The culture of collaboration

Who was influencing CSR in 2009? This is the question posed by CSR Asia’s annual report, The future of CSR: Issues for the next decade. ‘Government and politicians’ may take the number-one spot, followed by ‘NGOs and civil society organisations’ and then ‘companies’ but, for the first time, social media appears in the top ten list of institutions that matter.

Social media is more than just an aggregation of tools from wikis to social networks, from microblogs to RSS feeds. Social media is – first and foremost – about being social. And that’s what institutions with a focus on non-hierarchical, bi-directional and transparent conversations had on their agenda long before Facebook and Twitter became media hype to many and an extremely valuable tool to some. Or vice versa?

Many NGOs were successful by being social in the first place; and now companies are starting to discover the importance of their social responsibility. Participation and collaboration, the core values of social media, are not merely marketing phrases to those that take all of their stakeholders, not just customers, seriously. If you care about open and honest relationships with your stakeholders and sustainable development – as it was originally meant – you will value the power of social media creativity more than the fear of loosing control.

Now you might be in a company, or have a client, with a corporate culture far removed from the above-mentioned attributes. One that still has attitudes such as “when I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.” In that case, stop being frustrated and start talking about offering the real value social software can offer. Why culture is not (always) a barrier, but (often) an excuse has been well explained in Enterprise 2.0: Culture is as culture does.

The authors’ tactics for overcoming culture (and my thoughts) include, among others:
• Remove alternatives (get to the point)
• Storytelling (my personal favourite)
• Incentives (it’s a corporate culture, not the culture of a nation you need to overcome)
• Executive reminders (don’t neglect some command-and-control advantages)
• Model behaviour (search for evangelists)
• Senior sponsor (could be decisive).

And who should help companies overcome an “unsocial” culture? Us: internal communications managers, directors, specialists, interns and consultants – those who, in the last ten years, have been successfully putting internal communications high on the agenda of corporate decision makers. At least for the majority.

What is it we do and deliver? Just internal magazines, a poster or an Intranet? Again, it’s not about the tools. First we take your measurements and then decide with you what clothes suit you and actually fit. Twenty-five internal communication directors were interviewed in the Watson Helsby report Internal Communications – more to deliver to find out more about our “species” and our “area of activity”.

My opinion: internal communications is at one with CSR and social media (social, not just media) changing the way companies act in one common way. So stop shouting and start listening.

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