Just back from an end to end series of trips throughout the Asia Pacific region meeting with clients (which accounts for my less than productive update of my blog somewhat) and had one of those 'Ahhh Ha” moments that people often talk about.No I didn't find the meaning of life or anything as profound as that..... this time. But I did come to a realisation somewhat as to the apparent lack of take up of “Social Business” as a business concept across primarily asian geographies. Now I know that many people have written about the linkages that many business executives associate with the term Social Business and Social networking in a personal sense (i.e. as in seeing Facebook as a personal activity and Social Business relating to non-productive activities from a business sense), but that wasn't it. Rather it was a generalised attitude that I found that “Social Business” or more appropriately “Social based collaboration” being seen as yet another bit of marketing fluff from technology vendors. Let me explain. Let's wind the clocks back some 20 odd years ago to a time where the emphasis from newly graduated MBA students was on “Knowledge Management” and the treatment of information as a valuable, and necessary corporate asset. Numerous management tomes were written on the subject, and everyone (well the vast majority anyway) were in agreement that the need to capture and harness the collective wisdom of experienced employees could be a key to continuous progression of their businesses. Yet despite this huge developing market for tools that could assist, the technology sector effectively let this opportunity slip by. Not through lack of trying mind you, but through the lack of any significant success stories in this area. Sales were one thing. Adoption was clearly another. Perhaps it was in ignoring the social and behavioural factors associated with building the desire of employees to surrender their knowledges, or maybe with the implementation mechanisms of the various Knowledge Management tools touted and sold. Whatever the reason, Knowledge Management as a competitive differentiator touted by the technology sectors marketing teams dwindled away. Fast forward now, passing the dot com boom and bust, e-commerce strategies, learning organisisations and the like to today where the whole world is talking Social; Social media and from my perspective, Social Business where an organisation attempts to capitalise upon the societal trends to a more collaborative and open approach to life, and implements such changes internally to drive productivity. And here's the catch. Despite everything being put out there, this is a organisational management issue; this is organisational cultural change – not a technology tools issue. Yet from my viewpoint, many technology vendors are positioning just the opposite - that technology can 'save the day". Sure, the technology exists to support this new environment, but without a clearly defined and openly communicated strategy within a company (with associated changes to underlying support structures and develop a culture that rewards sharing) deploying Social Technologies are doomed to continual failure. Social Business is first and foremost, the same as knowledge management principles espoused some 20 plus years ago. Yet even today, many do not have the underlying support structures necessary to permit evolution into these forms of practices and cultural change. For example, individual performance reviews are still based upon individual excellence. Stack ranking of individual output against peers still abounds. Promotions and bonuses are based, not upon how much useful information and knowledge is shared, but upon individual attainment, not team. And as you can anticipate, these few are just the tip of the iceberg. In many cases, I have seen vendors promoting to enterprises that it is their technology that is key to these changes. That's akin to stating that these changes magically happen with the inclusion of these new socially orientated tools. “Build it and they will come” type mentality. The fact of the matter is like all things in life, improvements in work is an evolutionary process. It is in clearly defining where you are today, and in having a vision for how things should be in the future. Importantly it is in having a plan to evolve work practices, operations and culture towards that new vision.
Yes Social Technologies can help. But only if there is that vision, plan and acceptance of an evolutionary approach. And at this stage I see technology vendors spending too much effort on selling the features and functions, rather than the change management necessary to deliver the long term organisational and cultural required, and in providing services to help. Enjoy Chris