Op-Ed: Has ‘Social Business’ Failed Us? #Socbiz

Social business has not struck the right chord with leaders. The movement has failed to earn their faith, trust and budgets in a significant way.

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When I heard Marc Benioff, founder, chairman and CEO of cloud computing company salesforce.com, was giving up on pursuit of social enterprise as the focus of Salesforce’s marketing, I  remarked to my Deloitte colleagues that “social business has won the day.”

I felt vindicated after being an early proponent advocating for organizations to become Social Businesses. Six months after leaving Deloitte to start a social business consulting network and now a social business SaaS company, I find myself eating my words, though we are only changing the positioning, not the actual services or software concept.

Through my conversations with colleagues and executives at large enterprises, the words “social business” have not struck the right chord with leaders. The movement has failed to earn their faith, trust and budgets in a significant way. While the ideas behind the moniker are invaluable in defining the future of work, most companies simply aren’t buying into or investing in “social business” efforts in more than a piecemeal sort of way.


Is ‘Social Business’ Fading Away?

Despite having a legion of analysts and advocates connected by and promoting the #socbiz hashtag, I believe it is time to proclaim that “social business” is dead, or at least dying before our very eyes. I am not alone in this position. In fact, while arguing that social business isn’t dead earlier this year, a friend and well-regarded analyst, Michael Fauscette, in effect reaches a very similar conclusion.

Others remain ardent supporters of the impact and power of social in the enterprise citing McKinsey’s Social Economy report. However, I think it’s time to find a phrase that is more attractive to leadership.

It’s not that the ideas are losing or that the goals are without merit, they are. The problem is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on leaders who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit.

To them, it’s about what someone ate for lunch. Or it’s that thing teenagers do to ignore them at the dinner table. Despite the Arab Spring, the customer revolution and an increasingly connected society which turns to Twitter with every earthquake or news event, the idea of being a “social business: has failed to break through the “care barrier” in most C-Suites.

Indeed, as I have heard from many executives, they “have people for that”. They have yet to see the bigger opportunity to seize competitive advantage or the risk to their business. It’s as if they were frogs being put into a pot of cold water being slowly brought to a boil. It’s not so painful that they need to make a massive investment to transform their organizations. They continue to make money and operate as they always have. That is the problem. The old model of organizational design and profit making is obsolete, but it hasn’t completely or visibly failed for those in charge.


Will the Real ‘Social Business’ Please Stand Up?

If you talk to the Humans-who-are-called-Resources however, you would learn that corporations failed them long ago. Often, leadership fails to see it; instead they manage by spreadsheet. The cells holding numbers serving as lenses into their world, unaware that they are merely shadows of the true reality cast on cave walls.

In a world that is driven by leaders seeking to create, get ahead of, or respond to market trends and the latest buzz, social business has never really broken free. Whenever asked to name an exemplar of a great social business, or someone doing it well, most struggle.

“No one is completely there yet.” “Most businesses are seeing a spiky success, great in one area and lacking in others.” Kind of hard to build a movement of world changing proportions without a poster child.

Social Business is about being more social, more connected, more human and so much more. By being more connected and transparent, we increase the flow of information inside and across the organization.

By being more authentic and empathetic, we can increase trust with peers and clients. For the acolytes, becoming a social business is about the future of business, and how great everything could be if we fixed what’s wrong with the status quo. For others, who don’t have a clear view of what a successful social business looks like, its just another management fad that never sees the light of day past the marketing department.


A Better Way of ‘Social’ Business

Market leaders of the 21st century will need to focus on modernizing talent management, operational systems and organizational models for a fully connected society, where the social physics are fundamentally different than the one we lived in just over a decade ago.

It starts with treating all people, especially those on the lowest rungs of the ladder, with dignity and respect. It requires new systems of processed and technologies that are logical, sensible and fault tolerant. It requires leaders to govern their businesses much more transparently; to earn the trust of all stakeholders.

This is compounded by a need for business owners to be more agile, so that they may respond in real-time to both opportunities and threats, and to empower employees to serve as authentic ambassadors of their brands in both situations.

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