I’m concerned that the social transformation we keep hearing about has a couple of glitches.
First, our collective understanding of what it means to be a social enterprise needs to be re-defined. What does it mean to be social? The second issue is that if we continue to act in a socially uninformed and uninspired manner, some of our new social enterprises may suffer the same fate that took down so many e-businesses at the beginning of this century.
The problem begins with how we’re defining “social enterprise.” The conventional wisdom suggests that we can flip a switch (i.e. implement social media capabilities) and our employees will magically collaborate and innovate in meaningful and profitable ways with an ever-expanding network of global stakeholders.
This is not the case.
We can’t automatically make employees interact in deep and sustainable ways simply by hitting the on button, creating a Facebook page , launching internal social communication or real-time performance feedback platforms and replacing e-mail addresses with hash tags any more than we could generate long-term shareholder value by slapping an “e” in front of our business name. We can’t order an employee to have a great idea or mandate rich, creative collaborations any more than we can order a doctor to become more humane or a teacher to be more inspirational in the classroom.
I heard a compelling speaker talk about flipping the switch on social enterprises at a dinner I attended recently. When my fellow diners asked me what I thought about this transformation, I replied that we would be wise to focus on our behavior as opposed to our new technology. If one of us tweeted about the delicious steak dinner, for example, we might offend people in our networks for whom cows are sacred.
Don’t get me wrong, social technology and social enterprises can deliver great benefits to global citizens and stakeholders as we’ve recently witnessed. When I speak and attend events at next month’s SXSW Interactive – a conference renowned for exploring the future of technological innovation – I expect social to be a dominant theme. It is inevitable that technology will continue to reveal and connect us in unimaginable ways with implications we will have yet to fully understand. I embrace this “mega trend” and celebrate one of its undeniable implications: the increased democratization of organizations and participation of individuals in how companies are led, governed, and operated.
Yet, I also want to ensure that our social enterprise narrative and vision is complete. The companies that thrive and win as social enterprises will be those that do the most with their social connections. Winning in this environment requires more than new technology; here are ten ways to become truly social in a world that is not just connected, but interconnected and interdependent.
1) Do away with one-way conversations. The days of leading countries or companies via a one-way conversation are over, as Netflix’s one-way conversation with customers on prices, Bank of America’s one-way conversation on debit fees and Verizon’s one-way conversation on an e-billing surcharge recently demonstrated. If enterprises are to become truly social, they need to participate in conversations with their stakeholders rather than simply talking at them. Truly social enterprises don’t just post or tweet; they listen and engage in collaborative dialogue.
2) Connect and collaborate. Just because all companies now possess the technological capability to hold social conversations with employees, customers and stakeholders, this does not mean we can automatically make these conversations valuable. The companies that develop the deepest connections will generate more value for their customers and employees (and shareholders). Mozilla, for example, seeks to deepen its connections to customers, who have an open invitation to shape the company’s Internet browser and other product offerings, by publishing its financial results (something it does not need to do as a private company), opening its business meetings to the public and posting its strategic plans online.
3) Don’t let “freedom from” obstruct “freedom to.” Social media can help liberate employees from traditional hierarchies and structures that stifle collaboration and innovation but only if new frameworks replace what previously existed. The ongoing unrest and power vacuum in Egypt illustrates what happens when the old “freedom from” system is not followed by a sustained effort to introduce institutional frameworks that gives citizens the “freedom to” live (or work) in a more fulfilling manner. Employees want freedom from command and control bosses and task-based jobs and freedom to contribute their character and creativity and collaborative spirit in pursuit of a values-based mission worthy of their dedication. What will employees rely on to guide their interactions with customers now that they can communicate with them 24/7? The answer is for organizations to develop the institutional frameworks to replace traditional structures and forms of governance and establish a more human operating system in which governance, culture and leadership systems are harmonized and synchronized.
4) Seek to inspire not just motivate. As social media helps shift power to individual citizens and employees, leadership itself must shift with it. That requires moving from coercive or motivational leadership that uses sticks or carrots to extract performance and allegiance out of people to inspirational leadership that inspires commitment and innovation and hope in people. The most effective 21st Century leaders – those in the C-suite, on the football field and in other realms – understand the value of leaving behind a command-and-control leadership style in favor of a connect-and-collaborate approach. New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin now has two Super Bowl rings to show for his leadership transformation; leaders of truly social enterprises will adopt a similar game plan.
Continued reading on Forbes.com.