The question of social software in businesses came up during our Strategic Management class this quarter and I wanted to share some of the ideas we discussed with the larger MCDM community. Social software implementations are popping up in the business world trying to address tough issues around leadership, employee recognition, employee engagement, communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing using a variety of tools from traditional wikis to services such as Yammer and Jive.
MCDM friend, and bestselling author, Charlene Li addressed the use of social media in creating authentic and transparent business culture in her book Open Leadership. Li acknowledges the varying needs and ability for different organizations to be open, but businesses must start from where they are right now and set realistic goals for cultivating a culture and a discipline of transparent behavior internally and externally.
Encourage your organizations to perform a self-check, no matter what degree of openness they currently believe they possess and try to answer these questions:
-How well are decisions explained?
-How are these explanations presented to customers, clients, employees?
-Who is kept up-to-date about the state of the company, products, etc?
-How are updates transmitted?
-Do you have a lot of need-to-know-basis or closed information? Is there really a compelling reason for it to be closed? Can you instead create guidelines and standards for sharing information?
-Who can provide feedback and ideas and how can they provide those?
-Do employees and customers feel safe and encouraged to contribute?
-Do they have easy, visible, accessible tools to submit their contributions?
-Do employees and customers feel like their contributions matter and that they are being listened to and evaluated?
There is no single implementation of social tools that is the magic pill for all your organization’s communications ailments. This is a strategy that needs to be developed incrementally and iteratively: identifying areas for improvement, setting small measurable goals, supporting the change within the organization by defining processes and guidelines, and learning from mistakes quickly.
While the first step is to listen, the ultimate goal is achieve active engagement with employees and clients by building true relationships based on trust. Listening is not sufficient if it is not followed by a conversation. Once the communication channels have been opened, there is an expectation that leaders would keep everyone updated and be willing to explain decisions.
The leadership challenge is not trivial and, over time, requires a transformational change in corporate culture that gives up tight control with an understanding that giving up control does not necessarily mean giving up command. In Li’s words, leadership becomes a catalyst for engendering commitment. The open leader’s role becomes to rally customers and employees around a common vision.