I had planned to respond to Maz Iqbal’s post  Social Business: snake oil or great medicine?  to agree it's not the software that makes you a social business but argue that social software can help an organisation evolve a more participative style.

Then I noticed an article by IBM's General Manager of Social Business, Alistair Rennie, who makes these points in Social Business Myths Debunked  published in the Financial Times (you will have to register, but it's free).

Key Points

  • Social Business practices have a clear ROI (see The Dachis Group: 101 Examples of Social Business ROI)
  • Social Business is NOT a new idea, business is inherently a social discipline. Social software allows us to broaden and extend this.
  • Social business NOT just an IT project. Social business requires vision, leadership and conviction. Also experimentation, measurement, coaching and a shift in the way people do work.
  • Tools alone can NOT transform an organisation into a social business. Technology is an important component, but focusing on tools is not enough.
  • Social Business is more than jumping on the Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ bandwagon. It is about integrating organisational business processes with social components to achieve transformational business outcomes.

In summary, a social business takes advantage of a more transparent and participative way to manage the organisation, made easier by this new software.

As Maz explains, to be a social business, an organisation must trust and value the expertise and contributions of staff. If this is not the case, software will not make you more social.

But if you see the potential of engaging employees in new ways, are willing to lead by example, empower peer leaders and remove the cultural and organisational barriers you encounter, then this software might not be a bad place to start being a more social business.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

Welcome to the world of business where cool reason and objectivity make for sound management and decision making. At the same time, companies dream of products and services that elicit customer loyalty, admiration and passion.

How do you expect to have loyal, passionate customers, if employees don't have the equivalent passion for excellence?

Passionate people already impact company performance

An employee's passion is not mindless enthusiasm for the company and what it does. It is a commitment to what one cares about, and a willingness to fight for what one thinks best.

Studies also show how emotionally engaged employees are more productive and generate better outcomes. But the fact is, personal passions will drive behaviour in your business regardless.

Good managers know this and use performance evaluations or team structures to channel this energy toward constructive activities that improve services and increase customer value.

But what if this passion can be tapped on a larger scale.

Channelling passion can help drive change

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "The Tipping Point" describes three archetypes that help push social trends (e.g. fads, epidemics) to critical mass. These personality types do this by wielding influence in different ways, but they all have "passion" in common.

  • Connectors are passionate about people. They enjoy meeting people, understanding what they do and connecting them to other people.
  • Mavens are passionate about their favourite topic (cars, films, etc.). They learn all they can about it and they enjoy sharing that knowledge.
  • Salesmen are passionate persuaders. These charismatic people enjoy debate and love to get people "on-board".

Gladwell argues that these personality types, given the right context, seed ideas, lead by example and persuade peers, driving these trends. He calls this "The Law of the Few", but we know it as the 80/20 principle where initially 80% of activity is generated by 20% of the participants.

Social business tools can channel individual passion to meet organisational goals

This is where good social business tools and passionate employees combine to give management the leverage to institute positive change.

Business-oriented tools that mimic personal-use counterparts such as LinkedIn and Facebook, give people a way to discover and collaborate with others who share their passion. This also gives the company a vehicle to influence outcomes through shared goals and focused initiatives.

Since customer service problems, wasted time and red-tape impact your employees, your customers and your bottom line, people can be very passionate about fixing them. These tools turn passion into crowd-sourced activities to generate and vet ideas, define and document best practice, and accelerate problem solving.

When employees are seen to make a difference, "The Law of the Few" will drive additional participation and, due to the relationship between how employees perceive your commitment to the customer and a customer's perception of quality, will strengthen your service operations and service culture.

So, with a "social" approach to help you solve old problems in new ways, you can use the commitment and passion of your employees to inspire loyal, passionate customers.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

Published case studies on collaboration strategy are surprisingly hard to find. When you do find something, it's usually on social media (which is really marketing), or about email and file sharing.

This was not what I was looking for.

I was looking for a company who was willing to talk about the transformational aspects of social collaboration, and I found it from an unexpected source. The US Director of National Intelligence has published a series an unclassified reports on its integration and collaboration plans.

In the wake of 9-11, investigators pointed out that the organisations that make up the US intelligence community had not shared information on the plotters and were unable to “connect the dots”.   The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was set up to deal with this issue, and to quote its second director, John M. McConnell:

"Experts have studied the (intelligence community) for over 60 years. Their findings and recommendations are well documented. We know what we need to do, and many people have been working on solutions, but progress is challenging. Problems are deep-seated, complex, and interdependent."

In April, 2007, McConnell released the Intelligence Community 100 Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration, which was used to jump start a subsequent 500 Day Plan. These plans included a series of initiatives designed to satisfy national intelligence strategic objectives to:

  1. Create a Culture of Collaboration
  2. Accelerate Information Sharing
  3. Foster Collection and Analytic Transformation
  4. Build Acquisition Excellence and Technology Leadership
  5. Modernize Business Practices
  6. Clarify and Align DNI’s Authorities

The 100 day plan, its follow-up report, the 500 day plan, 100 day interim "report cards" and the final 500 day follow-up reports are all available on the Director of National Intelligence's website.

These reports are a treasure trove of best practice on how to create a more effective, collaborative organisation, regardless of where you start, and the US intelligence community was not in the best place to start.

Shifting away from a “need to know” culture, and getting 16 agencies to respect their different missions, yet cooperate on an overarching mission, might be an impossible task, but if it were to succeed, it needed the leadership McConnell provided.

Some of the notable practices, to emerge from these initiatives:

  • Making assignments outside your "home" agency a prerequisite to advancement
  • 360 performance reviews with enterprise-wide feedback based on “responsibility to provide"
  • Providing social collaboration tools to maintain functional relationships through cross-agency assignments
  • Creating an executive committee to quickly resolve mission and inter-agency issues.
  • Ensuring cultural perspectives by hiring 1st & 2nd generation Americans from diverse backgrounds
  • Standardising classification and clearance criteria across agencies
  • Modernising technology acquisition criteria and take risks in order to provide high impact solutions to satisfy mission priorities

Some initial observations on the impact of these initiatives found:

  • Collaboration multiplied capabilities and skills across cultural, linguistic, technical, and other mission critical areas.
  • People who collaborate were more productive, provided more valuable services, and accelerated their personal advancement.
  • The intelligence provided was timelier, more insightful, and lead to deeper knowledge for decision making.

Once again, we see that strong leadership, strategic vision, and a focus on empowering talent, produces results when building collaborative organisations.

There have been three Directors of National Intelligence since McConnell left on day 400 of his 500 day plan, and critics have charged that "turf wars" still exist, but aside from the publicly uncovered plots, it's hard to tell from the outside, the long term impact these practices have had.

Still, these documents provide a great example of McConnell's vision and ambitious programme to put collaboration at the heart of the intelligence community.

If you are interested in knowledge management, business transformation, social collaboration, spies, or impossible challenges, download these PDF's. They are full of interesting problems and innovative approaches, designed to encourage cooperation and remove organisational barriers, so people can work together effectively.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

On May 12th 2010 the United Kingdom saw its first coalition government in many years.

I am fascinated by the process that allows two organisations with very different manifestos and political outlooks, attempt to find common ground and forge a lasting working relationship.

The first thing that struck me was how much Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and David Cameron of the Conservatives are the model of the modern corporate manager, forging necessary alliances and bringing their teams along with them.

They both seem to understand the basic rules that make collaboration work. These leaders focus on articulating common values and goals, but also on the common challenges they face.

True collaboration is based on trust and transparency, which grows when people work closely together, solving real problems. Because of this, David Cameron has given a surprising number of ministerial seats to the Liberal Democrats.

They have also shown the necessary ability to achieve win-win agreements and resolve or accept differences.

This win-win coalition gives the Conservatives an overwhelming majority and shared responsibility to deal with difficult issues; and gives the Liberal Democrats a chance to prove that governing coalitions brought about through proportional representation can be fair and effective.

On areas key to the alliance, they found creative ways to resolve policy differences. A good example was how they consolidated two very different deficit reduction plans. By combining the financial discipline of the Conservative budget cuts with the perceived fairness the Liberal Democrats tax plan, they were able change and strengthen their original proposals. This was a not compromise, it was an opportunity, created by the coalition. For less important areas, they provided a process for how to agree to disagree.

This historic event exemplifies the role leadership plays in helping organisations collaborate effectively. By articulating shared goals and challenges, focusing on win-win solutions, and creating trust and transparency by getting people working together to solve real problems, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have set the stage for a new style of government in the UK.

It's hard to know if the pressure of governing, undoes this great start, but it will be interesting to watch.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

I get quite a few comments from people in business proudly proclaiming that they don't use social sites like Facebook or Twitter and something about a waste of time.

While I am not the ideal participant, I continue to learn an incredible amount from my involvement in these sites. It's not so much what people talk about, but the entire process of communicating online.

It is not unlike the simple rules we discovered when we first left our family and joined the larger world in reception (kindergarten). To paraphrase Robert Fulghum's "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten", we learned how to share, play fair, take responsibility, apologize when you need to, work with others, embrace new ideas, and pay attention.

This simple socialization we received, in a safe, non-threatening environment, helped us deal with the more formal structure of our future education.

I believe using public communities like Facebook provide a similar "socialization" to online communications and communities. Maintaining relationships with friends and family online provides a safe, non-threatening environment and allows you to see what types of interactions work for you.


  • Try to find a long lost friend, and determine what they are doing now
  • Post a comment on someone's wall or against someone's status
  • Propose and coordinate an event with your friends (dinner, pub)

These may seem simple, but working in an environment where all your friends can see what you write can be a bit intimidating.

Clarity of language and intent are important in an open environment, these are skills we may not exercise with the more known audiences we face in emails and meetings. Finding subtext and clues in others public persona is another social skill which will help you choose allies in your corporate Facebook.

I do believe everything you learn using social sites like Facebook or Twitter will help you be a better communicator, mentor, and organiser. You may also connect with an old friend or do something new or something you loved doing in the past and enrich your social life.

So spend some time in reception, meet some old friends, play with your favorite toys and learn what you need to learn.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

I've had many conversations about how trivial social networks are, and if your primary goal is to share your dietary habits, this might be true.

If people want to get something done, and have shared goals, social systems are far from trivial.

By now we have all heard about the aftermath of the Iranian election. How Iranian reformers used Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools to coordinate demonstrations, thwart government misinformation, and keep the rest of the world of informed on their situation.

This was in the spite the fact that these sites were being blocked by the government, and they had to coordinate workarounds to get these systems to continue to work for them.

Contrast this with your own internal systems. Do they show the same effectiveness despite the investment and support they get?

What is the difference?

Well, it could be an acute stake in the outcome, a sense of ownership in the process, and a vision behind how all the pieces fit.

The argument that social networks are trivial, really doesn't hold up anymore. There are only trivial pursuits.

I do not know whether Iranian reformers will succeed in their goal, but their effectiveness has impressed their countrymen and the world.

If you have a vision of how you can give people a stake in your business, and the power to be effective, you may be able to start your own revolution.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

It's funny when your instincts are validated.

I believe that the current economic downturn will provide opportunities for Social Software to thrive in companies.

I thought, that when times are tough, business challenges will make winners out of those who do more with what they have and innovate to differentiate themselves from competitors.

I knew from experience, that Social Software can help companies do this.

Then I stumbled upon a 2003 Outlook Point of View article on the Accenture site called "What Did the Winners of the Last Recession Do Right?"

Accenture researchers interviewed senior executives who experienced the global recession of 1990-1991 and compared those quantitative findings with return on invested capital of the largest US companies.

Aside from conservative financial management, the best performers:

  • Set priorities based on detailed knowledge of how the company creates value.
  • Leveraged unique information systems designed to give them the ability to manage and gain insight about their key value drivers.
  • Collaborated with customers to improve value propositions and create new products that were suited to the same pressures facing customers.
  • Priced for profitability and used pricing flexibility to pick up market share.

If used effectively, that’s just what Social Software can do.

  • Allows management to gather detailed knowledge, of how the company creates value, from a broad constituency, and refine this into priorities through a range of expertise and operational perspectives.
  • Provide clear, effective strategy and governance based on these priorities, through collaborative best practice, transparency, and improved communication.
  • Give managers the tools to manage their key value drivers through focused, self reliant, cross-disciple teams, which draw on the larger organization for support.
  • Include customers and suppliers in value creation through shared communities of interest or direct participation in your internal processes.
  • Create cost and value flexibility through innovation and effective use of talent using the collaboratively maintained and cross-referenced business resources.

It will probably be a year or two before we find out if Social Software was a positive factor in the best performers coming out of this economic environment.

So watch this space...

For more detail see the original Accenture research "When Good Management Shows: Creating Value in an Uncertain Economy"

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

As I learn more about social software and how it changes organisations, I am also struck by how much it changes me.

Up to now, the emphasis in business writing has been to make your case. This is usually a process of thinking though an argument or situation, anticipating objections and building your case paragraph by paragraph.

I am finding participatory writing changes this.

Recipients find it more helpful if you put a single idea, situation or risk across in simple, expressive, interactive language, using open-ended questions to inform and spark conversation.

This reminds me of an exercise from art school called Croquis.

Croquis are quick sketches, which don't allow the artist time to capture detail. After a session of ten or twenty, three minute Croquis, you find to your amazement, that you can capture the essence of a the subject with more clarity than in a much longer session. By doing this frequently you develop an eye for the important elements.

While I find it difficult to use short-form social tools like Twitter (tweets) and Facebook status messages, which have a limited number of characters for a message. I am finding that the more I participate, the better I get.

If you have not done so, join a social network, invite your friends and practice.

If you already have, how has it changed your communication style?

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

I was intrigued by a post by Mike Crocker on the Jive Software Clearstep site on "Getting More Executives Using Communities" commenting on another post by Steve Borsch.

This article reminded me of an experience with Lotus Notes, early in its adoption cycle.

Trying to find an application to win over executives, IT applied impeccable logic and decided that Lotus Notes had virtual discussions, executives had lots of meetings therefore executives could use the discussion application to conduct their meetings, saving time and money.

Of course, no executive would swap a meeting for a discussion thread. An executive’s strengths were in people skills, reading body language, non-verbal communication, assessing the person, their character, and their ability to fully grasp and implement a plan.

At the time, this perspective was lost to IT, which saw information more distinctly from its context.

It’s not that those executives were opposed to using technology.

If IT understood these underlying requirements and an application to help schedule, plan, and prepare for meetings was implemented, it would have been far more successful.

Steve Borsch’s article reminds us that different users have different personal as well as professional requirements from applications and the real challenge of communities is balancing these implicit requirements while fulfilling the communities’ purpose.

Executive buy-in is critical to the success of these systems within companies, and it must be made clear how these tools enhance and extend the knowledge and skills within the community, to get things done.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi

Now that the dust has settled on the US elections, you will find many news articles talking about how the Barack Obama team used technology to manage his presidential campaign. Many of these articles talk about his use of Email, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.

The fact that the campaign used these tools is quite unremarkable, but they were used superbly, as an important part of a coordinated communication strategy.

Once you signed up to the website, you would receive emails from various members of the Obama team. You would be getting mail from Barack, Michelle Obama, Campaign Manager David Plouffe, and the occasional high profile democrat, each with a different voice and purpose, addressing you as a part of the team, and always with a call to action. The campaign combined management, marketing, and technology in a way that amplified the effect of each.

While effective, this was simply a brilliant communication strategy, nothing revolutionary. Some of the technology was new, and the internet provided new channels, but this was traditional, one to many communication, around since this stump speech and the pamphlet. Technology just makes this quicker, highly personalised, easily accessible and more sustainable.

No, the real revolution behind the Obama campaign was

My.BarackObama, is the heart of an on-line community used by over a million members, providing tools to organise for Barack Obama through social interaction. Behind it is Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who tweaked social software to coordinate shared goals and meet very specific organisational objectives.

My.BarackObama, supplied the tools that staff and volunteers could use to connect to like minded individuals to organise various campaign activities. To keep activities focused, people would canvas their neighbourhood, and identify friends, foes, and the coveted undecided voters.

The campaign embarked on a 50 state strategy, even though some wanted to concentrate on only friendly and battleground states. A 50 state strategy could not have been possible without the massive fund raising capability, supported by the communication strategy, and local campaign offices supported by My.BarackObama. These two approaches proved to be synergistic, each enhancing the impact of the other.

The final result was an increased percentage of the vote from 2004, across the board, even in areas where they lost, setting the stage for future elections.

So did social software win the day?? Probably not.

Without a coherent strategy, committed workforce, and supporting organisational structure, My.BarackObama could not have become the effective management tool it was. But, in this context, I believe social software was crucial to the eventual ease of the Obama victory.

I doubt we will be running for US President soon, so what does this mean for us?

My.BarackObama proved that, in an organisation prepared to use it properly, social software can allow people to operate more autonomously, while giving central management more reach and greater flexibility. This allows an organisation to adapt to change, as it happens, while maintaining the discipline to carry out core objectives.

I believe the Obama campaign has given us a glimpse into the enterprise of the future.

Exploiting this new class of software, successful organisations will have the majority of it's activities performed by self directed teams, staffed by some internal but many external resources, from both channel and suppliers. While this will allow for a leaner organisation, it will require a higher caliber of management, with strong communication, mentoring and facilitation skills.

For more information, see the Wired article which inspired this post @

AuthorJoseph D'Armi