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Collaborating with co-workers and customers: Socialutions as a management strategy

We are, of course, social creatures, and many marketers understand that. Telecom companies have long encouraged us to connect with our friends & family (or Unity), call our network for free, and purchase family plans. Starbucks has built a business around a unique mixture of offline connections accessing online content "together." Many email newsletters have the "forward to a friend feature." And, a growing number of communities are using a mixed-use design that allows us to work, live and shop in one area.

We are naturally drawn to places where people we know congregate. As social networking sites have demonstrated, we go where our friends are, and we connect to people with whom we have something in common. So it’s pretty natural to think that managing an organization would include understanding the relationship dynamics of those who contribute in some way to the bottom line, right?

Not necessarily.

Many large organizations operate with a directed-association model. Departments are set up in hierarchical fashion, and we learn to work with or for people with whom we may never have come in contact but for our employment. Some enterprising organizations make attempts to capitalize on our personality styles, but how many try to capitalize on our networking styles? Do we examine the "fit" that new members to the team demonstrate in relation to those already established?

Not very often.

Caldwell, et. al., in studies of perceptions of "fit" found that as organizational change becomes the norm, adaptations by individuals is expected, though the ready embrace of change often eludes the observer. The change itself may be the variable, and many organizations are finding that change strategies should include possible reactions to change. So, if people initially deemed "a good fit" for the organization are suddenly experiencing major challenges, was the hiring process faulty?

Tomorrow’s employees are engaging in the social space now, and they are bringing this tradition to the workplace. They may adapt to the directed-association model, but they may also rebel. These are not members of the complacent generation(s) that took what they got and kept silent. These are the "kids" who have been asking why and what’s in it for me since they could talk.
So how do we incorporate them into our management strategies?

A recent example of the technology-enhanced ability to have everyone manage processes was described by Denis Pombriant in his look at Right90, which captures and tracks changes to the business forecast (all the things that can and should be forecasted in addition to revenue, so that a company can keep its supply chain informed of coming changes) in real time. With Right90, if a salesperson reports that a customer is doubling an order for 32-inch HDTVs, managers in sales and operations get alerted, and the full implications of the change in the forecast get thoroughly reviewed.

Pombriant observed that this kind of attention to detail gives every relevant person and department a seat at the table, and makes them accountable for bringing in the forecasted revenue in the forecasted product lines. Imagine this strategy being implemented in your organization!

Many small businesses have the idea of this kind of collaboration built in to their initial organizational cultures. Have you ever been to a diner where one person tells the other, "I’m going to the freezer, do you need anything?" The ensuing dialog is likely to result in an informal report of the number of a certain product remaining in stock, followed by a quickly calculated mental note by the person who orders these things. As the business grows, however, each position becomes more intense and focused, and it becomes decreasingly natural to see the operation as a system.

And that’s where the problem lies.

When all the participants in a system fail to see it as a system, each facet of the operation becomes disjointed. If not integrally connected, much additional effort is needed to catch up to at least temporarily unify the thought process for actions such as logistics, personnel, finance, and the like.

By implementing Socialutions as a management strategy, organizations can capitalize on the relationships and relationship connections of the people connected to them in some way. This naturally includes the employees and the organization’s leadership, and should include customers, clients, vendors, and others served by and serving the organization. These people all represent the company in some way, so why not acknowledge and try to affect the way they represent? As we engage The Relationship Economy, we need to find new ways to leverage technology to interact with people to solve real problems. Only those people, communities, and organizations who use this type of collaborative problem-solving model will emerge successfully. Those who choose to go it alone and use long-antiquated systems and applications will look back and wonder why they didn’t.

If these suggestions look familiar, perhaps you are seeing a similarity to team-building, which the social web appears to be well suited for. Team building in Asia has been part of the culture since long before W. Edwards Deming traveled to Japan to implement Quality (and plan-do-check-act) in the post-war rebuilding effort. Global team building has enjoyed mostly steady growth as organizations expand an a variety of travel opportunities contract. Socialutions as a management strategy requires using a group (team) of people (stakeholders) to be accountable for the process.

What do you think?

Caldwell, S.D., Herold, D.M. and Fedor, D. B. (2004). Toward an Understanding of the Relationships Among Organizational Change, Individual Differences, and Changes in Person-Environment Fit: A Cross-Level Study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(5), 868. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15506866

Pombriant, D. (2008, May 7). The Dawn of Social Networking 2.0., ECT News Network – Tech News World. Available at http://www.technewsworld.com/story/web20/62896.html?welcome=1210165490
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