Unlocking the power of social

My last blog, the-power-of-social was a comment on Lora Cerere’s blog on social in the supply chain. In the comments Lora mentioned; ‘so though for an organization to listen. It’s just not in their DNA. What do you think that it takes to make this shift?’

The answer I believe is refreshingly simple; make it part of the company DNA! Or in other words, make it part of the company culture. But there is more required then only listening. To really unlock the power of social a company also needs to be clear about things like:

  1. develop social as a strategic capability
  2. define and control focus on where to excel in social
  3. have the right IT infrastructure to enable social integration
  4. have the right supply chain to execute social insight

But all of that will not be effective if a company can’t listen properly to start with, both inside and outside the company walls.  So let’s first start with being able to listen!

First of all, I think that listening will become vital for any company in the social age. For companies that show arrogance in not listening to partners in the value chain, to employees or consumers, it will be a matter of time before they will be punished by the power of social. Even if you have the power in the value chain, the time to change is limited. The monopolist screwing consumers or bullying suppliers or the company with an unethical culture, churning through their employees. One vital mistake and they will be called to justice by the power of social. Their brands will be damaged beyond repair in the process. But how to make listening part of the company DNA?

According to Collins and Porras a company vision exists from its core values, core purpuse, a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) and a vivid description.  The core purpose is the reason for being; it captures the soul of the organization. Where you can fulfil a strategy, you can’t fulfil a purpose. Core values define what the company stands for. A company will stick to them, even if it became a competitive disadvantage in certain situations.

Well defined, integrated and truly lived, purpose and values will drive companywide behaviour. Imbedded company behaviours will drive a sustainable company culture, which will last over time. Making listening part of your core values or purpose will over time create a sustainable company culture that listens. Employees will say; ‘listening is one of things we just do around here’.  In other words; listening is in their DNA!

In Stephen Coveys book ‘the seven habits of highly effective people’ he addresses the behavioural effectiveness of ‘seek to understand to be understood’. He identifies 5 ways of listening: 1. Ignoring, 2. Pretending, 3. Passive listening, 4. Active listening and 5. Listen with empathy. I like to add to that; ‘Listen with the intention of being influenced’, as Rick Maurer describes in his book ‘Beyond the walls of resistance’. Only when you have the intention to listen AND being influenced you respect the knowledge, perspective and autonomy of the other party. Only with listening common goals can be agreed. And without common goals, collaboration is by definition not possible.

A June 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that only 50% of people naturally corporate. People that don’t corporate most probably are not great listeners and do only partially respect the others opinion. If you don’t act on that, probably only 50% of your employees are good listeners  And you have to make sure that you have critical mass in the organization that actually does listen. You and your company need to create critical mass in employees who believe that listening is vitally important and help building that culture. Some suggestions on how to do that:

  1. Make listening part of the core company values or even mission statement
  2. Write your HR policies so that listening and collaborative behaviour is tested in your recruitment process.
  3. Reward listening and collaborative behaviours continuously. Hold people accountable and provide behavioural feedback to those who don’t listen.
  4. Lead by example: if you don’t honour the autonomy of your peers or subordinates, you can’t expect it from anybody else!

Yes, social listening can be very powerful to get market and consumer insight, but it can only flourish once we master to listen within the walls of our own company. Fix the internal listening by creating a culture that listens and you can start to unlock the door to the power of social.

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