Friday, 28 November 2008

Social Media part 12

In this penultimate part of the current series on Social Media, I'm going to cover the subject of "Embracing", starting with some groundwork on what we mean by this.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines embrace in several ways:

  • To clasp in the arms, usually as a sign of affection;
  • To accept as friend;
  • To accept eagerly;
  • To submit to;
  • To cultivate (a virtue);
  • To adopt a course of action;
  • To attach oneself to (a cause);
  • To take in hand;
  • To encircle;
  • To take in with the eye or mind.
Phew - what a lot for one word. A common thread here is that embracing means willingly committing to something or someone. In Groundswell, it's described as "making customers an integral part of the way you innovate, with both products and process improvements" (page 183). So the commitment is from us to the customer (hopefully also the other way around too, but the emphasis is on us here).

So what can we do? The authors of Groundswell suggest two things:

1. Let the customer help

Our customers know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of our services better than we do. So let's ask them for ideas on how it can be improved. Those of you who are familiar with the business improvement ideas of "system thinking" will be familiar with this concept because it's a central tenet of system thinking: what is it that customer wants or needs, and how can be best deliver this? It's very different from the traditional delivery service thinking of "we know best" (the we being the organisation delivering the service).

If anyone has been watching the current serialisation of Little Dorrit on BBC TV (or has read the Dickens novel) - the ultimate, and worst possible, illustration of this is the Circumlocution Office. Here is the second meeting between the novel's hero, Mr Clenham, and the manager of the office (at the first meeting Mr. Clenham had been put off, but was now back for another try):

'I want to know,' said Arthur, and repeated his case.

Barnacle junior stared at him until his eye-glass fell out, and then put it in again and stared at him until it fell out again. 'You have no right to come this sort of move,' he then observed with the greatest weakness. 'Look here. What do you mean? You told me you didn't know whether it was public business or not.'

'I have now ascertained that it is public business,' returned the suitor, 'and I want to know'--and again repeated his monotonous inquiry.

Its effect upon young Barnacle was to make him repeat in a defenceless way, 'Look here! Upon my SOUL you mustn't come into the place saying you want to know, you know!'

The effect of that upon Arthur Clenham was to make him repeat his inquiry in exactly the same words and tone as before. The effect of that upon young Barnacle was to make him a wonderful spectacle of failure and helplessness.

Satire though this is, it does reflect something that is unfortunately still familiar within public service. Earlier in the same chapter of Little Dorrit (chapter 10) we read this summary of the Circumlocution Office: "Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving--HOW NOT TO DO IT." It's the exact opposite of embracing! We need to turn this on its head.

2. Balance creativity and humility

Listening to our customers' ideas means taking the criticism along with the compliments and reacting to this positively. It means being prepared to accept what they say gracefully and with humility, being prepared to act upon it, and demonstrating to the customer that we have indeed listened and acted. To quote the Groundswell authors gain, "muster up the humility to listen and tap into the skill to take what you've heard and make improvements. That's embracing the groundswell, and it pays by shortening the distance between you and your next successful innovation" (page 194).

In my next part in this series I'll give some practical examples on how we might do this.

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