Sunday, February 24, 2013

Social business: The rights, responsibilities and cultural impact

Social collaboration platforms in the enterprise are giving employees more power and more perks. But in return, they’re going to have to be on their best behaviour.

social business culture-expertIP
Computers don’t collaborate — humans do — and it’s really company culture that will experience the most profound transformation as communication of every sort is funneled into a unified system.

With multiple channels open in a single place, employees with varying backgrounds, skillsets and quite simply, different personal preferences, will be able to choose how they collaborate.

This is a right that hasn’t existed for very long. In the not-so-distant past, we were limited to a telephone and a corporate e-mail system. But just as educators came to realize that students learn (and thus, achieve more) in different ways, enterprises have learned they need to give employees a larger toolbox of collaboration tools and let them pick their favourite.

Collaboration starts with a conversation, and the latter takes many forms in a social media platform: activity streams and forums, video conferencing, telephony and instant messaging, among others.  There are plenty of options here. But who is choosing what form of communication? That’s an important thing for a company to know.

Many have put it down to age: older workers are simply more comfortable with older technology, they say.
Not necessarily true, counters Alan Lepofsky, vice-president and principal analyst of collaboration software at Constellation Research Inc. In a recent Jan. 31 titled ‘Why Social? Why Now?’ he cautioned against such presumptions.

Companies can and should perform analytics on the use of their social business platform to gauge its appeal, a form of internal sentiment analysis, said Lepofsky.

Hear, hear. Empirical evidence easily trumps presumption, and analytics will tell you a lot more than that your millenials enjoy instant messaging while the old guard prefers phone calls. In fact, the results may surprise you.

Or you can always just talk to your employees. The low-tech approach still works surprisingly well. As Lepofsky put it, the key to a successful roll-out of a social media platform is “engagement.”
Engagement is listening to the people who work for you, asking them how they can be more productive and collaborative using social media, he added. But a healthy workplace is, once again, integral to the success of your strategy: “Does your culture promote creativity? Does your culture accept multiple viewpoints?” he asked his audience.

Along with this right to choose how to collaborate, or at least make their preferences known to higher-ups, employees should get the most personally relevant content through social platforms, Lepofsky said. He acknowledged the anxiety that can come from following activity streams every day, which are a backbone of the system.

To avoid the problem of information overload, which is bad for the business as well as the individual, the most relevant data should flow to the right people, he said. In doing so, the business gains agility. As for the hapless employee frantically monitoring daily activity streams, Lepofsky tells them not to sweat it too much.
“Don’t feel like you have to keep up. Choose a couple times [a day], dive in, find out what’s important. Don’t get overwhelmed, don’t get scared. If you miss something, it will bubble back up.”

Missing something? Bubbling back up? Sounds like it’s time to talk about responsibility, which I think is an important element of social business that gets overlooked. Having a single place through which all communications pass (and are recorded in some form or other) is going to make the new workplace far more transparent.

Everyone has a role to play in an enterprise, and social media will offer-real time information on how well they’re doing their job.

Case in point: one of the reasons hospitals (including the Ottawa Hospital here in Canada) are adopting social business platforms is because of the potentially lethal results of a page that goes unanswered, a face-to-face conversation that’s forgotten, or an e-mail that is dumped into a junk folder. One person can screw up, and another person can die.

A unified system of communication can not only prevent these disasters, but if something bad does happen, there won’t be any dispersion of responsibility. Going back along the social media chain, the hospital will find the broken link and act accordingly.

This is just one extreme example, but the same holds true for any large organization. Social business is going to keep us all honest.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Love Is in the Air at Work. What Can You Do?

You'll be hard-pressed to extinguish office romances. Here's how to ignore them (and why you want to).

Office Romance

What should you do if your employees fall in love with one another?

Most people have very strong views on this subject. Those who are opposed argue that romantic attachments disturb the equilibrium of the workplace, interfere with professionalism, and unnecessarily confuse work and pleasure. They are right about all of this, of course. Work-based romances do get complicated. But is work so important that you can expect those working for you to sacrifice their emotional well-being for it? If your vice president of sales fell in love with a cubicle neighbor, could you seriously contend that work must come first?

According to's annual romance-in-the-office survey, 39 percent of workers have dated a colleague and 30 percent of those got married. I'm just surprised the number is so low. We know that similar people (not opposites) attract. Statistically, you are highly likely to marry someone whose eyes, hair, height, body shape, and life experiences closely mirror your own. It's what psychologists call positive assortative mating, and all it means is that humans are drawn to people who are similar to themselves--those who make them feel comfortable and safe. Though straying out of that comfort zone may happen occasionally, such forays rarely end in matrimony.

Add to all that the fact that occupation choice says a huge amount about people: what they enjoy and value. As such, your employees are all highly likely to find they work alongside people who share their tastes and preferences. Who would be surprised that some of those people are attractive in other ways, too?
I met my first husband at work. I'm afraid we conformed to all the statistics: roughly the same everything, including initials. Dating while working in the same department was stressful because it felt so visible, because meetings were tremendously distracting. When we got married, we felt we had to invite the whole department. And when, years later, my husband died, I felt as though there was nowhere I could go that would not remind me of him.

But I wouldn't change a thing. There's no job or salary that would have dissuaded me from our relationship and denying it for the sake of work would have been preposterous. Our romance didn't undermine my work or lessen my commitment; if anything, just the opposite. I was so driven to prove that I wasn't merely lovelorn that I worked even harder than usual. After we got married, the one smart thing we did was to change departments. It was boring talking about work all the time, at the office and at home. But we were still devoted to the company and to our colleagues.

So if you find there are multiple valentines in your company this week, here is some free advice for them (and how you can help them handle it from a distance).

1. Try to keep the relationship private until it is secure.
You really don't want the ups and downs of the romance to be a matter for public discussion. According to the survey, 35 percent said they had to keep their relationship under wraps. The acid question is: How will you feel about work if the relationship peters out? If it would be embarrassing or awkward, keep quiet until you're more confident.

2. When at work, focus on work.
Nobody will object to the relationship if your professionalism is uninterrupted.

3. Don't lie.
Efforts to stay private can get complicated, but lying about the relationship causes a lot of bad feeling later.

4. Don't ever go out with the boss.
The power issues are too complicated. If he or she is the love of your life, change jobs now.

5. Don't forget the outside world.
Living, breathing, talking work all day and all night is tedious and makes you boring. When you get a love, don't forget also to get a life.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Selling Face-to-Face Is Almost Obsolete

The new salesperson is "plugged into" an industry rather than plodding from customer to customer.

Texting Addicts
Traditionally, business-to-business selling involves face-to-face conversations. However, "road warrior" is becoming increasingly rare in the business world, according to a study by Dr. James Oldroyd, the world's top researcher in the mathematics of selling.

His research recently revealed that corporate hiring for "outside" sales positions had leveled off at a measly .5 percent annual growth. By contrast, corporate hiring for "inside" sales positions was growing fifteen times faster!

Even salespeople who DO meet with customers face-to-face are doing so much less frequently than in the past. Oldroyd's study revealed that over two fifths of all customer conversations conducted by "outside" salespeople are done over the phone.

The shift away from face-to-face selling is driving many top firms to hire and cultivate people who can become subject matter experts and communicate with customers with a combination of email, phone, texting, social media, and web conferencing.

Oddly, the sales training world doesn't seem to have caught up with this trend. Probably 90 percent of the sales training courses available today assume that there will be  face-to-face meetings. The other 10 percent cover cold-calling.

Every day I get emails from business owners and salespeople who are struggling to adapt to this new way of selling. The problem is that they're attempting to use selling concepts and skills that are rapidly becoming obsolete.

If you read Sales Source regularly, you've probably noticed that I seldom post about sales situations that crutch on a face-to-face meeting (e.g. "having a great handshake" or "dress for success.") Now you know why.