What is possible: how the social enterprise drives differentiation


I recently gave a presentation to an internal team tasked with re-envisaging the intranet for a large corporation. I was impressed that they had brought together around 40 managers and executives from across the company to spend two days thinking in a very open format about what internal communication could and should be like, and how to create that.

I was brought in at the start of their workshop to provide a compelling vision, being given the title of “The Art of the Possible”. As such I gave a big picture view of how our increasingly networked world is changing organizations, spent some time on the vision of what a better-connected company can be and can achieve, and wrapped up with some of the realities to recognize in achieving the grand vision.

While there are many perspectives on the specific benefits possible from building the social enterprise (see for example my chapter on Key Benefits and Risks in Implementing Enterprise 2.0), at the highest level this is about the ability to differentiate your organization.

I have written before about creating competitive differentiation with Enterprise 2.0 and how competitive differentiation occurs at the intersection of technology and culture, focusing on how the advantages gained by building a more connected organization cannot readily be replicated.

One of the additional perspectives that I am focusing on more these days, and I am finding resonates strongly with large organizations, is building flexibility. It has become a truism that in our turbulent times, the more flexible the organization, the more able it is to succeed. A process-bound organization is by definition not flexible. One that functions by tapping the most relevant resources and social connections is able to adapt and respond to circumstances and condtions.

A related issue is the ability to gather and respond to feedback. Flexibility and responsiveness – and the emergent differentiation that stems from these – are only meaningful in context of what an organization is responding to. This issue ties together internal and external social media. A company needs to be engaged in external social media in order to pick up relevant signals from the marketplace, but it also needs to use internal social media to interpret these and facilitate rapid response. Few companies are yet good at integrating the internal and external social media initiatives.

However it is perhaps in the marketplace for talent that the social enterprise most builds differentiation. Finding talented people, attracting them to a company that is dynamic and responsive, and fully engaging them in the strategy and meaning of the organization are all strongly supported by the effective implementation of the social enterprise. Another critical yet often overlooked issue is that in a richly connected organization talent has more scope to contribute and be recognized, drawing and keeping them in the organization.

These and other points come back to what needs to be the real focus of building the social enterprise: creating an organization that does better than its competitors in a way that feeds on itself and cannot be replicated. This should be the paramount concern of the directors and executives of any organization.