Want to build the social enterprise? Stop getting in the way!

Let’s start by stating that there is no shortage of technology solutions upon which you can build a social enterprise. While no one vendor has yet pulled together all the components (including social media, unified communications, synchronous collaboration, asynchronous collaboration, and asset management) into a single, cohesive vision, a number of vendors—or vendor ecosystems—are closing in on the goal. And, numerous enterprises have gotten fairly close with a bit of integration legwork.

Given this assumption, what’s holding back businesses from embracing the vision and benefits of the social enterprise? People. The social enterprise is, first and foremost, about people. I don’t want to minimize the value of solution fit (and we’ll be talking solution fit in future posts), but you’re not going to get anywhere if your employees aren’t invested in the importance of changing their behavior to respond to the demands and opportunities of a highly dynamic, energetic, collaborative marketplace. They’re also not going to commit their time and energy if you haven’t created an environment of trust, and instilled in them a sense of purpose.

In a work environment driven by a positive, productive culture and purpose, social enterprise solutions are like rocket boosters—they enable the business to achieve its objectives faster and better than without. In an organization with culture issues, the same tools become graveyards of half-hearted attempts to start something. I’ve learned over time that when a business leader complains about ineffective adoption of social enterprise solutions by her workforce, nine times out of ten the issues are cultural.

What’s a leader to do? Focus attention, build trust, triage constraints, and get out of the way.

Focus energy: today, businesses must compete for mindshare within their employee base. Our always-connected, media-driven society reduces attention quality available to any given activity, especially those to which the individual does not possess a strong emotional attachment. As a result, leadership must distill their organizational identity and strategy into clear, concise, emotional-response-generating purpose, and leverage all available tools to create employee engagement in support of it.

Build trust: within the enterprise, there are two (2) primary dimensions of trust. There’s “vertical” trust: the sense that the employee’s managers and leaders understand core purpose, have the ability to achieve it, and are committed to supporting her efforts to contribute to it. “Horizontal” trust describes the level of confidence the employee has in her peers to collaborate successfully, and to address differences in priority and opinion on the basis of shared understanding of core purpose.

Understatement of the day: trust is hard to achieve. If it’s not already embedded within the culture, it takes significant time and commitment to get there. But the outcomes are worth the effort: a more flexible, dynamic workforce, an increased willingness to innovate, and an improved ability to attract talent. (For a great perspective on trust in the enterprise, check this post from Linda Hill and Kent Lineback at HBR Blog Network).

Triage constraints: take a hard look at the work environment. What’s resisting or preventing the efforts of your employees to achieve the organization’s core purpose? Obviously there are legal and regulatory frameworks that must be accommodated based on the purpose you’ve chosen to fulfill. Beyond this, most enterprises have a host of policies, processes and systems that were implemented with the best of intentions, but they don’t support what you’re trying to achieve.

Toyota introduced us to the “5 Whys” concept; I suggest exploring your business environment using the “5 Hows.” For a given organizational asset (policy, process, system) ask “how is this enabling our core purpose?” When you have an answer, ask again: “so, how does that enable core purpose?” Keep asking until you can tie the asset directly to your purpose. If you can’t answer the question, or if it takes you more than one or two answers to get clarity, you know you have an asset that needs changing or eliminating.

Unfortunately, some of the assets that will require your attention are going to be people. In an environment where trust and commitment to purpose are increasingly a requirement for business success, employee engagement and talent at every level is crucial. However you decide to manage these issues, make sure that you’re doing the right things (e.g., communications, transition planning) to sustain trust.

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Once you’ve done all the heavy lifting of establishing purpose and fixing processes and culture, it’s time for leadership to get out of the way. I’ve posted previously on the importance of “seeding” your social enterprise, but the most effective patterns of innovation and collaboration are going to emerge unexpectedly. It’s your job as a leader to tend the garden, encouraging the growth and development of social enterprise patterns that are working, and reallocating resources away from tactics and tools that are not. With effort, you’ll have the social enterprise environment your business needs to achieve its purpose, and the right processes and understanding to evaluate new social enterprise capabilities for adoption.

About Steven Beauchem

Director of Digital Strategy at Acquity Group

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