Thanks to social networking, the recent past witnessed hyper-communication in most of the fields with different ideas and views flowing through. We know that there are benefits of two-way or multi-way communications where an idea, strategy, thought could be looked at from various angles to either build it or sometimes bury it! Whilst crowd-sourcing is a step in the right direction, is it enough? Let’s step back in time – 1970’s and look at a particular company and the importance of culture in addition to communication.
Let’s look at what happened to Kodak or more importantly what did not happen inside Kodak. When Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who invented the first digital camera in 1975, shared his idea with Kodak management:
But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was,’ that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it’.( source New York Times 2/May/2008)
So did the management fail to see the new trend or did the thought of cannibalizing their revenue streams blind them – perhaps both.
For the next 3 decades, the management was in denial about the emergence of this digital trend. While the founder of Kodak, George Eastman managed to embrace a new trend at the right time twice (once when he turned down profitable dry-plate business to move to film and then when he invested in color film even when their black and white business was doing well), the successive CEO’s managed to stay on the same old trend and failed consistently.
The next failure, in 1996, was its $500Mn project Advantix preview film and camera system (this was 10 years after developing its first mega pixel camera). The Advantix preview would allow the users to preview their shots and select the number of picture prints required and this was possible because it was a digital camera (Source Forbes 18/Jan/2012) . The major cause for failure was the introduction of film into a digital camera just because Kodak was in that business!! Would you really buy a digital camera and still pay for film and prints?
So what’s the root cause – Management stopped ‘listening’ thereby didn’t see the impact of the chinks in their armor then went on to refuse embracing the new trend, even worse, they spent millions of dollars on research to force fit an old trend (films) onto a new trend (digital) using Advantix preview. If Kodak had a two or multi-way communication mechanism ( like social networking today)set-up in 1970’s, 1980’s and marketing-employee relations and other stakeholders picked up on the pro and anti ‘digital trend’ views, and made a futurist decision perhaps Kodak would be bustling with growth today
To look at the issue, let’s draw an analogy between a company and a person. Companies tend to behave like people; in addition to other qualities successful companies and people tend to have a right balance between conviction and self-awareness. For an organisation to start a journey of building this balance, the following 3 aspects are critical
1.) Multi- way communication (social networking is just one platform) with all stakeholders (customers, employees, prospects, analysts, investors.) can be very helpful provided companies actively listen more and say less. Social media technology including employee collaboration tools can empower R&D, sales/marketing and other department members in order to make the wider internal community notice the importance of a new trend.
2.) Marketing/Employee relations to work 2 in a box to understand employees’ views on company’s products, services, new trends, challenges in addition to traditional employee relations work. Customer Experience is no longer a front line issue only; it has to be an enterprise wide philosophy.
3.) Management/Leadership culture that is keen to listen to the findings of Marketing and other departments. Conviction and Self-awareness need to go hand-in hand. Management with too much conviction and very little self-awareness will lead to a Kodak moment, too much self-awareness and very little conviction is a non-starter.
Back to the issue of whether social networking could have saved Kodak? Maybe, it would have created more awareness in order to embrace the new digital trend or a tleast generated some noise which would have received some more attention and over time the management would have become a bit more self-aware. Social networking can help with awareness; adoption has to come from within, where culture also plays a role. More so now than ever, for a company with competency and resources to be successful, management needs to get their employees behind their strategy and drive the company forward. This does not mean building a strategy in isolation and hard selling to the employees and customers to get their support or this does not mean trying to find a democratic strategy – this means continuously running programs to socialize ideas and to listen to the views, solutions that emerge and/or to listen and pick up new ideas and monetize them.
Today, leading companies evaluating/implementing various customer impact systems such as CEM (Customer Experience Management), Social CRM etc are backing it up with Big data analytics, In-memory computing and leveraging Cloud’s elasticity. Long term players are teaming-up with the right partners in order to stay relevant; the future is exciting provided you are equipped for it.
Would be keen to listen to your views and experience!