Social Business Success Requires Looking Inward

Focus as much energy on how your employees, partners, and shareholders experience your business as you do your existing and prospective customers.
10 Great Social Features For Microsoft SharePoint 2013
10 Great Social Features For Microsoft SharePoint 2013
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Retailers know exactly what scents, colors, and music to use in their physical environments that facilitate an experience that drives sales. Industrial designers spend time trying to evoke an emotional response from the users of a product.

Yet how much time is spent by these organizations on the experience of employees and partners, in the first interaction or over time? What is the recruitment and HR experience like for someone applying for a job? What is the feeling they first take away when waiting in the reception area or speaking with the receptionist?

What type of day-to-day environment do your employees work in? Do they feel valued? Do they have an innate grasp of the company's culture because it is being lived around them at all times? What is the experience like for analysts on your earnings calls? Do partners want to do business with you instead of your competitors because you've made the experience simple and enjoyable?

Lip Service

We give lip service to the fact that there is nothing more valuable in our organizations than our people, yet we focus very little of our time and energy on designing our organizations in such a way as to make their experience as good as it can be. We want a collaborative, innovative environment that can be agile and adaptive as the marketplace changes, yet we look to tools like software first and simply expect adoption to occur magically and effectively. We become short-sighted by focusing on tactical business needs and the emergency du jour, and are shocked when employees don't act in the best interest of the company.

We create mental walls of denial regarding the statistics of the high cost of turnover, or the productivity losses that occur in less-than-savory business environments. We fail to incorporate those costs into our judgment and decision-making processes.

Creating Gravity

Social business, or at least the evolution to a social business, is about creating gravity--designing an organization that is attractive to the people who make up its ecosystem, such as partners, customers, employees, and prospects. The question that immediately follows is how does one go about creating these traits?


One way my firm, SideraWorks, approaches this with our clients is through establishing a viewpoint called Holistic Enterprise Experience Design, or HEED. It's a fancy term for something very simple in principle: Focus as much energy on the interaction experiences of your employees, partners, and shareholders as you do your existing and prospective customers.

Many of the positive cultural shifts organizations are looking for can be brought about by these simple shifts in perspective. Begin looking at your internal programs and services, your physical work environment, your communication pathways, and your technological tools through this experiential lens. Do you like what you see? What could you do to improve the experiences taking place within your organization's ecosystem of participants?

Quiet On The Set

Organizations have typically approached these experiences as if they were building movie sets. When you control the angle of the movie camera you can get away with building false storefronts to project the image of a complete, solid building. Unfortunately, your employees are not movie cameras. They will walk thirstily through that faux saloon door only to discover a broad expanse of overgrown weeds on the other side. Not only will they be left parched, but their trust will be broken. They'll feel manipulated. They'll know you are only concerned with the perception of caring, not the real thing, that they are pawns in a PR chess game.

The trick to successfully designing experiences is that there is no trick. You start with something real. A real belief in what you want your company to be. A real sense of dissatisfaction that your employees aren't being exposed to the awesome company you believe you are. A real understanding of and belief in the fact that a thriving culture brings positive impacts to the bottom line and all involved.

Having human resources run team-building exercises is great, as is bringing the troops together for a rallying cry or an employee off-site event. But if it's just one more false front, what you may find is that the employees did indeed become aligned with one another ... against you. All you accomplished was having groups of people discover that they were not alone in their sense of being devalued, their sense that there is no loyalty to the employees, that they are perceived as nothing more than cogs in the proverbial machine. They have bonded, but the commonality around which they bonded was that of rolling eyes and shared sarcastic whispers.

Design For Effectiveness

Designing for experiences is the difference between optimizing your organization for efficiency and optimizing for effectiveness. Productivity, employee tenure and churn rate, engagement levels, and the quality of talent you attract are all improved. The result is a more effective, profitable company.

Executives know this logic is infallible, but it somehow becomes lost in the daily priorities. The impact goes far beyond just the internal workforce, however. One simple example of that (in addition to the benefits above) is all of the interaction points with external parties (partners, customers, shareholders, etc.) are improved, and deeper, longer lasting relationships evolve. In the world of the socially empowered consumer, that's a huge competitive advantage.

Designing for experiences is a more appropriate approach than "designing for happiness" because it's not just about happiness. It's also about developing resilience and adaptability within the workforce. Management needs to be reminded that part of its job is to remove obstacles from employees' paths. This requires that management fully accept that the well-being of their employees is their responsibility. Whether you do that for purely selfish financial reasons, or because you believe it's the ethically responsible thing to do, is up to you.

The impact of these types of approaches is no longer a theory. It has been studied extensively and the empirical data is available from multiple respected sources and quite clear. It's a win/win/win approach, so why aren't you doing it? If you are doing it, please share your experiences in the comments below.

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)