Social Media & Corporate Culture: Strategic Tools for Change Management

Posted on April 21st 2010

Culture is a Strategic Lever for Performance & Profitability

Organizational culture reflects the vision of a company's founders and leaders. Strong cultures help companies operate efficiently and effectively because individual behaviors and interactions are aligned with organizational values. On the other hand, in firms with weak cultures and little alignment between organizational values and behaviors, culture is nothing more than a bureaucratic barrier to effectiveness.

MIT's Edgar Schein defines organizational culture as the pattern of shared and ingrained assumptions a group forms through the process of solving problems together. Essentially, groups adopt the behaviors that have brought them success. The behaviors then become hard-wired into the DNA of the firm. These cultural norms are the most difficult organizational attribute to change, says Schein, because culture outlives founders, leaders, employees, products, services, and other physical attributes of a company.

Because organizational culture influences our automatic and intuitive responses to everyday business situations and decisions, it powerfully impacts performance and profitability.

How Firms Can Use Social Media to Drive Cultural Change

In its essence, cultural change — or any process of change management — is about people. It is a process of “unfreezing” old attitudes, values and beliefs and “refreezing” new attitudes, values and beliefs. It must happen on the individual, departmental, and organizational level.

When attempting to shape culture, business leaders must develop a clear strategic vision, model the cultural change by “walking the talk”, consistently and constantly repeat the vision, and reinforce the change by modifying organizational structures, policies, and procedures in a manner that supports “the new way of doing things”.

Social media platforms are ideal mechanisms to facilitate change because much of change management boils down to ongoing conversations and dialogue in a company.

Change Occurs through Conversation

Change happens through the process of managing and shaping content, communication, and culture. Take a look at a few of the key elements of a successful change management plan:
  • Balanced participation from employees at all levels and locations within a firm,
  • Strong external and internal focus on complex formal and informal elements of markets and firms,
  • Rigorous examination and debate of many detailed and comprehensive options for achieving change, and
  • Consistent and constant repetition and reinforcement of new vision across corporate communication channels.

All of the these key elements take root in conversation, and until social media, there hasn't been as an effective tool to manage the breadth and complexity of facilitating so much conversation and content at once.

Social media are full of potential as change management  tools, ideally suited for the processes of listening, talking, sharing information, community building, strengthening networks, and generating buzz. Social media provide leaders with a new opportunity to root strategic vision in organizational dialogue and to shape organizational culture in ways that improve performance.

Social Media Is So Much More Than a Marketing Tool

While organizations wade into the rising social media tide, they should put aside the stalled debate on corporate policy, and stop asking how they should limit and control social media. Instead they should start asking how they can make social media bigger in their organization by considering how social media platforms can help achieve business objectives beyond marketing. I've started to name a few like shaping company culture, strengthening change management initiatives, improving execution of corporate strategy, facilitating corporate communication, and increasing employee engagement.

As I said before, social media isn't about marketing. It is about people and what we value in and out of American (corporate) culture — individuality, equality, openness, relationships, cooperation, achievement, and seeking change for a better future. And because social media reflects who we are as a nation, it's not going away anytime soon.

What do you think? Do you have other business applications for social media?

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Comments

BretSimmons
Posted on April 21st 2010 at 11:57AM
Jennifer, this is excellent! Companies that only make SM about marketing are missing the big picture. SM is one of the most effective learning tools available to an organization that I have seen in a long time. Well done! Bret
patrickgladney
Posted on May 6th 2010 at 1:42PM
Jennifer - I enjoyed your post - its always refreshing for to hear from proponents of social media  who believe it should be used for reasons other than selling stuff.  Let's face it - whether used as an internal culture changer or a means to get customers - it's a slow, brand building play.