Monday, August 11, 2014

The Argument for Social Business

There's currently quite a bit of buzz around the term Social Business - especially around HCM (Human Capital Management) so I thought I would address the term. I think what makes it a bit confusing is that the term is already used as defined by Muhammad Yunis in 2009 in his books "Creating a world without poverty - Social Business and the future of capitalism" and "Building Social Business -  The new kind of capitalism that serves humanity's most pressing needs." The books in general are about changing business prime-directives from maximizing profits to financial self-sustainment and re-investment. This is much different from the term Social Business used to describe a socialization trend happening in businesses that refers to the use of social tools in everyday business practices.

A better term might be "Collaborative Business" and in general refers to the use of some of those abstract constructs used in social networks but applied at the business level. Most of these constructs involve the "group think" concepts of shared posts, transparent threading of messages/emails/posts, the aggregation of interactivity across multiple tools and the community aspect of collaboration as embraced by businesses, at minimum internally and ultimately with external clients and experts. Ideally Social Business incorporates the various communities involved with the business and introduces a higher degree of interaction between the communities. The stress is on engagement and the result can be measurable depending on how things are defined (aligning the goals of the business with the efforts involved in sharing information). HCM has begun adopting some of these constructs, especially for internal communication but I believe to be effective these tools should be implemented beyond the enterprise - however it's still a good first step at implementation.

IBM has done a rather remarkable job introducing the concept into it's core communication - much of this came about through a corporate initiative to allow its employees to blog articles to help disseminate information which then lead to their hosting both internal and external blogs - this was followed up by the extension of the old Lotus Notes into the current Domino product. I recently attended a TAG Social Society event (and if you haven't joined TAG - the Technology Association of Georgia, then this single group may make it worth while) that had the topic What Will My Email Look Like “Tomorrow”? (it was actually a combined event of separate TAG groups but the presentations were mostly around Social Business). Louis Richardson from IBM was the keynote - he started out with the the quote "Email is where messages end up to die" and spoke about the relative waste of using email to communicate, especially between a group trying to get consensus on a decision - his example had 6 people in it who all had to copy the entire group every time a comment was made. By the time several people commented (and some copied as yet other interested parties) there were quite a few emails in total (I believe he said the average is 150 emails to make one decision). He then referenced the way Domino addresses the problem - I won't go into detail but if you're really interested you may want to look up the feature description.

I'm using the IBM and the TAG Social Society reference above to illustrate my point - there are many thinking about the future of communication and collaboration and how it will be addressed by business, especially enterprise business. Why all the interest? If you look at the demographics, particularly of the Millennials and post Millennials that are making their way into business, you'll understand that this latest generation interacts differently with information than most of the "gray hairs" currently controlling business. This new group is used to multitasking using a variety of electronic devices, combining messaging, video, text-in-email, social media - you name it and they use it, often all at once. It's been observed that the group in general has become "wired" differently in the way they think - with information coming into the funnel (so to speak) in multiple work streams. The biggest change is the way information is collated by multiple participants into threads (the advantage is that information is shared to a larger group without multiple posts like in the email example provided by L. Richardson above).

Think about being a Millennial and being used to this work stream way of thinking, then hitting the plodding methods traditionally (well, at least the last 20 years) used by business where email is king - I can imagine the frustration and lack of enablement - and this may explain why companies who have adopted a more collaborative way of communicating using social tools have become so successful - Google is a good example. It might also indicate why so much of the talent pool is moving towards these "hot" companies (yeah you get free lunches and you always hear about the company culture - but is that enough?). My theory is that if we don't provide a communicative atmosphere of collaborative tools we aren't just missing the boat, we're basically given a paddle and told to make the best of it.

That that end, I think that the beginnings of the solution has already been adopted by technology teams (they tend to be the first to adopt good ideas) in most software development shops through the use of collaboration tools like Campfire and github. Many of the tools and ceremonies have also been adopted by the Agile and scrum shops to improve team communication - and it works! so I've pitched the idea to those I know who facilitate the agile/scrum model. To further examine how Social Business might be implemented, I've created a new MeetUp group called Atlanta Social Business Product Management (yeah it's obnoxious but I couldn't think of anything that had more zing). Please join if you're interested.