A German perspective on successful social business stories

At Ripple Effect Group, we are acutely aware of the impact of culture on technology adoption and the use of social media. In this guest post, Christoph Schmaltz – a Ripple Effect Group associate based in Munich, Germany – explores the case studies of three German companies that have been successful in their social business journey.

I am German. I hate being late. I am tall. I am not blond. I don’t have blue eyes. I don’t drink (much) beer. I am not a fan of David Hasselhoff. I don’t wear Lederhosen. I hate Sauerkraut! And sometimes my room is a chaos.

Chaos. German style.

No. I mean real chaos. Not German style!  In certain aspects I am not your typical German, in others I certainly am.

Just to make sure: Stereotypes don’t apply in all its glory to everyone, but there are reasons they exist. This blog post is not about stereotypes per se though. It looks at some of the successful social business stories from Germany that have recently garnered the spotlight among efforts of companies around the world. And who knows, maybe some ‘German’ traits may have something to do with the success.

When I started working in the Enterprise 2.0 space in 2006 there were mostly anglo-american companies exploring how they could solve certain business problems using social technologies. Names like Wells Fargo or Booz Allen Hamilton took the limelight and were front and center at the E20 conferences in Boston. Most of those efforts were about implementing wikis like Socialtext or Confluence or behemouths like SharePoint 2007. Adoption was a big topic back then, just like it is still today. The call for changes to organisational culture and structure could be heard back then, just like it is today.

Taking what you know about Germans, you are forgiven to think that the characteristics of a social business must be at odds with German values and traits. Germans tend to value (may I say love?) structure and control. Hierarchies and processes provide just that. German data privacy laws are among the strictest in the world. Germans are usually hype-resistant, as they think with their head and not with their heart. And yet, in the past years there have been efforts by many German companies to introduce social technlogies. Three of the most well-known once are adidas, Bosch, Continental.

In true German chaos style I shall talk about Continental, then Bosch and last but not least adidas.

Continental

Continental is a leading German automotive manufacturing company founded in 1871 specialising in tires, brake systems, automative safety etc. The company employees around 167.000 employees in 46 countries.

Laying the technical foundation of the journey was planned to take at least three years. (Source: Centrestage)

Continental Social Business Journey

Continental Social Business Journey

The most interesting bit about the Continental Social Business Journey is their approach to the necessary changes to their corporate culture and the new ways of working in a networked company.

The team leading a social business effort should ideally be supported by motivated individuals loosely connected to the team that can help their peers in their respective department or location getting to grips with the new ways of working. However, I have never seen such a bold and creative approach at scale as the one from Continental.

It’s called GUIDE and brings together over 450 Continental employees that act as ambassadors for the cultural change and social business initiative. The concept is explained in more detail in this video:

Harald Schirmer is the mastermind behind the GUIDE concept. Below I have embedded some slides that he presented at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris in 2013. It also provides additional information about the social business initiative at Continental.

In summary, what stands out for me in this case?

  • An ambassador programme (GUIDE) at scale
  • Good expectation management (see Slide 8 of the above presentation)
  • Commitment from the Board

Robert Bosch GmbH

Robert Bosch GmbH is a German multinational engineering and electronics company founded in 1886. It is the largest supplier of automative components and employes around 306.000 people in 60 countries.

comprehensive case study about Bosch’s social business journey was submitted to the EFQM Good Practice Competition in 2013 – New Ways of Working.  It provides a lot of insight into the journey to date and describes challenges and opportunities going forward.

As part of the submission to EFQM the Bosch team also produced an insightful video.

But again, the most interesting and noteworthy things are the ones happening around the technology. Again, I have not seen a more strategic and focused approach to community management than at Bosch. Everyone talks about the importance of community management, but Bosch shows how to employ it in practice.

That’s what I like to hear. Community managers are key to #socbiz success by leading behavior change at Bosch via @JoachimHeinz #IBMConnect — Rachel Happe (@rhappe) January 28, 2014

The Bosch approach to #cmgr training and integration is really impressive – they seem to have learned from those ahead of them #IBMConnect — Rachel Happe (@rhappe) January 28, 2014

The Bosch team has completely acknowledged the importance of community managers to help build a more open and transparent  coroporate culture. The even offer certified qualifications for their community managers as explained in this article (German only!).

Another interesting tactic for slowly changing the Bosch culture and leadership is the introduction of reverse mentoring. Again, many companies talk about it but few actually employ it at scale. Over 3000 senior managers worldwide have been paired with younger, social-media literate employees to learn about new technologies and how they can help senior managers in their daily work with their teams. Watch the video to learn more about the reverse-mentoring programme.

In summary, what stands out for me in this case?

  • An honest and productive approach to community management
  • Using reverse-mentoring as an innovative way to increase media literacy and improve leadership qualities
  • Open as a default. The option to “restrict” a community was hidden resulting in over 80% of communities to be open and visible across the company.

adidas Group

[Disclaimer: I was involved in the roll-out of the adidas Intranet]

The adidas Group provides the umbrella for its famous brands, among others adidas, Reebok and Taylormade. It was founded in 1948 and today employees over 50.000 people worldwide.

Kirsten Keck, Director of Internal Communication, wrote an insightful blog post about their Intranet journey and the change of the old guard.  Below you can see a screenshot of the personalised homepage of the Intranet.

Personalised homepage of the adidas Group Intranet

Personalised homepage of the adidas Group Intranet

There are two things that stand out for me in this case:

Don’t trust the hype

I have hardly ever seen a more realistic and down-to-earth approach to introducing social technologies and slowly changing the way people work than at adidas. This is probably not least because adidas had its fair share of learnings from the early days of using social technologies in a business environment. The team took great care to avoid terms like ‘social’, ‘wikis’, ‘facebook for the enterprise’, ‘SharePoint’ and similar. Instead the team focused on answering one key question: How will it help our employees to get their job done?

Get the job done

Many companies that introduce social tools are concerned about adoption. They think that employees need to be incentivised and convinced to use their new shiny toy. The problem usually is that the tools create new destinations to check for information and don’t necessarily add value for employees.  If that is the case, you are doing it wrong.

Thus, it was incredibly refreshing to see that the adidas team was laser-focused on providing tools that would decrease the frustration with daily tasks employees struggled with. Therefore, the new Intranet does not only provide a place to read about company news but more importantly it offers:

  • Tasks – centralized system workflows in one place
  • Apps – a single place to access all web-based business apps
  • Request Forms – one central place to access all request forms
  • Workspaces – to facilitate collaboration and sharing within teams and projects

Whilst the new Intranet also provides features to connect, communicate and collaborate with each other, it was a second priority. Since the value of connecting and collaborating with others is not always immediately clear to individuals, especially if they haven’t done so before, it can sometimes be a very hard sell. But if you already have a platform that is used by employees because its USEFUL and not just USEABLE, you are much closer to successfully introducing social functionality to your workforce and won’t have to worry about adoption (too much).

Apart from launching a new Intranet, the adidas Group has also recently introduced the Learning Campus masterminded by Christian Kuhna. It’s a programme to provide continuuous learning at scale to all adidas Group employees around the world. It is ambitious but at the same time it is another milestone in the journey to become a networked business.

As more and more companies start thinking strategically about how to survive in the networked age, they should closely watch adidas, Bosch and Continental and learn from their journey to become networked businesses. It may start with the implementation of a technical platform to connect its workforce, but it most certainly does not end there. And if companies don’t want to change, they most certainly will be changed.

About Christoph Schmaltz

Christoph is a business oriented and creative individual with a background in knowledge management and employee collaboration. He is founder and director of thinknext – a next-generation management consultancy based in Europe. – Read more about Christoph.