The use of social media and social networking tools is exploding outside, and more recently, inside the business world. A few years ago, many business leaders were wary of using social media and networking tools in their company – they couldn’t really see the applications. Generally, the feeling was that things like Facebook and Twitter were for socializing outside of work and keeping up with your group of personal friends. And blogging and Wikipedia were simply interesting and potentially useful external information sources.
It didn’t take long, however, for savvy business leaders to see that you could transfer the concept of connecting with your friends to connecting with your company’s “friends” – AKA customers! Once people made this leap, we started seeing Facebook fan pages for companies and began hearing about businesses using Twitter to connect in “real-time” with their customers. Some leading companies were even able to harness social media for innovative and profitable marketing campaigns; to drive customer traffic to their businesses; to dialogue with customers about new products that will meet their needs; and to respond to customer inquiries pro-actively and quickly. These are just some of the examples we have all heard about. The best part is that social media and social media tools allow companies to get really innovative about how they connect with their customers.
With this experience under our collective belts, the time is right for business leaders to take the next leap and think about how social media and networking tools can help them connect with their company’s “internal friends” – employees, business partners, and suppliers. More specifically, there is a huge opportunity for companies like yours to leverage these powerful tools to connect with the other key players in the equation that drives business success, and get them intimately involved in designing and implementing your organization’s strategy for success.
If you’re going to take the time to make investments in strategy creation, execution, and management and change the way your organization works to produce better business performance results and sustainable success, why not consider taking action to multiply your efforts? Let’s look at the four key ways that social media and social networking tools can do this for you and your company.
Supporting Better Strategy Communications
It isimpossible to execute your business strategy if your stakeholders, including your employees, business partners, and suppliers, don’t know about/understand it. Not surprisingly, this is where communication comes in. The first thing that always astounds me is that so many companies don’t have a cohesive, formalized, and adequately funded strategy communication plan. So if you don’t have one, you need one. A good strategy communication plan addresses the communications required before, during, and after your strategy launch. A clear plan for ongoing strategy communications is absolutely critical for strategy execution success – don’t assume that after you launch, everything will take care of itself. Ongoing communications keep your strategy vibrant and alive in the minds of your stakeholders.
When companies do have a strategy communication plan, the next problem I see is what I call a “flat” plan – one that includes few, and possibly dated, approaches to, and vehicles for, communication. Do your communications revolve primarily around emails, town hall meetings, and hidden updates on your intra and internet? If this describes your approach then it is almost guaranteed that you are sub-optimizing your investment in strategy communications. What you need is a better balance (i.e. in face to face versus electronic modes; in long and detailed versus short and quick communication methods; etc) – this is where social media tools come in.
If, for example, your favorite communication method is email you should think again. I know some people who easily get 150+ emails each and every day and I expect that it’s the same for your employees, suppliers, and business partners. No wonder communications via email never get to these people! Short, targeted messages that are prioritized and customized based on each audience’s information needs, sent via Twitter and/or by instant messaging, have greater impact and are more likely to get through to busy, distracted people.
Many people prefer to watch their information rather than read it. Posting short and informative videos on a YouTube-like platform can help get key messages across to your target audience better and faster. While face to face interaction is a critical must in strategy communications, town halls can be replaced with web conferences, Skype sessions, and online chats from time to time. These alternatives are particularly useful when time, distance, and availability to participate make face to face communications challenging.
I could go on but I think you get the idea. Leveraging social media tools, blending them thoughtfully with other communication vehicles, and using the best combination of communication modes and content to get your messages out will only serve to enhance the uptake and effectiveness of your strategy communication (and execution) efforts.
Creating Two-Way Dialogue and Building Employee Engagement
While effective one-way strategy communications are good, two-way communication and dialogue are even better! You know that you have really moved your strategy management efforts forward and that your strategy has become the “way we work” (a key goal for strategy execution success) when your employees, business partners, and suppliers are talking about your business strategy with you and with each other. Until now, there weren’t many effective ways of getting the conversation going. And while some organizations have been able to facilitate excellent conversations of this type in group meetings, many more meaningful strategy conversations go on between colleagues as sidebar conversations. Unfortunately, these never filter up and throughout the organization. Essentially, most strategy conversations that happen throughout an organization go unleveraged and most employees don’t get the opportunity to benefit from the great discussions that happen in group meetings they can’t attend.
Social media tools can play a critical role in (1) getting two-way dialogue going; and (2) getting more people aware of, and involved in, the conversations. For example, online groups, discussion forums, and chat rooms can facilitate more frequent and broader conversations about strategy and strategy execution between people from across your organization while also capturing these conversations in a format that can be shared, searched, and leveraged as part of a company’s strategic learning and strategy re-creation processes. Where appropriate, group discussion meetings can be broadcast over the web and/or video-taped so that non-attendees can either participate virtually in a discussion or benefit from seeing what others are thinking and saying about the business strategy and the opportunities for implementation and improvement (for example). These are just two ways that social media and networking tools can be used to facilitate better two-way, strategy-focused dialogue in, across, and beyond an organization. Best of all, these tools can both enhance the opportunities for employee, supplier, and business partner engagement with the business strategy AND build greater levels of employee engagement.
And why should you care about employee engagement? High levels of employee engagement have been routinely shown to translate into high levels of customer and stakeholder satisfaction and loyalty which, in turn, translates into strategy execution success and better business performance results.
Facilitating Learning and Knowledge Sharing
Let’s be honest. You never get your business strategy right the first time. Plus, things change – your external operating environment, your customers’ needs and expectations, and your internal capabilities. All of this means that your business strategy must be dynamic, agile, and flexible to change. How do you do this?
How do you capture the important changes that require a strategic response?
How do you funnel customer and operational insights, that could have a meaningful impact on your business strategy, into the strategy refinement process?
How do you share knowledge and information about what works best to execute your business strategy, including customer and operational best practices and imperatives, effectively across your organization and with suppliers and business partners? And how do you do this quickly when a key direction or strategic business priority has changed?
In most organizations, there is simply no easy way to do these things well. As a result, learnings never get passed along, insights never get shared widely, and opportunities to keep your business strategy relevant and effective in the current environment are lost. All of this costs money and slows down the progress of your business.
Social media and networking tools such as blogs, chat and discussion forums, document and site links, and wikis (a website whose users can add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser using a simplified “markup language” – thanks Wikipedia!) are just a few examples of tools that can help facilitate organizational learning and best practice sharing. Essentially, tools such as these can begin to FINALLY make the concept of knowledge management, as it relates to the essentials of your business strategy, a reality in your organization.
Making Collaboration and Innovation a Reality
If we all waited around for the CEO and senior executive team in any organization to come up with all the best ideas about strategic direction and strategy execution and improvement, businesses would move forward at a snail’s pace! Most successful companies know this and that is why they take action to harness the brainpower of the collective group (including employees, suppliers, and business partners) and get them thinking about, and working together on, meaningful ideas and initiatives that will transform the company strategically.
These companies have found ways to get collaboration and innovation going smoothly across their organization. And while they can and do form innovation teams, they also realize that great collaboration and innovation activities often happen organically – coming and going in a very dynamic way.
In order to remain responsive to the prospect of spontaneous collaboration, these organizations implement such tools as employee profiles, groups, chat rooms and discussion forums, and wikis to facilitate connections and make collaboration easy for everyone. When sanctioned innovative teams leverage these tools in their work as well, the result is optimized collaboration and the generation of new innovations that will move the organization, its business strategy, and performance results, forward in a positive way.
A Final Word on Social Media and Networking Tools
There is no doubt in my mind that companies that choose to leverage social media and networking tools to support their strategy execution and business performance management efforts will see a huge ROI on their investment. However, I must point out that there are some risks associated with social media tool use (a quick search on the topic on the internet yields numerous articles by lawyers on the risks and mitigation strategies organizations should think about when utilizing social media platforms in business). For example, security and privacy concerns related to using external platforms such as Facebook and YouTube should be considered. Also, questions exist about content ownership when using external platforms for business purposes.
However, the good news is that applications that provide secure and highly functional internal social networking platforms are now available (check out: www.igloosoftware.com).
I predict that this is just the beginning of a wave that will give early social media tool adopters a huge business advantage. I hope that you will consider catching this wave and riding it now in an effort to realize the benefits – super-charging your strategy execution and business performance management investments!