Twitter, cloud computing, virtual collaboration, telecommuting…what makes a social organization? It’s safe to skip that everyone is friendly or simply civil to one another. So that’s not it. According to Dan Schwabel, a social organization “applies social media and mass collaboration as strategic to new challenges and opportunities to rally communities of people and engage them to deliver business value.”

Tools, technology or something more?

With variable adoption of social media and technology that supports collaboration, creating a social business may be an anomaly rather than an emerging practice.   I was talking with someone at a networking event who works with businesses around the world who declared that nothing has changed and large corporations don’t consider the digital lifestyle to be significant.

So which is it?

In the Hay Group Leadership 2030 research, it is noted that “digital tools offer cheap, easy and fast communication, co-operation, organization and production, and workplaces are no longer tied to to bricks and mortar locations.” This seems to point to organizations having all the necessary ingredients to create a social business. But having the tools ready and waiting isn’t enough. As Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald pointed out in their HBR post, All Organizations Are Social, But Few Are Social Organizations, the way the business is organized (hierarchies, business processes, management styles) illuminates how connections are fostered.  In a previous #kaizenblog chat (Collaboration in a Multi-Cultural Environment), Ritu Raj defined “Collaboration… includes working together, brain storming, creating a common vision, bringing people on the same page or coordinating with each other to fulfill an objective; a mission where tasks are interdependent, or…that they are all cooperating.”

What if we left out the large corporations?

A client of mine often talks about his business as primarily a social construct that sells stuff.  This is a very different business mindset. If the person I spoke with at that networking event is right about large corporations simply ignoring social media and other collaborative technology, this is an opening for smaller, more agile companies to take advantage of. I keep thinking of Stephen Denny’s book, Killing Giants in which he talks about strategies that smaller competitors can use to bypass or beat larger companies to gain new customers and market share. Couple this with employees desiring greater work-life integration, meaning and purpose in their work, a social organization could be a model that promotes a different way of responding to business challenges and opportunities.

Try this scenario-the business owner/management notices that revenues are trending downwards and are wondering what is creating this situation. By collaborating with the very people who are in the field doing business development, customer service, customers and the in-house widget maker/service provider, information could be shared in real-time via documents (Google docs, document-sharing cloud apps) and conversation (in-person, virtual meetings via Skype, intranet chat networks, social media) to pinpoint the disruption, identify possible solutions, create a plan, take action and follow up with scheduled reviews.

Maybe nobody will be left out?

With the recent economic upheaval, the environment has changed quite a bit. It is much easier to build a strong regional, national or global presence with social media and other technologies. You don’t even need to be in the same building anymore to get your work done. On top of that, most of us are knowledge workers in one form or another. An interesting observation was made by Taleo Research, “To attract the best knowledge workers and keep them engaged, companies must constantly and aggressively evolve how they engage them with mobile, social networks and other digital tools. In this atmosphere of individual empowerment, companies that embody ‘old school’ top-down corporate structures and communication methods will grow increasingly irrelevant to the knowledge workers they value most.”

Research is pointing the way…is this what’s happening?

When you’re already involved in social media and using the digital tools, it is easy to say that everyone is doing it. This may not be true in all sectors. However, the ways business was conducted in the past are changing. I hear a lot of experienced business owners and leaders trying to determine the “right” path for their organization. It is possible that whoever is leading your organization (this may be you) may find that he/she will find the “right” path by collaborating with all levels of his/her organization rather than in high level meetings.

How are social organizations making their presence known currently?

What would an organizational chart look like if the business is a social organization?

How does creating a social business affect leadership styles?

What types of business models could be created from a social organization?

How would you describe the relationship between healthy revenues/profit & a social business model?

What tools/technologies do you see gaining prominence as social organizations become the norm?


*Consider yourself invited to discuss this topic of “Creating Social Businesses – Business of Now Or Future” on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, November 11th at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT so I hope you can join us. If not, please add your thoughts below.