Do your company’s culture and habits support your social business ambitions?2012-09-27
(c) Can Stock PhotoThe degree of skepticism that continues to influence the internal social media decisions in a lot of organizations isn’t surprising. When Prescient Digital Media and IABC studied social intranets last year, only 28% of executives thought their enterprise social media efforts were very good, and 35% thought they were outright lousy. Employees weren’t much different, with the same 28% rating them good and 31% shrugging them off as ineffective.
So a study released today by Appirio makes complete sense when it states that 45% of US and UK companies are still researching or testing social technologies and strategies in their organizations, and 13% call their companies “anti-social,” with zero investment or interest in bringing social media behind the firewall.
Whether the decision-makers in these companies know that McKinsey & Company sees the potential for productivity gains of 20-25% and up to $1.3 trillion in value from enterprise social media isn’t clear. Even Deloitte, in a recent report, acknowledged that “senior executives are skeptical of the value of social software.” The fact that Deloitte believes the skeptics will finish last—declaring that “companies can improve their business performance substantially by using social software”—business leaders just aren ‘t seeing the benefits in their own organizations.
During his keynote talk at the IABC Research Foundation’s luncheon in Chicago this past June, Francois Gossieaux put his finger on the problem when he said that companies are too focused on deployment of these technologies and not enough on adoption.
With the shift in conversation away from social media to social business, we’re being flooded with models and graphs that chart a path for organizations to follow as they try to become social enterprises (those, according to IBM, that embrace networks of people to create business value).
Becoming a social organization, however, means far more than employing the right technologies. Even employees who never touch a social network are part of a social organization, which not only leverages the technologies to add value but also avoids the kinds of gaffes that damage the company’s reputation when exposed by customers.
United Airlines is the latest to experience the wrath of the online community. Since supermodel Maggie Rizer accused United of killing her golden retriever, United has been the target of a number of attacks. Rizer’s post has attracted 524 comments, Twitter has exploded with coverage (including the provocative tweet shown here) and a Google News search of the keywords united and rizer produced 2,230 links to mainstream media coverage.
The excerpt of Rizer’s post pertinent to this discussion has to do with how an employee at the airport reacted to the distraught customer’s request to take custody of her pet’s body”
When we arrived in San Francisco to pick up our dogs we drove to the dark cargo terminal and on arrival in the hanger were told simply, ‘one of them is dead’ by the emotionless worker who seemed more interested in his text messages. It took thirty minutes for a supervisor to come to tell us, “it was the two year old.” Subsequently we requested that our dog be returned to us and were told that she had been delivered to a local vet for an autopsy. Whatever thread of trust remained between us and United broke and we then insisted that she be returned to us for our own autopsy by our trusted veterinarian…Over the next two hours the supervisor’s lie unraveled as it became clear that Bea was right behind a closed door the whole time and he had been discussing how to handle the potential liability with his boss who had left and sticking to the divert and stall tactic that they had been taught. Eventually Bea was returned and we drove her to the vet at midnight.
The first thought a lot of people had to United’s latest social disaster was that they should have learned their lesson from the United Breaks Guitars debacle. But learning a lesson and getting an entire organization to adopt new behaviors are entirely different things. All the technologies in the world won’t make an organization social, nor will strategic plans for implementing those technologies, if the culture won’t support it.
Organizational culture is simply defined as “the way things are done around here.” But culture is based on individual and organizational habits, the automatic responses to triggers that kick in without critical thinking. If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, lose weight or start exercising regularly, you know how hard it is to change a habit. Now apply the notion of habits to an entire organization and you start to get an idea of how difficult it is to change the way things are done around here. Habit formation is a type of procedural learning in which the basal ganglia play a key role (according to academics who have studied it). Nobody is born with habits, but once they’re imprinted, they become second-nature, requiring no analysis of the situation or decision making.
Culture change is no easy task; if it were, thousands of change-management consultants wouldn’t be driving luxury cars. Most change initiatives fail—70%, according to The Harvard Business Review. There are plenty of resources to suggest why this is the case, but in most cases the change roadmap does not provide a process that gets employees, departments and the entire organization to change its habits.
In United’s case, the formal response to the incident wasn’t too awful. The spokesperson acknowledged the grief associated with the loss of a pet and sounded human. The problem is that the damage was done long before an official spokesperson ever got involved. It was that cargo terminal employee whose behavior infuriated Rizer. The habit that kicked in was one of ass-covering rather than customer-pleasing. Had that employee been kind, sympathetic and up-front with Rizer, the situation, already terrible, might never have risen to the reputation-damaging level that it has.
That habit—the subconscious response to a triggering event—is deeply ingrained in the company’s culture. It’s the same dynamic that led employees to respond to Dave Carroll the way they did when his Taylor guitar was broken by baggage handlers. It has far less to do with individual accountability than it does with systemic organizational behaviors.
Organizations that have embraced social technologies well are, in most cases, those that already had cultures that supported the kind of open and transparent customer engagement at all levels that builds trust. The cargo terminal employee who encountered Rizer, on the other hand, is part of a culture that forms other habits that ultimately can undermine even the best technologies. After all, a cargo terminal worker is unlikely to be one of the employees engaged with customers on Twitter or Facebook.
Using social media is drop-dead easy compared to becoming a social enterprise. Engaging in social business involves every employee, including those who never touch a computer. Companies that don’t become social will lose (as Deloitte notes). Ultimately, that means we’ll see a lot of losers. Avoiding that fate means doing the hard work of getting your culture in order, not just your systems. Adoption goes beyond platforms and reaches into the very heart of your organization.