It's an exciting time to be in social business. There is now a solid and rapidly growing body of knowledge to work from, there are proof points in most industries, workers are generally ready for it, and there are typically executives that will support the effort. All to a degree, of course, but the ground is as fertile as it's ever been for organizations to realize their future.
Yet far too often, when I look at what organizations are focusing on to become a social business, I frequently see that the conversation all-too-quickly turns to selecting tools and technologies. Before the hard questions are even asked, much less properly considered, many of those responsible for realizing social business in an organization often have a favorite platform or service already in mind.
Part of the problem is that examining the software options is both easy to do and obvious. Clearly, social business is a network revolution born in the wilds of the Internet and will therefore require the "right" technology to adopt. What's worse, it's true. Yet this almost certainly puts the cart before the horse. In my experience, social business is first and foremost a transformation involving people and the organizations they work with.
Given how nascent the vendor marketplace and the standards of social business are, even today, social architectures tend to be more fluid than traditional IT. Premature attention on social tools is commonplace in many of the social business efforts I've seen.
This column continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.
More Social Business By Design columns
This tool-first emphasis tends to wag the dog and is invariably a disservice to the work itself. It also will likely hold back organizations seeking to get the most from their social business efforts. Instead, with tools quickly in hand, the effort becomes constrained around what an individual tool is capable of, rather than trying to determine what the business actually needs. The latter is usually much more than what any given technology or single tool can offer.
In fact, a smart summary of this situation by Michael Hickins in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday summed it up well: "Buy the Concept, Not the Software."
As organizations decide they must tap into the benefits of social business, they have much more important challenges and decision points to work through first. The answers about what sort of technologies would help support the outcomes of this process come later.
Specifically, in my work with organizations heading down the social business path, I see the following concerns head the list of what's most important about preparing the foundation for an organization to get real benefits.
-- Culture Change: A strategy and supporting activity to foster a strong and effective connected company culture where cooperation, sharing, and dynamic self-organizing business processes are accepted, appreciated, and proactively realized. Shifting company culture is perhaps the central task involved in becoming a social business and requires sustained effort from the outset.
-- Business Process Redesign: A plan, with local matching initiatives across the organization, to update, support, or overhaul businesses processes to enable wider participation, network effects, and social business principles aimed at high-scale business outcomes. Effective social business directly involves how work gets done, and this step improves processes on the ground as a receptive culture is gradually created.