The Outcome of Social Business: An Adaptive Organization

The Outcome of Social Business: An Adaptive Organization
The Outcome of Social Business: An Adaptive Organization

I’ve made no bones about my struggles with the term “social business”. But we use it here at SideraWorks because, well, people have adopted it.

One problem, though, is that mainstream adoption of any terminology gives rise to lots of confusion about what it means.

Social business — at least how we define it – is about a lot more than social media being used in a business setting for customer service or engagement or marketing.

So we’ve been thinking about what social business means in practice.

In other words, what the heck are we trying to achieve with it anyway? Whether or not we call it “social business”, what does the end goal look like?

We know it’s about more than social media activities. Chances are a social business has some kind of social marketing strategy going on, but it’s hardly the sum total of becoming a social business.

The term “social” is confusing in itself, largely because of just that overlap. It’s difficult to distinguish social business from social media when they share a root terminology that can mean so many different things, from technology to activity to cultural intent to doing good in the community.

Here’s what we think.

Social business results in an adaptive organization.

Really, the overall goal of becoming a “social business” is to improve your organization to be more nimble, more openly communicative, and to adapt the way that you work to accommodate a changing generation of customers, employees, and partners.

The goal is to be the kind of company that values evolution and adaptation and is willing to make the cultural and operational investments it takes to do that on an ongoing basis.

The execution of that is going to look different for every organization. But the intent is the same.

Can “social” stuff aid in that? Sure.

To a large degree, the things that define social media or social networks are the catalyst for this shift. The openness and rapid connectivity of social have given rise to new expectations.

But you can most assuredly “do” a bunch of social stuff online by definition and still not make one small step toward adapting your business in any meaningful way.

What are these new expectations, and what do we mean “adapt”?

An adaptive organization knows and embraces these facts:

  1. Culture is the underpinning of any successful business, and it’s more important than ever to have a healthy one since it shines through in everything you do. And people talk about it.
  2. Customers need faster, real-time attention across lots of different communication channels and they’re not concerned with how your organization’s structure might get in the way of that.
  3. Employees want to contribute, to be empowered, to make decisions on the fly (and be accountable for them), and they want to work for a company that values their contribution as more than a job description. They’re also communicating differently than ever before in their personal lives, so they want to adapt those practices to their professional world.
  4. Partners, customers, and employees alike all work better together when they have access to better information and knowledge and can contribute toward building a healthier, more flexible system that better meets their needs.
  5. Technology is not the solution in itself. The human element of business has to come first, and technology exists to support that. Not the other way around.
  6. The pace of change isn’t slowing down. If anything, it’s accelerating. The companies best poised for a successful future are the ones that can shift direction nimbly, make decisions quickly, and take calculated risks in order to make the most of opportunities without getting mired in cumbersome processes or politics.

Why does this nitpicking matter?

On the one hand, maybe it’s important to banter about the semantics of a definition at a theoretical level. Heaven knows that the CRM, Enterprise 2.0 and Collaboration sectors have been doing it for years, though you could argue at length about whether that’s helped or hindered the causes.

What’s most important is giving whatever term you use meaning through actual application. In other words, if you can see how you’d culturally and operationally adjust your business to make it more adaptive, for example, then that is something you can actively put to work.

You can see what the end state looks like. You can start figuring out what you need to actively build and execute to support that goal. You can ask yourself contextually, all the time, what being more adaptive means to your company, and take concrete steps toward it.

You can do more than conceptualize. You can build it. Which means you can explain it, plan toward it, and get the all-important buy-in from leadership and practitioners alike.

Because they can see how it applies to them. They can say “We do this now, but we’d like to work toward doing more of this instead, and here’s a path to get us there.”

Business as a whole is changing. That’s an inevitability, and we need ways to distinguish between the businesses that will struggle, and the organizations that will learn to thrive with new demands, challenges, and opportunities.

So, when you hear me talk about social business, you’ll also hear me talk a lot about the intended outcome of that: being an adaptive organization. 

Because you can’t be a different organization unless you’re changing things at every level, from people to process, from culture to structure. Social business then becomes an ongoing effort to improve what you do in line with what your business ecosystem is asking of you.

And social media plans alone won’t get you there.


Amber is the president of SideraWorks, a culture and organizational transformation firm. She's also the best-selling author of the social business book The Now Revolution. You can find her on twitter at @ambercadabra.