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The Cultural Imperative For A Social Business – Part 2

By in Tips & Guides on April 21, 2011

BirdsSocial media is “growing up” and becoming part of organizational process, graduated from being a single person who tweets to see “what sticks”. That much we know. We also know that for an organization to be truly successful, it needs to be both: social externally and internally. Company culture can be one of the biggest success factor, as well as one of the biggest derailers in becoming social. In a previous post, we addressed key characteristics of a culture that supports an internally collaborative mindset. To recap, they are: transparency and openness, knowledge sharing vs. hoarding, authenticity and organizational flatness. We also addressed some barriers to this kind of culture, such as: command and control mindset, functional silos, hierarchies, and measuring the wrong things. As a follow-up, here are some key areas you should be focusing on if you want to improve your culture:

Get Senior Leadership Buy-in

This point is one of the most important ones, and also one that is probably toughest to execute, because it involves changing the outlook and consequently behaviors for senior management. Sometimes it has to be as deep as an entire overhaul of the value system, which is certainly not a trivial task. Senior leadership support can catapult your effort into the stratosphere. Jane Hart refers to it as “supported bottom-up process”, which I find a good description, because these movements often come from the bottom, and need senior support to really flourish.

How do you make sure that senior management buys into the concept of open and honest communication? It has to be an ongoing and educational dialogue, which positions the benefits of a more open culture, preferably citing examples from your industry (don’t forget — quantifiable results will sell your case the fastest). Sometimes it helps to bring in someone from the outside to look at things objectively and present a pulse of the market. Make sure you are engaging in a dialogue that places all parties onto the same team vs. a “you are wrong, I’m right!” type of conversation. Remember the old adage: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. Those oh-so-powerful interpersonal communications skills are key here.

Find Allies And Start Small:

If something is working, people will keep doing it. Sometimes, starting off right is the hardest part; but as you establish momentum, things will get easier. Don’t do it alone! Get someone on your side, preferably someone who can inspire change and who believes in the same things you do. This person may be a member of senior management or a peer. Don’t attempt to overhaul your whole organization and communication process; you will cause too much stress and confusion. Rather, start with small initiatives, where you can demonstrate success and get even more buy-in from all levels of the organization. If you are looking to bring more transparency and sharing into your company, consider doing a “townhall” to encourage dialogue. Make sure you are there to facilitate adoption of best practices. Don’t try to solve all your problems in this townhall; pick one topic and structure it in a way where all parties have a forum to share information, ask and answer questions and move the conversation forward.

This type of townhall can be done in person or digitally. Some of our customers adopted a “YamJam” concept, where the community “gets together” on Yammer at a certain time to discuss certain topics in realtime. Check out these helpful tips from Austen Hunter, Head of Transport Operations at Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC). The benefit of conducting this kind of conversation in a digital format is its asynchronicity – you can have a discussion before and after the actual meeting, and the information is archived for posterity. As a result of these open dialogue activities, you can measure things like employee engagement, productivity, satisfaction, and turnover.

Keep building your case, and remember: numbers matter! No one can argue with: “Our culture of sharing reduced organizational waste and eliminated duplicate work, saving us $X”, or “Our leadership transparency resulted in employees being happier and driving down turnover rate by Y%”.

WIIFM, Mentor, Measure

One of my favorite acronyms is WIIFM, which stands for “what’s in it for me”? Think of it as a radio station, which we are all tuned into. Until you can make an initiative relevant to people, they won’t adopt it. Whereas you would demonstrate to senior management how open and honest communication is materially good for business, you should demonstrate the same benefits for department and group leaders, and individual employees. Figure out how people get reviewed, what’s important to them, and position these initiatives as something that can help them get their job done. Make sure you are there as a resource and a mentor; be helpful and never condescending.

Furthermore, since a lot of bad culture comes from measuring the wrong things, make sure that you are measuring the right things, such as: increase in new ideas, better customer communication and satisfaction, lower employee turnover, to name a few.

Develop a Vision Statement:

When you have a clear purpose, it becomes easier to make decisions. For example, Zappos’ culture is based on doing whatever it takes to provide a great customer experience. Thus, if an employee or a manager is ever in a quandary as far as what to do, they can ask themselves if that moves the vision forward. There’s a vast difference between vision and vision-as-rhetoric, so definitely examine the motivations for wanting certain values. Are these “values du jour” or will they move the needle for your customers and thus for your company for the years to come? Be really honest with yourself about where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow, where the market is going and what customers expect.

Empower To Take Risks and Make Decisions:

One of the worst culture crushers is the top-down imperative that no decision can be made without levels of approval. Levels of approval, in my eyes, signify fear. You can neutralize fear helping play through the “what if?” scenarios. After all, the only thing to really fear is stagnation and irrelevance. Furthermore, if you hire and train correctly, you will be less fearful about employees doing the right thing.

I strongly believe that adopting the culture of calculated risk-taking is the key to innovation and fostering an open culture. If as an employee I’m fearful that anything I do and say may get me fired, I’ll be paralyzed by inaction. As a result, good ideas don’t happen, get adopted by competitors, and the company loses topline growth. Employees get frustrated and jump ship to join competitors. As a result, the culture of fear loses the company market share and profit.

In short, what’s positioned as important gets measured, what gets measured gets done, and what gets done gets compensated. Even the most reluctant people, given the right training, tools and incentives will shift their thinking!

What’s worked for you? What are some things you have implemented successfully that helped change your culture?

Photo source: Denis Collette

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