Thursday, March 18, 2010

Changing corporate culture is like getting kids to eat peas

Last week I had the humble pleasure of participating in the Dachis Group ‘s Social Media Business Summit ( I was blown away at the high level thinking of all of the participants and speakers who presented various aspects of social business design – or as I like to call it, holistic social. I’ve spent the past week letting the session wash over me to clarify my take on this journey. The one thing that I keep coming back to is corporate culture – changing corporate culture to embrace social business design.

Leading the social business efforts for an organization is exhilarating, but equally terrifying. Being on the edge/fringe of the organization and trying to move a business and its executive leadership to a whole new way of behaving and operating without tried and true business theories ? Sounds crazy and arrogant. And yet, I know its not. My passion and 'blind faith' (or bat faith as @katenieder shared) were validated in last week's summit. But changing a corporate culture? Yes, even changing a corporate culture.

Corporate culture is messy.
Corporate culture is defined as the sum of values, customs, traditions and meanings of an organization. The stories we tell and the way we speak and behave in a company amplify its existence. Performance evaluations and training define its behavioral expectations and financial rewards and benefits validate its continuation. People conform to those around them, making this all the more complex. So how does one even begin to think about changing an organizational culture?

Charlene Li, Altimeter Group – @charleneli spoke about Open Leadership. (Her new book is coming out this spring). She challenged leaders with letting go of control but staying in command to create a more open environment. An open environment, in her view, is one that shares information (vs. hoarding for power), sees opportunities and optimism (vs paranoia and threats) and is about building relationships, .

Changing corporate culture is like getting kids to eat peas.
In doing some investigation of my own, I found a University of Illinois experiment. The experiment was to find the best way to get a child to eat peas. A number of tactics were researched, such as telling the child that eating peas was good for him, punishing the child if he didn’t eat his peas and rewarding the child with ice cream if he did eat his peas . What the researchers found ultimately worked the best was sitting the child at a table with other children who liked and ate their peas on their own. The child modeled his behavior to confirm to the others – peer pressure works!

Kate Niederhoffer, Dachis Group – @katenieder - gave a similar example in her presentation at the summit. She shared research showing how others confirm to the group, even if they know the answer is incorrect. She also shared how difficult it is to just tell people to stop doing things - like stop emailing and use social, stop hoarding information, stop controlling. Isn’t that like trying to force people to eat peas?

So how do we get our organization to eat peas?
I certainly don’t have all the answers yet. But a few things I’m going to try:

1/ Find people who like to eat peas. Locate the open leaders of the organization (those who share information and decision making) . Get them in key roles and have them share new organizational stories about what’s working with the way they do things. Help them facilitate the peer pressure.

2/ Build relationships – work to create bridges between teammates and others in the organization.. Build relationship based on trust, respect, inclusion. Most of all build human relationships.

3/ Share Decision Making - involve people in decisions. Give up the need to be in control and empower others.

4/ Value Feedback –feedback of our teams and employees is just as important as our customers feedback on social media sites. The good the bad the ugly – need to value it all

5/ Open up information – share metrics/reports/information with others and be honest. If the project isn’t going well, fess up. Share conversations and information along the way to create a culture of sharing with one another.

6/ Create Guidelines – create guidelines for social computing so boundaries are clear.

7/ Experiment – this is a new playground. I heard this in a number of presentation. Expect to fail at some things but keep trying.

So this is a long way of saying, what I learned from the Dachis Group social media business summit (#sbs2010) relative to culture change is this: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi). Or as that classic rock song goes, “All I am saying, is give peas a chance”