- In 2014 (insert subject here) is going to get bigger, faster, newer, more complex, more competitive/collaborative- so get your act together.
I’m being ironic of course. But of particular interest to me is the debate over the next phase of Social Business- and it isn’t clear cut. In a well stated post (which includes a podcast with a discussion on the definition of the term), the Social Business Global Partner for IBM even stakes his career on 2014 being the year of Social Business. And yet 2013 was definitely a year in which its actual survival was being defended. A truly excellent post from Chris Heuer sounded the deathknell of the moniker at least:
“The movement has failed to earn… faith, trust and budgets in a significant way. While the ideas behind the moniker are invaluable in defining the future of work, most large companies simply aren’t buying into or investing in Social Business transformation efforts in more than a piecemeal sort of way.” Chris Heuer
It’s easy to share Heuer’s frustration that deeper meaning is being lost behind a linguistic red herring (or at least something sounding just as fishy). Crippled by a myopic focus on silos and technology, rather than organisational structure and ‘Humans-who-are-called-Resources’. And apathy at every level of the business rather than a collective responsibility to do something to fix the broken system.
Rachel Happe takes a more optimistic view of the same faltering progress of the movements, in her post ’2013 – The Year Social Business Got Real’.
“In reality, big innovations and changes require a lot of tumult and confusion before the new mode of operations becomes normalized and comfortable. Organizational tension increases dramatically before it optimizes.” Rachel Happe
Are we are now merely in what Gartner’s hype cycle would call the ‘Trough of disillusionment’? Is this a necessary stage to endure in order to arrive at the ‘Slope of enlightenment’ and the ‘Plateau of productivity’? Is it merely a plummet from the ‘Peak of inflated expectations’?
Will 2014 be the year that Social Business grows up, gets real, or gets lost?
Rather than purely tout my own clairvoyance, I’m going to respond to the question in a way which I would like to influence the answer, and agenda. To propose what I think could be helpful next steps in Social Business evolution.
Social Business is rebranded by the Crowd
Too often the word ‘Social’ is either not taken seriously, shrouded in ambiguity, or viewed as another expensive software vendor generated fad. Partly in response to the failure of the term to win hearts and minds on a major scale, we have seen a kind of rapid ‘post-digital enterprise’ etymology of terms- which have also failed to gain traction over the last few years.
I in no way think that should rule out a further attempt. But perhaps it’s now time for a term which, true to the crowd-powered, collaborative, and inverted nature of Social Business philosophy, is not one carved and cultivated by a vendor or big consultancy, but, actually by the crowd. A crowd including the very people whom we have been trying to sell this to. How would it make sense to them? Semantically, ideologically, and practically? Let’s find something which resonates with business imperatives as well as sustainable development… with the leveraging or simply navigation of social technology enabled interaction and transparency, as well as the culture and behavioural psychology which underpin it. That sounds quite straightforward, right?!
The ‘Oh Shit Moment’ gets closer
We have all had ‘OSM’s in our personal lives, in which we have forgotten to do something important with dire or cringe-worthy consequences. Here I refer to the moment at which businesses realise that their reliance on traditional businesses models was misplaced, and that denial is not a futureproof strategy. At which they grasp that that while they’ve been ignoring new work, technology and communication practices, someone else has found a better way to serve their customers. The moment it dawns on them that their lunch has been eaten, and it’s now a question of fighting for the scraps.
Scot McKee, B2B marketing author and head of award winning brand and digital agency Birddog is happy to play the long game when explaining how truly social communication can yield results. He recently reminded me that failure to innovate and keep in touch with your market is not a 21st Century phenomenon. Indeed insolvency practices were busy long before the days of social media, and although organisations now have less time to respond to change, being risk averse has always been a trait valued by shareholders.
I was similarly struck by the resilience of Luis Suarez, Knowledge Manager and Open Business protaganist at IBM. He has been building internal communities and promoting internal collaboration through social computing for many years, and even at the company regarded as being the closest living example of a Social Business, has no expectations of rapid change. Part of his success has been in letting internal colleagues arrive at their moments themselves rather than forcing agendas on them. Having been through some kind of ‘Oh Shit’ Moment (OSM) themselves, senior executives are much more likely to become active advocates, rather than cynical saboteurs.
While these views give sage perspective to the current dilemma, I do wonder if more can’t be done to communicate the risk of not embracing where your customers and staff are socially, and accelerate the epiphany of an OSM to a point at which all is not yet lost. The risks to reputation and relationships of not engaging authentically and openly through social platforms are substantial, and in no way rocket science. But we need to find a way to communicate them in a way which has enough authority as those more well established risks. We need to demonstrate with more credibility how collaborative and ethical cultures will be essential to creating long term value for our shareholders and stakeholders. There are many books and case studies analysing how new entrants have changed market landscapes and reduced the most established institutions to rubble. But we somehow need to communicate them in more relevant and indisputable business terms.
Ironically, slow adoption of Social Business philosophy of communication, has been caused by, um, a failure of communication. If evangelizing and prophesying are not getting the message across, other strategies are needed, and perhaps by other bodies. A kind of ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ for businesses perhaps. Or a 1950s Public Safety Announcement, crossed with a ‘Risk’ style computer simulation game which lets you experience the OSM in your sector. Any developers out there fancy the challenge?!
The birth of the Social CFO
In my opinion a key reason businesses have not embraced the movement, is that the Social Business discourse has failed to involve, engage and inspire the FD or CFO. Yet I think they are the people who can make or break the adoption of any transformational business practice.
I have been in seminar after seminar in which marketing people discuss the issue of calculating the ROI of Social Media. It’s often seemed a pretty pointless debate; although we need accountability and evidence, I’m far from convinced outdated marketing ratios are the appropriate metric. Something far more complex is required, something which takes into account cross organisational objectives and benefits.
For example, if Social customer service is impacted by say, a community management project originating from the marketing department, what is the financial impact on R&D, on loyalty, on the contact centre, on brand equity, on recruitment, on IT? Possibly nothing, especially if the potential spread of benefits are limited by intra-departmental blinkers. But a digitally knowledgeable CFO focused on financial performance in each of these functional cost centres is equipped to model the cumulative benefits. And imagine if they could use their expertise and work with the CTO etc to spearhead organisation wide initiatives, suggest sharing platforms, re-engineer departments- making savings along the way. That’s even before any extra revenue is generated.
Of course, the issue here is as much one of culture – of politics. Endorsement from a senior and respected figure at board level, would often be a good start to halt tendency of departments to resist initiatives originating in ‘rival’ departments, rather than resist them. I have seen organisations in which one department unilaterally pays for, and uses a tool or platform which could have multiple applications in other areas. Far from being the naysayers of frivolous social technology purchases, the CFO could be developing models to calculate things like how current procurement costs could be cut while free research could drive more marketable products for the future. I have seen first hand occasions in which digital technologies which could easily have saved money at a time when the organisation was in financial trouble, by simply increasing efficiency to the tune of millions. And internal communications systems which could easily have improved service delivery overnight.
But an inability to present this potential credibly to the Finance Department in a terminology meaningful to them, meant that plans were never properly appraised and considered, never mind prioritised.
The stereotypical personality trait of a traditional accountant does indicate a natural aversion to perceived social ‘chit chat’, even more so if it is publicly conducted. But if they are the ones who should truly be able to appraise the costs and benefits of Social, in terms of changing resource structure, and distribution channels, revenue models, we need to more intelligently incentivise them to break some molds, and get up to speed enough to help us out.
My second reason for wanting to see more CFOs enter the social community relates to a previous blog post I wrote, advocating that CEOs have a responsibility to have a first hand experience of Social Media so that they can make important decisions based on their own valuable judgement, rather than the sometimes unreliable Chinese whispers on which get passed into the boardroom.
I was fascinated to get a response from Hughues Pietrini, Orangina Schweppes France President, adding that the barrier CEOs often face is that most of them were once CFOs. And indeed a very small number were once marketers.
@TanDuarte the gaps with CEOs and digital often comes from a generation gap but mostly from their background which is mostly finance
— Hugues Pietrini (@HuguesPietrini) October 24, 2013
We need more senior Finance function leaders get involved in Social communities the exploration of Social Business. To find a common language, to debunk some myths, and to educate marketers on the ratios that drive business performance as a whole.
2014- Resolutions not Predictions
While I don’t seem to have managed to arrive at insightful predictions, either by stroking my beard or analysing data, it seems I have set some action points, some New Year’s resolutions. And unlike ‘cutting back on my hot chocolate intake’, at which I failed miserably in 2013 and no doubt will again next year, I’d like to make some of these stick.
A group of us in London have been working on ideas to tackle some of these issues of semantics, of credibility, of relevance, of communicating risk/benefit. We come from different specialisms, sectors, perspectives and together maybe we can start to build a picture of the elephant which until now we’ve been blindly grasping only a part of. We are selling nothing except ideology- driven by a motivation to facilitate the installation of rigour into evangelism, and help the movement (whatever we call it), to progress with fewer cries of ‘Oh Shit’.
I’m sure I will be fleshing this out more in further posts, but in the meantime can you help? What do you think of terminology? ‘Social Business’- thumbs up or down? Growing up, or on the operating table?
Do you know any FDs/CFOs who could input? Would you like to join or find out more? Do you have relevant experiences or advice to share for 2014?