Social Business : the rhetoric and the metrics

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.

The thing we have left to do is to set up social business implementation frameworks as powerful, simple and efficient as Scrum or XP and we’ll be on right track.


  1. Thought provoking post, thanks Cecil.

    My view is that you gotta look from both directions.

    In any endeavour you need to rev people up and create energy to push whatever you are doing past the finish line, even though as an evolutionist I don’t believe there ever is a finish line, but you get what I mean… this is where selling the significant vision, engagement, socialness, etc comes in.

    But you have to do the metrics i.e. prove the case, as well.
    For those nebulous intangible metrics, you should and can quantify them too. If you think of a definition of measurement as simply “reducing uncertainty”, then that opens up new ways to gauge success or whatever you want to do than just by counting stuff.
    Great book on the subject is “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business”.

    Re social business implementation frameworks, have you seen the MIKE 2.0 framework, borrows heavily on lean / agile methodologies?


  2. Hi Peter,

    Thanks very much for you nice comment and the great link. I will check it out.

    That’s the thing we need both, you’re right. There are 2 main reasons why social software apps are disruptive applications
    1- They’re the first many-to-many media.
    2- They remove the cost of transaction as per Nobel Prize Ronald Coase

    I am a strong believer that the only justification to implement social software is to fix a clearly identified problem. Uisng the metrics to ensure it fixes is a great approach. Yet, executives need to be told the truth : these are disruptive technologies that change the game.

  3. Hi Cecil
    Great discussion and I actually agree with a lot of what you say early on in the post. I’m actually happy someone took apart my keynote as there’s only so deep you can go in that time frame.

    In my keynote, I made clear that the things I deemed as “rah rah” are in fact important but need to be framed as critical execution paths to meeting organizational performance metrics. We need to distinguish between programmatic metrics and operational and financial metrics and show how the former helps you achieve the latter. I believe that’s what will open the flood gates to social and collaborative acceptance.

    With respect to talking about Disruptive Technologies, to your comment:
    “..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.”

    My motives are far more straight forward than you imply..
    First, in reality, we often sell the value of social and collaborative approaches to executives along side practitioners and our motives have to be aligned around showing the business value and implications of these newer concepts.

    Second, I do believe that unless we can articulate the value of disruptive technologies as drivers of increased revenue, lower cost or mitigated business risk, we can’t credibly address what exactly we are disrupting and it can start to like an experiment. That’s the full context of my response in the workshop..

    As you can imagine, I do have full faith that its exactly the stuff we are ‘rah rah -ing” about that is the most valuable part of the change many of us are initiating for many organization. My overall suggestion in Boston though was not to change our intentions but to re-consider the type of discourse required, to get us there.

    Thanks again and it was great to finally meet you!

  4. Hi Sameer,

    That what so nice meeting you : can’t wait until next edition …

    Thanks very much for the comment, appreciate you took some time for an articulated reply.

    I am fully aligned with this “We need to distinguish between programmatic metrics and operational and financial metrics and show how the former helps you achieve the latter. I believe that’s what will open the flood gates to social and collaborative acceptance. “

    Yet, I have a problem with the framing of disruptive technologies rhetoric to meet organisational metric. I know it may sound a bit naive and far away from executives day to day problems but when Clay Christensen says companies can do all things right with incremental evolutions and yet losing a huge opportunity because it didn’t position itself on disruptive technologies, it makes me wonder.

    I frame this into the E20 context and I think the risk is not to decide to go w/o valid metrics but rather to decide not to go and miss new market changing opportunities our competitors will be benefitting from.

    Great conversation – thanks again.

  5. Great topic and discussion, guys. I was not able to attend the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, and I will look more into Sameer’s and others stuff there.

    Just wondering:
    – the agile ability of large companies/organizations? (Lean is hot, also in large organization, we should get a hook in there perhaps. I suppose we’ll find examples of marrying these lean initiatives with social software?)
    – did agile succeed in development due to the nature of this environment? (my observation is that most active users on internal micro-blog initiatives – often first steps in an organization’s attempt at social business are the development community, why is that?).
    – as Marc Buyens (@mbuyens) claims in “The future of work – Enterprise 2.0, get real!” E2.0 forces it’s way or comes natural due to new company structures, not only the B2C requirements, but the B2B requirements to stay competitive, from large corporate structures to large eco-systems of business interactions.

  6. May I be the one to ask why are these disruptive technologies? They have been around for a long time, they have nothing that we could not do before, and they — well, are bland.

    I don’t buy them as disruptive as they build on top of an existing connectivity layer, and provide basic functionality without which we could still function equally well, it not better.

    I think we are talking about a generational shift led by improvements in communication (paul greenberg said it is a communication revolution, some true to that). We have not quite figured out what to do because we are sitting there, mouth agape waiting for the thing to shine one more time.

    There is not much here to see, seriously. No shining stuff, just improved deployments to leverage new ways to communicate… and that can take the best part of the next 2-3 years.

    You make valid points, but calling something disruptive does not make it disruptive. There is a need for a new working model for that to become 1/2 a reality (which we don’t have yet).

  7. Hi Roii, thanks for your comment. Agile works really well in software development because these are the methodologies used by open source development.

    Estban, thanks for the comment. You should have followed the link to Clay Shirky book review. 2 main reasons why Social Software are disruptive according to M. Shriky :

    – 1st many-to-many media. Not one-to-many as telegraph / telephone. Not one-to-many as broadcasting technologies. With Social Software we bring in many-to-many media with many publishers and many listeners. This completely transforms the communication and the flow of information in the organisation.

    – Nobel prize Ronald Coase theory of transaction cost is no longer true. The justification of the organisation is because of transaction costs. With social software, this is no longer true. Anyone can coordinate collaborative actions of distributed individuals to achieve tangible results and create value without the need of having an organisation. With a negligible costs.

    This has never happened before. This is not because we didn’t want to but because we didn’t have the means to.

  8. I saw the link and the distinction, i just dont agree that’s what makes them disruptive.

    i think we are making too much out of something that, at the end, will result in not a lot more. we had the ability to do many-to-many in a cheap way for many moons — we had forums and similar for long time… is it disruptive because the business just noticed now, after 30-40 years?

    that does not qualify them as disruptive – just qualifies business as slow-moving and slow-to-adopt. i was writing about these same events back 8-10 years ago — was it not disruptive then?

    the hype we throw around is what makes people not accept it – especially those that have seen it before and cannot understand why it is now worthy of recognition versus before.

    that was my statement – and still stands.

  9. Thanks Esteban, I’ve been using Electronic Bulletin Boards since 1993 when I was at IBM. But that’s not the point. I’m not talking about technology here but the way people communicate, collaborate and work together.

    A couple of things have changed since 10 years ago. Wikipedia to start with as proof of reason #2 (which is the cornerstone and the raison d’être of organisations). Don’t call it disruptive if you would, I do. 750M Facebook user is another one.

    2 quotes from that book :

    “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring”

    “Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopt new technologies it happens when society adopts new behaviors.”

    Technology have put strong effort on adoption hence the massive change : not because of the technologies but because of the ease of use and the universal adoption and scale. Not to mention mobility. The last 4 years and the advent of Facebook, Twitter, the iPhone, Tablets have completely transformed the way people interact.

    I fully buy into Shirky theory : something massive has happened. And I would recommend execs to read Christensen again and to ask Arab leaders if we’re talking about revolution.

  10. sorry, don’t buy it just because it is in a book — and the arab bit is tired. revolutions happened way before today, will continue… it has proven that beyond a slight speed improvement, social networks did not cause the revolution to happen where it would otherwise not happen.

    I am just not sure that rah-rah-rah behind these changes is what business leaders need, i wish we would stop and become more rational about them, and how it really affects the business – as opposed to go chicken little on the world of business and ask them to buy our products and services to figure out what to do – then end up doing the same, with more tools.

    i think it would be interesting, instead of repeating this “world has changed, brace yourselves and change with it” mantra to actually produce some proof. a book is not proof, it is just another data point.

    dying to see some real proof of how a business was disrupted because of these new technologies (and, no – those same old cases of such-and-such doing this and that, etc. don’t count without numbers behind them… choose your favorite flavor of the month organization who did something right — the numbers long term don’t support their theories).

    this is probably not the forum for this, but I think that we need less chicken little and more eeyores 🙂

    thanks for the forum to host this discussion, much appreciated.

  11. So we go back to the problem of perspective. You’re talking from an executive perspective who just get bored of being told every other year this brand new thing will change it all. I understand they get tired of it.

    But i’m not interested in what business leaders need. I am interested in what business need to get things done and create value.

    I am talking from the employees / knowledge workers perspective who are tired of working around existing bloated tools/process (imposed in a top down way) to get their work done. And from our perspective these e20 tools are amazing to get things things done, to let new ideas emerge and most importantly for us to engage and go the extra mile. I’ve seen how open source software has changed the IT industry. I’ve seen how Agile Methodologies have changed the way we deliver business value with our project implementation (Vs the old fashion Top Down V model). And similarly, I see now how these tools help in getting things done. 2007 has really been the turning point with the advent of Facebook/Twitter and iPhone. So yes it is new.

    I am sorry the “it’s not because it’s in book” argument is probably as irrelevant as our rah rah (I understand we may get carried away – Scott Berkun wrote a great rant on this : calling BS on Social Media). Sure we need to bit more specific in how this helps in solving business problem. But this does not mean we are not talking about disruptive technologies.

    Anyway, you need to elaborate a bit more, for instance on the Ronald Coase issue : is it relevant or not ? I do think it is. And if it is the foundation or the organisation then I think it is a bit casual not to pretend it may have major implications. Social Software brings along disintermediation which causes huge questions on the role of managers and on hierarchies. This is disruptive.

    Clay Shirky’s, The Cluetrain Manifesto, The Future of Management, The World Is Flat or Rework are all books that perfectly describe what is at stake right now. They all are talking about radical change. They all are considered as very important books by business thinkers, business magazines and business newspapers. There is some kind of convergence here. I would not be very comfortable pretending they are irrelevant or just data point. But I understand your position as you don’t want to scare execs out of it.

    You know just as well as I do that we have tons of business examples on how social networks have solved business problems. Deloitte report on operational benefits of social software is a great entry point.

    Great conversation indeed. Thanks for your time and welcome on #hypertextual Esteban.

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