Social Business : the rhetoric and the metrics
July 4, 2011
Great wrap-up by Sameer Patel on the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. I guess he has explained in the clearest way the challenges ahead of us:
(…) We’re at the early stages of understanding both the challenges and opportunities that will come from the emergence of an increasingly connected and vocal customer and as a result, the changing contract between her and organizations she choose to do business with. Most critical, the ramifications of this on how we need to be wired internally to meet her expectations of meaningful engagement, expert insight, minimal latency and localized relevancy.
However, what I am still not comfortable with in this blog post is the strong position against the rah rah uprising rhetoric (and in and of them selves, nebulous end results such as more engagement, more productivity and more social). According to Sameer, executives are not kept up at night by these metrics.
Well, they should and here’s why …
The Disruptive Conundrum
We are getting back to the subject of the 2.0 evangelists evolutionaries Vs revolutionaries.
Don’t get me wrong : I have nothing but huge respect for Sameer. You will hardly find someone with more expertise on the subject than Sameer, who spend most of his time on the front line, selling the Social Software case to executives.
As a result, it’s very easy to tell on which side Sameer is (the same I would probably be in if I had the same job) : the one that is the less likely to scare executives out of enterprise 2.0. During the actual Selling the Case for accelerating BUsiness Performance with Enterprise Collaboration solutions session at the Boston conference, I’ve asked if we should mention that we’re talking about disruptive technologies (which social software technologies definitely are). Sameer and Oliver Marks, the panel for the session, said it was not necessary and rather risky.
Still, I believe Clayton Christensen would tend to disagree : “Can a firm hope to succeed? The answer lies in firms being able to identify, develop and successfully market emerging, potentially disruptive technologies before they overtake the traditional sustaining technology.”
Times of Perpetual Changes
In The Future Of Management, Gary Hamel reminds us that change has never been so fast or happening on such a dramatic scale. Nowadays not only advantages erode rapidly but whole industries are crashing (airlines, music …). We need to have organisations nimble enough to cope with permanent changes.
Focussing only on metrics that ensure the boat is floating is not good enough : executives need to consider disruptive technologies when they emerge especially when, just like social software, they help the organisation in being more agile, adaptable and streamlined.
Metrics are great to measure incremental innovation. But I doubt they’re any good to apprehend what is at stake today.
Power to the people as a business strategy
There’s this great quote in the Deloitte report Social Software for business performance :
Social software evangelists are their own worst enemy. They have failed to effectively communicate how social software can drive real operating benefits.
OK we may get carried away by the big picture and we may talk about values (transparency, trust, collaboration, social, empowerment, conversation, relationships) that don’t resonate in executives language. It does not mean that these are irrelevant or that we are not aligned with business objectives. In all fairness, focussing on metrics does not mean alignment either.
I’ve seen this with a support manager defending the IT Web Application the support team was using on the grounds that it provided him with great metrics. He didn’t really care if it was a nightmare to use for both the support team and the customers because there was no corresponding metrics. It’s the standard pattern of people working around procedures and tools to get their work done…
If as Sameer said, we want to put the customer right in the middle of the organisation, we then need to make sure the people interacting with her are engaged and empowered to do the best they can. This is something Vineet Nayar of HCL has understood. In his book Employees First, Customer Second he explains how empowering employees is the best way to make sure customers receive five star services.
I’ve walked this floor
I have been here before. I’ve been in IT for more than 20 years and I’ve seen the advent of Agile methodologies. I’ve been an evangelist in the companies I’ve worked for and I’ve seen the difference they have made. Projects on time and budget with great quality level, no ridiculous 50+ work hours prior to the launch, engaged employees as they are given the missing link between their daily work and the company goals and they have a much stronger understanding of their contribution.
Agile methodologies are about managing the unpredictable. Principles : iterative development, self organised teams, empowered individuals, sustainable work schedules, trust, sense of purpose, transparency (visual management), permanent improvement, lean management, bottom-up procedures, customer at the center of the process, managers acting more as leaders than as command & control bosses, no more useless bloated top down processes/compliance. Does it sound familiar ?
To the official cynical managers, focussed on meaningless metrics, this just could not work as if it is just not possible to deliver IT project on time and budget (70% percent of enterprise projects failure in the IT industry in 2003). The way they thought (V Model, Waterfall etc …) no it surely wasn’t. But it was possible to deliver continuous business values to customers through small iterations and agile teams.
While implementing Agile technologies, we never aligned on existing metrics as these were irrelevant : number of specifications (there’s none), writing book of tests (tests are code not documents), number of delivered features (we don’t deliver features, we deliver business value as use cases), no before hand bloated architecture, agile software has lean architecture that evolves gradually etc …
Social Business = Scaling up Agile methodologies
Selling streamlined organisation collaboration using social software is just the next step, it is just scaling Agile methodologies up to the whole organisation. Replace Waterfall with Hierarchy then Agile with Social Collaboration and here you are.
As #hypertextual already said, social business is the third level of immersion of the organisations into the web culture. Not web culture as lolcats but web culture as what appeared in this Darwinist environment as the most efficient way to coordinate collaborative actions of distributed individuals to achieve tangible results and create value.
Selling social business with a tactical approach to fix identified organisation problems and measure the results is great. But still, I do believe we have to sell it as disruptive organisation methods because that’s what this is.
Within that frame of mind, the social rhetoric rah rah is necessary, I’m afraid, because metrics can tell it all. “Nebulous values” helped to sell Agile methodologies which have re-enchanted the IT development businesses. It did so by providing sense of purpose and meaning to people contribution. It just helped getting things done in the leanest way. This is what social software also is about.