Social business organization: elements of change

Since I started to write about social business and agile business, I’ve had some feedback (thank you Twitter) that said something on the line of “useful stuff – like to read more”. Lucky me – I’ve discovered I have a lot more to say. So much in fact that it’s never going to fit in one post.

In this post I’ll go into a bit of organization history and the present-day trends and I’ll tell you how I propose to deal with the topic of social business.

Business organization in theory

History is a wonderful thing so long as you don’t have to live it. If you don’t believe me, imagine life without toothpaste. But here’s the thing: we do live history. At least many of us do – we work in organizations that are too big for us. How’d that happen?

Social Business Organization - Elements of Change

What’s your view of change?

In any group of people it will soon be obvious that some people have different affinities and skills than others.

In larger-scale businesses (let’s say in the Industrial Age) it made perfect sense for successful, growing organizations to form teams and departments that could function relatively independently from each other.

In management literature the term ‘span of control’ is used for the number of people any manager (or whatever he/she is called) can manage effectively. Managers were given a group of people they could actually oversee, and the ‘managees’ didn’t have to deal with 200 colleagues every hour of the day – just people in their team, and their manager. In terms of organization theory that must have seemed very efficient.*

Unfortunately, these silos have some major drawbacks, like a lack of communication between teams and valuable information falling into a crack somewhere. We’ve learned over time to deal with the status quo by using work-arounds of every description and ignoring the bits we can’t solve.

But in our current, information-overloaded society these negative side-effects of the nature of our organizations are no longer something we can safely ignore. And we don’t have to.

Technology-driven changes and your business organization

Technology has reached a point where it can actually help overcome the age-old problem of working in an organization its ‘inhabitants’ and its customers can’t oversee. But these new ‘social’ solutions need a different mindset from all those involved. And at some point some CXO is going to have to decide to ditch some of the old structures, procedures and software to make way for the new social working method.

Most businesses stop short of that, settling instead for add-ons and plug-ins. The thing about plug-ins – as any self-hosted blogger will tell you – is that some of them make your blog run a whole lot slower…

My credentials as a social business or change management pro

Here goes:

  • Affinity with the subject: check
  • Any kind of topic-related study: started with an introduction on organization theory, been interested ever since.
  • Strategic role within a company: nope
  • Strategic change management experience: nope
  • IT implementation: yes, on the user side of the equation (functional requirements).

I basically know what doesn’t work, and I have some ideas about why something will or will not take off the way you’d like it to. Standard procedures for supporting or facilitating online collaboration on any level, of any description don’t lead to adoption by employees of its own accord. A lot of tech stuff has got so many handy options, giving it to your average employee is like handing a Swiss army knife to your granny and telling her to open the door with it. It won’t work in a hurry – unless your granny had an unusual career that is.

Elements of change: proposed subjects

There are many ways to start changing your business, and I’m sure every single one of them has its challenges. To increase my chances of writing sensible information about each aspect, and hopefully add some useful articles for further reading, I will deal with one view in each post:

  1. Bottom up – employees are changing. I’ve written a post that addresses some issues. How do you enhance and direct changes in your workforce?
  2. Top down – strategy talk. I’ll get into it when the time comes.
  3. Manager level – this is actually a part of larger organizations that should not be overlooked. It’s more interesting than it looks from the outside!
  4. Tying your teams together. Buzz has it that you should be tearing down the silos inside your organization. You’ve just read a paragraph or two in which I stated that those silos used to have a function. Like it or not, they’re hard to get rid of. The fact that most articles about social business are focused on marketing led to my writing my “Back to Front” post.

* Literature I’m loosely referring to in this post:

  • The organization classic: Mintzberg on Management
  • Steven van Belleghem: The Conversation Company (which I mentioned in an earlier post before reading it)
  • And there are any number of great titles out there that focus on the role of conversations within the confines of your organization, like Crucial Conversations and Conversations for Change.

The central issue I’d like to ponder is what it takes from all those involved to adapt to the changes which look set to turn your organization into a social business.

Do you have thoughts or must-read literature you’d like to share? How do you view your own organization – and your role in it – in light of the whole social business buzz?

Advertisements

Business dynamics: big data and social media are changing us

A few days ago I found an article titled: “Being Agile Is the New Paradigm for Marketing”. It could have been a quote from Dilbert’s manager, but (alas) no.

I’d run into the term ‘agile marketing’ before. Since it sounded like a possible trend I decided to dig just a little bit. In this post you’ll find the results of my amateur archaeology.

Dig into the subject of agile business

Trend: BYOS

A few points from the ‘agile marketing’ article:

  • “Agile” is a method from software development which basically means you’re more flexible than in traditional project management. (I’d say that shouldn’t be too hard, especially in IT projects.)
  • Recent changes in social media make it necessary for us to develop an agile business model. I mentioned a few of those changes in an earlier post.
  • We should become more flexible since rapid changes in technology can impact business to the extent that it, too needs to change – if it’s to survive.
  • This calls for changes to the business model. Everything seems to hinge on technology here.

Marketers are supposed to be able to spot trends and write about them, so it’s no surprise to find oodles of articles about marketing trends.

Is it just marketing going all hoity-toity about discovering what will turn out to be the next management fad? Just a silly question maybe 🙂 but let’s see if there’s a glimmering of an answer out there.

A glance at Twitter shows talk about the #hrtecheurope event (October 25th): Josh Bersin gives his audience a tour of, yes, #agilebusiness – and what it means for HR.

A few disruptive changes seen in technology and society are:

  1. Social media
  2. Big data
  3. My personal favorite: people have changed (as a result of access to social media and huge amounts of information)

Organizations need to adapt by becoming highly flexible, which means quick decisions supported by technology to deal with ‘big data’.

What it also means is yet another force pushing the organization towards more transparency and employees acting more independently.

Why is it important to involve HR when you follow up on this trend?

Consider these aspects:

  • Recruiters notice people coming in with different mindsets and assumptions.
  • The technological changes affect employers’ careers.
  • You need HR for talent development.
  • HR is reportedly at the bottom of present-day contributors to ‘agile business’.

There are plenty of reasons to take a good look at different parts of the organization to get an idea of what it would mean (and take) to turn them around.

I recently wrote a post on the case for turning a company into a social business starting at the ‘back’ rather than in the marketing department. If you want things to change it’s worth noting the people who are not immediately eager to get in on every new trend, but who are experts in their own line of activity and who will understand what you’re talking about because they see it happening every day.

In the case of ‘social’ that may be the people who answer the phone for your company. Regarding ‘agile’… introducing an extreme measure of flexibility influences (organization) psychology as well as the actual structure of the organization.

It’s worth noting at this point that Beverly Macy has recently written an article about [social enterprise] trends for 2013 saying:

The true social enterprise is so far beyond marketing, it isn’t even funny.

If marketing is the only department buying into the changes affecting your business, you’re going to be in big *pause* trouble (head down ;)) sooner than you think.

How can you find out if ‘agile’ is a viable option for (parts of) your company?

  1. Read up using the reading list at the bottom of this post. I’ve included two blogs about Josh’ presentation.
  2. Look around you and talk to a few people, and I can’t stress this enough, in different parts of your organization. Leave the tool and tech talk out. Instead, ask about changes in behavior. What have people noticed about others, about themselves, about customers? Have preferences shifted lately? How do they respond to what they see is happening? What major issues are lurking beneath the surface of ‘business as usual’?
  3. While you do all this, focus on being a good advisor. Ask, shut up, listen, watch, think, ask again. I’m serious about the shutting up bit 😉

I hope I’ve given you food for thought. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you know of more ‘must-reads’ please add those too!

+If you found this post of interest, please share it.

Reading list

HR tech’s blog about Josh Bersin’s presentatio: Building an agile workforce;

Lumesse’s blog about Josh’ presentation;

And Janice Diner’s blog: Being Agile Is the New Paradigm for Marketing

Also worth thinking about: Beverly Macy, The Top Four Trends Shaping Social Enterprise in 2013 on Huffington Post.

Background: the classic by Jeremy Rifkin, The Age Of Access.

Blogging impressions: how to improve the focus of every post

Just around the time I started to blog I found a post which didn’t sink in at the time I read it. However a few posts later I realized the value of this remark:

Don’t try to save the world in a single post.

(If you happen to recognize this quote please let me know and I’ll be sure to mention the author for inspiring me.)

When you start blogging you may have so much to share that you end up cramming too many (interrelated) subjects into one post.

Blogging Impressions 2: Add Focus to your writing

Add focus to your writing

By doing so you run a few risks at once:

  • You find yourself running out of subjects quite soon (or so it may seem);
  • You exhaust your readers by the sheer length of your post. If it’s a detailed “how to” step-by-step guide you’re excused – people love that like they love one-stop shopping!
  • Your post would have been better if you’d chopped it up into several posts so you could focus on one subject – rather than saying a little about a lot of different subjects.

How to improve your posts: quick fix

Suppose you find you’ve just written an incoherent, rambling post that offers a “sight-seeing tour of my favorite subject”. What can you do about it?

  1. Take a moment to identify subjects (or aspects of your main subject) that would be much happier in their own post. Sometimes a single paragraph contains enough information for a whole post. You’re not doing it justice by confining the subject to a single paragraph.
  2. Get rid of paragraphs that lead your reader off the main track. Move any paragraph which does not support your main statement or question into a separate space (note, document, draft). Leave it there for a few hours.
  3. Edit your original post. Make sure your recent pruning session doesn’t leave ugly marks in your text. Remove arguments that don’t make sense because the only reason you wrote them was to lead up to the subject that didn’t quite fit in…
  4. Then come back and see if the paragraph you took out has the potential to grow into a whole post once you’ve added water and proper soil.

New post: try to start writing by not writing

Approach every subject you’d like to tackle in your blog as though it’s a project. Here are a few steps that may help you.

Explore your subject. Your main aim is to find out what different aspects there are – some of which might lead you into opposite directions. You can try mindmapping, or just sitting and thinking if that suits you better. Find information on the internet if you think you have missed anything.

Select aspects to write about. Take one or two aspects you could write a nice, focused and ‘complete’ post about. Try to be clear on why you need to focus on your selected aspects today, and why other aspects can wait.

If you’ve chosen more than one aspect, determine what the connection between those aspects is: why and how do they fit into one post? If you can’t find an answer, putting them into the same post may be a mistake.

Then sit down and write.

Edit your new post. Are you happy with the result? Are there parts of your post that seem out of place? Check if those parts happen to belong to different aspects of your subject, which you resolved to write about at a later time.

Think of your blog as a book. You don’t need to write it in one day. You just need to know what the chapter you write today adds to your story line.

Simply knowing what each separate post is supposed to solve or add should give a sense of direction to your efforts. Good luck!

+ If you enjoyed this post, please share it.

How has this post helped you? What other methods do you use to improve your blogging?

A Day In Tweets: as seen from the Netherlands

Have you seen any infographics or other stats about Twitter usage lately? If you’re on Twitter or in the habit of reading blogs, or both, the answer is probably yes. Are any of these stats true? Again, the answer could be yes – but…

The truth is that Twitter usage (when, for what) has similarities no matter where you are. But there are some outside influences on why we do what we do when we do it

A day in tweets is not just about Twitter

Twitter usage through the day

  1. The timezone issue (certainly);
  2. Cultural differences (possibly);
  3. Corporate culture (no comment);
  4. Family life (if you value it).

I could start by giving you some theory on these three causes, but I think it’ll be more helpful if I just show you what I mean. What kind of tweets do I see on my screen during the day? For an overview I’ll stick to the homepage with ALL the tweets of all the accounts I follow.

A Dutch Twitter morning

7 AM. Pretty quiet. I’m offline, for one!

7.30-9 AM in the Netherlands. Dutch tweets start coming in. I ignore most of them – or read them for amusement during my commute (trains are wonderful things):

On my way to a workshop in Z. #excited (Dutch: #zinin)

Train 15 min. late. Why? Leaves are still on trees. #ns #fail

Stuck in traffic jam. 6 Miles of parked cars. #typical (Dutch: #hebikweer or #lekkerdan)

Of course people respond to some of these messages, and scheduled tweets from heavy users in other timezones roll in as well. This lasts throughout the morning.

Afternoon on Twitter

A bit after noon, my first scheduled tweet (if I have anything to share) is published. I may check up on Twitter around lunch time.

Somewhere around 2 PM Twitter starts to come alive…

… a storm is gathering…

3 PM

… Boom.

If I happen to have a Twitter tab open on my laptop, I will notice at some point after 3 PM that I have 47 new messages. Click to show them, scroll down a bit… the page shifts down an inch which means a new notification has appeared at the top of the page.In the past few seconds, 4, 6 or 11 new tweets have been sent.

My Twitter homepage explodes.

In fact I’ve watched my screen a couple of times at this time of day (a perfect coffee break moment) and I can confidently say I refresh the page at least every 30 seconds to view 20 new tweets every time. Mind you, I only follow about 400 accounts at the moment. So what does this mean?

This means the East coast of the US are awake. It’s now 9 AM over there.

It just so happens that I tweet mainly in English, and many of the people I follow are in the US.

What does it mean for the tweets I get?

  • Around 2 PM I may receive the odd tweet wishing me a “Good morning everyone!”
  • Then prescheduled tweets aimed at US Twitter users kick in.
  • From about 3 PM people who ‘do social media’ start sharing and retweeting new articles. I’m talking about social media marketeers, search engine optimization experts, business bloggers, and the like.
  • My ‘morning in the US’ scheduled tweet goes out (if I found anything useful earlier in the day).

Between 5 and 6 PM my trip home (if I’ve been at the office) by train gives me a chance to catch up with the news. Every now and then I’ll run into a website that just doesn’t get mobile. I skip those. Retweet, thank, add to buffer, look up Twitter handles or skip the exercise and just add the author’s name. This gets me through at least half an hour of my trip home.

6.15 PM depending what day it is, I’m either entertaining our son or cooking dinner. Combining either of those activities with checking tweets or news feeds on a phone is tricky. Spilled sweet pepper bits on my phone once (don’t ask how, I just did. I can be clumsy at times). This has made me more cautious. I may risk a quick update once everything is simmering quietly: after 6.30. My scheduled ‘US lunch time’ tweet is already out there.

9 PM at home, our little man is in his bed upstairs, I’m either on the couch with my phone and a book or at the table with my laptop to get some blogging done. It is 3 PM on the East coast now so people are apparently taking things easy, or it’s their job to be on social networks part of the time. On the West coast, it’s lunch time. People are chatting, following, retweeting and thanking one another. My last scheduled tweet goes out.

Around 10 PM I may have my last conversation of the evening, but for the sake of relaxation I may also turn off my phone completely before that. I don’t post at night, not even scheduled tweets. Tried it once but:

  1. The stats say people (in the US) retweet less after 3 PM so I’ve decided not to bother. If I get any reactions I won’t be able to reply anyway.
  2. Besides, I might confuse some people into believing I’m still online and purposely not responding. I’m pretty sure a few early unfollowers acted the way they did precisely for that reason!

If we’re all in the same timezone, this kind of thing may go unnoticed because we’re awake at roughly the same time, we have lunch some time around noon…

I hope you have enjoyed my Twitter sight-seeing trip!

How do timezones and the like affect your Twitter experience? Have you ever wondered why fellow ‘tweeps’ reacted differently from what you expected?

Twitter: 6 strategic tips for newcomers

I’ve been active on Twitter for a while now – though not long enough to have stopped being surprised (or somewhat dismayed) on a regular basis.

Great things about Twitter

Twitter provides an egg image for new users

Getting to know new people from across the globe – including people living quite close by, who remained unnoticed for a long time. Talking about things your relatives or friends may not be familiar with, or interested in because they relate to hobbies they don’t share or to your professional interests.

If you follow accounts with lots of links to interesting articles it is like having your intellectual equivalent of a bag full of sweets with you all day long. Even without searching, new stuff pops up. All you need to do is check out anything which looks interesting.

Surprises on Twitter

People expecting you to follow back within 24 hours. This came as a bit of a surprise to me. I mean what if you’re busy, or off for a holiday, or your spouse got angry because the best way to get you to talk to him/her would be to DM you on Twitter? Remember time zones.

People who don’t answer. I know some people have crazy numbers of followers but if you think talking to your followers is getting too ‘social’ then don’t follow back. Risk losing some followers. Or get some handy tool to help you stay social.

Clone accounts. Imagine checking a new follower’s bio and tweets, thinking ‘oh well, why not’ and following them back only to find some clone account following you the next day! I wrote a post about clone accounts earlier, and recently a similar thing happened to me.

Unfollowing and refollowing. I’m at a stage where I can still (just about) handle the number of new followers I get in a day and I check accounts regularly. I don’t like to see the same faces popping up several times among my new followers. If I don’t follow for some reason, tweet me a message if you think you can add to my (professional) life – show me you’re willing to talk to me. That adds value if your bio didn’t convince me!

Automated unfollows. I’m not kidding – it happened a couple of times before my very eyes. People who follow you because you might be interested in their products or services and who unfollow the second you press the follow button. I call that impolite. Only old-school, outbound marketers who want to be heard without having to listen do this. As I have only two ears myself (happy coincidence) I understand the problem of having a lot of people in your Twitter feed but hey, if you’re in marketing then it’s your job. Get your social media tool box out and go social.

#FF or #FollowFriday – apparently some people have decided to use their working hours on Friday to broaden their networks. They tweet #FF messages mentioning people they recommend you follow. I prefer the ones that state WHY these people are so interesting…

First steps strategy for Twitter newcomers

  1. If you’re not tweeting much yet, use lists to collect people you’d like to be followed by. Who goes into your list? Anyone with way more ‘followers’ than ‘following’. Let’s call them ‘influencers’. These are people who have plenty of others to talk with, and they need a reason to follow you (back). You can try to give them one by trying the next few tips.
  2. Get a profile picture. If you’re not comfortable with the idea, there are plenty of people who use a picture of part of their face, or a picture that shows them really small, or hazy, or dark. Whatever you do, it pays to ‘hatch’ from that egg.
  3. Write a bio that shows what sort of subjects you’re interested in.
  4. You can follow the ‘social’ people who are following more people than they have followers of their own.
  5. Retweet stuff from your influencers that you like. Quite a lot of people on Twitter will thank you for retweeting or mentioning their name (Twitter handle).
  6. If you have about the same number of followers as following, remember that others may interpret this as a sign you’ve an automated follow-back tool, and follow you in hopes of gaining more followers.
  7. Update: At some point someone will retweet an article you either wrote or discovered and shared, or mention you. My fellow blogger Daniel Sharkov (@DanielSharkov) has kindly pointed out that thanking people for sharing your stuff is definitely something you want to do. It may well lead to conversations and follows, but apart from that, people appreciate courtesy.

Looking back at my first Twitter adventures I would say the moment you decide to become active and therefore visible on Twitter, you need to be aware of what goes on around you. I hope I’ve given some idea of what you’re likely to encounter.

Did I miss anything major which you feel would really help people new to Twitter? If so, please add your tips in a comment to this post!