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The Myth of the Millennial Social Movement

7 05 2013

ImageHardly a day goes by without me hearing a senior executive at some major company cite the growing influence of the upcoming “Millennial Generation” as the reason for their foray into the enterprise social world. 

But I wonder if they’re missing a trick here – look at almost any study of who actually uses Social Media in the modern world – and you’ll see that the major users are not those born in 2000+ (who are yet to get into the workforce) – but rather you see an almost even split between those in the 25-34 age and those in the 35-44 range. 

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Compare that then with the average working age for most industries at late 30s-early 40s, and suddenly you come to the realization that most companies must have somewhere between 25-50% of their EXISTING workforce is already actively involved in the social world – and not just active in it – but actively leading it.  It’s almost like we’ve missed out on an entire “social generation” that is/should be the real driver of social technologies in the enterprise.

ImageAlthough there are plenty of reasons I can think of why Millennials and their ilk don’t use social to the same extent as older generations (age and access come to mind) – the rise of Social Media in our personal lives – driven by our desire to communicate with, interact with and influence our friends, relatives, and to gain access to information which has become available at an unprecedented level – has driven the familiarity and adoption of Social Media way ahead of the expected Millennial boom.

Some organizations already get this of course – I was recently talking to the CEO of a large retailer who shared by vision that social technologies are no longer a nice to have – but rather a must have for the modern enterprise.

We live in a strange period in time where for the first time in history, our personal technology use and sophistication actually outstrips that which we have available at the workplace. 

Your top employees go home and are afforded the ability to influence the world around them through online social tools like Facebook and LinkedIn – they can not only share information, find out what others are doing, work together virtually to achieve important personal projects (birthday parties, group travel, weddings, and more) and to rationalize and support the important decisions and purchases in their lives.

So isn’t it weird that we then employ these “personally powerful” people into our organizations and then don’t give them the tools to work as effectively as they can at home?

ImageIndeed, many organizations see the demand and desire from employees for social technologies and processes in the workplace to outrank the “traditional” fringe benefits that have been the focus of Silicon Valley HR orgs since the early 2000s – pool and ping pong tables and “chill out rooms” are making way for flexible working and the ability to feel deeply engaged at a value-level via social tools to the work of their company. Social technologies in reality are no longer a nice to have, but are very much a must have!  

Of course – this means wide ranging organizational changes for most companies. The Social world thrives on standards of high levels of transparency, engagement, and accountability that most organizations aren’t currently prepared for. In my mind, making these necessary changes will undoubtedly present themselves as the Change Management Challenge for the decade in most enterprises.

Do you see these at your org? – let me know! 

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The Next Evolution of Open Innovation – What’s Next?

20 04 2011

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This last week I was at the Marcus Evans Open Innovation Conference giving a presentation on “The Next Evolution of Openness” – Getting back on the speaking circuit finally gave me a little thinking time away from building a rapidly growing consulting practice at my new company Spigit and I wanted to share with you some of the key points of that talk over the next few blog posts.

Things change quickly in the Innovation world – and as I was writing the title of the presentation I was struggling whether the word “evolution” was quite the right one – maybe “Revolution” would’ve been a better word to use in the circumstances.

There’s supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse that goes along the lines of “May you live in interesting times” – and I don’t think that times get any more interesting than the business environment we currently find ourselves in.

We live in a time of massive change – both in terms of the size of changes we’re asked to take on, and the frequency with which change now happens.

The recent financial depression has had profound consequences on the businesses that survived. We’ve come out the other end to a world that demands greater accountability, greater participation, and greater transparency than ever before. We’re in the middle of a social revolution where the strength is slowly moving away from corporations and moving into to the hands of the consumer. Where power is moving from the Core of a company to its “Edges”.

As a result, businesses are waking up (rudely in some cases) to a new way of working, a new way of organizing, and a new brand of leadership. Innovation, as a corporate discipline is no different.

Indeed, if we look at the history of Innovation over the years, there are definite trends to be seen:

We started with the lone inventor, working alone to build an advantage that no one else could copy.

If one bright person could achieve an advantage, it didn’t take rocket science to realize that maybe we could put several bright people in the same room and multiply the effect – so we built R&D labs to take advantage of that.

R&D labs worked well, so we started wondering if anyone else in the company had useful input too – so we invented the suggestion box as a corporate tool.

The advent of technology brought with it the ability to ask a broader range of employees than ever before – reaching out across business silos and traditional geographic boundaries to grab ideas wherever they lay. We started putting effective processes around the use of the technology and Idea Management came about.

Innovation Management came along when we then figured out that ideas without execution were worthless – so we changed to focus on an end to end process that drove the ideas we were collecting all the way through a formal pipeline to execution and thus started creating an engine for creating new value for corporations.

Collaborative Innovation brought in the concept that people could add value even if they didn’t have an idea themselves. We started using leading edge social technologies to allow people to work together on building ideas together and driving new levels of value creation.

Open Innovation brought in the idea that the best ideas didn’t necessarily (and probably didn’t) reside solely within the corporate four walls.  So we started to look at sourcing ideas from anywhere and everywhere outside of our  own organizations.

We then reevaluated the innovation process – realizing what was really at the heart of our activities was a robust problem solving process and so collaborative problem solving became the big focus.

When we started considering Innovation as a problem solving process we also then realized that the applicability of what we were doing became broader – we could now push a flow of new ideas across the entire enterprise, building a cultural shift of not just reacting to, but actively driving massive continuous change at all times – We created Enterprise-wide Social Innovation.

So, what’s the next step I hear you ask? For me – it’s realizing that maybe even problems aren’t the right focus – that maybe, just maybe, we need to embrace the larger social revolution and realize that we’re on the brink of a new future for business as a whole.

That future sees companies using Innovation as the gateway drug on their route to incorporating broad level social feedback and input across every aspect of the enterprise.

That future sees us bringing in and co-creating with the masses to create the ultimate engagement model with would-be customers – that of a conspirator or co-owner in the very business they helped to create.

Maybe then, it’s not Innovation that should be Open – but rather Business as a whole.

If  we just follow the trends from the timeline above, we see that there has always been value in building our companies outwards. That there has always been value in continuously increasing the number of people in “the room”, in increasing the transparency of the organization, in pulling the outside in, and ultimately in the engaging, at scale, the broader world around us.

That the leaders amongst us are those who are continuously exploring the boundaries of their companies and learning how to embrace the fringes and edges to drive value at the core.  

Could this be the Open Business revolution at last?

I look forward to reading your thoughts 🙂





2011 – The Year of The Social Enterprise?

4 01 2011

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A New Year brings with it many opportunities – and we generally take advantage of the new start every year gives us to make numerous promises and resolutions for change in our life.

For me, Jan 1st 2011 saw me make promises to write more often, get fitter, achieve great things for my clients, and generally embrace what is sure to be a year of great changes for me.

However, another opportunity afforded by the New Year is the ability to look like a right royal fool, or alternatively a prescient visionary genius, by looking to the year ahead to predict what it will bring.

My track record at these predictions is not necessarily to be envied – although I don’t seem to usually be “completely wrong”, my timing seems to be somewhat off.

Had the predictions of my youth come true, we’d all be living in a Star-Trek like world of spaceships, teleportation, and holographic entertainment systems in every home. Heck, even more recent predictions of a global ubiquitous Internet connection seem to be off by several years at least.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to look to the future, and I’d like to think that with age comes a certain realism as to what’s possible in a year – so here goes this year’s effort.

I think 2011 is going to be an especially exciting year – especially if the one big prediction I have for this coming year ends up coming true – that we’re about to embark on a new era of unprecedented collaboration and social interaction, that we’re doing that with a renewed sense of discipline, all-inclusion, and transparency, that we are, in short – on the cusp of seeing the world’s first fully social business.

Companies embracing social is nothing new admittedly – indeed my own work has centered on helping companies to use social technologies to drive corporate strategies for over 15 years now.  So what’s different now?

For starters, I think this year sees companies finally take it seriously – as a corporate competence to be achieved and maintained, rather than a faddish concept to be played with in any of its prior incarnations (knowledge management, collaboration, social media, etc).  I see companies increasingly throwing away the intangible mantle of “social media” programs focused on improved interactions with the consumer – and instead looking for ways to integrate social technologies to produce some very tangibly sized profitable gains. Nothing moves a company to embrace a new way of working more than big profits.

I also think that Social Technology companies themselves have matured more – taking ownership of the need to provide companies with a tangible route to those big gains. The increasing differentiation within the current software market is proof of that as vendors realize that companies don’t (and can’t) buy general “Collaboration” or “Social” tools – because they simply can’t achieve anything (let alone everything) with them.  General collaboration platforms like Sharepoint and Jive will continue to exist – but will continue to become secondary to the applications, (like Spigit, Yammer and others), that are developed to run on top of them and will drive the real value of social tools to the organization.

2011 will see Innovation continue to be the “Gateway Drug” to Social Tool adoption in the enterprise – providing an easy route for large companies to value and monetize the global interaction of the “social populations” (employees, customers, vendors, strategic partners, shareholders, and more) at their disposal.

Once that value is established – I see companies starting to effectively inject “social input” into increasingly strategic parts of their business. We’re already starting to see the first variants of this emerging in Finance (eg Microfinancing), Manufacturing and Design (eg Crowdsourcing), HR (eg Employee Engagement initiatives), and even Management generally (eg Collaborative Decision Making).

All this leads me back to my initial prediction – the emergence of the first true Social Enterprise. That is, a company that has social input strategically injected into EVERY part of their organization. Where every business process includes elements of mass social interaction between people inside and/or outside the traditional company walls. A fully open business that is able to leverage a global knowledge resources pool in multiple ways to achieve its strategic goals.

Is that possible in 2011? It’s a bit of a stretch I admit – and more likely to happen at the start-up level rather than a large global enterprise at this stage – but I believe that even that’s coming in the longer run. In the words of Hamel and late C K Prahalad – companies will eventually be forced to redefine what their true “core competencies” are – and then outsource the rest. Although instead of outsourcing it to an emerging global economy because labor is cheaper, they’ll be outsourcing it to a global social population because the work, the solutions, and the results will simply be better than they can achieve on their own.

The winners in the next generation of businesses won’t be the companies that can come up with and produce the next winning product – but will be instead the companies that can rally the world around to do it for them.

That’s my big bet for 2011 – what’s yours?





6 Secrets to Corporate Authenticity

25 08 2010

[tweetmeme]“Authentic” is undoubtedly one of most echoed words in the Social World nowadays – applied especially liberally when explaining to companies the means by which they should be conveying themselves to the broader world in order to be heard.

The term seems seldom explained more than that, and yet the implications are deep.  It amuses me to no end that the word “authentic” has staged such an emergent come back into our vocabulary – not least of which when used to describe a media and communication form so recently embraced for its ability to allow people to engage in an almost schizophrenic array of multiple online personalities.

Ironic then, that in the current online world that we’ve created, where it’s so easy to be anyone or anything you can imagine, it’s never been so important to simply be yourself. That in a world of Avatars, Second Lives, and Virtual Worlds – we want to know that we’re communicating with real people who are being their real selves.

Maybe it’s a sign that the Social World is growing up – moving from a prior youthfulness happy to live in a world sporting fake Rolexes and toting counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags; to a decidedly a more mature mode preferring to spend their newfound wealth buying the real thing on 5th Avenue.

The formula for being “authentic” as an individual must surely be simple then: Be yourself, communicate from the heart and be consistent. But how do you achieve that in an enterprise setting?  How does a company made up of thousands of voices come across with the same effectiveness as one? Here are some guidelines for your internal “social champions” to follow:

1) and 2) “Know Who You Are and Live It” – Earlier this year I had the good fortune to go to the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston where Bert Jacobs, one of the founders of “Life is Good” was speaking. In his speech, he relayed the story of how the two brothers started their fledgling business on a street corner selling t-shirts and how they were able to translate that into the marketing empire that Life is Good is now.

During his session there was a comment – one that he repeated during his speech, and then signed along with his name on the Frisbee he flung into the audience and pinged me squarely on the forehead with (there was a ricochet involved from a nearby audience member – honest!).

The comment was “know who you are, and live it”. Now Bert’s no social media guru, nor is he making money from his insight (I believe he donates a lot of his speaking fees to charity – He’s a quiet, down to earth, and confident guy who’s simply figured out the secret to his success.

That secret has helped him translate a feeling, an emotion, and a mission from his heart to his products – and onwards to his customers.

This effect though is multiplied in the social world and the necessity to “know who you are” with ultimate certainty and to consistently live out those values in the social worlds is the real key to success for corporations in what has to be one of the ultimate brand challenges of the modern business world.

Why the “ultimate” brand challenge? Because the Social World has an incredible memory – infinite actually.

What you say, what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with is preserved along with people’s opinions of your actions from the moment it happens, until the end of time. Like an elephant on steroids, your image in the social world is established by your actions, and remembered forever.

If “Knowing Who You Are” is number 1) on the list of things companies must do – then “Live It” has to be number 2).  Consistency is a key element of authenticity  – people want to know that you not only “talk the talk”, but also “walk the walk”.  One communication effort can set an intention, but it takes consistency to set an image.

A positive Social Image is a fragile entity and is re-enforced or recast depending on your actions, engendering strong levels of customer loyalty and advocacy to those who get it right – and equally strong negative reactions to those who trip up on the path. Never mind women, hell hath no fury like a customer scorned in the social world – where one negative voice can sound like hundreds online.

The need for consistency in your actions is then further exaggerated in the current Google-centric world where information is omnipresent and easy to access. In this world, it’s not just your actions that matter, but those of everyone you associate with too.  Nestlé’s well publicized controversy regarding the source of Palm Oil  used in some of their confectionary is just one example of this in action.

3) Be Real – The Social World is made up of individuals – not corporations. Talk to them in the same formal way you approach your PR campaigns and you’ll find the same level of interest and disengagement you probably got from journalists when you sent them that Press Release announcing your new six sigma process (yaaawwwwnn).

Interactions with actual people and personalities are simply more “sticky” than formal corporate approaches. Whilst it’s important to institute guidelines and rules for those interactions, you should, whenever possible,  make sure that your company’s interactions come across as being made on a person-to-person basis and not on a corporate entity-to-whomever-will-listen basis.

4) Be Transparent – Part of the potential poisoned chalice that can be connecting to thousands of people is that you’ll find it very hard to hide information – so don’t bother doing so! Treat your social world as if they’re an integral part of your company. Let them know early when good news is underway, and apologize early when you screw up.  Open up to your community and they’ll reward you with understanding, forgiveness, and loyalty.

5) Cultivate Relationships, not Transactions – Treat the communities you interact with as if they were integral partners in your company’s success and not just simply a transaction source. Care about them, ensure they get value out of the relationship then have with you, and make sure the flow of information and value goes both ways.

6) Do it yourself – This last one is the simplest – you want to be yourself? You want to be “real”? You want to cultivate lasting relationships with your social community? Then do it yourself – don’t hire external partners to do it for you.

Partners have their role in all this – as teachers, thought leaders, and general resources – but you shouldn’t rely on them for execution – that’s just lazy, and in an age of transparency, it won’t take long for the social world to see through you.

Invest in the internal capabilities and expertise to drive and deliver value to and from your communities and the returns will be hundred-fold.

Got more tips on how to be Authentic? Share them below!








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