Social media success: Do you have the right people on the bus?

square peg

Can people be re-trained to adopt a “social business” perspective?  In many cases, I am beginning to doubt it.

I was reminded recently by my friend Debra Andrews of the importance of getting the right people on board with your business in these changing times. We were having a discussion about the book Good to Great, which has stood the test of time as one of the greatest business books ever written. In this book, author Jim Collins goes through extensive research on what makes companies outperform competitors over decades.

One point that he makes is the essential strategy of getting the best people “on the bus” to drive your business. I have worked with dozens of companies over the past few years and, after corporate culture, I think this is the biggest obstacle to social media success.

While many companies are plowing enormous resources into social media efforts, are they the RIGHT resources or are we simply putting square pegs into round holes and checking a box?

Here’s a very real example of what I mean. Over the last few months, I have had a lot of demand for social sales training in an attempt to make their teams more social media savvy.

During the training, everyone seems energized and focused … maybe even inspired. But months later,usually only a small percentage of those who received the training actually adopted any changes.

Of course there could be many factors for this. Maybe this is simply human nature to seek equilibrium and return to old habits. Maybe it is not adequately supported by management. Maybe my training sucked.

But as I observe this pattern over and over across different organizations, I am coming to the conclusion that a root cause is that many entrenched employees will just never “get it.” Maybe it is time to start looking for different people to put on the bus if this is a true priority for an organization.

Certainly re-training could be an option, especially if there is follow-up and active management support which includes changes to performance objectives and the reward system. But if your efforts at change keep hitting a wall even if your management team has diligently pressed for institutional change, maybe it’s time to look at bringing some fresh energy on to the team.

One other perspective I would add here. When I managed a global corporate team, I took a very hands-on approach to hiring new employees because every person can have such a dramatic impact on our success and direction.

I was inspired by the advice of former Steelers football coach Chuck Noll who said that he simply recruited based on the best athletes he could find, instead of merely looking to fill a skill set.

That always worked for me too. When filling a position, I wanted to find people who had the ability to replace me, replace my boss, maybe run the company one day. That is the type of person who can really take a department in exciting new directions, no matter what the day-to-day job requires.

As we enter a new year with fresh goals and objectives maybe it is also time to reflect on the human component and leadership that really makes corporate change happen. What do you think?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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  • Great insights Mark, thanks.

    I totally agree with your idea of looking for people who can potentially run the company rather than looking for specific skills.

    Day-to-day skills can be easily learned, but is much more difficult to induce a change in people’s mindset.

  • Good to Great, I would look forward to go through this book. Thanks for mentioning in the article.

  • You’re welcome!

  • I think this view was a great key to my success as a business leader. I had a team of superstars! The other advantage this created is that everybody wanted to join my team! Thanks Giuseppe.

  • Great post – the square peg, round whole analogy is only too true. Often-times when times change and there’s a need for new skill sets, business ‘leaders’ simply shuffle existing resources around in an attempt to fill the need. I once had a boss who re-organized the department about once every 2 years – he put names on post-it-notes and moved them around on his white-board until everyone had a position.

    In many cases I think it turns out to be a bad decision that was made with good intentions. It’s easier and and can seem kinder to give someone a different seat on the bus rather than asking them to get off of the bus and replace them.

    However, as you noted, this doesn’t always work. In the long run I think these types of situations are bad for both the company and the employee. The company suffers because things aren’t being done right and the employee suffers because they’re in a position in which they can’t succeed.

    Sometimes the kind thing is to recognize when it’s time to help someone realize that they need to find a new bus to ride.

  • I do think there is something to be said for kindness and humanity. You were be a better place to work if you treat people humanely and give them a chance to succeed instead of cutting them loose at the first change of plans. But for a dramatic change like this, maybe it is time to take a hard look at the talents. I see a lot of sub-optimized projects because the wrong people are in place for too long!

  • What sparks my attention here is that there seems to be a base assumption in the approach of social media that you’re either part of the “getits” of the “dontgetits”. I personally don’t like Twitter, and that has labeled me at one time as a “dontgetit” in my company. No Twitter? You must be old and you probably still use email too. I bet you even own a VCR at home. Wait, I’ll fax you your driving instructions.

    Of course, it’s not like that. I have multiple Facebook accounts, I have 500+ LinkedIn contacts and am member of 26 groups, I have an Tumblr-account and accounts for dozens of other newer and older dead or dying social media initiatives. I even have a Twitter-account – I just don’t like the medium. Why that is, is not relevant for this post. What is relevant is that we should start to see the parallels that are emerging here. There is no one truth, just like there is no one solution to fit us all. We’ve had that discussion for years between Windows, Mac and Linux lovers. The same thing happened with iOS, Android and Windows Phone. It’s consumerization and the trend of BYOD that shows us that there is no such thing as ‘the best solution’. I know of some companies that forced there employees to use iPhones, because they believed ‘everybody wanted those’ – now they’re facing the fact that in reality, 30% may really love them, but an equal 30% actually hates them and rather uses their old Nokia.

    You can’t force people into specific social media, just like you’ll have a hard time forcing people into going to parties or concerts or any other social ocassion that has no attraction to them in the first place. Of course, you’ll drag yourself to a new years reception if you know the boss wants to see you there, or you’ll go that event if it looks good on your resume. But you won’t get involved in a daily activity that doesn’t suit you just because somebody tells you it’s totally fab.

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If you need people to be active in specific social circles, you’d better make sure they’re suited for that job before you hire them. Being social is as close to a character trade as you can get, and these things don’t just change because you think they’d need to. Instead, you may want to watch what type of social interaction they use in the first place, and try to expand on that. That may well be much more effective.

  • Thanks for the wonderful comment Volkert — a legitimate blog post in its own right!

    I don’t think we disagree. In fact I think your line is key: “If you need people to be active in specific social circles, you’d better make sure they’re suited for that job before you hire them.”

    The beauty of the social web is that there really are no rules. However, if it is your JOB to do social media for a company, you need to “get it” even if you may not like certain platforms.

    Thanks again for sharing your brilliance my friend!

  • MrTonyDowling

    I wrestle with this all the time with a big change mandate in general terms, much less the ‘socialisation’ of my organisation. Sometimes I think I’ll have to get the ‘right’ people in before I’ll see optimal performance, other times I think everyone deserves the chance to embrace change and demonstrate their commitment!
    I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle 🙂
    But the longer I have the honour of managing people the more convinced I am that its all about the people. When they are aligned and motivated and willing to go that extra mile you see fantastic results. And the counter is also true.
    Have a great Christmas Mark, you’ve spread some fine Joy around this year, and I hope you get a goodly dollop of your own right back at you!

  • So great to hear from you Tony. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Good poser and great comments on post. I always fear for age discrimination in these instances and hope that if people are ‘willing’ to be re-trained they are given the same opportunity as a younger counterpart. The question then becomes time, meaning how long do you offer training (learning curve span) before it becomes prohibitive in cost?

  • My thoughts exactly. At some point business has to get done. i think the age issue is another relevant aspect of this because I’m guessing there is a bias toward youth? Thanks Anneliz!

  • Thought-proviking post, Mark, as usual.

    It reminds me of the famous David Ogilvy–Russian matryoshka dolls story. He would give a set to new agency directors, with a note inside the smallest: “If you hire people who are smaller than you you, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” Old story, but perhaps more applicable than ever.

    As you say, it’s tougher with existing employees. But it is the culture of the organization that either encourages change or recidivism, so ongoing management support for adoption of social media is as critical as the individual’s attitude toward the effective use of these new business tools.

  • Elizabeth Hall

    This was an awesome article. The question of having the right people fit INTO the right job has plagued management even before social media. I think it all comes down to what will be best for the business. Business is business and you have to take into consideration the cost of training. Thanks for the info.

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