Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Technology & Social Media

The key to success in a social world? Humanize.


We've spent a lot of time here talking about the wonders of social media, and with good reason. Social media's impact on our world rivals that of the Internet itself.

And still, many (most?) organizations are struggling with how to use social media effectively. Is it a marketing tool? A customer service tool? If so, how do you measure its worth? Or is it a productivity killer that should be banned from the office?

There's another question we haven't considered, though: What if social media isn't the problem at all? What if the problem is our own organizations?

That's the premise behind the terrific new book Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.

The book is co-written by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, and in the interest of full disclosure, I've "known" Jamie and Maddie for years. They were among the first people I followed when I joined Twitter in early 2008, and they've done more deep thinking in the area of social media than almost anyone I know.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that this isn't your average social media how-to book. In fact, this isn't a social media book at all. It's a cautionary tale for almost every business out there. Jamie and Maddie offer this message for consideration: It's a social world, and most businesses aren't built to succeed in a social world.

"We hear questions (from) organizations that already think social media is a good idea," they write. "They have the buy-in from the top of the organization, and they released the resources -- both money and staff time -- to do the work of social media. ... Yet they are continuously thwarted in their efforts because the organization's existing business processes were designed before the advent of social media and turn out to be incompatible."


The problem is this: Too many organizations are trying to shoe-horn social media into their existing business processes and failing miserably, because those processes weren't built with social media in mind.

The challenge, say Jamie and Maddie, is not to do social media better. It is to make our organizations more human.

Doing that, they say, is a four-step process:

Be open: Organizations that are more human are also more decentralized. "Open cultures actively shift the balance of power away from the center, where it has existed historically, and toward the periphery," Jamie and Maddie write. "... The more decentralized you get, the more decision-making authority you find floating around among the cubicles."

Be trustworthy: Most of us like to think we're trustworthy, but are we really? Being trustworthy in today's social world means being more transparent, and that's something with which traditional organizations aren't comfortable.

Be generative: Simply put, that means being able to produce or create. According to Jamie and Maddie, though, that has to be an ongoing, sustainable, perpetual process. Doing that, they argue, means embracing concepts like diversity and inclusion. That's no easy task for a traditional organization. It's an absolutely vital one for a more human organization.

Be courageous: How do we do that? Learn. Experiment. Be completely devoted to your personal development. In a ever-changing and complex world, it's absolutely vital. "What is required is a stronger capacity to deal with complexity," Jamie and Maddie write. "The personal development we need to develop courageous behavior, therefore, is in managing complexity."

Granted, these aren't easy things to do.

But according to the authors, they're absolutely essential if we want our organizations to survive and thrive in a changing, complex, and increasingly social world.

Do you agree? Are our traditional business processes dinosaurs in today's social world? If so, how are you making your organization more human?

Let us know, read the book, then check out these related resources:


Bill Sheridan