combination of employee surveys, social media monitoring, corporate reputation assessment (such as PatientView’s for pharma companies), image audits, employer brand assessment, investors’ perception reports etc. provide a fair sense of the current corporate culture, from a relational and multi-stakeholder perspective. Diagnosis should also include existing processes & rules of engagement (what exists, what is possible, what is prohibited) and take into consideration the company’s ‘DNA’ and history.

On top of data, and because social is about emergence and conversations, assessment should comprise people’s insights through interviews. Internal stakeholders (leaders, change agents, existing social communities) certainly have a lot to say and interesting suggestions. The diagnosis phase is also a fantastic opportunity to engage with external stakeholders and have them participate in the organization’s transformation.

To make sense of all the collected insight, data visualization techniques are to be preferred to thick (boring) reports.

2.      Understand key contributors. Who will facilitate the transformation, or make it happen? Who will stand in the way, and why?

The organization is full of people longing for a more social working environment, whose understanding and energy are fantastic resources for culture change initiatives. They are sometimes just not visible by the executive team. A good diagnosis should identify those people: active participants to internal and external social networks, internal community managers, members of communities linked to innovation / collaboration / societal issues / digital, change makers in general. Beside, map the institutional “key holders”: decision makers, but also potential road blockers (control freaks, old-style power-driven leaders).

External stakeholders can help the change too, and it’s important to map them as well. Often, messages are better accepted when they come from outside. Know your external social advocates, selected thought leaders or executives in companies that have undergone a successful social transformation, and connect with them.

Act: Get on with Culture Change

E. Degas - Singer with a glove
E. Degas – Singer with a glove

Now the preparatory work is done, it’s time to reboot the corporate and organizational culture and install a 21st Century, social version. How? By rolling out very concrete activities, to enable employees to connect. I’ve often been frustrated at the lack of specific, tool agnostic guidance to drive the change, so I’ve developed a framework which can hopefully help others.

Much more than tools, this is about humanizing organizations: support meaningful connections, let people speak, listen to what they say, and leverage the power of their voices.

The VOICES framework:

6 steps to internal social transformation

The proposed structure is named after an acronym that reflects 6 key dimensions of organizational culture change.

1)      Vision – Develop & explain the strategic perspective. One has to be explicit and sincere about where the organization stands today, why it has to evolve, and where to. Share Lee Bryant’s remarkable presentation about 21st Century firms. Inspire the decision-making team: let them read Dan Pontefract‘s Flat Army, Frederic Laloux’ Reinventing Organizations, and Robert Phillips‘ ideas on public leadership. Explain why and how social is an enabler, frame the culture change, write the story of the organization as a social company (picture the target) and link it to corporate historical roots. Benchmark social companies and be inclusive: we all have a role to play in changing the culture.

2)      Openness – Encourage external connections, instead of preventing them (the common rule as of today). Set up a corporate speakers’ bureau, train employees into delivering engaging presentations, and promote them externally. Encourage attendance to social-related conferences, and post-event sharing of acquired knowledge. Check engagement rules applicable to employees in external speaking opportunities and social media, and revisit them since they’re probably too restrictive. Identify & publicize initiatives where staff supports local communities. Support co-creation opportunities with external stakeholders.

3)      Information – Educate about social: increase social media literacy at all levels of the organization. It doesn’t have to go through expensive training programs: MOOCs abound that offer free alternatives. Leverage conferences and communities of practice for benchmark, education & networking. Train the Legal, Compliance, Communication departments to the opportunities of social. Make use of visual tools such as mind mapping and infographics to ease understanding.

4)      Culture – Impact the corporate leadership culture. Connecting the social transformation effort with HR processes is critical. Something has to change in the way HR operates, both as a condition and a result of the change. This is no small task: training HR to social, working with them on management culture change, revisiting talent identification (to support internal social leaders and disruptive thinkers) and performance management (to reward collaboration rather than competition), seriously improving leadership diversity, implementing workplace flexibility, etc. The leadership team also has to be specifically trained and supported. Having them write a collective internal blog about their journey into social media could be a good idea.

5)      Enterprise 2.0 – Develop collaboration networks. This is about tools and using them well. Assess existing tools and improve their likability. Enable collaborative & social platforms, move away from predominantly email-based working culture. Shine the light on community managers (it’s high time to recognize the value of this job) and support their skill building.

6)      Success Metrics – Monitor selected performance indicators, since organizations don’t just go social for the mere sake of it. Beside classical KPIs (number of employees on internal social networks, of active users, of active communities…), a few new indicators should be considered: top leaders’ activity on internal social networks as well as external social media, speakers’ bureau activity, number of HR processes improved, mentions of the organization as a social company in the media, and so forth.

Internal social transformation is a critical challenge for companies, because it is the condition for them to succeed with their customers. As Susan Scrupski states it, “organizations must evolve beyond industrial age management structures and practices in order to prepare for a future that is predicated on agility, responsiveness, and distributed leadership”.

Thoughts, ideas? I’d love to hear your suggestions so as to help organizations become social.

Employee Engagement: Beyond Workplace Psychosis 2.0

I always have been an ardent supporter of true qualitative research. Yet, data IS interesting, specially when, considered under the right angle, it helps shedding a light on otherwise unnoticed facts and behaviors.

A number is a number is a number
Emanuele Quintarelli, when presenting the results of the Social Collaboration Survey he recently conducted among 300 Italian companies, exposed such numbers, which curiously were barely commented, during the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit (you can have a look to his presentation here). He, and his colleague Stefano Besana, found out that middle management is not the problem we all thought it was. On average, it represents a problem for less than 20 percent of companies having undergone a social business initiative. Wow… A fast and dirty interpretation of this finding would be to correlate it with the now (in)famous prediction from the Gartner Group saying that 80 percent of social business efforts will fail, and to assert that old thinking — introducing social with a project mindset, something easily understandable and actionable at middle management level — fails in reshaping businesses to adapt to our new hyper connected reality.

While intellectually flattering, as it nurtures our believing in the necessity for a cultural and behavioral change, making such a correlation would be a fraud. 80 percent of middle managers seing value in social means that part of them are adopting new leadership traits in their behavior (Emanuele’s survey in fact shows that half of companies, on average, think that their culture fits social initiatives). If so, how may we interpret the dreadful level of disengagement (63 per cent worldwide) among employees reported by Gallup?

When structure trumps culture

More than culture, organizational structure imposes constraints on our behaviors. Going even further, organizational culture might be defined as the set of behaviors which develop over time along the interplay of these constraints. As John Wenger insightfully pointed out:

“I’m often fascinated by how people, when they walk through the door of their workplaces, adopt behaviors akin to the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. Despite knowing in our hearts and in our guts that much of how workplaces operate is nonsensical and even anti-human, we maintain the charade that it’s the best way of doing things. As Alan Moore points out in No Straight Lines, industrial systems were not designed with human needs at their heart, yet we still organise workplaces along such lines. We go along with the deceit that doing things in a mechanistic, command-and-control way is the right way to do things.”

In many cases, the “victimization” of unengaged employees isn’t caused by, or targeted toward colleagues and managers, but toward the system itself, which structure embodies a deterministic set of constraints. Restoring goodwill requires much more than changing management’s mindset, it calls for a reweaving of the formal structure of organizations. Structure and culture are intimately linked, and at the end of the day, they all relate to relationships between people. As Dan Pontefract wrote in Flat Army:

“… organizational culture is defined by one criterion, and one only: an organization’s culture is defined by the manner in which employees are treated by their direct leader.”

I won’t discuss here the superiority of networks over industrial era hierarchies as organizational model, many others have brilliantly discussed it, you can for example read these recent posts by Jon Husband or Oskar Berg. Yet, a crucial question remains: does a networked organizational structure intrinsically trigger employee engagement?

Sadly, the answer seems negative. There are still few plausible case studies of companies exhibiting —and living— this kind of structure: GoreValveAutomatic, and some others, but they all share a common attitude toward employee engagement: they hire individuals who fit their internal culture, and are particularly cautious about the personality and mindset of new hires. When setting up the right structure, they tend more to protect the corresponding culture than to assimilate dissent elements. Indirectly, they all prove that, if a network-based structure enables engagement and collaboration by leveraging trusted relationships, it doesn’t help that much in restoring motivation from disengaged employees.

Workplace psychosis 2.0

Companies’ culture is evolving; in some cases, their structure is beginning — albeit slowly — to change, but the level of disengagement keeps on increasing. To counter this inexorable trend, some companies are beginning to adopt new behaviors: ROWE human resources approach, BYOD policies, better work-life balance,… but is there any tangible evidence that those are really enhancing engagement?

In a parallel to the rise of industrialization, in our Western societies, the XIXth century has seen our lives being more and more tightly structured and partitioned: work, family, religion, leisure, have grown into social and behavioral “boxes” which, for many people, were largely disconnected one from another. This social, moral, and ontological evolution even reflected itself in the thinking of the time. For example, in Ancient SocietyLewis Henry Morgan, one of the founders of anthropology, described social evolution as a set of patterns belonging different domains: technology, subsistence, marriage, family and political organization.

Today, all, but one, of these personal, social and political boxes which prevailed in the XIXth century have disappeared, in a global transformative movement, accelerated by the internet and the rise of networks. Technology is now pervasive, and affordable to anyone. Family is no more the infrangible nucleus it was hundred years ago, and marriage is no more the reference point of human lives. Political minorities take now their own voice, whichever it is, and the class struggle is merely memories in hedonistic and individualistic societies. Work, instead, has remained the last “reserved” domain, in which people still think and behave differently than in any other situation of a life characterized by social and cultural continuous hybridation. This fracture is less physical, as telework and freelance contracting develops, than psychological, as work codes greatly differ from the ones from our private life, as the nature of work moves away from its outcomes, and gets more and more abstract.

This situation sheds a new light on the lack of engagement, in organizations attempting to adopt more flexible internal rules and to entice employees to bring more of their personality and creativity into the workplace. Being a more complete self in a disconnected, self-contained, workplace, while living a more and more demanding and connected life externally, exhibits all the traits of a split personality disorder. In other words, organizations trying to socialize processes tailored (Taylored) to an industrial-era operational mentality, or to add a social layer to an otherwise closed system, are, slowly but steadily, growing workplace psychosis 2.0.

The nature of the firm, redux

Isn’t there any hope left, beside a radical erase-and-redesign move? Yes, there is. Beside culture and structure, and even beyond them, organizations have to rethink about their nature. I have previously written that the dominant transactional purpose of organizations, famously explained by Ronald Coase, is becoming an economic nonsense. For more than a century, they have grown on top of our society, draining tangible and intangible resources for their own sake, up to the point they have become totally closed systems, subject to growing entropy.

Instead of fighting for a shrinking piece of profit, organizations have to learn how to be useful again to the society which nurtures them, beyond shareholders’ interests, and to become the thriving engines of a global circular economy. To regain sustainability in the new world we see emerging, companies must rethink their own purpose, and will have to switch from an onward, quasi parasitic, to an outward, symbiotic, attitude. The schizophrenia route is definitely a no go. Instead of requiring even more from employees, they are urged to open the doors, and to show them that they care about the world, the society, the city, the life in which they operate.

For sure, most people want to get their work done the best they can, but this only if this work gives sense to their life, and if they are able to feel that this sense is shared among coworkers. Instead of trying to weave socializing behaviors with obsolete business mechanisms, let your employees know you care about your customers, and give them tools to support this. Let them know you care about broader, deeper issues, and help them getting involved in resolving the problems they tackle in their real, external, life. This was the lesson that my friend and colleague from Change Agents Worldwide Céline Schillinger brilliantly gave us during the Enterprise 2.0 Summit: her “Women in Sanofi Pasteur” internal movement grew on the premise of helping to solve the gender balance issue at work, a problem which isn’t limited to the internal corporate world, and the initiative flourished through external recognition. Her success shows that, in order to get more from their employees and contractors, in order to re-engage them, organizations must, simply, give them more. Not as employees, but as human beings. Not in the workplace, but in their life. Let us open the doors of the confined world of work, it needs fresh air. Right now.

What Does A Friend Look Like In The Age Of Social?

Or, How John Hagel, David Armano, Hugh MacLeod and Harold Jarche Kickstarted Me.

Here’s how it began.

2011 Back story: In my MarComms job, I had two projects front of mind – launching an Enterprise Social Network (we were the first company in the world to completely replace our intranet with Yammer) and developing a bunch of infographics on business performance (turning heavy PowerPoint slides into something more digestible). Independently, I was mentoring some young communicators who were trying to work out their pitch and career paths.

I spent a lot of time thinking about these topics; with plenty of online research. I was working out how to not just understand these topics, but put them into practice. I was on twitter rather passively, following a fist full of thought leaders – among them meme capturer / destroyer Hugh MacLeod, (Center of the) Edge thinker John Hagel and the social / design maven David Armano.

I also helped edit some resumes; and ended up updating mine (I was called to account for having a very out of date one) but was disappointed in the outcome – it did not capture the essence and depth of what I felt I could offer.

Then, one day, the three topics coalesced around a single idea: develop a social (shareable) infographic resume, for myself, as an intellectual exercise in creating content that people want to talk about and share, that allows them to know me better / deeper, and that drives my own career trajectory (I was not looking for a new job, but I did want to own my career path more keenly.)

So, I sketched up some ‘3-D’ ideas.

JA-on-my-mindThen I sent to a friendly designer and, why, there it was – a look along my journey; even a look inside my brain. Wherein, snippets of Armano/MacLeod/Hagel genius.

Next, I shared it, as you do. I put it on Slideshare and tweeted Armano a thanks. He, in turn, kindly tweeted:

Next thing I know it was trending on Slideshare home page and had several thousands hits.

That process lead to the development of the personal branding BrandBoards product. But there’s more.

Soon after, I was invited by Yammer to attend a Customer Advisory Board meeting in San Francisco, and to present on the social journey we had been on using yammer-as-intranet. I met many corporate social technology mavens there, real thought leaders and active practitioners. Who was on as keynote before me? None other than John Hagel. Neat. It was a most inspiring event, and one name came up a few times as someone to follow and study: Harold Jarche.

No-one has since guided my own social journey more than Jarche. Deep, patient, profound, inviting, his writing and approach to net work is something I have appropriated for myself (the approach, not the writing!)

Flying back to Vancouver from that event, I was both lifted and highly focused. I needed to show up differently at work, to stake a claim for a new way of working, to work out loud.

And touching down in YVR, I saw some tweets about Armano being in town the next day and hosting a Q&A. Synchronicity. I went along, had a chat about ESNs and social business. Things were moving.

I have been a fairly heavy poster / participant in the Yammer Customer Network over time, especially in the ‘thought leadership’ category. Therein I cultivated relationships with many strong, vibrant social leaders.

That lead, via Ernst Décsey, to an invite to a new, progressive group of social business (or whatever we are calling it today) leaders who were developing a new model of working around change, social, network theory.

Rather fraudulently, I joined Change Agents Worldwide (CAWW) crew here, and suddenly I was (virtual) face-to-face with people whose content and ideas I had used and pushed inside my own organization: the amazing graphics of Joachim Stroh; working out loud with Bryce Williams; sharing wirearchically with Jon Husband; and then, (network theory crush!) The Jarche himself!

How wonderful.

Now, why did I write all this? Oh yes, to talk about friendship, and trust.

CAWW friends in NYC
CAWW friends in NYC

The social journey for me has been an immense undertaking as I uncouple the vestiges of my (the?) old ways of thinking and embrace the opposites of what I have known to be normal:

  • from local to global
  • from private to public
  • from head-down to horizon-seeking
  • from control to choice
  • from saved to shared.

In this process, on this journey, I have made new friends, quick friends, high trust friends, guiding friends, virtual friends. I am sure neither John Hagel nor David Armano remember who I am [Update: Armano told me he did remember me. Nice.], but they are still friends, because they have given freely and I have received gratefully, and amplified their gifts to others. From them and others, I have learned to ask “How can I help?”  to strangers with no distinct quid pro quo other than, we are all in this together.

There is a Peter Matthiessen quote I use all too often.

“Soon the child’s clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions, and abstractions. … Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn.

The sun glints through the pines and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise.

After that day, we become seekers.”

I return to it regularly for two reasons. As a parent to two young kids I get to see through their clear eye every day. Also, it helps me reflect on how in the last few years I, too, have become a seeker again. Much of that is down to social, virtual friends who have let me into their trust.

gapingvoid1And what of Hugh MacLeod? Well, I have yet to meet him so, for now, one of his limited edition prints above the toilet will have to suffice.

Still full of (shit) ideas,

This blog post first appeared on the ←This Much We Know.→ blog.

Wasting People – Who Cares?

Edvard Munch-The Scream-1893“How have you been lately?” I asked recently a friend of mine, working in a large corporation. The response stroke me – “I now feel better than a while ago. I have resigned myself to the idea that I have no future in my job, in my company. I will no longer be promoted nor challenged. So, the best I can do is switch to “autopilot” at work, and invest my brain and energy in meaningful activities outside of work”.

“I feel better. I have no hope anymore about my job”

This is killing me, really. Not just because she’s my friend, and I know she’s a very valuable resource to her company, but because I’ve witnessed this oh so many times.

Every time, it’s about skilled senior professionals, in their forties or early fifties. Although committed to the company’s mission, they are led to a point where they have no choice but to emotionally disconnect from work. These people may be bitter (read anonymous evaluations of companies on Glassdoor.com, they can be cruel) – or just disengaged. It hurts them most if they’ve strongly invested their professional field before, sometimes at the expense of their personal and social life. I’ve seen this happen a lot with women, which is not surprising given the ​lack of opportunities they are offered in the corporate world. But an awful lot of men feel they’re being put aside as well.

A lack of recognition, career stagnation, inept management, meaningless pressure, bureaucratic culture, sterilized internal communication, social stratification, the unpleasant “corporate kabuki” of performance evaluation are hurting those people in their professional life and personal self-esteem. The problem is not that people leave their companies, generating high turnover; the problem is that they stay. They stay with no enthusiasm, little pride and a low, very low productivity.

Sitting on a gold mine

Corporate leaders are sitting on a gold mine and they disregard it. While striving for growth and productivity, many companies still afford the luxury to waste a major resource: their own talents. They’ve managed to have those people join, they’re paying their salaries, infrastructure, travel, communications, and so forth… and end up using a fraction only of the available intelligence and energy.

How come they don’t take the issue more seriously?

It’s not that they are not aware. Employee disengagement is everywhere. Studies and surveys pile up. The recent Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” report, showing that only 13% of employees feel engaged, has been much publicized. Thirteen per cent! Other major consulting firms come to the same conclusion (Aon plc, Hay Group) and communicate heavily on their findings.

Mainstream business literature urges companies to do something about it. Studies demonstrate that higher employee engagement leads to “greater business success, lower cost in talent recruitment, (higher) workplace creativity and customer satisfaction”. In his remarkable book “The Flat Army. Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization”, Dan Pontefract (@dpontefract) compiles enough data and case studies to demonstrate that “engagement is good”, and “disengagement is bad”. The proof is in the numbers.

Any action?

Most often unfortunately, companies do little about this issue. Constrained by habits or unable to think differently, few of them admit that it’s precisely the way they are run that causes disengagement. Hierarchy, command-and-control, organizational silos seem natural and permanent – the price to pay for efficiency. Outdated leadership models have proven good for the leaders currently in place – so why would they change? Who would be willing to relinquish their power, status or comfort?

Some organizations launch a window-dressing “employee motivation” initiative that ends up with yet another employee survey (with closed, lenient questions), a stereotyped corporate movie (featuring beautiful, diverse, happy people that look 100% fake), one more top-down newsletter, or a wide range of lip service.

Some leaders just ignore the topic and bury their head in the sand, causing a friend of mine to claim: “Man descended from apes, leaders descended from ostriches”. They express fatalism and see employees as a mass of undifferentiated, not fully reliable people which needs guidance, structure and control. Sheep need a shepherd.

At the same time, companies go on spending $$$ to attract talent from outside, because their own talents are “not good enough”. Oh, really? Regardless of perception bias (“the grass is greener elsewhere”), could it be that they’re “not good enough” precisely because they’re not engaged?

Nobody says it’s an easy task. Engagement drivers are diverse. In large corporations, it is impossible to handle well individual aspirations and please everyone. Plagued by a “support function mindset, insufficient capabilities, and a low tolerance for risk”, most HR departments are “unable to relate the ROI or business impact of their function” (McKinsey) and cannot handle the issue seriously. They can even be an additional source of frustration for employees. Forward thinking HR exist, but they have a low share of voice.

Employee disengagement can be prevented (or cured)

However, despite the difficulties, a few simple changes could turn companies into more engaging organizations. How? Through social re-engineering. Changing paradigm. Empowering employees. Thinking of them not as “resources” but as “partners”, not as uncontrollable kids but as responsible grown-ups. Supporting communities. Giving up stereotyped language. Revisiting corporate leadership culture. Becoming a social organization… sufficient substance to feed future posts — and hopefully corporate strategies, someday. Among existing great resources on line, the Change Agents Worldwide blog is full of valuable insights on the matter.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you witnessed disengagement in your working environment? Has any organization you know been able to turn around the situation, to build new motivation and passion for work? How have they done?

The Sound of Social Business

Caravaggio Le joueur de luth détail“Social”, in its social business meaning, has a lot to do with the way business is made, the way corporations are organized and interact with their internal and external stakeholders, the tools they use to generate value in the age of networks. Nothing to do with art, music – leave aside the well-worn concept of collective value arising from our combined differences, as what an orchestra does.

But the gap may not be as wide as it seems. A recent interaction with a contemporary music band had the surprising effect to make me reflect on social business. How comes?

For two years already, I’ve been a volunteer Chairman of the Board of Sphota, a company that describes itself as a “musical innovation collective” or “co-op”. Sphota is the legal structure for the Caravaggio music band.

Named after the Florentine painter, Caravaggio was born in 2004 from the desire to produce instrumental and electronic music of pop-rock inspiration. Music is written by Benjamin de la Fuente (a childhood friend of mine) and Samuel Sighicelli, both renowned contemporary composers. The rock side is inspired by alternative / progressive rock, combined with a strong rhythmic. Bruno Chevillon and Eric Echampard, both experienced jazz musicians, complete the group. They compose and play their music in concerts in France and abroad, they have published several records and are the authors of the recent Larrieu brothers’ movie soundtrack: “Love Perfect Crime”.

My daily routine revolves around a pretty different world from Caravaggio. I’ve been involved for more than 20 years in international business, dealing with business development projects in the communications and health arenas. I have spent the last decade in a large multinational corporation. My co-workers are mostly of a scientific background. I’m developing and implementing engagement strategies and social collaboration initiatives.

But in our recent Board meeting, listening to the band’s achievements and projects, exchanging with the members on their aspirations and difficulties, I realized how much our experiences had in common. It’s not mere empathy… There are actually common features between what Caravaggio does, and what social business is (or should be).

  1. Where does the unclassifiable belong? 

Going across borders makes it complex to define what you do, which makes it difficult for others to understand and accept.

My friends at Caravaggio incorporate electro, contemporary music, rock, and progressive jazz. They compose pieces and meticulously organize their performances, while leaving space to creative freedom and improvisation. They explore the borders. They enjoy a positive image in the specialized media, but articles show the reporters are struggling with the question: “How to define their music?”

Similarly, social business goes across traditional boundaries in the corporate world. It has to do with communications, information technology, marketing, human resources, commercial operations, customer service, social responsibility. All these functions should be activated and coordinated to re-invent corporations in the age of networks.

But social business professionals know well, they walk a thin line between territorial behaviors and benevolent censorship. People in charge of each above-mentioned field are generally very suspicious about initiatives that encroach upon their territories while arising from a larger perspective. Cross-silo collaboration remains painful and difficult. Few companies have been visionary, or bold enough to handle the transformation at a top management level – anyway, I’m not convinced top-down is the only way to go social.

To solve the absence of identification, companies generally hook the “social business” or its engagement component to one of the existing silos, be it IT, Marketing, or Communications. By doing so, they sharply downsize its organizational and business impact. But at least, people are reassured: “now we understand what social business is” – it’s IT, or marketing, or comms.

  2. Innovation is not mainstream. Social business isn’t either.

Although I wish Caravaggio to become world celebrities and sell millions of records, I doubt they are the next Lady Gaga. Because their music is complex, unusual and demanding, it doesn’t target the mainstream listener. This is another similarity I find with social business: it’s not everywhere.

The enthusiasts may think it is, as they keep reading articles and books that trumpet the triumph of social business (see The Golden Age of Management is Now by @stevedenning) and engage into social media with other enthusiasts (like I do). But it’s an illusion. Within corporations, they is still a looooong way to go before people are convinced they have to go social, and even more before they change behaviors, policies and organizations.

This was the subject of a fascinating conversation I was part of recently, with famous social business thought leaders Dan Pontefract (@dpontefract) and Luis Suarez (@elsua). “Is social business gaining ground?” was the question. Are we on a curve of progress, or will social remain a niche forever? There was a silence… I was anxious for the answer… Then Luis said: “Things are changing. They’re not changing as much nor as fast as we would hope within companies, but in they do in the society as a whole. Society no longer accepts organizations to behave as they used to in the past”.

What social business evangelists have not yet managed to achieve, external pressure by social demand may bring forward.

  3.      Non-standard projects don’t fit into bureaucratic boxes. 

There was a long discussion in our Board meeting about how Caravaggio could access various types of public funding, aimed at supporting artistic creation. Despite budget cuts, France still offers many of these, which are great for the diversity and vitality of the cultural fabric.  Such funding is of paramount importance for Caravaggio, until the band broadly expands its audience – which may not happen. But funding means rules, processes, tick-boxing and bureaucrats. While they’re not fundamentally bad (as a citizen, I like the idea that the State doesn’t spend my money without a minimum of control and guidelines), they’re hardly adapted to non-standard projects.

Too bad, Caravaggio is a special case in the contemporary music landscape as well as jazz or rock. Its music grounds itself on several aesthetics without fitting in any of them completely. The band plays its own musical compositions but is also open to cooperation with other musicians, creating a team which size varies according to the projects. It’s a music band but its performances are much more than mere concerts. Enough to frustrate a bureaucrat: standard projects are so much more comfortable.

This is another point of convergence with social business. Companies’ procedures exist to standardize initiatives to the maximum, in order to ensure control, replication, and to limit risks. Dave Gray (@davegray) explains well in “The Connected Company”, the concomitant rise of the connected customer and the service economy create complexity that the “divided company” (standardized and rigid) cannot address. What are needed today are not more procedures, but more agility, flexibility and connectedness. But most companies’ bureaucrats are not aware – or don’t want to see – and make it a tough obstacle course for social business projects. Try to launch, say, an issue-centric, cross-social media, cross-stakeholder project as an alliance with several partners (very “non-standard”!), from within a company that is used to managing alone some product-centric, traditional media projects targeting siloed stakeholders (“standard”). Although few existing procedures are adapted to your project, the organization will still require you to fit in, and blame you if you don’t. Social business advocates, you’d better be brave and enduring.

  4.      Social requires hybrid skills – thus diverse people.

We’re in the era of hybrids, and this trend will only grow. I’ve been appalled for many years at how much companies were favoring a certain archetype and a narrow set of skills versus the diversity of profiles. Depending on the industry, telecom engineers, PhDs in pharmacy or medicine, etc. trust all leadership positions. People with similar or broader industry knowledge but other background are blocked from a certain hierarchical position, leaving the space for leadership teams that are very uniform.

Social business is just incompatible with uniformity. The stakeholders’ requests and expectations are so diverse that it’s illusory to think they can be handled through homogeneous teams. Various perspectives must be heard and understood, for companies to thrive in the age of social business. If your team is mainly composed of people with a scientific background, ​it may be time to have them read a little Chekov– and invite other types of people to join.

There are yet other convergences at stake with social business. This is where modern individualism (“I speak in my name”, “I’m empowered trough social media”) meets the collective dimension (“I’m a member of a community”, “we collaborate”). This is where reflection meets action, as you don’t advocate for social collaboration without socially collaborating yourself.

I love it that my friends of Caravaggio explore convergences in their music. Their purpose is not a style zapping game between contemporary, jazz and rock music, nor the simple pleasure of finding common references, but a substantial work about transitions from one universe to another, and about hybrids that can then be encountered. Their variable configuration, their attention to each member’s solo work on top of the band’s illustrate well the diversity and flexibility that are at stake in social business. I only wish they had women in the band 🙂 but they have 2 in their Board, which is not too bad.

What do you think, social business fellows? Have you been inspired by experiences from very different fields? I would be happy to hear about them.

Caravaggio band Caravaggio video at Moers festival 2013Caravaggio Facebook page

Be prepared for social change

Our mental models of how things work are often a barrier to our adaptation to new capabilities.  Digital disruption will stretch our thinking in many new ways.

When railroads were first invented they were designed to be a powered form of wagon for bulk goods.  Only later did people develop the potential for railway travel, changes in communications and accelerate the distribution of fresh foods and other consumer goods. The introduction of railway travel created significant social change, demands for new resources and infrastructure, and ultimatelyinnovation in business & society. After a start as a powered wagon, innovators changed the mental model of a railway developing its potential and its impact on society as a whole.

We are in the midst of digital mobile and social revolution that is so new and widereaching we can face the same challenges in adapting our mental models. Yesterday I attended the New Economy Conference in Melbourne. The audience and speakers who had chosen to attend the event were very aware of the digital & social transformations beginning to be realised.

A key theme of the day was the impact of digital, mobile and social processes in creating dramatic improvements in connection and speed of information sharing.  This has major ramifications for markets and for corporations as they see their offerings atomised to services, boundaries becoming porous and competition expanding in speed and global reach.  Even consumers are getting into the act of being producers through collaborative consumption. These ideas resonated strongly because they connect directly with the short-term transactional focus of our industrial age mental models of production, markets and competition.  They involve the exploration of relatively simple changes to current models (who, where, what, volume or speed).

Harder for everyone to grasp are the changes to social systems which come with these new technologies and the need for new physical, legal and social infrastructure.  To run their cross-continental networks, railroads needed and inspired new social infrastructure.  An example was that railroads required society to adopt a precise concepts of time to manage their schedules.  Railroads determined the implementation of the continental United States four time zones and largely became the arbiter of time in the communities that they connected.

There is already evidence that these broader social changes are being created. Work is shifting rapidly towards creative knowledge work in many parts of the world with new demands for leadership and organisation. The acceleration of social activism was discussed on the day and the consequences of eBay, the many task allocation and collaborative consumption organisations in changing natures of trust & work.  We also discussed the social infrastructure required to measure value creation and waste in a broader more human way than just dollars (and the odd bit of avoided carbon).  We need to innovate as hard in this social infrastructure as in that to support the transactions.

As much as we create new ways of transacting, we also need to create new forms of community to supply the social infrastructure to support the transactions.  We need to support the short term interaction with a social fabric that can supply a longer human relationship.  Just as the railroads need a precise sense of time, our new economy demands new precision in ideas like collaboration, work, trust, community and value.

When we think of the future of digital disruption, we need to allow both for how it will change the mental models we use every day but also how it may demand of us entirely new models, such as new concepts of organisations, jobs, reputation, social relationships and new measures of success.   Success in the new digital era will take both adaptation to a new transactional environment but also adaptation of a new infrastructure of community, trust and long term relationships.  New models of leadership and new social innovations will be required to achieve both.

Simon Terry @simongterry