Is a Business Culture Change required to find value in Social?


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I wanted to get out a quick post based on some great experiences this week. The interactions were on many different channels; Twitter, Email, Skype, Phone, Face-to-face, Groups, Blogs…all of which make for great engagement, learning and productivity. Or, with so many channels to watch, does productivity take a hit? My approach to work has changed, a lot, especially during the past year. That drives the question is will everyone be as willing to make the changes they need to, in order to bring your business into the future?

A strong influence on my thinking this week came from two sources. One was a very simple tweet by @designthinkers (Arne van Oosterom) where he said simply “Change is synonymous to future”. A very insightful 5 word tweet. My response was “then why do people look forward to the future, but hate change”? I am far from a student in philosophy, I could easily get myself in over my head quite fast. This was my lead-in to the IDC Directions conference in Boston yesterday. Thinking on this topic during my quick jaunt from Vermont to Boston. The conference was very good, and for those of you on the west coast, you can go the 2.0 version next week.

The subject that interested me the most (and the second major influence) was the Social Business track hosted by Michael Fauscette (@mfauscette) and his team from IDC.  Michael’s talk was a fluid, well presented session on Social Business – or more appropriately how to get there. One running theme throughout his talk regarded the platform – no, not technology, the people. Another running theme was about culture, the culture required to enable a Social Business (a topic that will come up at SugarCon as well). Since ‘people are the platform’ does represent a change and will be required to move us into the future, how do we enable this change, without disruption? Or, as little disruption as possible.

I should be able to quickly bring these two thoughts together

For the most part, people do like looking to the future (no, not all people all the time) but, there may be a bit of hesitation. The reason; because moving forward often requires change, and very few people really look forward to change. As Arne correctly (my opinion) pointed out to me, there is the paradox. If change equates to the future, but people like one, but not the other, where does that leave us? When you say “change” or “change management” alarm bells, defense mechanisms and barriers get thrown up quickly. However, in order for people to accept Social Business or Social CRM, there is going to need to be a change in the culture within an organization – the whole organization, not just sales, or support. Without a change, then it will simply become about technology and we will repeat mistakes we have made before.

How do you help people get past the hesitation?

The answer is simple, really. Make your teams, your people, your platform part of the process – and talk about the future, not change. If you listen to your teams, they will in turn become better listeners. People are social, they want to share, then they will lead the charge. Break down silos, enable, reward and promote people being social. Why, because they know your customers and it the right thing to do. Being Social is a state of mind and culture, it is not about technology. Focus on establishing value for all the constituents of your ecosystem, and then things will really come together.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitch Lieberman
Finding patterns and connecting the dots across the enterprise. Holding a strong belief that success is achieved by creating tight alignment between business strategy, stakeholder goals, and customer needs. systems need to be intelligent and course through enterprise systems. Moving forward, I will be turning my analytical sights on Conversational Systems and Conversational Intelligence. My Goal is to help enterprise executives fine-tune Customer Experiences


  1. Mitch, this is a very thought-provoking post.

    We all change as part of life, but there’s something about the moving towards the unknown future that brings out resistance in people. Sometimes the status quo is “good enough” and other times there’s not enough fear of bad things happening without change.

    In my research of success drivers in customer-centric business, the top “warning sign” for problems was the lack of a “burning platform” — strong sense of urgency for change. See Five Warning Signs for Danger Ahead on Your Customer-Centric Journey (free registration required to access).

    In organizations with a culture that embraces doing new things, taking risks and celebrating both success and failure, change doesn’t seem like such a fearsome thing. It’s part of the culture.

    But culture doesn’t change very quickly and not at all without strong leadership that addresses the reasons that people resist change. I agree with you wholeheartedly that focusing on the future is part of the answer. But there’s more to it that that for most organizations.

    Leaders shouldn’t assume because they are excited about change (that’s how they got to be leaders, after all) that everyone else feels the same way.

  2. Hi Mitch

    People don’t resist change, they resist being changed by others.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  3. Bob,

    Thanks for the comments. As I said, I could very quickly get in over my head. I do have a lot to learn here. I do appreciate the links, I will take a look and come back with further thoughts.

    I will leave one comment, which is this: a good leader will need to paint the vision – the destination if you will. If the team believes in the leadership, then the unknown becomes known. Thus, some of the fear and resistance is reduced.

    As Graham said as well, people do not like to ‘be changed’ thus, we need to make it their decision, when and if possible.

    I appreciate the comments!

    Mitch Lieberman

  4. Mitch,

    Great post.

    “Make your teams, your people, your platform part of the process – and talk about the future, not change. If you listen to your teams, they will in turn become better listeners. People are social, they want to share, then they will lead the charge.”

    While I do believe that Social CRM is an extension of CRM (or rather what it should be), aligning the organization to participate in a social world will be centered at the very core of the organization – it’s culture.

    Adding a Social CRM tool, or set of tools, won’t make any difference if it isn’t aligned with culture.

    The Social World requires transparency and as you point out, that has to exist inside the org, if it is going to exist outside the “walls” of the organization as well.

    This is a HUGE CHANGE for all of us. Like you, I’m beginning to recognize that change management may play a bigger part in the organizational transition to meeting the demands of the social customer than we may have realized up until this point.

  5. Hello Mitch,

    The whole area of change management is a hugely complex one, and when you through technology into the mix, it becomes even more so. I’ve been grappling with the issue of business attitudes to people stuff – Anti-social business – and answers don’t seem to fall you easily. While it is nice to think of people are open and progressive, and many are at an individual level, that isn’t how group dynamics work. Social psychologists have produced libraries of papers showing that people cling to group identities, and things that threaten them are heavily resisted. Breaking down silos is counter-cultural in any mature business. At a systematic level, it will be fought and resisted.

    That said, the picture isn’t a bleak one. Social technology provides a way to show case the positive changes that you do want to see happen in a business, and culture and technology can interact in positive ways, even in the hardest of cultures – Culture or technology.

    You’ve reminded me of an old W. Edwards Deming quote, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

  6. Benjamin,

    I appreciate the comments, and I believe I noted that I could quickly get in over my head here. Like I tried to suggest, with strong leadership in place it seems possible to move forward. The vision of the future could easily be painted to be that we are simply opening up the ‘group identity’ to a wider audience, we are not actually changing it.

    Maybe I am missing something, but do you think that changing culture is the same as changing the group identity? I would like to think it is not. Technology is an amazing enabler, it is also a lot of loose rope, hanging over the side sometimes too close to the propeller.

    Mitch Lieberman

  7. Mitch

    Great post. I have helped numerous Fortune 500 define and implement their social media programs over the last 3 years and yes you need to change your business culture to be successful with social. It probably doesn’t require a complete overhaul – but, it needs to be addressed.

    The challenge of course is that employees are change averse for a couple reasons: their MBOs are tied to something else, they have ingrained work patterns that allow them to quickly do their job within a hectic and changing set of demands. I am oversimplifying but at the core these two elements and others force most employees into survival mode.

    The good news is: you can entice people to change and embrace a culture that will improve your business and help your social media programs thrive. You simply need to align your business goals with your social media plan and then provide the proper incentives to your employees so change is desirable instead of a hassle.

    Many companies take a – set it and forget it – approach to their social media plans. Those that spent the time to define their social media goals in relation to improving their business, identified the key metrics they were going to track to ensure success and build best practice into their process are successful.

  8. Sean,

    The real Elephant in the room is that I have been rude and not responded properly to your comments. My apologies!

    Your point about alignment really hits a nerve – an important one. People talk about KPIs and ROI – alignment is a crucial step which I think too many business are just figuring out they do not have. How can you properly measure success?

    I appreciate your thoughts, you have given me a little more to think about.


    Mitch Lieberman


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