In the Wheelhouse: Evaluating Your Social Business Climate

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Transformation into social, collaborative businesses requires us to first look at our own organizations, gauge our ability to trust and share, and then plan accordingly.


I was presenting a number of sessions in Orlando at IBM Enterprise 2013 during the week of October 21, one of which was about IBM Connections on IBM i. The presentation was geared toward showing people the benefits of an IBM Connections environment on IBM i and Power Systems over and above x86-64, explaining the installation from start to finish (including Tivoli Directory Integrator, Installation Manager, WebSphere Application Server 8), clearing up issues in the documentation, and discussing configuration tips and things to watch out for.


One of the first slides concentrated on a very simple subject: having a plan.


What do you want to do with IBM Connections? What are the measurable goals? What are your expected returns? How will you know it's a success?


There are definite benefits of using social software. But you can't just "install social." Becoming a social business is an abstract idea. It's a state of internal or external business collaboration, not a widget you can just plug into an organization to be automatically transformed. Organizations that don't use social tools at all may well be very social businesses. Organizations that are not operating very socially may use social tools extensively but perhaps now with many modern data silos in "social" communities instead of traditional file folders.


A social business to me is really a modern, successfully collaborative business. Will the right "social" tools help? Absolutely. But sometimes we have more to think about than the tools.


I cut my week in Orlando a day short because I had to fly back to Canada for an unexpected funeral. While changing my travel plans, I spoke with a number of airlines to get the best last-minute fares and to see what they could do regarding my bereavement circumstances. One airline in particular wanted to know the funeral home name, address, zip code, phone number, and a contact name. Since I was literally on the road, all I had was the name of the funeral home and the city.


Airline Customer Service: "Sorry, sir, I need all the other information before giving you a discount."


Me: "Can't you just Google it for me? All of that should be on their website."


Airline Customer Service: "Sorry, they don't give us the Internet on our computers."


No Internet on their computers? I thought we were past all this.


Me: "I wouldn't ask if I wasn't, you know, currently talking on my iPhone. Is there any chance you could do me a solid and look it up on your phone? You should have a web browser on it."


Airline Customer Service: "Sorry, sir, but we're not allowed to bring personal phones into work."


Me: "Really? Why not?"


Airline Customer Service (laughing): "The powers that be just don't trust us I guess."


My first thoughts? In the age of bring-your-own-everything, social business, enterprise 2.0, cars that park themselves, and KFC's Double Down (arguably the greatest invention of the last five years), I'm trying to do business with a company that disarms their front-line employees who could help their customers the most with some very basic tools.


In scenarios like this, the tools aren't the problem. It may even be more than the culture. A company's "culture" is just a descriptor of the attitudes, habits, practices, and social-corporate patterns of behavior. A poor organizational culture is the display of the cumulative symptoms of the actual problems.


The real problems may be closer to the surface than we think: fear and distrust. Pointing to culture as something to remedy or even "work past" seems easier than tackling fear and distrust. The language we use correlates directly to the success of outcomes when tackling tough problems. That's problems, not concerns. A concern doesn't seem quite as harsh as having a problem. A concern can wait until next quarter. An issue can wait about six weeks. When you're concerned about issues like employee distrust, you've actually got a problem.


To be fair, coming from a manufacturing background, I understand why an environment like a production line should be free of foreign objects for obvious quality control and safety reasons. But when office users are not allowed to check the Internet or bring cell phones into an office building, a company should really evaluate why those rules exist in the first place. I think we've all gone down this road a few times before. Digging back into memory I remember reasons like:


"I don't want them wasting time on the Internet."

"They'll abuse the privilege."

"They should be concentrating on their jobs."

"They just don't need it."


All of those reasons are arguably rooted in distrust. Many corporate IT policies probably still have things like phones and Internet usage explicitly stated as a no-no. It's an interesting correlation that 80% of millennials want to change careers and "53% of millennials aren't engaged in their jobs at all and approach their work with the kind of detachment one would expect at a temporary position." Of course, you have some who claim young people have a unrealistic sense of entitlement and aren't prepared for the demands of the real world, but I don't think that's true. The business landscape is changing, but not all businesses are. There are new expectations for many employers to live up to now—or at least consider—because these millennials have new ideas and contributions but just work a little differently than Generation X or baby boomers. They're not hoping to interact with a green-screen application in a cubicle. They want the flexibility to interact with servers from a mobile device on the bus ride to and from work, or from the kitchen table, couch, backyard, or mall.


Employers on average invest 70% of their operating costs on people and then wonder why the turnover rate is high in a down economy. The disconnect and dissatisfaction that younger employees have with their employers could be remedied by being a little liberal with the rules.


If we want to eliminate silos of information, increase collaboration and the sharing of information, encourage transparency, and foster employee creativity and contributions, then social collaboration tools are what we need to be looking at. Organizations need to have the right attitudes first or at least have a plan in place to shift them. Bottom line: every employee wants to feel that their employer trusts them. I don't mean trust in that they will actually do their jobs in the presence of Internet access, smartphones, and social tools, but trust that they will be able to excel and achieve by taking advantage of those tools. When that mental barrier is broken, then will we see true transparency, real collaboration, and unprecedented thought-sharing.


Installing the software is the easy part.