Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Possible, But Terrifying

Jeremiah Owyang, indomitable social media analyst, absolutely nails why large organizations will find it very, very difficult to allow the level of transparency and real interaction necessary to evolve their businesses (both strategy and operations) as the face of market and internal communications continues to evolve. He distinguishes three "impossible" conversations: asking for feedback, saying positive things about [their] competitors, and admitting [they] were wrong.

Asking for feedback is fine, but most organizations are not at all set up to actually listen, ingest the feedback, and decide whether or how to address the issue. Employees are at the breaking point already. "Productivity" in most organizations means employees are left with precious little time to adjust to new ideas unless they come from management or from within carefully managed feedback channels. Some employees may be able to get ahead or ignore some of their work and find ways to try new things. These mavericks should be rewarded.

Social technologies (wikis, blogs, social networks) can help, but unless they are used in concert, it's difficult to use them effectively. Imagine a symphony without a conductor where the musicians are all playing different music at the same time or, in well-run organizations, the same music to different rhythms.

Experience allows me to understand why saying positive things about [their] competitors is so difficult, but I wish there was a way to show the larger organizational consciousness why this fear is more destructive than anything. Companies use ideas from their competitors all the time, so not giving deserved kudos is paramount to denigrating many of that company's own ideas. Market results display an organization's effectiveness, so stop being afraid to show some appreciation of those with whom you share industry space.

Jeremiah makes this excellent point:
Customers aren’t stupid. In fact, they know who your competition is, and they talk amongst each other.

Most companies are not actually part of the conversation, but mostly adjacent to it. In that position, they will miss some critical piece of intelligence.

Right now, the status quo might be holding, but the effort required to use the same channels for marketing, customer service, and institutional knowledge is growing. Sooner or later, this self-imposed ignorance will come back to haunt them.

Admitting [they] were wrong is difficult for everyone at turns, yet most individuals let their guards down at some point. Yes, organizations have to worry about legal culpability, but in the end they MUST learn to understand that, if they are up front and act quickly when mistakes occur, the likelihood that customers will be furious enough to sue is greatly reduced. And, if they do, then the problem hasn't been resolved.

None of these conversations are easy, nor are large organizations the only holdouts. Even individuals and small companies screw them up all the time. However, the pressures to really listen and speak honestly are becoming ever more critical to connect people both inside and outside of the organization.