Corporate culture is dying, is social technology the cure?

Last week I read an article that on the surface looked as though it was going to be a cracker. It was looking at the role of technology in building and sustaining corporate culture in organizations that are increasingly virtual. In my opinion this is a critically important question as we move towards an increasingly mobile and globally distributed workforce, and I was hoping to get some interesting perspectives on techniques that companies had used to inject cultural transformation into their social business platform. However while the article started off well, it eventually petered off into the banal.

Now the point of this blog post isn’t to beat up on someone else’s article, I admire that they were trying to ask a really tough question to which I definitely don’t claim to have the answer. My issue was the implication that social listening is the solution, a position I find completely incomprehensible. When has listening in on someone else’s conversations ever helped you to build a relationship with them. The only way to do that is to reach out, shake their hand, and introduce yourself. Now clearly that single article isn’t the reason I am writing this blog post, it was just the trigger. The main reason is that they are not alone and oodles of folks seem to somehow equate listening with engaging. And I just wanted to get this off my chest :-)

Before continuing, I’m going to pull a small excerpt from an earlier blog post I wrote about Social Business, because I think it highlights some of the key reasons why social technology has to play a role in the evolution of the corporate culture, we don’t really have an option.

Social Business is not a new concept. Businesses have always been social, its why we have expressions like “Its not what you know, but who you know” or “People buy from people, not from companies”. The only thing that has changed is the breadth of social. Historically people have only been able to build relationships from face-to-face interactions; chatting around the water cooler, grabbing a coffee, walking around the shop talking with customers or around the office getting to know your staff. It was all personal. Even today if you attend a conference most people will admit that the greatest value is realized from those impromptu meetings that happen in corridors.

Today the world has become smaller, businesses global, competition fierce, communication digital, and all the while people are increasingly trying to regain the voice that they have lost in the last two decades of globalization. We no longer know our bank managers personally, are on first name basis with the local shop owner, or have any allegiance to the products we buy or even the companies we work for. They are all faceless global corporations. And its this increasing sense of alienation that a social business platform trys to address.

While analytics will play a crucial component of any organization’s cultural roadmap, it’s part of a bigger script. Social Listening will NOT solve the engagement issue, whether you are a brand looking to engage more effectively with consumers, or a corporate trying to interact with your employees. Listening can provide some insights that may support your engagement strategy, but it’s nothing more than a bit player in the script. Specifically looking at the corporate culture question, it should also not be introduced too early in the script as I believe this risks undermining the trust that you want to build with your employees. Engagement, which is the basic ingredient required to build a corporate culture, only happens when there is trust, and if your employees feel that you are spying on them they are unlikely to trust your intentions. If monitoring is introduced later into the cycle when the trust has been established and there is a clear and unambiguous understanding of the purpose of the analytics, then we are in better shape.

Engaging with people is really hard and human resource intensive, which is probably why listening is frequently over-emphasized as its predominantly a technology solution. However, as one my of lecturers used to love to remind me (frequently)… “Ms Wallace, there is no such thing as a free lunch” :-)

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