Social First – Business Second…..

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague who was attempting to socialize a standard business process.  We batted around the idea of whether the process was even needed in the first place and then starting tackling the central issue.  The company wanted to apply a social component (like gamification) in a culture that was process driven.  I’m sure you are familiar with the type – conservative, hierarchical, command and control…

I explained that social should be thought through first.  Yes, sounds a little radical but there is some basis to the statement.  You need an understanding of organizational dynamics, specifically culture, and connection points (not reporting connections but communication, interaction, engagement) to understand adoption patterns of new technologies, procedures, or practices.  By fostering and understanding connections, not organization hierarchy, companies can learn, adapt and empower employees.  Connections are essential on a daily basis to understand: Where power and influence lies within the organization (It might not be where you think)?  How does communication flow across the organization?  How do groups, tribes, communities develop and add value to the firm?  How does it contribute to employee satisfaction?  All these questions can be measured and analyzed but it is nearly impossible to do without an understanding of connections.  In addition, connection help with an understanding of two essential issues companies are struggling with today – recruitment and retention.  How do you attract, retain and motivate key talent?  How do you balance fully leveraging employees without burning them out?   How do you get them up to speed and promote inter-generational and cross-divisional learning?

Connection can be understood through several dimensions including number and strength.  Number is pretty straightforward.  Strength can be assessed by commonality, number of interactions, type of relationship, even proximity.   All these factors develop stronger ties and strong ties are powerful.  The social networks we all know and love recognize this so why can’t corporations?  Strong ties can lead to greater employee engagement, motivation, greater commitment to stay (e.g. less likely to leave), basically things you would like to have in a workforce.  Connections can be based around business processes, product groups, innovation teams or social connections such as common interests, shared activities, affiliations.  Companies who understand the power of internal connections strive to foster both.  Some social companies go to extraordinary measures to foster interpersonal relationships through social communities.  There is a reason why start-ups have video games, foosball, ping-pong and regular outings.  With a dynamic rapid growth culture, building relationships is key.  Sharing, connecting, discussing in our digital world also generates data that can be collected, analyzed and used to build stronger connections, innovate, transfer knowledge and improve outcomes.

My belief is that businesses need to think more about retaining and nurturing employees than focusing on processes and departments.  Are engaged employees more productive, will connected employees be more likely to stay and can these factors be attributable to top line growth and bottom line efficiencies.  Is it a causal relationship?  Several folks are paying a great deal of attention to this from a consultative and research perspective.  AONHewitt put together a nice perspective piece on engagement drivers and outcomesAlex Edmans from Wharton looked at the relationship between job satisfaction and firm level value and found that there is a direct linkage satisfied employees drive positive firm level outcomes.

So if there is evidence that job satisfaction leads to positive company outcomes and engaged employees show higher levels of job satisfaction why do we still have low level of engagement in the workforce (see previous post on engagement).  The fact is that this might be due to regional disparities, cultural biases and industry wide norms.  Here is a radical thought – Rather than throwing out an org chart to see where everyone fits in the firm, put together a connection chart based on responsibilities and interests so that new folks can easily join the running group, homebrew club, gaming community and/or identify who is the knowledge leader on process improvement.  Both types of connections are critical but social connections have some unique properties over business/reporting connections – variety, access, adoption, etc.   However, the most important items is that they are easy to implement,  so why not focus on them……

About Ari

I am a Professor, Digital Media and Marketing at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University and I teach classes focused on assessing and measuring the impact of emerging technologies including Digital Transformations, Marketing and Measuring Social. This later class is designed as an experiential learning, project-based class where students work closely with company sponsors to develop recommendations and an analysis framework around a social initiative. The class provides students an overview of the social space, identification of key trends, issues and player, measurement tools and techniques as well as a comprehensive understanding of the business ramifications in adopting a social based strategy. Prior to diving into the professorial role, I have a bunch of experience in new technology development and commercialization. I started a consulting company, Broadside, which provides services to companies/organizations around collaboration, innovation and new technology development. I was also a member of several successful entrepreneurial high tech ventures doing a bunch of stuff from product management to business development. Over my career I have developed communities and digital media strategies for companies and organizations within healthcare, chemical industry, telecom industry, consumer packaged goods market, and the financial services space. Also I have done some work with universities to put together strategies and processes for building expert communities to accelerate technology commercialization.
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2 Responses to Social First – Business Second…..

  1. Tushar Goyal says:

    Well written, Sir!
    I was reading an article on motivating people and here an excerpt from Inc.com: “Social people want to feel personally valued, and that what they are doing has an impact on a project. They go the extra mile for a leader who expresses faith in their abilities. They prefer to be rewarded in person with a gesture that is from the heart. If your own preference is for written communication, send a handwritten note to a particularly social employee.
    Article Source: http://www.inc.com/geil-browning/ten-ways-to-motivate-anyone.html

  2. Ari says:

    Thanks Tushar indeed understanding what motivates and excites employees is critical. It reminds me of what Dan Ariely wrote in his book Predictably Irrational on the difference between a social and financial contract. Social Contracts are more resilient and valuable over the long run…

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