During the 1990s, a recession gave rise to a series of popular belt-tightening management edicts that consultants vowed would bring our economy back from the brink by establishing predictable revenue streams and operational efficiencies. Management gurus such as Michael Hammer led the charge with his audacious howl writing in the Harvard Business Review, “Don’t automate! Obliterate!” and launched a multi-million dollar boom market in Business Process Engineering (BPR) consulting.
This call to arms was supplemented with behemoth ERP software installation and integration contracts. Other management disciplines such as TQM (Total Quality Management), Six Sigma, and Strategic Outsourcing spread like wildfire across the cloistered boardrooms of the Global 2000. It was a field day for management consultants and gurus, whose profits soared with each best-selling book they touted as the key to stabilizing and eventually improving business operations. At the time, there was a widely held belief that the software would make the company smarter, force a tight measure of control on business operations, and align the workforce to produce lock-step in a way that would eliminated surprises and churn out predictable earnings every quarter
The zeitgeist of that day is probably best illustrated by the off beat cult classic, “Office Space.” Masked in dark humor, the film touched a raw nerve that permeated throughout large organizations: fear, frustration, ennui, a powerlessness and emptiness that everyone was feeling. Job security vanished, job satisfaction plummeted, employees felt as if they were a cog with no voice and no intrinsic motivation to produce.
Essentially, the command and control mechanization demanded by these monolithic systems and management philosophies had stripped the workforce of its humanity — gone was the heart of the large enterprise and in its place, a large mechanical brain.
And that’s no way to live…or run a company.
What began in the late 90s with the dawn of the Internet age, however, has spawned a Renaissance for the corporate worker that’s just now beginning to expand throughout the Global 2000. The massive introduction of mobile platforms and devices into the enterprise, coupled with the revolution in social connectivity has spawned a kinder, gentler trend that’s liberating organizations by tapping into workforces’ innate sense of belonging, trust, and passion for doing great work. Where the 90s stripped the workforce of its humanity, this new era is celebrating it. And coincidentally, it is very good for business.
Welcome to the age of the connected workforce. Large social platforms, whether internal or external, are reintroducing what it means to be human again at work. The philosophies that drive this new era of employee productivity are the opposite of draconian. They’re generous, trusting, motivating, team building, honest and transparent. They’re breaking down heretofore vaulted power silos and binding corporate cultures by distributing institutional know-how and inspiring ad-hoc conversations on everything from Zombie movies to DNA-slicing. The planks of what is commonly referred to as “Enterprise 2.0” were born out of the tenets of the web 2.0 consumer movement. Resting on lofty ideals such as egalitarianism, authenticity, and trust, social network platforms are encouraging collaboration on a worldwide scale powered by curiosity, shared goals, and intellectual as well as financial rewards. Employees are discovering newfound freedoms at work, and it’s helping to increase job satisfaction and loyalty by leaps and bounds.
A report released by McKinsey in December 2010 touted the improvements businesses could experience by using Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise and has since become one of the main pieces of research cited by social business advocates. According to the study, businesses reported a 15% revenue increase in marketing and sales, 20% increased time available in R&D to market and innovate, and businesses also realized 15% increased speed to knowledge and experts in the HR & talent management sector.
Since that study’s release, further advancements have been made by companies already leveraging these tools and more companies are beginning to realize the potential benefits that can be realized as a result. For additional examples, I’d highly recommend taking a look at this comprehensive list of 101 social business ROI examples assembled by my colleague, Dachis Group’s Chief Strategy officer Peter Kim. In the meantime, though, let’s take a look at some businesses that have overhauled their corporate culture or are looking to do so in the near future.
The most progressive of the G2000 executive teams are going full bore with social initiatives. In one case, Alcatel-Lucent, one of the world’s leading telecommunications providers, addressed an internal communications issue with a personal blog penned by its President of the Americas. The blog received hundreds of comments, encompassing a broad spectrum of opinions on the topic in question, which the executive addressed directly in the encouragement of open, two-way dialogue. This mass, open conversation quickly diffused internal misconceptions on the issue at stake, successfully setting the record straight amongst employees. This open spirit is also reflected by the company’s global CEO who blogs regularly on Alcatel-Lucent’s internal social platform on topics close to his heart. His comments are always open and honest and, where necessary, critical as part of a dialogue of business improvement. Further, Alcatel-Lucent has incorporated global behavioral KPIs tied to advocacy work in its internal social platform for all employees.
Speaking at the Consumerization of IT (CITE) conference earlier this year in San Francisco, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s Bryce Williams recalled how social collaboration indoctrinated senior executives into the fruits of crowd-sourcing, co-creation and mass collaboration. An employee blogged internally about his frustration with one of the company’s age-old business processes, referencing published alternatives he’d discovered while leveraging some “innovation time” encouraged by his manager. The post initially spawned dozens of complaints and pile-on commentary, but eventually led to a constructive conversation about how to improve the process. Employees from the most senior to the least likely rank and file all collaborated to summarize the key themes of the conversation for escalation, resulting in a high level of satisfaction and buy-in from everyone involved. In short, the bottom-up employee voice was heard and openly acknowledged by the very top of the organization. Reflecting on the example during his CITE presentation, Williams offered, “It’s never been easier for the most innovative ideas and the most provocative questions to matter at all levels of the company. Lilly and its employees are realizing the benefits of “Working Out Loud.”
Lexmark International is a Lexington, KY based firm that has traditionally focused on printing solutions and services. As the company expands into new markets such as content management and business process management, it has begun to closely examine the benefits of overhauling the corporate culture to better align with and reinforce its business strategy. As this shift occurs, the company has had to ask itself several key questions, namely how to become more innovative and agile as new markets and opportunities emerge. Additionally, after acquiring five companies over a two year span, Lexmark faces another question – how best to bring aboard all of these companies and integrate them into the organization in a seamless fashion. Dennis Pearce, an Enterprise Knowledge Architect at Lexmark believes that leveraging enterprise 2.0 is at least one feasible approach.
“We see social business as essential to answering these questions,” said Pearce at Lexmark. “By giving all employees maximum visibility to information and activity taking place across the enterprise, we can generate the raw material for new ideas and the connections that will help us rapidly form the teams needed to take advantage of them.”
The social revolution is just getting underway in the corridors of power among the global elite, but the first shots in this battle are unleashing Fun rather than Fear. The new 21st Century management ethos is much more about liberating the workforce to create vast improvements in productivity, innovation, and agility. New leaderships books such as, “Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World” by Jamie Notter and Maggie Grant are replacing the 90s command and control canons on the executive bookshelf. The entire management philosophy of how to produce results is pivoting from a dependence on software to suppress creativity to software that unleashes it. The surge in mobile connectivity and external social sharing only accelerates this trend.
One manager of a leading manufacturer confided anonymously that that success lies somewhere between the old regime and the newer, more social approach. “Companies are realizing Six Sigma isn’t enough,” he said. “It’s time to balance the Quality yang with the Social yin.”