Social Business: walking the talk and debunking some of the myths: Interview with Will McInnes of NixonMcInnes

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Following on from my recent interview, The customer service revolution is here and now – Interview with Mikkel Svane CEO of Zendesk, today I want to share with you an interview that I recently conducted with Will McInnes, Managing Director and co-Founder of NixonMcInnes, a Social Business Consultancy operating in London and Brighton.

This interview makes up number twenty-three in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that I think that you will find interesting and helpful in growing your businesses.

I caught up with Will after meeting him at the Social Business Sessions Meetup that he organises in London.

Below are highlights from our interview:

  • Nixon McInnes were not always a social business consultancy. They stared as a web design and build company progressed onto being a specialist social media agency and then onto being a social business consultancy.
  • Two books that shaped their beliefs were Maverick by Ricardo Semler (my favourite business book of all time) and The Cluetrain Manifesto.
  • Those two books are still the fuel that drives the company today.
  • Nixon McInnes are a democratic organisation. They are now helping large organisations pilot and prototype different things to help them respond to the changing world around them.
  • There is a lot of vapour and nonsense talked about when it comes to social business. Much of it coming from vendors such as software and technology companies.
  • There is a really important role for technology as an enabler in social business but social business is not about technology.
  • Social business is about organisations that are humanised.
  • As a result of industrialisation, we’ve lost site of meaning, purpose and people being happy at work.
  • There are some global trends like the rise of the BRICs, portfolio working, email overload, well-being, failure of financial systems etc etc that are pointing us towards an understanding that in the 21st Century we need a new and different type of organisation to be able to survive and thrive in the modern world.
  • Industrialised, production line and command and control structures are showing their age.
  • We have to build organisations that listen, hear, engage in dialogue and really value people both internally and externally.
  • From Will’s perspective, a social business is a business or organisation that seeks to balance costs and impacts, benefits and upsides in a more balanced and holistic way rather than relentless pursuit of one thing and one thing only (ie. profit)
  • Social business is not just about money and it’s not just about conversations. It’s about a connectedness and a consciousness and ways of doing the right thing.
  • Will would like to see a capitalism emerge that has heart and soul and cares about its impact on the environment….capitalism that is sustainable.
  • As an entrepreneur, he believes that business is better suited to solving problems than any other type of organisation.
  • Isn’t it fascinating that despite companies proclamations that customers are important that for many firms their front-line staff who are dealing with their customers and are their brand ambassadors are still some of the lowest paid employees in business.
  • In addition, a cursory survey of top business school MBAs shows that they are still not teaching customer service, retention and loyalty. No wonder organisations find it hard to change.
  • Will uses a ‘Game of Thorns‘ book example to suggest that many CEOs are not ‘swinging their own axe’, ie. they are not getting their hands dirty, they are stuck in their offices, remote and removed from reality.
  • That needs to change if businesses are to change and if they are to become more social.
  • This applies not just to CEOs but to all senior managers.
  • Will believes that if all CEOs and senior managers use some of the social tools and techniques that are around to get a better understanding of what is going on around them and on the front line then the world would be a better place.
  • If technology is such an enabler, in order to build empathy and understanding and connectedness, why can’t we have it that everyone from the CEO down to the shop-floor spends an hour a week on the phone or on the help desk answering customer calls and queries and complaints?
  • Changing to an organisation that is run on a flatter, more democratic basis is really hard
  • The challenges that it poses is that it requires that everyone participates and has to do so without the formal structures that we have grown up with and have become accustomed to.
  • That can be hard for anyone to adjust to. Even Will is challenged by it from time to time.
  • If we want to pursue these sort of changes and create that type of organisation, we have to first wean ourselves off the habits, behaviours and dependencies that we have grown accustomed to and rely on in more formal, traditional and industrial organisations.
  • Nixon McInnes, started on their democratic workplace journey after reading Maverick and then found Worldblu.com, an umbrella organisation that promotes and helps companies that want to explore and embark on this journey.
  • NixonMcInnes are a big user of their scorecard surveying tool which helps them and their team monitor how they are doing and where they need to focus on getting better.
  • Also help them feel like part of a bigger community.
  • One of the big challenges of doing business differently is that can be a lonely process, particularly as there are no role models or 101 text books.
  • Some big brands that are members of WorldBlu are Zappos, HCL and DaVita etc
  • Will believes that building a democratic workplace is fundamental to how they do business with, win and retain clients. It’s all about the culture that they have developed and the positive impact it has on the relations that they build with their clients. It’s more mature and grown-up.
  • This particularly helps with getting their clients better connected to one another…..getting HR talking to Marketing talking to Legal talking to Compliance etc
  • Employee engagement is a subset of social business and is a growing area because that is what needs to happen to build a sustainable and social enterprise.
  • Will expands and explores more of these issues in his new book, Culture Shock (coming out in August but available for pre-order).
  • It aims to build on what Maverick started and to pul together lots of stories and ideas and strategies used by organisations like themselves and Zappos, WL Gore, Grameen Bank et etc
  • Will’s aim with the book is to accelerate the tidal wave of change that Will feels is happening around us.
  • Sometimes we spend too much time getting stuck in the language side of things fussing about what something means or doesn’t mean. Often it is better just to get stuck in and do something.
  • Will thought the idea of turning RBS/Natwest into a cooperative/mutual/employee owned bank (I wrote about this in Are UK politicians missing an opportunity to turn RBS/Natwest into the sort of bank that works for its customers?) would be great.
  • Employee ownership looks set to rise in the coming 20 years as it means that employees are invested in their companies and have a bigger reason to stick around, innovate, deliver better service, look after each other…..look at John Lewis, Waitrose…..they aren’t doing so bad.
  • We can learn a lot from the Quakers in business, particularly the original Cadbury and Rowntree family businesses.
  • If we don’t learn from history then we are destined to repeat it.
  • Will’s three plugs:
    • Check out Culture Shock, Will’s book that is available for pre-order and is out in August.
    • He’s also involved in putting on a conference in Brighton in October called Meaning (I’m going) with great speakers like ….. …..Caroline Lucas MP, Vinay Gupta, Margaret Elliott and (to be announced soon) Umair Haque, I believe.
    • Brighton as a place that already is home to some of the world’s leading digital and social businesses. We are starting a revolution in social business and establishing more and more businesses that stand for something more than profit.

About Will (taken from the NixonMcinnes website and his LinkedIn profile)

Will McInnes

I believe we can change the world. I believe in us: real people. I believe in the power of the interconnected humanity that we call social media, and our ability through those tools and technologies to make huge differences. I believe that everything is changing – Education, Politics, Business, Law, the Environment of course – and that all we need to do is pick a problem and start working on it *together*.

I believe in different approaches to business, but having walked that talk for a few years I know how hard doing things differently is. But we really try at NixonMcInnes.

Day-to-day I am the MD here which means I have to ensure our business is developing and growing in order to provide the very best services and people to our visionary clients: a varied and rewarding role. Some of what I do is frontline spending time with our people and clients, and some is more strategic and harder to spot from the outside.

I founded NixonMcInnes with Tom Nixon.

NixonMcInnes are a social business consultancy working with senior people to redesign their organisations. Our work uses social technologies and contemporary working practices to improve performance both inside and outside the organisation.

Active clients include Barclays, Cisco, Channel 4, O2, First Group, HSBC, Nectar, The Body Shop, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, RSPCA and WWF.

My responsibilities are guiding the strategic direction of the business, restlessly working at unlocking the huge potential in its talented people, and enabling the team to continue to develop the organisations unique and democratic culture.

This is my main job, and I love it.

I love…

Love action, curry, mountain biking, camping, rugby, France and most of all my family.

I hate…

Unfairness, idiocy, bad customer service and apathy at the state of the world.

You can connect with Will on Twitter: @willmcinnes

Thanks to marfis75 for the image.

17 comments On Social Business: walking the talk and debunking some of the myths: Interview with Will McInnes of NixonMcInnes

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  • Adrian,

    I am struggling a little with the idea of a social business, aren’t all businesses by their very nature social?

    I suppose some can be more social than others, but how do you create that?

    James

    • Hi James,
      Thanks for your comment. I wrestle with the term a little myself.

      Yes, you could say that all businesses are social. But if we look at the term social does it not imply a form of two-way communication both internally and externally.

      That type of communication is something that many companies are struggling with given their current culture and organisational form.

      If I were to start to help some create or change to becoming a more ‘social’ business the places that I would start looking at would be their current culture and organisational form.

      Where would you start?

      Adrian

  • Hello Adrian and James

    Almost all businesses are not social in the sense that social is being used. Almost all businesses are the opposite of sociall. How? They are command and control. When you have that kind of organisational context then you have one bunch of people giving orders and another bunch of people following them. It means that the officers have switch quarters, rights privileges and the non-officers don’t. It is an organisation where information does not flow freely. It is an organisation where only certain voices have value and get to speak.

    A social business is the kind of business that you would have if all voices were valued, where information flowed freely, where all were considered worthy of human dignity, where hierarchy was not present but there was an appreciation and respect for the differences in roles and what goes with those rules. It is where people see themselves as members of a community and as such they look out for each other. And that includes compensation. In one ‘social business’ the bonus that everyone gets is based on the performance of the company as a whole. Why? Because one part of the company might have a bad year this year due to no fault of their own and it is the other way around next year. And because that is what it is to be social to work for the collective benefit whilst allowing people the space to be themselves.

    Now you know why ‘social business’ is mainly talk. At its heart, it is disruptive paradigm and who does it disrupt? The Tops, the people who currently benefit from the command and control system. Which is why it is simply a term being touted around by software/technology firms.

    The power of ‘social business’ is illustrated through the success of Wikipedia, Apache, Linux and companies like giffgaff.

    maz

    • Hi Maz,
      Thanks for that and I agree that most businesses are not social and won’t be until they move away from their current control structures.

      However, one of the other main reasons that I wanted to speak to Will was to get an insight into a ‘democratic’ workplace as I think that is one model that really makes sense of the whole social business thing. And, if that’s the case then the social business pioneer would have to Ricardo Semler and Semco.

      What do you think?

      Adrian

  • My friend recommended this blog, and she was completely
    right, Keep up your good work

  • Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with
    my twitter group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thank you

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