Social Business: A Square Peg Into A Round Hole

by Jay Deragon on 10/21/2013


Business leaders are eager to improve but resist making major changes to improve the things that matter most W. Edwards Deming once said “It is easy for leaders to adopt new tools that help improve quality and productivity but difficult for them to transform their style of leadership.”  

We can see this same struggle today as organizations adopt the tools of social technology but fail to adopt the needed philosophical shifts.

This struggle creates half-baked results. The related efforts end up looking, feeling and sounding like anything but social. Without a change in philosophy relational capital suffers, human capital continues to be under-utilized and the organizations strategic and structural capital remains sub-optimized.  Using the label Social Business ends up looking like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Leaders understand that square pegs (centralized power) and round holes (distributed power) simple don’t fit together and the square peg avoids the needed changes.

Words That Threaten the Square Peg

The only way a square peg fits into a round hole is if the square pegs becomes round. That would mean a transformation and that is a word that square pegs don’t like because it represents personal change of substance.  So when all the round holes begin a movement to transform the square pegs the square pegs simple discount the words of the Social Hippies that use them. Suddenly the Social Hippies who know what it takes to change square pegs into round holes no longer have direct access to the leaders. Instead the Social Hippies are relegated to middle management and told to discuss “strategic services to help them use the social media tools and techniques”.

Can you see the words that threatened the square peg? These include transformation, movement and personal change. In the history of business these words mean: “The entire organization has to change, they are taking over and I have to change myself.”  All of this represents lots of pain, lots of money and the loss of power. And we wonder why organizational leaders are not in any hurry to transform their businesses into Social Businesses.

The Evidence is Clear

In a post by Chris Heuer on Brian Solis’s blog titled Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next! he states: Social Business have not struck the right chord with leaders. The movement has failed to earn their faith, trust and budgets in a significant way. While the ideas behind the moniker are invaluable in defining the future of work, most large companies simply aren’t buying into or investing in Social Business transformation efforts in more than a piecemeal sort of way.  This post stirred a flurry of comments within the post and an aggressive discussion thread within the Social Business Community on G+.

In the same week Brian Solis published a report titled “The State of Social Business 2013” where he starts with: “Analysis of our survey results reveal that social media is extending deeper into organizations and, at the same time, strategies are maturing.”  In terms of social business maturity, most organizations are “intermediate,” with only 17% who are truly strategic in the execution of their social strategies. The lack of clear leadership, organization, and strategy means that many organizations experience some form of “social anarchy,” of siloed, uncoordinated social efforts.

The strategies, tactics and tools mentioned in the report cannot be successful without a shift in leadership philosophy. Philosophical shifts are evident by a change in behavior that follows a change in beliefs. While the behavior and beliefs of the market of buyers has indeed changed  the responses from business leaders hasn’t been to change their own beliefs rather to simply adjust old strategies, apply new tools and tactics and call themselves a “Social Business”.

Social technology has awakened the soul of the human network by connecting human capital, empowering relationship capital, enabling strategic capital and providing structural capital to anyone and everyone seeking it. Such things are intangible however they are the source of all tangible results.  Business leaders can’t relate to the changes in the market unless they understand why intangibles matter more now than ever.

Intangible shifts represent philosophical changes that impact tangible results.  These changes are unstoppable, unavoidable and empowered by a connected human network.  Don’t believe it? That is your problem and it is obvious.

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