Applying six questions from Peter Drucker to social business initiatives

Simon Scullion
Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker

I'll hazard a guess that (knowingly or unknowingly) we've all come across examples or quotes from the works of Peter Drucker.


The recent 5th Global Peter Drucker Forum which focused on "managing complexity," brought him front and center again for me recently. During the event @dpontefract noted how the Return on Assets on public companies has collapsed since 1961 by 75%, with no signs of it turning around.


This, and a recent HBR article got me thinking. It was in a lecture thirty-two years ago(!!), that Drucker offered provocative prescriptions for coping in a world in which "the real challenge is to decide what you are doing in the face of tremendous technological change or market change."


With today's ever accelerating pace of technology change and increasing market complexity, faster innovation and greater organisational flexibility are often mentioned as part of social business initiatives (and cited as challenges facing today's business leaders). I'm of the opinion that Drucker's thinking is even more relevant today, and that his six questions mentioned in the HBR article can help us define social business strategy. Social Edge is hosting an upcoming #socbiztalk tweetchat on this very topic on 12/18 - join us via twitter.


Vision and focus

Vision and focus


The first two questions should reflect the organisation, and validate the strategic direction:


1. What does the customer value?

2. What is our business, and what should it be?


At many organisations, this strategic direction is communicated by senior leadership. Yet this shouldn't prevent us from answering the questions for ourselves. We can use them as an aid in our decision making, mapping our activities back as contributing towards realising the answers. We'll also have a clear focus on the future state when creating a strong elevator pitch, highlighting how social business efforts are aligned to corporate direction and strategic initiatives, which often secures leadership support.





Questions three and four should should be answered by employees, and help get to the heart of a use case by exploring new collaborative work methods:


3. What is the task?

4. What are your ideas for us to try to do new things, develop new products, design new ways of reaching the market?


These questions can galvanise an initiative. By breaking a task down into tasks and understanding how work is getting done today, we empower those responsible by providing them with the opportunity to contribute towards something more efficient. Widening the conversation beyond simply technology can ensure we look at the bigger picture with ambition, and get creative with our thinking. At the same time we are educating, coaching, and managing the process of change through engagement right from the outset.


The "what's in it for me?"

What?s in it for me?


The final questions are a natural extension of the previous two, and ones we ask of ourselves. They drive us towards an understanding of the "what's in it for me?" (WIIFM): 


5. Who in this organization depends on me for what information?

6. What would happen if this were not done at all?


Question five is, in essence, setting us out to think of our connections. Within our enterprise social network, these are people we would expect to be connected to. It helps us think about how we can create and deliver information to those that need it. We can begin to expand this by thinking about audiences. Who needs to act on my information? Who else may be interested or could benefit from my knowledge and information? And how can I get it to them most effectively?


The final question is probably my personal favourite. It can help unstick a difficult or challenging use case or scenario. If we're to consider the opportunity cost in an activity or task, we may find we can get done what is needed in an alternative manner, that the "old way" is no longer needed. Questioning the value that each contribution to an outcome is bringing keeps us looking at what really matters. As individuals, there is nothing as energising and motivating as knowing that what we do is meaningful.


Parting thoughts

I'm left musing. Musing over what Peter Drucker would make of "Social Business" today. Reflecting on the realities of just how much change we have seen in the eight short years since his death in 2005. How we're finally beginning to see the potential of the internet kicking in, but how it is leaving attitudes, systems, institutions and companies founded in the industrial era struggling to cope with the exponential increase in pace and complexity it's bringing in tow.


I firmly believe that understanding, learning and adopting social collaboration techniques and technologies can help us in today's business environment, if not ensure we can thrive in it, both as organisations and as individuals.


I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, and learn what other questions are you asking as part of your social business initiatives. I'd also love to hear your favourite Drucker quotes and stories if, like me, you find his work both relevant and inspiring.