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Jennifer Kelley (Jenn) is a Senior Strategy Consultant on the Jive Professional Services team.  In this capacity, she works closely with Jive customers to apply successful practices and define their roadmap to social business success.  Part coach, part tour guide and part cheerleader, Jenn helps guide companies as they establish and execute strategies to engage their employees, customers and partners and deliver business value.   Jenn brings perspective from an extensive and varied background in digital strategy and user experience design consulting. In this piece, Jennifer Kelley explains how to align your community with business strategy as a community manager:

 

When conducting a strategy workshop with a new customer, I always acknowledge the following with regard to our first successful practice: “You’re probably thinking, ‘duh… who’d launch a social business initiative without business objectives?’”  I’ve rarely had anyone disagree, in principle, that aligning a social business initiative to business strategy is a sound and meritorious idea. Ironically, however, this is a best practice where follow through is often lacking – most likely because it sounds deceptively simple and it is easy to look past.  But there’s a lot more nuance involved with this critical success practice than just rattling off a list of objectives and considering that box checked.  As a community manager, the first and foremost hurdle you’re likely to encounter is demonstrating clear linkage to business value. You’ll find this alignment critical to garnering executive participation, proving to your end users that this is worth their time, and assuring long-term adoption and business value.

 

Here are some quick rules of thumb and then we’ll delve into the details of how to align your community with your business strategy:Align Business Strategy Blog.jpg

  1. Be as specific as possible in defining your objectives. The more specific, the better you’ll be able to a) model them in your community, b) communicate them to various stakeholders and secure their understanding and buy in, and c) measure against them.
  2. Don’t assume your objectives are obvious or intuitive to others. They may seem obvious to you, but you should not expect others will just “get” it. Connect the dots.
  3. As your community matures, remember to recalibrate, at least every 12-18 months. Business goals and strategic initiatives evolve.  To stay relevant your community needs to evolve as well.

 

So that sounds great, but how do we take steps to align with our company’s business strategy versus just enumerating a list of objectives?

  • First off, take the time to really understand your corporate strategy and critical initiatives. Not just the generic business-drivers fodder you find in any old slide deck. What are the real pain points and areas of opportunity that keep your C-suite up at night? How are these expressed at the business unit or divisional (or even departmental) level? For example, is the current focus on reducing duplication of effort and inefficiencies? Or driving innovation and competitive advantage? Or creating more integration and cohesiveness across the organization?
  • Engage executives in the conversation early and often. Understand their critical business initiatives and make sure they understand how your social business platform can help them advance their agenda and achieve their ends.  Enlist help from your social business program sponsor(s) if you need help to get these conversations going initially, but don’t settle for workarounds here.
  • Don’t accept vague, ambiguous or throwaway objectives. You know the ones I’m talking about – “improve collaboration,” break down barriers,” “be more connected.”  That may come off as harsh – it’s just a little Jive Strategy Consulting tough love.  I do recognize that these are often the catalysts for an initial investment in a social business program and they are well intended, but they’re not specific enough to execute against, and they certainly aren’t measurable. So keep digging for more concrete objectives and success criteria.  Ask questions like, “what does that look like?” and “what specific silos” and “how would we know we’ve accomplished that?”  Ideally, we want to be able to define granular objectives at the divisional, departmental and even team level.  Good examples include improving sales enablement or account collaboration, improving the speed or cost-efficiency of new employee onboarding or training and development, and increasing awareness and dialogue around specific topics or initiatives.
  • Establish traceability from your community back to the defined business goals. What specifically do we expect or want to happen in the community that will help achieve these business goals? Sharing of a specific type of knowledge, insight, idea or best practice? Consolidating frequently asked questions and authoritative content into a single, self-service store and reducing flurries of e-mails and phone calls? Migrating over project status updates and streamlining meetings? Again, be as specific as possible and make sure there is clear linkage from the community to these goals.
  • Think measurable. How would you measure progress – qualitative or quantitative – against the objective?  More new product or service ideas? Fewer help desk inquiries?  More people actively engaged with strategic conversations or executive communications?  Higher reported satisfaction with ability to find knowledge and expertise?  Ideally, tie to any existing baselines your company has relevant to your social business initiative – e.g., employee engagement or satisfaction metrics, usage rates for existing Intranets or related systems, or improved “time-to-value” (where value may be issue resolution or proposal completion or some other critical exchange).  Framing your thinking around measurable success criteria generally provides the most direct path to the level of specificity we’re looking for.  In future posts, we’ll do a deep-dive around metrics and measurement, but for now make sure you’re thinking about your company’s key performance indicators and ways your community can positively impact those.

 

Aligning to business strategy may seem like a tall or abstract task, one better left for executives.  But it is the critical first step in driving adoption.  Don’t ever underestimate yourself: community managers play a huge role every day in developing this linkage, mapping business goals to community activity, translating community activity into business terms, and delivering measurable business impact to their organizations.

 

To the Jive Internal Communities and Jive External Communities, what have you found most difficult about aligning your community to business strategy?