Your people, armed with cheap, accessible technology, are connecting with customers and building innovative new solutions. But who are these creative problem-solvers? How can you be one? And just as important--how can you lead them?

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Carroll is far from alone in having employed social media to lambaste a company for poor customer service. For example, one popular blogger advised her million-plus followers on Twitter not to buy Maytag appliances. But the very technologies that empower customers can also empower employees, write Bernoff and Schadler, of Forrester Research.

Companies can build a strategy around freeing employees to experiment with new technologies, make high-profile decisions on the fly, and effectively speak for the organization in public. But it takes a while for corporate cultures to embrace this sort of innovation. In the meantime, managers can move forward on their own—building internal communities, looking outside the company for creative strategies, reviewing their hiring practices, and reaching out to customer-facing departments.

The Idea in Brief New technologies and social media have made it possible for a single dissatisfied customer to inflict lasting damage on a brand. But although horror stories abound, smart organizations have learned how to use these same technologies to avert problems and strengthen their brands. The key is to let employees experiment with technology, make high-profile decisions on the fly, build systems that customers can see, and publicly speak for the organization.

A crucial part of the solution is the HERO Compact—a three-way agreement for managing technological innovation. The list of examples is endless, because these days anyone with a smartphone or a computer can instantly inflict lasting brand damage. Employees can, too. Mark Betka and Tim Receveur, of the U. State Department, used off-the-shelf software called Adobe Connect to create Co. Nx, a public diplomacy outreach project that presents webchats with U. The webchats now have international audiences in the tens of thousands and more than , Facebook fans.

Freeing employees to experiment with new technologies, to make high-profile decisions on the fly, to build systems that customers see, and to effectively speak for the organization in public is not something most corporations or government agencies are accustomed to doing. They may be concerned, for example, about how employees will use the technology. Far better than trying to prevent such activity is to acknowledge that your employees have technology power.

Then you can set policy, train them in permissible communications and activities, and harness their creativity as a strategic force to power your company. It could be. It could behave like Best Buy.

A good example is Twelpforce. More than 2, Best Buy employees have signed up for this system, which enables them to see Best Buy—related problems that customers have aired on Twitter and respond to them. Twelpforce includes customer service staff, in-store sales associates called Blue Shirts , and Geek Squad, the service reps who make house calls for technical assistance.

When the iPhone stopped working, the in-store staff offered him a BlackBerry as a loaner replacement. Even though it was over a weekend, a customer service rep, Coral Biegler, responded quickly on Twitter.

By the next day she had arranged for him to get a replacement iPhone. So did his wife, who has more than 3, Twitter followers.

Twelpforce exists because Best Buy empowers its employees to come up with technological solutions. John Bernier, a marketing manager, took charge of the project and triumphed over legal obstacles including labor laws. In one case, commenters from outside the company complained about a lack of sensitivity in a commercial describing how a Blue Shirt helped a customer in the armed forces.

The commercial never aired. Best Buy has also taken the innovative step of opening up the programming interfaces to BestBuy. All these activities were developed by marketing staffers. All involved risk. And all went forward. HEROes exist because technologies like Twitter, online communities, cloud computing, and online video are so easy to master and so cheap to set up. As for managers, both senior and midlevel, they want to encourage innovation but worry about the risks associated with these projects.

And the HEROes have trouble executing their plans at scale in the absence of consistent support. In most companies, cultural resistance to empowering employees to use technology is systemwide. It limits risk and prevents chaos. This traditional approach would be fine if not for the actions of all those empowered customers. Their employees are ready to do so. The challenge is to encourage HERO-driven innovation without generating chaos.

The challenge is to encourage employee innovation without generating chaos. A crucial part of the solution is what we call the HERO Compact—an agreement among the three groups to work together to manage technological innovation. Under the compact: HEROes agree to innovate within a safe framework. The employees who come up with these projects must work within business structures. They must respond to support from management and IT by innovating in directions that align with corporate strategy and by observing security, legal, and other corporate policies.

Having succeeded with a project, a HERO is responsible for spreading newly won knowledge to others in the organization who might benefit from it.

Managers agree to encourage innovation and manage risk. Managers must communicate their openness to employee innovation, not just with words but by recognizing examples publicly and not punishing failures.

To ensure that HERO activity is productive, managers must also clearly and regularly communicate strategic goals. And they must work with IT to understand and deal with the risks associated with HERO projects, modifying them or even shutting them down if the legal or regulatory risks are out of line with any expected benefit.

At PTC, a Massachusetts-based supplier of computer-aided design and product life-cycle management software, after the marketing department came up with the idea for a customer community and provided funding, IT played a key role in evaluating technology vendors for the community. IT must assess and mitigate risk and give managers the tools to understand the risks in the context of the business benefits.

It must also recognize when HERO projects have become strategic and help scale them up. None of this can succeed unless the company and its technology policies are ready. This radically improves the agility with which companies can address the needs of their empowered customers. We identified two dimensions that determine whether people are able and willing to innovate in creating customer solutions. The first dimension is cultural. The second dimension is practical. We counted people who engaged in either of these activities as acting resourceful.

Technology Products and Services Workers Further analysis reveals patterns by industry. The industries with the lowest proportion of information workers in the HERO quadrant are retail, government, health care, and education. Marketing and Sales Staff We also analyzed workers by job description.

The market is highly competitive. Although the company had been doing effective sales training using PowerPoint and an in-house learning system, Sharpe conceived of a new approach after taking a look at YouTube.

More video started pouring in. Salespeople began documenting challenges, product features, and effective sales solutions. Video cameras became a standard part of sales training. Speed to execution is just as important. The training staff can spend a half hour with the product, come up with our own opinions and competitive analysis, and send [a video] out the next day with an assessment.

Training that used to take two weeks now takes one. New staff members spend 15 hours online before even coming to the training center. Senior management, corporate marketing, and public relations people review the collection for useful bits of content and motivational nuggets. The company found that its traditional advertising strategy—space in Ski magazine and other long-lead publications—was becoming ineffective; customers had begun booking ski vacations only weeks or days in advance.

He also decided to embrace Facebook and Twitter, where many skiers now get their information. Katz hired Mike Slone, an interactive development veteran, to head up social engagement in the new marketing strategy. One of their tasks is creating videos of activity on the slopes and posting them as soon as possible. In essence, Vail uses customers themselves to generate a sense of fun, exciting and helping to recruit other customers. He himself tweets, as rickysridge. It turned out that Lefsetz is an acerbic and popular blogger in the music industry who has nearly 13, Twitter followers.

First, they clearly communicate corporate priorities such as the shift to short-lead media. Second, they encourage experimentation—within the bounds of maintaining brand image and avoiding identifiable security risks. Third, they tolerate failure as long as it leads to learning.

And fourth, they create systems and structures within their companies that bust silos, which enables HEROes to share their learning and connect with others facing similar challenges. IT Prodding and Support at Aflac Gerald Shields, the chief information officer of the supplemental insurance provider Aflac, has plenty to do.

But he finds time to prod the rest of the company into coming up with technology projects for customer service. Then he went to work on Jeff Charney, the chief marketing officer. The combination of management support and IT backing proved powerful. Amos and Charney convened managers from all over the company for a workshop on social-technology opportunities.

Several cross-functional groups left the workshop charged with creating actionable plans for social applications. Each month 2, sales associates visit The Buzz. Duck Pond is the community that serves billing and payroll administrators. They also value connecting to people in similar jobs, because they typically work in human resources or finance, with few internal peers. Duck Pond was created not only to share information about Aflac but also to help the administrators get support from the company and from their peers on all sorts of issues, not just those related to insurance.

His initiative got management on board, and management benefited as the innovation spread throughout the company.


Review: Empowered (by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler)

Somehow, there was a delay in getting the book to me, and the text did not arrive until we were well into the fall semester — not a good time for a review. So, this is a little bit late, but better than never. By John W. Moravec, Ph.


Empowered, by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler

Cancel anytime. Your people - using low-cost, accessible technology - are connecting with customers and building innovative new solutions. But who are these creative problem solvers? How can you lead them? How can you be one? We call them HEROes: highly empowered and resourceful operatives.

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