Why Social Business requires a Management Sponsor

Sep 18, 2013

Translation of the Original Article by Siegfried Lautenbacher 18.09.2013

by Siegfried Lautenbacher and Tim Miksa of Netmedia

So-called social software that provides features such as wikis or blogs could be found in companies for years. Why then has the cooperation in companies not changed significantly? Why does Social Software not provide the dynamics and rapid knowledge transfer, which is by now indispensable in the internet? To make a company "social", to turn it into a social business, is not primarily a technical challenge, but requires primarily an organizational transformation. In plain language, the way to social business is always interdisciplinary, integrating and calling for areas such as HR, Corporate Communications, Knowledge Management and of course the IT alike. In order to effectively get started with such a process of change, guidelines must be set "from the top". Top management needs to show prospects, in which direction the company will culturally change in the future, encourage this direction in all respects and provide the appropriate resources. The results of online testing for Social Readiness show that the ongoing Enterprise 2.0 and social collaboration projects in companies disregard this important aspect: Almost 70 percent of participants believe that the existing cultural conditions in their companies are less likely for a social business.

Such a cultural transformation does not happen overnight. It is an organic development over years, and it requires an overall manager, who takes the lead, who can make the visionary objectives of the management tangible, and who coordinates the communication between the participating departments. Contrary to the general assumption that the transformation to social business arises by "pressure from below", i.e. by the employees themselves, who are already used to the networked and collaborative work from the private environment, a "management-sponsoring" is the indispensable prerequisite for the further development of the corporate culture. It is not about the corporate management to invest more time in Blogs & Co. Rather, they must demand and promote social business throughout the period of change. The own participation often succeeds here without additional effort, e.g. the praise for the completion of the new production line is formulated not by email, but as an entry on the internal platform. In addition, it is up to management to match an individual social business strategy to the corporate goals and to draw up a roadmap for this purpose: Without these guidelines, leaders such as department managers cannot be sworn in on their specific objectives.

The reality today, however, is different. In practice, three different types of sponsors for social business are currently emerging:

The social objector

This is what happens in most cases: An Executive reads Gartner, has children, plays golf, exchanges in management circles and/or informs himself otherwise on the way of the world. He hears about this phenomenon called Facebook / Twitter or, perhaps even on the meta-level, Web 2.0 or Social Business. He then considers it either as nonsense ("It will pass"), as interesting but not so important ("that is a non-issue for us now"), important but not strategic ("we could do something"). The social objector will not profoundly deal with the opportunities and potentials that Social holds for his company, and lead the company into a wait and see position.

The social mediator 

The clever company management will recognize that digital-based collaboration and communication across departmental boundaries - which is, what we commonly refer to as a Social Business - could certainly be a good thing. And, as it is digital and "has to do with communication“, IT must to do something here, along with corporate communications. Although the social mediator recognizes the importance of the issue, he misunderstands it as a "technological" challenge and delegates it away. The company will therefore have new technical options available for the digital collaboration, however, the widespread use and significant effects of a social business will not arrive.

The social evangelist 

The above-average clever corporate management recognizes that these changes initiate a strategic change process, and instructs HR to manage this. Of course, in consultation with IT. The result: The social Evangelist sees the need for change, but misinterprets it as a typical change management process. He does not understand his own role in it. He fails the task to develop an individual vision of how the overall corporate objectives can be achieved through Social and how the strategic way to get there may look like. Although the social evangelist certainly initially appears as the most helpful sponsor type, this self-image is not enough in the short term and with business-related effects to lead the company towards social business. If there is a universal truth about social business, then it is this: It does not work without a long-term management perspective, which provides the framework for further interdisciplinary collaboration and which steers strategically and culturally. Everything else is delegating the actual task away, and is a social departmental-activism, that will cost the company a lot of time and money. Managers should ask themselves whether they seriously have active assistance for change towards Social Business on the management agenda. And project managers - whether in IT, HR or Corporate Communications - should consider whether they have planned sufficient measures for the integration of their sponsor. There are sufficient experiences and experts for it; so that the introduction of social business will be a success.