Social Business should become structural

Summary : there is no change without people and social business or 2.0 projects are not exceptions. WIthout a good sponsor and passionate advocates, failure is often at the end of the road. But people change, come and go, and old systems often come back to life once the bright leaders are assigned to another mission. At a certain moment, projects must be able to survive the people who initiated and lead them to become perennial. It needs to implement the social model in the deepest layers of the organizational model, what prevents from having two models fighting together in the same organization. As long as social is not more than a surface phenomenon tacked on a structure that is not, there will be few chances to demonstrate wide-scale benefits and secure the future of the project. There is not one “normal” enterprise and a social or 2.0 one working on the edge. There’s a one and only enterprise that needs clear and strong leading principles as well as common foundations for all employees.

I recently wrote on the risk of not turning the social potential released by enterprise 2.0 and social business into structural capital, the danger of projects stacked on top on the official organization or playing against it and, most generally, on the unproductive and even counter-productive nature of changining without changing. This post follows the same logic and speaks in favor of making social business or enterprise 2.0 projects structural ones.

First, I’d like to make clear what I need by “structural”. It’s about implementing social and 2.0 ways or doing things and behaviors in the deepest layers of the organizational models, creating common foundations shared by all on how to manage people, behave, process information and live with others. Foundations that should be mandatory and non negotiable. A kink of “here we work this way and not in any other”.

Of course, that’s a middle/long term goal. At the beginning, hesitating, proceeding by trial and error is logical. But having this goal in mind from the very beginning is essential and, as Roma was not built in one day, it will take a long time to get there. The risk of not doing ? Either not making the most out of social projects or see them decline over time.

Why ?

First, it’s just a matter a logic. If something is good and beneficial it should be applied to the whole organization. If it has a negative or even neutral impact, it’s better to do nothing and save resources for more worthy things. Second because no one need to be a genius to understand that an organization where some people work in one way and some in another have many chances to loose on both sides.

Let’s make a simple analogy. Let’s consider a sport…basketball for example. There are rules that makes that it’s impossible for some players to play with their feet while other are playing with their hands, that makes that some things are allowed and other prohibited. Then inside a team, there are strategies and systems that apply to all players to make the collective effort productive (the whole having to respect the above mentioned rules). If half of the players don’t respect the rules and/or does not apply the team systems it’s easy to understand how messy things may get. That’s the same in business.

These rules apply to all and, when people move, rules and systems are still applied (with more or less talent…but the basics stay and are shared by everyone). That’s also a lesson that lots of 2.0 project teaches us.

I’ve never seen any project succeeding without people. Someone who have a vision and the courage to put it at work, a real sponsor, advocates, ambassadors that lead by the example and spread the words. That’s essential to a good start. But what happens when people leave the organization or are promoted to a new job ? When ambassadors are assigned to something else ? Most of times, things stop or slowly decline. Why ? Because the project his too linked to them, relies on them too much and lasts not always because of its outputs but because of the leadership of some brilliant and passionate people. I’m not saying that we should try to rely on these people as less at possible, what would be a guarantee of failure. I’m only saying that if we want things to last, the social system should be rooted more deeply in the organization “operating system”. and not rely only on the passion and convictions of some people. If not, everything that has been done will be at risk every time people come and go. That’s the difference between a trend and a perennial organizational model.
Any social or 2.0 project needs people to live and get energy. But that’s not enough.

Have a look at what happened at Technicolor on a quite similar project . Only one example among lots of others.

Of courses, speaking is easy, doing is tougher. This is one more reason to have this goal in mind from the very start and make small steps, one after the other.

– having a social routine approach, slowly swarming by focusing on each one work context and specific needs. There is not one best way to spread but as many as people having their own mission and context.

– having a shared corpus of human values and a strong management model that is actually put at work and does not rely only on conventional words and apparent philosophy. Raise awareness, train, teambuild…and lead by the example from the top.

– draw all the possible conclusions from the previous points. For example, when hiring people, make sure they can fit in this new work context. I love what John Chambers says in this video: an enterprie is like a basketball team. Individual skills are one things but need to be put at work in a collective system. A given person can be very good in a system and terrible in another. The temptation of recruiting clone or brilliant divas is obvious…but need to be fought. Businesses should also beware of the behaviors caused by rewarding systems and bonuses that aren’t the only cause of misalignment but tell them what matters and what to chose when there are two options.

socialize processes that need it and bring the social dynamics into quality and improvement processes.

– deeply integrate tools. One only profile, tools available for all, bring the social layer to workflow tools, implement a global search.

-  propose employees a  social contract

One more evidence that sense and alignment should be driven instead of adoption.

Anyway. Anyone should keep in mind that there is not one “normal enterprise” and a 2.0 or social one playing on its edge. There is a one and only enterprise that needs strong leading principles and shared foundations for all employees.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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