Social Business in Action - Establishing Excellence

Human interaction is as old as humanity, and nothing beats personal contact. We can learn more from a few seconds of personal contact and get a 'gut feel' about someone or a situation experientially in person than we can from hours of research and remote contact.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Human interaction is as old as humanity, and nothing beats personal contact. We can learn more from a few seconds of personal contact and get a 'gut feel' about someone or a situation experientially in person than we can from hours of research and remote contact.

The Tom Peters & Bob Waterman 1982 book 'In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best Run Companies' promoted the benefits of 'MBWA' - management by walking around'.  The eight themes that form the core of that book are pre internet, but many of the ideas are at the heart of the current broad social computing revolution.

1.    A bias for action, active decision making - 'getting on with it'. 2.    Close to the customer - learning from the people served by the business. 3.    Autonomy and entrepreneurship - fostering innovation and nurturing 'champions'. 4.    Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality. 5.    Hands-on, value-driven - management philosophy that guides everyday practice -   management showing its commitment. 6.    Stick to the knitting - stay with the business that you know. 7.    Simple form, lean staff - some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff. 8.    Simultaneous loose-tight properties - autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.

What's changed since the eighties is the world wide web, and while some of the data in the Peters Waterman book has since been questioned, the same business goals are applicable. Leadership for change professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter's Harvard Business Publishing blog discusses the idea of 'Management By Flying Around'.

Where in the 80's you could mostly walk around the cubes and offices, now it's necessary to fly all over the world and have meetings in the air to get the same effect. Face time is a status symbol - 'Showing up is still the number one key to success. In a world where anyone can have superficial contact with anyone anytime, face-time is the new status symbol. You can watch it on YouTube, but being there gets the juices flowing', says Kanter.

The parallel IT universe which aims to support and enable these core human interactions has made astonishing progress since the '80's, but as Phil Wainwright eloquently points out in his post 'The democratization of IT', the Web 2.0 revolution, which has enabled browser applications to interact with the world as never before is misnamed the 'consumer web' in the enterprise world.

Consumerization’ is the trend of making unwieldy and complex enterprise software as easy to use as the applications and services ordinary people use on the Web. We dress it up in a long word that implies the industry is doing its customers a favor, but what’s so special about making software people can actually use? Isn’t that what the industry should have been doing all along?

Furthermore, I don’t think the word consumerization is an adequate description of what’s really going on here. It’s a mass media term, which makes it sound as though the IT department has bowed to popular demand and started beaming crowd-pleasing, populist software out to users’ desktops in place of the challenging, highbrow applications it used to offer. The unspoken undertone of the analogy is that the users are dumb couch-potatoes that have to be cajoled and tricked into engaging with their work. But passive consumption is the last thing Web 2.0 is about. If the media barons of Web 1.0 had had their way, users would have sat in their walled gardens and meekly consumed whatever Yahoo, AOL and the rest saw fit to distribute. Instead, users seized control, told each other what they thought of online content and started generating their own blogs, videos and commentary. Web 2.0 was a grassroots revolution, not consumerization but democratization, and that is the trend that is now transforming IT.

The word 'social' fits well with Phil's thoughts since business is rarely truly democratic except for a few remarkable exceptions, such as HCL Technology, whose employees can vote their CEO Vineet Nyar out of office. Businesses are attempting to organize around social lines as never before, and there are countless technology enablers available which aim to facilitate this.

Like a sports team there has to be a catalyst which sets a business on the path to success - the new manager or coach instills confidence in the team with intense locker room nurturing, tough love and careful evaluation and selection of players. The follow through - the coaching staff making sure the team execute against strategy - is critical to success but secondary to that foundational success building innovation and growth.

Walking or flying around management is central to equivalent success in business, but there is much confusion about the broad use of the term 'Social'. 'Social Media' is typically used to describe word of mouth marketing, public relations and informal customer relationship management online, where 'Social Business' is the intentional design of a dynamic business culture, using appropriate technologies as needed,

Online collaboration networks frequently enable strong relationships to form remotely along with voice communication, but the power of the in person kick off meeting or conference aligned with strategic direction typically trumps the power of typed interaction over time. Consciously designing a business to be socially adept form the ground up is the game changing equivalent to the 80's 'In Pursuit of Excellence' revelations in management circles. Alan Cohen of Cisco, a stand out company for large scale sophisticated international business collaboration. writes in his post 'Getting to the new normal':

Despite the recent recession, the deconstruction of the traditional media model and the rapid increase in information flows – fostered by the Web 2.0 self-publishing models – changes how much data we use on a daily basis. While information overload is a real and present danger, others are rushing to take advantage of these changes.  Or as the Billy Crystal character said in When Harry Met Sally: “ I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.”...

The 'new normal' of technology and business decentralization is arguably coalescing around an open knowledge model online. Cohen quotes this line from Thomas W. Malone's book The Future of Work:

“But one aspect of the future is less certain: Will this be a world that is not only more efficient economically, but also better for the people who live in it?”

This sounds remarkably like a political call to action, democracy style. All great democratic parties rely on strong leadership and vision which instills belief and confidence - and to get there a core team has to design a system that will answer big questions like the one above. Answering that question with a highly specific strategy and roadmap of how to get there is the path for future great companies.

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