When most people talk about the idea of being a "social business" the emphasis is usually placed on the emergent behaviors of all stakeholders which point to working, playing and doing business in a more social way. For example, we've looked to technologies like Yammer which promised to connect the work hive in real time (for some organizations this worked and for others it didn't). But the overall focus has been on activating the network, igniting cultural change and connecting the nodes both inside and outside your organization. Today, I was reminded by our CEO Richard Edelman who blogs regularly, that a social business is impossible without examples being made at the very top of an organization. Have a look at how he writes in regards to an anti-smoking campaign he initiated at Edelman (my employer):
"I went to the Washington office on Monday, visiting with clients and journalists. I also had a staff meeting before going to the train. As I do at every whistle stop, I provide an update on the firm and then the office. I always conclude with an offer-- $2,000 to any Edelman person who agrees to quit smoking. He or she has to sign a contract and give the money back if the commitment is violated before six months. No blood tests are required; word of honor is good enough for me. Alison Armentrout, who is a senior account executive in our digital strategy group in DC, came forward on Monday, with a little bit of encouragement from her fellow employees. We shook hands on the deal and the check is in the mail.
I told my usual story about how at age 7, I saw the Ad Council’s public service spot that spoofed the Marlboro Man, showing him sauntering into the bar in the Wild West, ordering a beer, then collapsing in a coughing fit. I was so scared by the ad that I promptly took all of my dad’s cigarette packs and stuffed them in the toilet. After the third time repairing the facilities, the plumber told my dad to stop smoking or get rid of the kid. I won and he lives on at age 90, overcoming the addiction that he developed while in the US Army when cigarettes were provided free and were a way to stay warm in frozen France in 1944-5."
A social business is not built overnight. Marketing won't get your organization there and neither will spin. Becoming a social business does involve the breaking down of silos, but never underestimate top down influence. Richard's candor and openness (and professionalism) signal that the individuals in the organization have "permission" to think and act this way. Social organizations require both top down guidance and organic initiatives which make the organization more connected and adaptable. In some cases, it all starts at the top.