It’s often said that business transformation, including social business, needs leadership from the top. What’s not often said is that the transformation does not actually depend on the leaders leading, but rather on them getting out of the way of the employees leading.

Those at the top certainly need to signal their intent to embrace change, and to practically embrace the relevant social technologies. They then do not need to busy themselves in social, but to ensure that the people issues, platform issues and process issues are aligned with their social business transformational goals. The reason that they must focus on these issues, as against “being social”, is because these issues solved allow employees to embrace social and to succeed.

Think of it this way – consider an organisation in which the top leadership team has embraced social tools and media and is active in promoting the value of these to the organisation. This would look exciting, and very promising, in the eyes of an outside observer. After all, it’s the leadership from the top which we so often state is fundamental to social business success.

However, if the employees are not afforded equal social access, equal degrees of freedom to act, equal opportunity to engage, and equal opportunity to experiment and fail, then ultimately the whole initiative will slowly wither from within. In a nutshell, this happens because employees quickly sense the lack of consistency of action and opportunity between what is asked of them and what they can do, and a lack of mutual commitment between the leadership and themselves with regard to the social business outcomes.

Here’s what “a Dell employee“ said recently in a comment on a blog post:

… any company that thinks all of their success comes from a handful of employees at the top is on the fast track to going out of business“.

They went on to say that “all studies on productivity, creativity and innovation show that empowered individuals and open communities foster continuous innovation, and egocentric leadership is the fastest way to kill a culture“.

The points that this person (who appears to be this person) made really captured my attention, for a number reasons:

  • Firstly, Dell is a very successful business;
  • Secondly, it has reinvented itself several times over, and come out a healthier and more profitable business;
  • Thirdly it has mastered a succession of different disciplines which were core to each of its reinventions – starting with logistics and distribution, then eCommerce, then marketing, then support, now social business, and coming up the services business;
  • Fourthly, it has always had a relentless focus on driving costs out of the business yet has simultaneously improved employee engagement and retention.

So Dell is relentless, Dell is focused, Dell is successful and Dell knows that empowering employees and deploying social technologies is all about good business.

And as icing on the cake Dell uses Telligent as its social technology for collaboration and for customer support, which iGo2 represents in APAC, and it’s great to see such profound business results from the Telligent Community platform.

Those are the reasons why I am so intrigued by this employee’s comment.

So what can we learn from Dell’s social transformation?

There are some major mind-shifts needed:

1. The need for an executive mind-shift to a recognition that the people who will have the next great product idea could be anyone (the teams that have empowered our success with social media are probably inversely correlated with age and experience);

2. The need for a strategic mind-shift to accept that contextualizing strategy at the regional, local, or even at the individual level will become increasingly necessary not only for success, but also for survival in the Cloud era;

3. The need for a power mind-shift to empower grassroots movements within the organisation e.g. where leadership has been bold enough to allow and foster new ideas;

4. The need for a spiritual mind-shift to embrace the new and unfamiliar, which will inevitably arise because of the points above.

The ultimate health check

Ultimately, the health of a business’s social transformation is measured by taking the pulse at the interface between employees and executives, and I quote the “Dell employee”:

IMHO the biggest strength of Michael Dell has been to recognize these trends and help to support the notion that large businesses will have to be rebuilt not from the top down or from the outside in, but from the inside out through increasingly intelligent, motivated and empowered employees and it is only through a healthy partnership between employees and management that a large organization act as an agile, continuously adapting system.

For me, this single comment by the unknown-Deller gives the most significant insight into why Dell should not be underestimated by any of its competitors, even those that feel they are invulnerable at present. And it offers huge insights for others seeking to transform their own business by highlighting the essence of the challenge and solutions.

What is the most important role of leaders in assisting the transformation to social business?

How important is it for them to be spending energy being busy in social as compared to spending energy clearing the path for employees to fully utilize social?

Please comment below.


Related: Social Business – 3 Keys to Success by Rob Howard.