Many companies want to be on social media and social networking outside their organization, but rarely internally where it can help them come up with new product ideas, new solutions more quickly, share those solutions to those with the same problems, and iterate faster.
Speed has been critical in many businesses for quite some time. For example, the first manufacturer to market enjoys market dominance for as long as it takes for their competitor to catch up. Speed now directly influences profits.
Google dedicated an edition of their industry insight publication, Think Quarterly to the topic of speed. “The world is moving fast—faster than ever before—and we are all along for the ride. Technologies are getting quicker, affording us instant access and split-second connections. As Moore’s law prophesied, this change is happening at an exponential rate.”
To stay competitive and get products to market first so to speak, enterprises need to capitalize on the additional efficiencies and productivity that new media and social networking provides. I’ll give three specific examples of how companies can do this.
1. New Solutions Through International Collaboration
Dropping communication and technology costs in concert with competitive pressures from the global marketplace have caused companies to collaborate internationally within their organization.
Despite common belief, social networking doesn’t have to involve Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. In fact, I think there can arguably be much more benefit for companies who effectively utilize the same social functionality on internal platforms.
The ability for consumers to be able to exchange ideas, organize quickly, and reach a critical mass to give those ideas momentum can also be capitalized on by lower level employees. These tools can bring employees across borders, geographies and time zones together onto one team. As I explain in my video blog post on the Misconceptions of Building a Creative and Innovative Team, it is critically important to innovation and problem solving to have a diverse group of people coming together to solve the same challenge. There has never been a better opportunity to place people from different economic, cultural, education, and belief backgrounds in a single brainstorming session then there are today.
Different teams around the world can share what they have tried, give a fresh new perspective on a longstanding problem somewhere else, and bring different areas of expertise into one digital room. This gives companies far more flexibility about where people are located. While I worked at Hewlett Packard, I ended up working with people on the other side of the country and in Europe more than I worked with people down the hall in San Diego.
There are now plenty of pre-built software options at virtually all price and functionality levels to take advantage of. On the enterprise level, companies like Microsoft have made industry-recognized solutions like SharePoint. On the startup level, there are free or cheap options like Skype for video conferencing and instant messaging, Google Docs for collaborating on documents, and Ning for building an entire social platform of your own.
2. Reduce Redundant Solutions
Harvesting and organizing this free flow of information is a critical next step beyond merely setting up these social networking tools. Sending out a memo telling everyone to start using them isn’t enough. Internal training explaining the functionality, value, and opportunities is important to create a culture that maximizes their effectiveness.
Even as company cultures begin to adopt social tools and use them as critical assets in their problem solving process, documentation of solutions is a massively missed opportunity. Business schools having been teaching to document the lessons you’ve learned from a project for decades and the better organizations have done this for a long time. However, these lessons have only been made available to the region or team that documented them.
The main stumbling block with that is that when another team in an emerging market is struggling with a problem, they likely won’t ever discover that the company has already spent big dollars coming up with that same solution in the U.S. This is where internal social networks are able to connect the largest global companies and dramatically affect the bottom line.
In Thomas Friedman’s book about globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he quotes the former Citibank chairman Walter Wriston from an article in Foreign Affairs (September, 1997): “The pursuit of wealth is now largely the pursuit of information and its application to the means of production. The rules, customs, skills, and talents necessary to uncover, capture, produce, preserve and exploit information are now humankind’s most important assets.”
Friedman goes on to explain that the general manager of the Chevron oil company’s Kuwait office, H. F. Iskandar, said that “Chevron is not an oil company, it is a learning company.” Chevron has been pumping oil all over the world for years and has had to learn how to solve the multitude of drilling problems that come up. “All those solutions are then stored in Chevron’s corporate memory. The key to our business now is to tap that memory, and bring out the solution that we used to solve a problem in Nigeria in order to solve the same problem in China or Kuwait. In the old days, it might have taken two years to find the person in the company who actually found that Nigeria solution and to get him to China, where he could apply it,” explained Iskandar.
Effectively collecting and organizing the information in that company wide “lessons learned” network is critical so that employees can easily access the files or the people that will help them. If the system isn’t easy to use, good training won’t help. Employees just wont use it.
Today, the tools exist to enable this organizing and sharing. At the same time, the pressures of the global market place are requiring the Nigeria solution to get to China in two hours instead of two years. In today’s world, how fast that solution gets there will likely be the difference between leading the industry and going out of business.
3. Decentralize Decision-Making
Utilizing the free flow of information enabled by these social tools will allow organizations to flatten and dramatically increase their speed of innovation.
In the old days, line workers at the bottom would encounter a problem and send it up the massive hierarchy to the top, a decision would be made, and then it would be passed all the way back down to be implemented. This took a long time, but this was the way all business was done and there wasn’t really any way around it. The CEO on top would be the only one that would have an accurate view of the whole picture because (s)he was the only one that received all of the information from all of the different departments. He or she offered a lot of strategic value to the process because the line workers couldn’t easily pass information to each other.
Businesses today have either been forced to radically change this system, gone out of business, or been entrenched in a business that has been protected from the forces of the free market and allowed these inefficiencies to stick around. Regardless, it is clear that the new best practice is to decentralize and delegate decision-making down the hierarchy.
With the ability for front line specialists to easily organize themselves, communicate, and collaborate, they will likely have more and better information about their problems than the executive team does. Enabling them to make decisions based on the information they already have saves the information journey up and down the hierarchy. What that means practically is that a decision can be made in a few hours instead of a few weeks.
Friedman makes a strong case that “The way you manage and exchange information and the way you learn as a company—those are your only sustainable advantages.” He goes on to say that “Some companies are writing and rewriting strategies every quarter or even every week—or else…Net speeds force all sorts of cultural changes. Hierarchies flatten out. Budget-cycles get compressed. Decision-making gets pushed out to the front lines. And customer expectations, not the executive board, guide the next big project.”
Social Media Maturity
I explain here that there are five stages of social media maturity for businesses in the external space, but that same concept can be applied to the internal social platforms as well. Companies probably can’t start off at where Chevron is, but understanding where the target is can be critical to taking steps to get there. As you might expect, the speed at which those steps are taken is increasingly important to survival.
Listen to me speak on 7 Social Media Trends on November 27th in San Diego.
Interested in hands-on learning about building your own social media strategy? Check out GSMI’s Social Media Strategies Summit happening around the US and in the UK! Contact Michael Roche at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.