Looking for Something?

The Top 5 Things IBM’s Social Business has Taught Us


Now is the single greatest time in history to be in business.

Businesses that have embraced social tools and methodologies have created a new set of rules
that enable organizations to compete in the economy as equals. Being large no longer ensures
a competitive advantage. In fact, being large may be a deficit in the new business environment.
Worse, few executives are aware of the massive transformation that is in motion. Most are stuck
in an old management mind-set of command and control that emphasizes “Do as I say” and
not “I want to hear your opinion.”

As a result, they are ill prepared for the colossal challenges that confront them now.

The leaders who will succeed in this social business age are those who welcome feedback,
leverage the wisdom of crowds, create pull, and foster workplace environments that promote
innovation. The skills needed to succeed today are not being taught in the workplace, high
schools, or colleges, as they were in previous ages. Instead, they are learned through
experimentation, which yields both big mistakes and stunning successes.

Certainly, the goal of leadership remains the same: to grow and nurture people so that they
are capable of achieving business objectives through shared missions and measurable
performance. But the crucial ingredients for success are advancing beyond the old leadership
model, to new ones that are more strategic and yield far greater results.

There are some distinct differences in the way businesses were run in previous ages and the
way businesses need to be run in the social age. It’s still about shareholder value, but the
game is different now and the playbooks need to reflect the change. There are new rules, new
strategies, and new ways of leveraging talent.

IBM exemplifies this shift and is leading by example. Here are a few formulaic changes IBM has
made to the old leadership model that resonated with me:

#1 Old Way: Corporate Politics = Climbing the Corporate Ladder

New Way: Corporate Politics = Less Trust

Now, there will still be politics; we all understand that. But there will be a much more transparent system where people will be able to see that someone is playing politics instead of working for the betterment of the organization. Once a person knows she’s being observed her behavior changes, and that’s a key thing to bring up. Today, with an internal social network (our digital village), executives are being observed, and they’re being called out for corrupt political behavior. Moreover, employees who leave their firms often write about their experience and submit their reports to influential media outlets.

Remember what happened to Goldman Sachs after a disgruntled employee, Greg Smith, told the New York Times that executives were calling their clients “muppets” and that the culture was  toxic?

Today’s employees need to learn that in the new playbook, trust and authenticity will get you further than playing politics.

#2: Old Way: Public Relations Agencies = Get the Brand’s Message Out

New Way: Thought Leaders + Influencers + Employees = Get the Brand’s Message Out

While traditional public relations agencies still have a role in today’s businesses, they will become less effective at delivering a brand’s message over time. The social customers, the media, and your industry’s thought leaders are all tuning these one-way broadcasts out. They are no longer effective in today’s social age. The new playbook calls for employees, thought leaders, and an organization’s social team to provide quality content that attracts the right target audience and engages them in discussion. Those interactions over time will produce new customers who are eager to work with you.

#3: Old Way: Information = Stored in Silos

New Way: Information = Stored in a Central Repository

Organizations must provide an internal social network (digital village) that includes a social software platform which allows anyone in the organization to store and retrieve relevant information that helps the complete their work. It’s no longer acceptable to hoard information in silos. That’s a page from the old playbook that isn’t acceptable anymore.

#4: Old Way: Workplace = Fixed Location/Fixed Time

New Way: Workplace = Anywhere/Anytime

Until just recently, most employees (including knowledge workers) were required to be at their desk working on the highest-priority projects and tasks. The company’s culture would dictate the work hours, but the hours were fixed and everyone knew them. In the new workplace, because of mobile technologies and the cloud, work is being done from home, from the road, and even from vacation. The expectations have shifted from “Don’t worry, you can get me that when you return to work in the morning,” to “Hey, why didn’t you reply to the email I sent you last night?”

Like it or not, the new playbook doesn’t have a fixed schedule or location.

#5: Old Way: Employee Knowledge = Isolated

New Way: Employee Knowledge = Promote Internally & Externally

Every company has at least a few of them. They are the people you look at and say, “Wow, how do they do it?” Businesses that want to compete in the new world must promote their subject matter experts (SME) both internally and externally. Making SMEs into industry celebrities attract fans (customers), which attracts revenue. The easiest way to find SMEs is to monitor your social platform (or examine the analytical data) for clues about who is producing high-quality content that other people tend to share or comment on a lot.

Often, these SMEs don’t need a lot of convincing to create content for external consumption. Occasionally, more introverted experts will need help from your social team, who can interview the expert or create quality content from the material produced by the expert. The key here is to heavily promote the SME internally and externally. While many executives will find excuses not to because of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, this play has several benefits for the organization.

In the final analysis, every executive must be aware of the big shifts occurring in business today.
If their performance suffers because they have ignored these shifts, their careers will take a
back seat.


  • Peter Elmhirst

    What perspective is that first like written from?

    I think it’s the greatest time to be a consumer but as for business I would say it’s probably one of the most challenging times since with online marketing your competitor can come out of nowhere and get a foothold.

    Greatest time for business I would say is either the early 1800’s with the industrial revolution, or just before 2000 with the dot com bubble…

    • Mark Fidelman


      There’s no better time to be in business because the playing field is level. You don;t need to be a big brand with a big budget to make a huge impact.

  • Linda Sherman

    The IBM case is a very interesting one. If nothing else their strong stock price is a reflection of their current success. Certainly their Social Business culture is an important ingredient in what is going right today.

    If you haven’t read Mark Fidelman’s new book “Socialized!” it belongs on your reading list. Just launched Nov 15, it is packed with useful references and tips.

  • Cal

    Perhaps the concept of the Business Model is or has changed…
    and Perhaps, Social Media has brought change to the branding ideas and the way to achieve them have also changed the way business must evolve.

    What I am reading in these Social Media “Tea Leafs” that the change is more like the “Big Bang” theory.

    Think on this…
    If we are seeing that employee’s are now expected to be “SME” subject matter experts, and we are thinking that employee’s are an extension of the branding of the company, independent of the company.

    Then perhaps we should see the possibility, which could be that business is evolving away from the status quo of “Employer / Employee” relationship to more of working with independent providers that work in unison for the good of the company.

    Where every person is a SME and can work at times that suit the needs of the business and the needs of the provider, which can also mean that this SME may and can provide services for more than one company.

    Think on this…
    One thing is for-sure, the world is changing and we must adapt to the change, those that learn to adapt first tends to experience critical mass and rise to the top.

    • Mark Fidelman

      Cal, for now that certainly appears to be the trend. No telling where it will lead. I suspect we’ll see SME’s band together to fulfill the mission of a company or cause.

Learn About NMX


Recent Comments