There's a solid, wide focused article by Tim Weber on the BBC News website's Davos coverage which articulates well the challenge many companies have in understanding and engaging with the internet on the most basic strategic level.
Readers of sophisticated technical sites like ZDNet can forget how far ahead of the curve they are: generations who have grown up with the internet and technology enthusiasts of all ages are the cutting edge, but most management still think of their website as essentially a printed color brochure online.
It may have some bells and whistles but essentially the thinking dramatically lags behind the technological possibilities - it's a cultural gap. I'm preaching to the choir here of course but planning basic strategy requires getting on the wavelength - finding out where management are in their perception and knowledge of the modern world's internet ecosphere.
The internet is immensely disruptive and changing everything, yet it is easy to forget how hard it can be for people consumed with supply chain to manufacture to sales and associated management thinking for most of their careers to be able to visualize how the internet fits into their pressure cooker, without throwing them off balance and slowing them down. There is a fear factor, coupled with deep seated concerns about fashion and transience, that influences executive decisions about both IT and open communication with customers and partners online.
We are in a financial crisis and it is all hands on deck in many companies to stay afloat. Incalculable amounts of knowledge and intellectual property is walking out of companies with their possessions in a cardboard box and deep company knowledge in their heads - staffing cuts also diminish the knowledge base in companies.
the BBC's Weber quotes Edelman who, as a venerable public relations outfit, are chasing the social media tiger
Most companies, though, have not got a clue. The boss of a company that makes it its business to know about technology admitted that 500 people in his company had signed up to Yammer - a social network designed to collaborate on work issues - before he had even heard that this service existed. Using such networks can provide a huge productivity boost - or alienate your team if you get it wrong.
Others misunderstand social media and try to take control of them. For example, they run sanitised and boring corporate blogs, from which critical customer comments are purged.
(Yammer is a Twitter style micro blogging application)
I believe thought leaders such as JP Rangaswami of BT Design and John Hagel of Deloitte Touche USA are enormously important in guiding perceptions of transparency and openness. A guy who's really in the hot seat as CEO of a 55k person international company and who I believe really gets the core thinking necessary to truly understand the internet at its most basic level is Vineet Nayar of HCL, who writes in his latest Harvard Business blog
Unlike popular perception, corporate governance is not merely ensuring adherence to a set of rules. It is also not about smart brand-building exercises to manage "perceptions." It is less about policing and posturing and more about nurturing trust as an intrinsic part of an organizational culture.
Trust is the only currency that can sustain a corporation through the turbulences over its lifecycle. And, in my experience, one of the most uncomplicated ways of seeding trust is through transparency. This fabric of trust can be woven with simple but very effective tools like direct and open employee-CEO/manager dialogues, either in-person or through interactive platforms like blogs, employee polls with results available to all, and access sans gate keepers.
The other pillar on which trust can be built is a culture of accountability of management to its employees, and not the other way around. We need to simply invert the traditional prism of how businesses should be run. We all know that accountability of leadership is non-negotiable to all stakeholders -- customers, investors, shareholders, regulators. But the one stakeholder that is often missing in accountability is the most important - our own people. We owe it to the thousands and millions of hard-working people who have scripted our success. Who have trusted us and woken up every morning with a passion for their work.
There are are lots of conflicting currents influencing the C suite, not least managing perceptions, as Vineet puts it, which is essentially what traditional PR and advertising campaigns massage. To some degree the many brilliant marketing people who are quick to see the value and reach of web technologies to spread influence are diminishing the much deeper foundational thinking the above extract discusses.
Trust and transparency aligned with well thought through collaboration strategy and roll out can supercharge a company's performance. The ongoing conversation with partners and customers will be imbued with this and is the basic platform on which leveraging the internet's power can be accomplished.