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Impatience is a Virtue: What’s Next for Social Business


Guest post by Philip Sheldrake as a reply to Chris Heuer’s post, “Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next!”

As he finished a game of Cut The Rope on his iPhone, my young godson asked what my phone was like when I was his age. I broke it down for him. I was in my twenties before someone offered to take north of ten thousand dollars for a basic digital camera, and not much less for a GPS device. And I got my first basic mobile phone (I explained that means just making phone calls and sending text messages) as I approached thirty.

A few days later, as she dispatched her umpteenth snapchat of the morning, my niece asked me why I obviously enjoy what I do for a living. Imagine a whole lifetime, I replied, during which the only innovation was a tweak to the angle of the plow shear.

Scientists and engineers have been good to us. We’ve come to expect serious technological innovation with the regularity of the seasons. So, just like Chris Heuer, I’m more than ready for corresponding organizational change.


As in right now!

Having reflected briefly on the vast progression of the Internet and the web, computing, mobile infrastructure and social media services – as if you needed a reminder – let’s look at what’s changed at the typical organization during this time, my adult lifetime. Or more pertinently what hasn’t.

The org structure and the titles sitting round the board table today are very much unchanged from two decades ago but for the addition of a c-title with an ‘I’ in the middle.

Indeed, it was twenty years ago that integrated marketing communications first emerged championing a customer-centric outlook to replace inward-looking habits. And two decades later, customer-centricity may be a new religion by diktat but not in practice. From my observations, the truly, fully, consistently, customer-centric organization remains in the minority. Under scrutiny, many claims of customer-centricity turn out to be little more than the prioritization of an organization-centric view of the customer, and many advocates of social business still feel compelled for this reason to list customer-centricity as a core social business behavior.

So how is it that social, mobile and related technologies can be adopted en masse and rapidly for our lives outside work, transforming how we express ourselves, maintain relationships and get on with our lives, yet organizational life remain so intransigent?

I believe the answer is relatively simple. Design.

The tectonic forces of the 20th Century led us to design organizations that resist change. Such entities excel at efficiency, at repetition, with varying facility to adopt incremental, evolutionary tweaks to the way things are. There was no facility to recognize the complexities of the marketplace and operations let alone deal with them. So the design worked well enough, particularly when the competition was designed similarly. It competed and survived to this present day by searching for ways to make things a few percent better with a few percent less resources.

Microsoft Yammer co-founder and CTO, Adam Pisoni, writes: “Our modern ‘scientific management’ corporations remained competitive by optimizing for efficiency, a result accomplished through greater specialization and driven by overlaying process and rigid structure across the business. In this way, we arrived at the cornerstone of the modern company – predictability. Success was built around predictable costs, revenues, customers, and employees. Inherent in the notion of predictability is a sense of control. For corporations, it seemed that harnessing this control while setting and meeting expectations would keep them on top forever.”

Yet what served us very well for the best part of a century now frustrates and disappoints us. Reifying the organization as more than the sum of its human parts for the moment, we have created a monster that won’t be tamed for the 21st Century. In actual fact, it is doing precisely what we trained it to do.

How can we break this deadlock? Here’s Chris’ advice: “While Stowe Boyd still remains an ardent supporter of the impact and power of social in the enterprise as he notes in this GigaOm post citing McKinsey’s Social Economy report, I think it’s just time for us to find a phrase that is more attractive to corporate leadership.”

Now I’m a keen student of persuasion and the power of language, but really? Will the monster cower and roll over for its tummy to be tickled upon the simple incantation of a new turn of phrase? If I didn’t know Chris was sincere the title of his blog post could be interpreted as little more than linkbait.

In Stowe’s response to Chris’ post, he reasserts this point of view: “One of the toolsets to apply in this quest for the fast-and-loose business are ideas about working socially and tools to support that. However, the greatest advances are likely to be more closely linked to fundamentals of organizational culture, and the relationship of the individual to work and the organization, rather than a social business breakthrough, per se.”

In other words, social business was never just about social media, despite many twitterings treating #socbiz and #socmed as synonyms. It’s about people being able to behave differently as a result of new technologies, indeed wanting to behave differently, centered around common purpose and shared values.

If you share my optimism and assume we’ll get somewhere called social business at some point, then there are only two ways this can happen. One. We change the monster. Two. The monster is killed off by new creations built as social business from scratch.

The latter will happen, is happening. But like Chris, Adam, Stowe and Brian, I’m impatient. I want to see many long-established organizations transform. And if not now, then most definitely this decade.

The only way I can see that happening is by tapping the monster’s own strength, using its strength against it rather than directly opposing it, a technique anyone skilled in jujitsu will recognize. In The Business of Influence (Wiley, 2011) and Attenzi – a social business story (2013), I determined that the appropriate strength to channel is performance management. If people (individually and collectively) perform as they are measured – as indeed Chris points out in his post in relation to senior executive remuneration – and if we wish the organization to behave differently, then we need to infect that performance measurement appropriately.

I suggest we do that by extending the organization’s capabilities for performance managing the flows of money, the flows of time, and the flows of material, to tracking, analysing and understanding the flows of influence.

Whether the eventuality is called social business or some future neologism I couldn’t really care less. What’s considerably more important is the simple fact that people designed organizations. And we can redesign them.

For data on the evolution of social business, please read Brian Solis’ most recent report, “The State of Social Business Evolution 2013

Image Credit: Shutterstock

25 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Impatience is a Virtue: What’s Next for Social Business”

  1. Kerry Martin says:

    I’m a huge fan. I love not only the way you write but find your insight is always right on. Yet again another terrific blog post … I’m impatient too. Albeit I’m impatient for more “social businesses” to realize that if we’re to organize businesses around core values, we need to organize to also support what is today non-business core values such as helping to heal our plant and helping to save our children from lives of poverty and despair. If more businesses looked past their own bottom lines and looking into their hearts not their wallets, and learned how to prosper with a cause, the world would be a much better place. Will I see this transformation in my lifetime? So it’s the norm the rarity? I am hopeful.

    • Philip Sheldrake says:

      Thanks Kerry, although I interpret your compliments as directed to Brian!

      I think the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) will be redundant according to the way I like to define social business. To me, whereas CSR is typically bolted on, a societal purpose and role is built into a social business.

      Often, such sentiment is interpreted by hardcore capitalists as poor business and, as they consider business’ sole role to be creating shareholder value, this being sufficient to fulfil its part in the wider scheme of things, any distraction from this purpose is sub-optimal.

      I consider this simple thinking. Dogma. It doesn’t reflect how the real world is or how for-profit entities must shape their role accordingly. I tried to convey this throughout the Attenzi story, and specifically chapters 45 and 50 (they’re short chapters!)

      Love to learn what you make of the story.

    • Kerry Martin says:

      Hi Phillip. I’ve added to my reading list 🙂
      While I’m a cause-marketing consultant, so am very much engaged in the CSR and social business space, I myself decided the best route for me was to set up a CA Benefits Corp and underneath that I have 3 DBAs, Apical Marketing Consulting which donates 100% of profits to my nonprofit Hope Xchange and also a 3rd entity called Give a Crape which cross-pollinates Apical and Hope Xchange and collaborates with the wine industry to raise awareness about bipolar and about Hope Xchange and our 3 first-of-its-kind programs. For me being a B-corp is really functioning as a social business. I also believe in practicing good karma SM and I give back a lot b/c I’m trying to do something with my life that will outlast it. No I’m not a saint my any means but I’m 47 and I realize that in my latter years of my career, this is what feels right for me. Not right for everyone to be sure, but right for me.
      I look forward to reading your links. Cheers mate.

  2. jon_mitchell_jackson says:

    Philip- Spot on. Really enjoyed the article! Slightly expanding one of your thoughts… I think this relates to not just “social” but all businesses. As a result of new technologies and related views, it’s also about businesses wanting to connect and behaving differently while engaging their customers and clients based upon shared values and common principles. I envision a day where each new client of my law firm is handed a personalized Google Glass already linked to
    their 24/7 cloud portal offering real-time communications and connections, resources and services. BTW, glad my Glass arrived today. Picking a jury with it in two weeks 🙂

    • Philip Sheldrake says:

      Thanks Jon. Looks like we’re totally aligned. In my opinion, ‘anti-social’ business cannot compete in the long run.

  3. Thanks for this Philip. We’re actually following up on Chris Heuer’s post – and the webinar with did with you a few months back – with a webinar titled “Is the social business gold rush over?”. It’s happening here tomorrow: I hope you can tune in and joust with our panelists 🙂

  4. Kristen Williams says:

    I agree with you. In the future, I think that social business will be a huge part of business, but that it will change greatly. We have to find a way to better measure it and stop seeing it as how many likes we get on a Facebook post. I know that in many business, very few resources are allocated to social business because the business itself is so set in their ways and don’t want or feel the need to change. Hopefully in the future, they can see the value of social business and see how much it can grow and what it has the potential to become. As I enter the business world I look forward to seeing that change take place and hopefully being a part of it.

    Kristen Williams

  5. 4chrisheuer says:

    To suggest that social business is about measuring the flow of influence as you put forward in your closing lines is indeed conflating social business with social media.

    You may feel this is an unfair reading of your post, but no more unfair then for you to characterize my 3400+ word call to action as being merely about changing the words we use. Perhaps you didn’t have time to read to the end, so let me provide it here so that my position is clear.

    The last 2 paragraphs of “Social Business is Dead, Long Live What’s Next”:

    “So while some of us are getting ready to attend the funeral for Social Business, many are pushing onward to what’s next. Whatever we end up calling it is not the important thing. What really matters is freeing every human asset to be free of fear, uncertainty and doubt so they may achieve their greatest potential in life and in work. A connected society is a better society, with mutual benefit from our interdependence making the world more tolerant, more livable and more prosperous.

    Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is not to get caught up in the words, but to connect with each other and figure out how to re-imagine our broken corporations and set about trying to fix them. Fail fast, fail often and find the greatest success possible. After all, it can’t be a worse failure then the current state of affairs, so why accept the status quo when you can be the change you want to see in the world?”

    Apologies if this seems rude or curt, but I am growing weary of all the people who read my headline and don’t read the whole of the post, as much as I am growing tired of those who choose to take away my statements about the failings of the phrase to resonate with decision makers as the only thing I said. To in effect take a very deep treatise on a holistic vision for fixing our organizational dynamics and boiling it down to just one aspect, the ineffective marketing and memeology, is wantonly misleading the readers of this post.

    I would counter your attempts to position me as a linkbaiter with a mirror for you to look at yourself. Of course, you didn’t make that accusation directly, but did so through inference and proximity.

    • Philip Sheldrake says:

      Hi Chris,

      I guess social business is in the eye of the beholder. The definition I work to includes the qualities you hope for in its successor, I think.

      Critically, it appears that there is a wide variety of definitions, and I often think they can be placed on a timeline, with some sort of further out there so to speak than others. So you must appreciate that your assertion that it’s dead appears to assassinate any and all corresponding definitions, not just the one you work with.

      I don’t think you rude or curt at all btw. On reflection, I should have edited out the line referring to linkbait – I do in fact consider you sincere but I can see how the inference may be read otherwise. It was my error of judgement, so please accept my apologies in this respect.

      However, notwithstanding, perhaps you’ll agree following the wider interpretation you refer to here that the title casts an unwanted shadow over the main body of text. I did indeed read the entire blog post – to do otherwise would be unprofessional when penning a reply – and I did quote you verbatim in my response.

      Perhaps we are divided by nothing more than semantics, in which case we should be united not divided, especially when we remain the minority. I hope I can buy you a beverage of your choosing sooner than later. I would relish the time to explain the influence flows model and Influence Scorecard performance framework for redesigning organizations and learning what you make of it.

      Best wishes, Philip.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Thanks for the clarification, and I do agree with Justin Kriby that most people are in general agreement about this. However, I must point out that I mean it sincerely as I stated that its not the deeper meaning or concept that is dead, but the language itself has which been misappropriated and misunderstood and mispropagated, while simultaneously rejected by corporate leadership – show me just a handful of major corporations who have an 8 figure line item for ‘social business’ and I will be glad to acknowledge that I may perhaps be wrong.

      No instead, as I stated, the success of the concept is spikey, happening in various corners of the organization to improve marketing (engaging the market to appropriate flows of influence through relationships), to connect employees for knowledge/expertise (flows of information through relationships and context) and to change the way we collaborate (flows of activity perhaps?).

      As a friend and proponent for John Hagel and John Seely Brown’s work around “Power of Pull” and other emergent concepts, I have personally been looking at this as flows of trust and value for a long time (see my Market Engagement Optimization post or REAL Relationships). But the use of the word influence has taken on a particular meaning and that is primarily in the context of social media and marketing. I could perhaps see how you might look at the social network inside an organization and seek to tap into the flows of influence for GTD, but this is not the commonly held understanding and certainly it isn’t the one thing that defines a social business that should be measured as this piece suggests.

      Regardless, my point was that it is unfair and inaccurate to boil down someones view of a concept as complex as what was being described under the banner of social business as being any one thing – even to do so as I have done above with regards to your position on the flow of influence being the essence. I am sure you have more in mind, but your piece says to only do this one thing, to measure the flow of influence and presumably you become a social business. Now I flatly disagree with this and I suspect others do as well but most choose to avoid conflict (and particularly find it difficult to have respectful disagreement). But I do also know and try to provide that you likely find it to be much larger then this one statement yourself.

      Happy to have a drink anytime to discuss further.

  6. Matthew Partovi says:

    Speaking of performance management: Microsoft Abandons ‘Stack Ranking’ of Employees – Software Giant Will End Controversial Practice of Forcing Managers to Designate Stars, Underperformers

  7. Leon Benjamin says:

    Doc Searls got it right a few years ago with:

    “Think of markets as three overlapping circles: Transaction, Conversation and Relationship. Our financial system is Transaction run amok. Metastasized. Optimized at all costs. Impoverished in the Conversation department, and dismissive of Relationship entirely. We’ve been systematically eliminating Relationship for decades, excluding, devaluing and controlling human interaction wherever possible, to maximize efficiency and mechanization.”

    That’s why what counts is not only what leaders do and how they do it, but the inner place from which they operate.

    It doesn’t take that many people to change a company and that’s why we need antibodies in the organisation; some peaceful idea that binds to our “imperialistic, command-and-control receptors”. Because we can all agree that this King of the Mountain approach has got to go; a lucky few get to spend a bit of time on top, but everybody spends most of their existence getting p****** on from a great height. So why do we continue doing it because it’s killing the planet?

    • Philip Sheldrake says:

      No need to be ambiguous Leon 😉

      It’s funny that you should employ the word antibodies, as the very same word came up in conversation with Stowe Boyd in relation to my post here. We were looking at it from the other side of the coin, if that’s not mixing my metaphors too badly.

      We were saying that to change the monster we must avoid triggering its antibodies, the traits and mechanisms that slap down anything that looks too revolutionary, particularly when it threatens to impact rather important things like structure, culture, process and policy. Hence, the focus on co-opting one of the monster’s key strengths – performance management.

      BTW, how lucky can those at the top be when they still have to live in the same world as the rest of us and interact with other entities run just the same way? Luckier, I grant you, but not as lucky as we might all be if we can (re)focus on the human domain.

  8. Louise McGregor says:

    Agree – and we fall into the trap again and again that a tool will drive change.

    Tools can support change but more thought needs to be put into what are the desired changes and how an organisational structure (or “un-structure”) could reflect that.

    It’s really hard to break the status quo.

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