Sameer Patel on Social Business

Original Interview made by Alberto Beccaris –

Sameer is a partner at the Sovos Group – a management consulting and execution planning firm that helps leading organizations accelerate employee, customer and partner performance via the strategic use of social and collaborative approaches and technology.

Sameer has spent over a decade leading teams and managing engagements for large customer helping them define and execute sustainable programs that drive employee process performance, business partner network optimization, sales and marketing operational effectiveness and customer acquisition.

Customers that Sameer has had the privilege to work with include well known organizations such as Ingres, Sun Microsystems, KPMG, McKessonHBOC, WR Wrigley Jr. Co., CA, Nike, Oracle, Intel, The Sabre Group, Grupo Televisa (Mx), and Varian.

Sameer has been quoted on the topic of strategic application of social and collaborative business in leading publications such as CNBC Business, The New York Times, Forbes, ZDNet, GigaOM, ReadWriteWeb, ComputerWorld and CIO Magazine, amongst others.

Sameer blogs at and can be found @sameerpatel on Twitter.

Many companies seem to have great difficulty in recognizing that, today more than ever, business performance is strongly connected to the inner workings of workplace improvement and, more generally, to severe organizational shortcomings: which are the first steps that a company must necessarily take to start a concrete and effective way to change towards the implementation of a social business model? And how will these steps become increasingly necessary and essential to ensure growth, development and innovation?

Based on our experience executing social and collaborative business engagements, the leadership at Organizations generally aligns more closely with one of two philosophies when it comes to collaboration. On one hand we see organizations who genuinely believe that if they don’t collaborate, they can’t be successful and so the C-Suite makes sharing and working together a top execution priority (as opposed to just talking about it). These organizations look at ramifications such as global expansion plans, remote workforces and acquisition integration strategy and consider upfront proof points to be less important, and where unifying the organization is considered a core utility. The other type of organization is willing to make any kind of investment as long as it’s tied closely to revenue, cost and risk management. These look for ROI estimates upfront and real results relatively soon as they have a number of initiatives that can potentially deliver results. Securing budget is highly competitive in these cases but once you do, you have significant leadership muscle behind you. For these organizations you need to draw distinct estimates for process, operational and financial performance opportunities and the mere promise of benefit via social media/social business, enterprise 2.0 isn’t enough. So understanding the drivers, the estimated efficiency opportunities and a credible case for changing how the workplace engages is very important. That sets a business focused road map instead of an altruistic belief in becoming social for the sake of becoming social. Of course these are both extremes but understanding which way the pendulum swings in your organization and credibly creating strategy and execution plans to respond to this is critical to set your collaboration effort in motion.

Which are the most frequent hurdles as well as the common mistakes which can often lead to failure of a genuine process of change towards open and collaborative models within organizational contexts? Especially for companies with a traditional organizational model which are the most difficult problems to be addressed? In this sense it is appropriate to consider the possibility of introducing a process of gradual engagement of the various business roles or is it fundamental to immediately extend to all levels of the proposed change?

There’s really no generic answer to this but in many ways its both. It’s being able to let cross functional connectivity thrive and relationships emerge but at the same time, executing specific process changes within and between functions by articulating a strong end state for how process, data and people must come together. You strategically work the gradual business performance outcomes, yet allow others to adopt and use the system before you get to them and go deep on their use cases. Doing either one of these means that on one hand you are too siloed and the benefits of creating that collaborative fabric won’t be apparent for a long time (and before managements patience runs out). Going wide means you have to deal with significant participant challenges as the value proposition to each user can be unclear and often you’re just back filling use cases to show value. Not only is this risky but like resurrecting any failed product launch, it’s extremely expensive to get back on track the second time around.

The proposal of a less hierarchical model of decision making within companies often encountered much resistance: how best to use the innovative drive that within companies are increasingly “on the bottom” and especially through the dissemination of social technologies?

I think that is a fundamental mistake when working with most traditional organizations. You’re not revamping hierarchy and in many cases you are not even pushing final decision making down any more than you did before you used social technologies. Technology will not practically change your management hierarchy. What you are pushing down and enabling at all parts of the organization is collaborative sharing, idea creation, offering better or different approaches to challenges and opportunities. In other words you are enriching the data set available to make better decisions by galvanizing the collecting brain of the organization.

In some organizations people might be conformable pushing decision downstream and that’s fine. In others, you are federating the early stages of decision making which means getting more insight and input to help you make better decisions. It’s in fact this confusion that makes the application of such technology more overwhelming and even threatening to managers and we see it all the time in our work. Managers remain managers. They just get to socialize approaches and thinking early, get the best input from closed or open communities, and make more informed decisions, there by enrichening outcomes and reducing risk.

Developing an analysis model about an effective ROI which evaluation indicators can provide an effective feedback? Particularly for businesses that are just starting out, which elements may help to reconfigure a deployment strategy either far too weak or rough?

ROI often gets people in a bind because we often race to do one of two things: consider engagement metrics (number of registrations, participants, views, comments etc.) or nebulous productivity metrics around productivity and time saved. Whilst critical data points when applied correctly, neither is adequate in and of themselves to get line of business managers to understand how it accelerates sales, marketing, product marketing, etc. More on this topic, here. Metrics needs to be looked at as a) Program Metrics that help ascertain the health of the community and program usage and b) Existing Process, Operational and Financial Metrics that will be impacted by the use of social software enabled programs for employee, customer, partner performance (some examples here). The second informs targets for the first and offers standard baselines for improvement that any executive can get behind if credibly articulated. This also surfaces real business trouble spots where engagement and collaborative approaches serve as effective weapons. Knowing how to phase the applicability of these metrics from initial launch and over time is important as well, so you’re not setting up unreasonable expectations for social business leverage at each stage of maturity.

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