10 Characteristics of a Social Enteprise

June 23, 2009
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We’re on the leading edge of a major business transformation and the social web is at the heart of that change. I’ve posted quite a bit on the social enterprise and both how and what I believe is happening. What I haven’t really done though, is provide some insight into what the end state actually looks like. Alright, that’s maybe too ambitious since I’m not really sure we know what the end state looks like yet. I do think we have the beginnings of the answer though.

I started thinking yesterday about writing a post that I called the anatomy of a social enterprise. I like the analogy of the enterprise to the human body but in the end I drew a blank on a few key elements. I woke up this morning with an idea for a different approach to this. Let’s try to answer the question “What characteristics should a social enterprise exhibit?” As I brainstormed this list I could see a few categories emerge: 1. customer, 2. internal, and 3. partners (which I’m using loosely to mean distribution partners, alliance partners, suppliers and outsourcers). Here’s what I have so far in no particular order:

10 char of SE

1. Transparent: One of the simplest and most powerful carryovers from Web 2.0 is the


We’re on the leading edge of a major business transformation and the social web is at the heart of that change. I’ve posted quite a bit on the social enterprise and both how and what I believe is happening. What I haven’t really done though, is provide some insight into what the end state actually looks like. Alright, that’s maybe too ambitious since I’m not really sure we know what the end state looks like yet. I do think we have the beginnings of the answer though.

I started thinking yesterday about writing a post that I called the anatomy of a social enterprise. I like the analogy of the enterprise to the human body but in the end I drew a blank on a few key elements. I woke up this morning with an idea for a different approach to this. Let’s try to answer the question “What characteristics should a social enterprise exhibit?” As I brainstormed this list I could see a few categories emerge: 1. customer, 2. internal, and 3. partners (which I’m using loosely to mean distribution partners, alliance partners, suppliers and outsourcers). Here’s what I have so far in no particular order:

10 char of SE

1. Transparent: One of the simplest and most powerful carryovers from Web 2.0 is the concept of transparency. Applied to the enterprise, especially in our post-Enron, highly governed (which some might argue is an over-compensation for the sins of the past), transparency takes on an even more important role. Corporate transparency applies both internally with employees and externally with customers, suppliers, partners, etc. It doesn’t mean that trade secrets, or other information that provides competitive advantage are open but generally to a culture that fosters openness, accountability and candor with all stakeholders.

2. Sales anticipates customer needs. In my opinion, the long-term (say 5+ years) target for sales is to move the sales process and arm the sales team to move from trying to sell whatever the enterprise provides to accurately predicting what customers need. It’s sophisticated solution selling in a way, but goes beyond the idea of talking to a prospect to uncover business issues and needs to knowing, based on the relationship with the customer, what they need (maybe even before the customer understands the need themselves).

3. Provide service to customers “when, where and how” the customer wants it. Let’s face it, we’re all done dealing with customer service processes that are rigidly defined by an enterprise and ignore what the customer wants. We want assistance when we need it, where we are and served up in the way we want to consume it. That might be in a phone call or it might be on Twitter or Facebook.

4. Facilitate an interdependent ecosystem of partners. Point to point partnerships are quickly becoming obsolete as companies evolve into a broader interdependent, multi-point ecosystem. This interdependence changes the interaction model of the partners and the importance of that interaction. If the success of the business is really tied to the success of several other businesses, and in fact to the success of the customer as well, priorities shift. This is not just a shift in strategy, but also business tactics are different.  

5. Empowers employees to contribute. Web 2.0 is about broad participation and interaction. Enterprises are often siloed and hierarchical today. e2.0 concepts and processes bring down silos and provide collaborative frameworks to capture and leverage ongoing employee involvement and engagement.

6. Leadership coaches not controls. Hierarchical management structure and roles is a holdover from the age of industrialization. As the broader employee population becomes engaged and involved, the management role must shift to more of a coaching role. Moving beyond management to leadership is critical as control is shared and spread across the organization. Enterprise strategy and control becomes a shared responsibility that includes leadership, but also spans all employees, customers and partners.

7. Problem solving is distributed. Solving business problems often is a concentrated effort, centered in “the” problem solver(s) in the organization. As control and involvement / engagement is expanded and shared problem solving also becomes a shared activity. Rather that a small group solving problems when they grow big enough to be addressed, problem solving becomes iterative; small problems are solved in an ongoing process by everyone and rarely grow into large problems. Rather than relying on the small number of “A” player problem solvers to handle problems when they get large, everyone, including “C” players can solve small problems every day.

8. Customers are engaged in an ongoing relationship. Building customer community fosters engagement and loyalty. Customers, as long as they can see clear benefit to themselves, can be drawn into a relationship and ongoing dialog.

9. Power is shared and distributed. As control and engagement spread across the enterprise, power shifts from the old hierarchical structure and is distributed outward. Changing the old control paradigm causes democratization of decision making and creates the shared control environment.

10. Customers define and prioritize products/services. If engaged in a relationship customers can be tapped to provide direct input to the product/service development process. Building products that are in effect “speced” by the customer clearly increases loyalty, engagement and community in the customer base, not to mention increasing sales (selling customers what they tell you they want).

That’s what I think, what else should we add to this list?

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