I had a powerful conversation recently in Europe with one of the top executives of a major industrial company. They have 100K+ employees in over 50 countries. When he joined five years ago their business was struggling and in need of major transformation; their stock was at two dollars a share, they had ethics issues and product quality problems – you name the malady, they were suffering from it
Fast forward to 2008 and now they are one of the most extraordinary success stories in Europe – stock is over $28 a share, great profits, growing operations, well regarded in the business community etc. When you fly through a European airport they are everywhere.
I asked him how they were able to turn such a large, multinational ship around.
He told me most executives talk about “the hard stuff” vs. “the soft stuff”. Their focus for success in the organization is on the hard stuff – finance, technology, manufacturing, R&D, Sales – where the money is to be found, where costs savings are to be made. The soft stuff – leadership, culture, change and implementation – is there in rhetoric but not in reality (e.g., “people are our most important resource”). But the truth is that it is not the “hard stuff” vs. the “soft stuff”, but the hard stuff vs. the harder stuff. And it is this “harder stuff” that drives both revenues and profits by making or breaking a decision, leading a project to a successful conclusion – or not, and allowing for effective collaboration within a business unit or an organization – or not. He told me it was a consistent focus on the harder stuff that allowed them to turn their company around.
This is an apt description of the problems we face in bringing Web 2.0 into the enterprise. Web 2.0 is a game changer – it holds the potential to turbo-charge back office functions, foster collaboration and transform every business unit in the enterprise. Yet the resistance occurs when it comes down to implementing Web 2.0 because it represents a series of shifts that challenge traditional business culture and models of leadership. How often have I heard the knee-jerk reaction, “we can’t let our customers talk to each other” or “we don’t share our data” or “we are going to upgrade to a new platform – we are on a three year plan to get it done” (I keep a list of these reactions so please help me add to it). If developing a web 2.0 strategy is the hard stuff – moving that strategy forward is the harder stuff – and the bigger the company I work with – the harder the harder stuff is.