IBM SoftwareIBM executive brief:social business behaviorThe changing nature of culture, etiquette andpersonal interaction in the workplace
2 IBM executive brief: social business behaviorThe changing business landscape With these conditions in mind, we need to ask ourselves aMuch has been made of the need for new rules of behavior fundamental question: What are the norms for employee com-in the age of social business. The discussion has focused greatly munication in a social business? In this IBM executive brief, weon how corporate spokespersons and the general employee frame our response to this question as social business etiquette.population behave when communicating and interacting withclients, prospects, colleagues and other audiences through online The role of social business etiquette in social business transformationsocial environments. Internal social transformation is often the first step toward a broader transformation. The IBM 2011 Tech Trends Report,There has been much less discussion about business which surveyed more than 4,000 IT professionals in 93 coun-communication and professional interactions inside the firewall. tries, shows the importance of social collaboration to overallSocial collaboration affects the way workers interact with not strategies: As summarized by InformationWeek:only external stakeholders, but also one another. Just considerthe environmental changes seen in the past four years alone: “Many of the survey respondents noted that their companies are implementing social from the inside out—that is, they are testing the●● The increasingly porous nature of the corporate firewall waters by deploying intranet-based social systems. The top three drivers●● Geographically distributed teams for such deployments are employee collaboration, efficiency in locating●● Increased insourcing, outsourcing and cosourcing and more people and resources, and idea generation, according to the contractual team members report.”—InformationWeek1●● The growing impact of informal networks in team decision making Without a firm grasp of the technology itself or the human●● Employees’ behavior in circumventing standard policies and behavior related to the use of the technology, any project or tools to “get the job done”—especially as the consumerization strategy looking to harness the power of social collaboration of IT creates new expectations for corporate IT services will not be nearly as successful. By testing the waters internally, companies can understand how technology affects existingExtensive communications over online social networks often employees’ behavioral patterns. They can then use that culturalmeans that entire business conversations—and even deals—may knowledge to encourage and enable successful adoption.be carried out online. But human behavior is a rich interplayof visual cues, body language, facial expressions, voice tone This IBM executive brief is for enterprise leaders who seek toand other “meta-senses” that are not yet fully realized in online understand the critical role that social business etiquette playsconversations. The risk is that, without understanding the new in workforce transformation and in adoption of social businessrules of etiquette for social business, we may now misunder- programs. It explores professional interactions among colleaguesstand, stall or break down vital business communications. over online social networks inside the firewall, with particular emphasis on colleagues who do not have an established profes- sional relationship.
IBM Software 3This executive brief avoids discussions that cover otherenterprise collaboration modalities: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”●● Employee communication and collaboration with external stakeholders. As already mentioned, this is covered by a —Coffman Organization, 20093 large and growing body of work. IBM has contributed to that discussion with reports such as the 2011 IBM Institute for Business Value’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Study.2●● The basics of being a “good businessperson.” These basics are already extensively covered by management tomes, the Harvard Business Review, human resource communities such as the Institute for Corporate Productivity and many more.●● Organizations with rigidly hierarchical structures. In addition to the challenges described in this executive brief, these organizations may face additional change management, regulatory and other organizational behavior requirements before fully incorporating social business strategies in their business model. This executive brief can, however, certainly benefit organizations that allow, or are experimenting with, informal and formal online networks of collaboration.Why etiquette plays a role in internal social business to behave. It is important to understand the organization’s cul-adoption ture, the rules of etiquette that fit and how these factors enableMost organizations have professional norms: the written employee engagement in such social networks.and unwritten rules and behaviors that govern working withcolleagues across formal organizational structures. The nature As always, a good set of definitions will help frame the problem:of social collaboration, however, elevates the importance of theinformal networks within the organization, whereas the newness Culture: the beliefs, behaviors, objects and other characteristics commonof interacting in this manner creates a fog of uncertainty on how to the members of a particular group or society4
4 IBM executive brief: social business behaviorEtiquette: conventional requirements as to social behavior; customary Because of the subjective nature of etiquette, many businessconduct as established in any class or community or for any occasion5 leaders are understandably uncomfortable with the subject. It is easier to focus on more quantifiable business outcomes and keyIn other words, etiquette can be thought of as best practices performance indicators. But etiquette is important, increasingly(good or acceptable) or best behaviors to avoid (improper or so, as social business strategies become a key source of competi-unacceptable) for specific interactions. Organizational cultures tive differentiation:can then encourage specific rules of etiquette to facilitateharmony and productivity across the environment. ●● Etiquette is a normalizing practice that helps align your people to the principles that your organization values, whichThis customization is important. There is no one single “right in turn shape your business strategies.way” to behave, because appropriate behavior is culturally and ●● Etiquette informs employees how to operate in commonorganizationally determined, depending on several factors: situations, and culture guides them in uncommon ones. ●● Etiquette and cultural values can be a strong competitive●● “Up-down” etiquette: interacting with a direct report or an differentiator, especially when well communicated to custom- up-line manager ers, colleagues and communities. Consider the employees●● “Sideways” etiquette: interacting with a peer coworker in your and fans of Harley-Davidson motorcycles: They have their immediate group, a coworker on your extended team or a own unique rules of etiquette. The well-defined culture of coworker in a different division Harley-Davidson appeals to its constituents and has enabled●● Asymmetric social knowledge: interacting with a coworker the company to succeed over the long term. who is more familiar with your work than you are with his or ●● Trust is critical for successful business relationships, and it’s a hers (or vice versa) key differentiator for social businesses, because, ultimately, we●● Media being used: email, instant messaging (IM), telephone are likely to do more business with those we trust. The small call, social networks or a combination thereof interactions we have every day are as important as the●● Number of participants: one to one (face to face, telephone outcomes of major transactions when developing trusted and instant message), one to many (weekly team meetings, relationships. Etiquette helps new employees understand what videoconferences and microblog posts) or many to many is and is not considered trustworthy behavior, and therefore it (town halls, community discussions and ideation blogs) helps them map out the boundaries. It also helps experienced●● Influence of geographic cultural norms: participants are employees share wisdom about successful as opposed to culturally homogeneous or participants are from multiple unsuccessful interpersonal behavior. cultures●● Level of experience of participants: younger workers interact- ing with older workers—or newer workers interacting with more-experienced workers
IBM Software 5There is a growing body of discussion on the nature of trust in Social business etiquette therefore builds on norms honedonline social networks. This includes business versus personal over years of experience in the shared tools of interaction, andand the effect of anonymity (or personas) versus true identifica- it evolves as the tools evolve. Another example: It is generallytion. Just one recent example: Bertrand Duperrin, a prominent considered improper to use all capital letters in a text-basedFrench blogger on Enterprise 2.0, recently wrote a blog post on the message, including email, microblogs and blog comments,unforeseen consequences of how these basic structures affect because it suggests that one is yelling at another person. Whenbehavior (“sincerity is impacted by transparency”) and business the Internet first started, however, “all caps” was not as unusualoutcomes.6 Although this is beyond the scope of our executive because there were still devices that did not have lower-casebrief, it helps to illuminate the complexity of the issue. letters on keyboards. This is similar to telegraph messages of a century ago, where that limitation implied no negative sentimentThe changing rules of etiquette in an toward “all caps.” However, because it is almost unheard of nowonline social world to have devices without lowercase letters, “all caps” is nowSocial business etiquette is not built in a vacuum. As with other considered improper.cultural artifacts, social business etiquette builds on the rulesthat have already been established in other contexts: telephone The specific application of etiquette to the particular media ininteractions, email exchanges, elevator chats, formal face-to-face use is also important. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The mediummeetings and so on. For example, the emoticon (“smiley face”) is the message.”8 What is considered acceptable in one mediumwas developed to impart facial emotional content, such as may not be in another. For example, some social network toolsamusement or boredom, within an email conversation. such as Twitter do not require the permission of people to buildEmoticons later carried forward into instant messaging and are connections, while others such as LinkedIn do. The etiquette onnow a fixture in newer online social communications like blogs, Twitter therefore forgoes the need to give a reason for people tomicroblogs and more. connect, while LinkedIn connections are most successful when users provide a good reason why they wish to connect with someone.“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game ... What follows are some of the more common scenarios that should be considered in any social business transformation.it IS the game.”—Lou Gerstner7
6 IBM executive brief: social business behaviorEtiquette in building relationships Building networks is therefore not necessarily as straightforwardAssuming your organization is open to employees viewing as it may seem. For example, when inviting someone you don’torganization charts using internal social network profiles and already know to join your network, it is often appropriate toother resources (see sidebar), anyone can quickly understand an include a short message explaining your reason for the invitationindividual’s place within the formal relationship: job titles, and why you think the connection will be mutually beneficial.reporting chain, etc. In addition, most enterprise profile systems In other instances, it may be more appropriate to “follow” aalso provide data about employees’ social graphs: their informal person rather than invite them to join your network. This isrelationships, including shared communities, current projects, often the case when individuals want to keep up with managerspublications and informal networks. Understanding the formal or executives outside of the normal reporting structure. Networkand informal relationships between individuals can be used to connections imply a level of connectedness and an established,find expertise and get information from others; for example, or prior, working relationship.to find a product development expert or to request data for aspecific project. The effect on etiquette is significant. In such open information systems, it is perfectly acceptable to research and bring up in open discussion our colleagues’ documented relationships. It is not considered inappropriate (i.e., “stalking”). On the contrary, itThe availability of formal reporting structures is considered to be less than thoughtful when entering a newLike most organizations, IBM has a clearly defined hierarchy conversation without first having done some prior research intoof reporting relationships. However, IBM also providesuniversal and easy access to this information in an online your colleagues’ formal and informal networks. In the case ofcompany directory. Employees are actively encouraged to organizations that need to maintain more control over suchsearch through the profile database. Many organizations information, the opposite norms of behavior may apply. Fortoday have not yet made this change: some because of example, in highly regulated financial services, collaborationinertia, others because it is culturally inappropriate to publicly between stock trading and investment banking divisions areshare organizational structures outside of one’s immediate often sharply proscribed. Etiquette reinforces that necessity byreporting chain, still others because there is a business need ascribing concern or confusion to individuals approached outsidesuch as secrecy or legal compartmentalization among the tightly controlled norm.organizational units.
IBM Software 7Etiquette in interactions: tooling and communication types exception building. For example: One can set a preference thatIn addition to the tools and data that identify relationships, immediate managers can override a Do Not Disturb status. InIBM has a culture of interaction that enables social business. the case of IBM, because of the highly geographically dispersedEmail, conference calls, instant messaging, discussion forums, workforce and the use of customizable status messages, “Out ofweb meetings, blogging, microblogging and more are acceptable Office” notifications on email, or “away” status on instant mes-ways to meet, explain, invent, argue and listen. The ease with saging, are not just acceptable, but are socially recommendedwhich people interact and the meaningful ways people can when employees are away for a significant amount of timeparticipate enable the work we need to do together. (e.g., for email, more than a day; for IM, more than an hour).In fact, low or even no interaction, when not explicitly Setting “Preferred Contact” information in the employee onlinerequesting a response or direct engagement, is also acceptable. profile, which can then be surfaced in a digital business card,According to Forrester Research’s Social Technographics profile, tells colleagues the best way to connect with one another, anda significant portion of the population are not, nor will be, vocal sets an expectation that if one tries to connect in that manner, acontributors.9 When called “lurking,” the term unnecessarily response will be provided. The functions in the tools give cluesdenigrates an important and valid type of interaction where to the rules for starting interactions with one another, and forresponses are not required: researching a new topic or expert in knowing when to stop. The response etiquette applies to nega-the field of interest, broadcast cascades from senior executives tive situations as well, such as providing the ability to indicate(announcements, policy), informal peer-to-peer information inappropriate content.sharing (tips, Q&As) and more. Lurking behavior can be perceived as inappropriate when itEtiquette in responding to others seems to be a means to ignore a direct request. For example,In social spaces, responsiveness is visible. The IBM culture of someone posting a question to an IBM employee’s Profile Boardprofessionalism means that IBM employees expect responses (similar to the Facebook wall) has a reasonable expectation thatin a reasonable time, and social pressure can prompt action. his or her question will eventually be answered as if it had beenIBM has capabilities in our internal social network tools that aid posed in an email or a voicemail, if not with the same sense ofin understanding how to respond to others. The “Do Not urgency.Disturb” status on instant messaging, for example, may makeclear a current inability to respond. The tool can also provide
8 IBM executive brief: social business behaviorEtiquette in including and acknowledging others of one’s accomplishments to extended networks, inside as well asOne of the more important aspects of social business etiquette is outside the organization. IBM, for example, is experimentingthe ability to include and acknowledge others, especially when with BlueThx, a virtual “thank you” and reward system whereface-to-face inclusion and acknowledgement are impossible. As peers can publicly acknowledge colleagues’ positive contribu-is often taught in school, never underestimate the value of a tions. Those acknowledgments are in turn communicated tothank you. Social tools can provide undeniable benefit by mak- managers, posted to the recipient’s online profile board anding it easy to make those thank you notes public by including tagged to enhance expertise searches.others in your work: share links to your successes and lessonslearned, reshare the interesting work of others, acknowledge a At IBM, etiquette dictates that negative criticisms and outcome-colleague’s contributions and trace contributions in the network. based criticisms are generally kept inside private email strings. Sharing these thoughts via public forums, status updates, profileThe tools themselves can assist in setting up the right etiquette boards or public comments to a blog, is consideredfor the response. If it is unclear whether a file can be shared inappropriate.with others, the poster can easily set limits on who can see thefile (“only share with John, Jeanne and Jacques”) and what level Defining etiquette helps us to understand our responsibilities forof participation each is provided: “read only” versus “editor.” adhering to the code of behavior. In particular, it is the responsi-If a recipient thinks that additional access or privileges are bility of every employee to understand differences in perspectiverequired, a request back to the document owner is acceptable and context when crafting responses and sharing others’ work.(as is a “no” reply). Etiquette of mass communications over social networksAnother example: In a microblog exchange, acknowledging versus spammingcomments shows attention is being paid. It is good practice to As more people move to social networks within an organization,address comments to a specific individual using his or her name, new audiences emerge. Often, online communities may haveor the “@username” style that is popular on networks such as membership lists that others can see. However, this does notTwitter. While this approach is sometimes used, referring to necessarily impart permission to broadcast messages to allindividual comments by comment number is often considered members of a particular group. Social business tools allowless personal and does not engender the same level of trust. better ways to drive attention to a topic, event or other subject such as through a blog or wiki. One recent example withinHuman resources professionals are always wrestling with recog- IBM: when Virginia (Ginni) Rometty assumed the role as CEO ofnition and reward strategies in their organization. A year-end IBM on January 1, 2012, her first major communiqué was via a shortbonus or a private year-end review result is not worth as much video outlining her priorities as leader, which she posted to thewhen the norm is no longer “employee for life”. Professional IBM internal social network.10value is increasingly measured by the public acknowledgment
IBM Software 9Social business etiquette also takes advantage of rapid iteration The IBM Social Computing Guidelines advise all IBM employeesto accommodate changing definitions of success (what works and to be respectful and factual.12 The expectations are describedwhat doesn’t). For example: Where previously it may have been clearly. Problems occur because social interaction crossesconsidered bragging to overcommunicate one’s successes, online borders, flattens hierarchies, involves multiple generations andsocial networks actually respond better when subject matter practically moves at the speed of light. Many breaches of eti-experts (humbly) communicate their successes to the broader quette are not deliberate, but often are failures to understandcommunity. Over time, as subject matter experts develop suffi- perspectives, cultural norms and expectations: “I didn’t know—cient social trust, senior leaders may actually send organizational I haven’t had a chance to read the guidelines yet.”messages through such thought leaders instead of themselves orother more formal communiqués; they know that a thought Other transgressions occur because the interactions are happen-leader’s message will likely draw more attention than one sent ing so fast that people do not have access to all the facts. In somethrough more formal—and unsolicited—channels. Most recipi- cases, the original interaction is acceptable, but the feedback isents may equate unsolicited messages, even those coming from subsequently handled inappropriately. With a corporate culturethe senior leadership team, as spam and ignore them, whereas that has publicly valued diversity, IBM employees have the clearthey may be much more interested in hearing what a trusted responsibility to understand the differences in perspective thatsubject matter expert has to say about the same topic. other contributors bring, and the blind spots that we may have ourselves.13Understanding differences in perspectivePeople violate codes of behaviors all the time, of course, and Recognizing contextneed help understanding expectations. Melissa Sader, one Understanding differing perspectives is only part of theof the contributors to this executive brief, writes a monthly responsibility. Professional social collaboration also engenders acolumn about corporate etiquette to encourage employees to responsibility to understand context: of the content, the peoplebe mindful of how they communicate and interact with others. and the exposure. Content always has a context: draft versusHer column is “about IBMers practicing our values with special final version, vacation photo versus team dinner photo, informalregard to effective business communication and building strong remarks versus official press release. Just consider the pitfalls inprofessional relationships in a global enterprise.” Her focus the use—and misunderstanding of—humor used in a businessis similar to that of The Emily Post Institute Etipedia, the online context. People also have a context relative to you, dependingetiquette encyclopedia where the great grandchildren of Emily on such factors as their history, their relationship to you, theirPost are using the framework of Wikipedia to update her classic position in the organization and more. And finally, there isrulebook with social networking etiquette.11 the context of exposure: a “for your eyes only” versus wider-but- still-controlled-distribution communications versus public communications.
10 IBM executive brief: social business behaviorFor example, those who have been exposed to more traditionalbrainstorming workshops know that spirited discussions are IBM BlueIQencouraged to drive innovative idea generation. But because the The IBM BlueIQ program educates employees on social tasksdiscussions remained behind closed doors, the etiquette of the and behaviors, and it taps into thousands of volunteer BlueIQcaucus applied: Any disagreements are kept behind closed doors; ambassadors across the company to help teach and modelwhen in public, everyone is on the same page. But newer tools usage scenarios. At the management level, IBM establishedallow for much more distributed brainstorming, such as ideation its Social Business Management Council to help ensureblogs or IBM InnovationJam® sessions. This more public alignment with corporate strategy and handle policy issues.context requires a different etiquette, such as discussion forumcomments that are kept more factual and less emotional than aclosed-door discussion. But etiquette breaches can still occur, even with new policies andContext is a very strong governor of etiquette. The transforma- programs in place—just like they did before the transformationtion to social business creates an added responsibility in workers to a social business takes place. The most effective means ofand leaders to understand that online social environments bring etiquette control rely less on rules and sanctions, and more ona transparency to context that doesn’t exist in other realms of norms, values and the influence of peers. In a social business, theinteraction. desired end state is one where employees help each other govern and enforce social business etiquette according to the policiesRisk and governance and values of the company.Open communication in social spaces makes managers worrythat they have less control over employee behavior. IBM and The game changers that make governing etiquette in a socialother companies have addressed risk by relying on existing codes business different are issues of access and identity, expectationsof behavior (such as the IBM Business Conduct Guidelines) for participation, and the impact that a breach can have acrossand forming new policies where needed (see the index of social the organization. For example, social spaces enable access tomedia governance guidelines from 176 companies compiled by information as well as many channels for distributing informa-Chris Boudreaux).14 Many companies form new governance tion, which can mean faster communication—or inappropriatemodels in their organizations, with representation from business dissemination. Employees can manage identity in social spacesunits, legal and HR, to assess risk, educate employees and report so they create digital eminence and avoid a digital disaster. Theprogress on the impact of social business. vast spectrum of participation in a social network (from content creators to commenters and observers) means that employees can influence others by their presence—or their absence.
IBM Software 11Clear policies, training and feedback mechanisms help employ- capital an organization has. It is ultimately about driving profes-ees understand how best to interact, and how best to help each sional and organizational success through reduced friction andother. Social businesses must establish clear policy tied to roles: increased transparency.who is authorized to speak for the company and how employeescan convey when they are not. Policy must also be tied to As organizations embark upon a social business transformation,ownership: who has decision-making ability and which organiza- they should consider these next three steps critical in helpingtions take responsibility for what issues. Training programs ensure that the transformation is not about tools but about whatshould stress the behaviors and tasks, and not just the tools. will drive strategic success for the business.And feedback mechanisms are essential for formal and informalcommunity dialogue about questions, concerns, ideas and 1. Consider your own organization’s culture and behavioral normscompliments. when rolling out social business tools. A social business strategy that does not take into account the current culture will likelyThe viral, social aspects of a social business are an advantage in stall or even fail in the face of rejection by the social body.communicating desired etiquette. Practices are observed by all, Specific, existing, written and, just as important, unwrittenboth good and bad. And both can be addressed quickly in an rules of conduct must be considered when deploying socialappropriate way. The informal networks that form so quickly collaboration technologies in the enterprise.and easily in social spaces can be used for reinforcement, train- 2. Walk before you run. Because social business etiquette is tied soing and feedback. Skilled people who have respect in their own closely to the complexities of your organizational culture, it isnetworks can spread desired practices faster, achieving the influ- important for both individuals and groups to experiment andence of good etiquette that a social business needs to reach its rapidly iterate. Individuals should be encouraged and empow-maximum potential. ered to try public social media to collaborate on non-confi- dential projects and tasks. Although not behind the firewall,Next steps public social collaboration can give employees and groups anSocial business etiquette is not about a “feel good” approach to excellent feel for how these tools will work internally.business. It is rooted in the deepest levels of how businesses cre- Designate moderators and coaches to keep an eye on progressate and engender trust, which is increasingly the most critical and capture lessons learned before rolling out similar tools internally.