Birds of a feather will gather together.
Centuries ago , English clergyman and scholar Thomas Burton studied and wrote about the nature of man, as well as science, history, politics… and social reform. His insight into social behavior–how beings of a like kind gather–has borne fruit in today’s social media revolution.
A shorter time ago, the president of the company I was consulting for called his staff together to announce some changes to help the business. Among the items he presented was a plan to give everyone a business card. At that time, only employees who were in a sales position or had vendor relationships were given the little deck of 50-100 cards with their name on them. But this initiative would put business cards in the hands of everyone — admins, designers, assistants, accounting personnel, production staff… everyone!
Why? He explained he wanted all employees to be ambassadors for the company. Even in social settings, he wanted everyone to be proud (and able) to show and share the brand with their own card. “You should be proud of where you work and the business should be proud of all of you,” he said. “It’s a small cost to give everyone cards,” I remember him saying “and the return can be enormous.”
His vision was for each one of his team to carry the brand out into the real world. He wanted to take advantage of their social networks to spread the name, and the reputation, of the firm. It was a great idea. Simple to explain and understand, cheap to execute and easy to implement. And it created buzz throughout the company as people felt empowered and validated by this simplest of measures.
Then it all crashed.
The business manager would not approve the expense. There was not a proper business case for an expenditure on business cards for people who had no business purpose to have business cards.
And like that, it was over. Get back to work. Opportunity avoided.
Thomas Burton had another famous saying that applies: Penny wise and pound foolish.
Your Advantage: Your employees. While some envision the growth for business that social behavior could bring, there is always skepticism about expenses associated with “experiments”, just as there is an unwillingness to allow all employees to speak for the brand. FLASH: They already do.
Epilogue: I find it interesting that today, a couple of decades after my experience, we are on the verge of a new paradigm, total employee engagement, or what IBM is calling social business.