Re-designing Your Business Culture

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When thinking of any Social Business Design problem, it’s important to realize that there are three areas which will define all of the challenges which will need to be resolves in order to move any business toward a more open, collaborative model which benefits all constituents (employees, customers, partners). These areas are:

People
Process
Technology

Right now the industry is focused on technology, which is understandable since advances in it have enabled us to do so much more with less. However, I wanted to focus this short post around a subset of people. It’s a thing commonly referred to as “corporate culture”.

I’m not interested in debating the validity or not of the term, but it’s a fact that every organization has an ecosystem and within the ecosystem, especially on the internal side, people act and behave a certain way within a pre-defined hierarchy. To underscore the “culture” issue, here are a few phrases I hear from the people who work in the trenches of very large organizations as it relates to social initiatives:

“We implemented sharing platform X for employees, but the results are not what we expected”

“We tried social media but we’re just not ready to engage customers”

“Our legal department shut that down before we could try it”

Now assuming that the tech products worked and that the organization had some form of process in place, these are by and large people/culture issues at the core. The fact is that you can bring in the best of technologies or have the best of intentions for opening up your organization, but if at the core the organization isn’t calibrated for it, efforts cannot scale or potentially be ineffective.

When we think of culture, we apply the notion of what we call being “hiveminded”. We believe that a social inclination resides within a company’s culture and tempers planning, decision-making, and work output. Employees approach work with a social mindset; customers expect dialogue and engagement; suppliers anticipate collaboration towards common goals. This “hivemindedness” (think of bees to a hive) is linked to a strong cultural identity which is shared by all. Whether your social initiatives are internal or external, it’s worth asking the following questions to determine if your organization is in the correct mindset when it comes to dealing with the changes in work, society and technology.

If we are listening, what are we listening for?
What do we do when we hear something we don’t like?
Do we want real connections established between employees, customers, partners?
How can we reward those in our ecosystem who actively contribute?
Do we actually want to engage those who want to engage us? Can we?

Many organizations work in industries which simply can’t support some of the things we hear thrown about in the social media space. However, all organizations will have to deal with these changes in some way that will better position them for the future. One of the biggest opportunities right now is tapping areas in your internal ecosystem which can benefit your organization. But buying the best tool out there will never change the hearts and minds of people who have been trained to hoard what they know (and rewarded for it) vs. sharing openly. In a newly emerging network economy a cultural shift will be required for best results.

David Armano
Dachis Group
David Armano is a Senior Partner at Dachis Group, an advisory firm focused on Social Business Design. He is both an active practitioner and thinker in the worlds of digital marketing, experience design, and the social web. Author of the popular Logic + Emotion blog, he is best known for his distinct brand of visual thinking. Follow David on Twitter.

2 COMMENTS

  1. So true! I manage an online community for RightNow Technologies, and we’ve take the approach of using our community as a lever for change within the organization–to break down barriers between the organization and customers and barriers between departments and to increase transparency and accountability with our stakeholders. It’s a huge, ongoing effort…but it’s exciting & incredibly rewarding to work on something that is so much bigger and transformational than just managing a website.

  2. Thank you, David for deepening this discussion. I wish for more spotlights like this to help remove corporate fear of the unknown, to illustrate concepts that help the interested and uninitiated parties come to grips with the challenges. It is not about sharing/protecting information in social settings, that is old school. What is new is the speed and width of information flow multiplies the risks and implications for a company’s reputation.

    Cultural shift happens. Social mindset, motivation and incentives are coming into focus. A fine visualization in three parts from The Connections Blog http://bit.ly/l650A

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