Big Picture (June/July 2010)
Even though many businesses have barely caught up with the principals of customer relationship management, get ready for a new concept to grasp: collaboration. It’s a fundamental democratization of business driven by the collective nature of the Internet and the shift of power over the last half century from manufacturers to retailers to customers, who with a click of the mouse can either buy or disappear forever.
Today, innovative companies like Amazon, Boden, Netflix, IBM, Best Buy and Starbucks (or even the state of Montana with its “piggy bank” cost-savings suggestion program) go far beyond traditional “push” marketing to engage in an ongoing dialog with all of their communities. They’re not just selling; they’re listening for feedback, suggestions and trying to continually inform.
The most productive collaboration links management, customers, distribution partners (retailers, brokers, agents, etc.) sales and non-sales employees, vendors and the surrounding community, so that the outcome reflects what the organization needs to accomplish as a whole (and in its parts).
In the old days, it sounded utopian to talk of driving continuous improvement by strategically engaging the entire community of customers, channel partners, employees, etc. There were no clear short-term results, established methods or measures of success. The need to create alignment in large organizations between business managers of disparate backgrounds and expertise faced – and still faces – long-standing silos between financial management, sales, marketing and human resources. It has always had as a prerequisite the need for a CEO and/or Board dedicated to this approach. This remains the fundamental challenge to the emergence of Enterprise Engagement.
Knocking Down Silos
What could finally bring down those silos and foster a new era focused on enterprise-wide engagement? The financial benefits of collaboration. In this increasingly complex, inter-connected world, where opportunities flash like lightning bolts, collaboration provides the competitive edge by maximizing an organization’s eyes, ears and ability to get things done. The ability for an organization to anticipate and meet customer demands is in direct proportion to its collective intelligence and leadership; those with the most intelligence and the ability to execute get there faster and do it better. The competitive edge used to go to the companies with the best processes. Today it goes to those with the most effective and sustained collaboration.
Collaboration as a culture requires engagement at every level – the willingness of a customer, channel partner, employee and vendor is never guaranteed, nor is the willingness of management to listen. The television show Undercover Boss has popularized a self-evident approach to business that nonetheless took decades to prove. Organizations are just beginning to wake up.
Collaboration requires an entirely different approach to management that starts at the top, but which includes every level of management. Today’s leaders, from assistant manager to president, need a new specific set of tools related to the key elements of collaboration and engagement that help translate them into action. The new motto for this type of management might be described by the ancient Chinese proverb: To lead the people, walk behind them. One only has to witness the popularity of shows like The Office to see how frightening the training problem may be: it can be argued that people most often laugh at what they believe to be true.
Collaboration will also change the way businesses buy and learn. Many traditional trade shows and conferences may likely evolve from the old model of fair-like exhibits and lectures to “conversation centers” and “roundtables” where people have the opportunity to get answers to specific questions, meet with others facing similar challenges, talk face-to-face with vendors and have the opportunity to access all of the information and the community throughout the year.
Technology Will Drive It
Once again, technology will be a key driver. Today, a wide variety of powerful software makes it possible for any size organization to develop a complete productive and collaborative dialog with all of its constituencies, including software for:
- innovation programs that continually drive and share idea-generation across the organization
- portal software that makes it easy to keep people continually informed and equipped and to share expertise
- vendor directories that make it easier to find suppliers
- incentive and recognition software to foster fun and a sense of appreciation
- different types of polling, surveying and exam/testing software to generate information on attitudes and capabilities from different perspectives
- measurement software to track ROI and results
- …and more.
You’ll have an opportunity to learn more about Enterprise Engagement and collaboration at the upcoming Enterprise Engagement Alliance Networking Expo and Conference, June 3-5, in Rye Brook, NY, which integrates collaboration into every element of the program. Register at www.eeaexpo.org – or pose your questions on our blog at: www.enterpriseengagement.org/blog
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