On Friday morning, our CEO Robin Carey moderated a panel of influencers at SXSW sponsored by IBM that discussed a new way to work, and what the workplace of the future might look like.
The panelists were a mix of traditional company executives and digital innovators: Sandy Carter, General Manager, Ecosystems and Social Business Evangelism at IBM; David Parkinson Head of Social Media and Digital Engagement at Nissan, responsible for Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Africa; Ben Hindman, co-founder and CEO, Splash; Brian Fanzo, Chief Digital Strategist; and Lulu Gephart, Manager, Social and Earned Media, REI.
Carey kicked off the event by offering the audience a chance to demo IBM’s new email platform IBM Verse, which takes email to the next level. Verse, a new revolutionary email solution (imagine email meets social, cloud and analytics), is guided by IBM Watson Analytics to help you prioritize the people and projects you need to focus on. This new email and collaboration tool will help free your employees up to focus on what they do best.
Carey posited that the way we do business has changed dramatically in the past few years, as evidenced by the rise of activist investors and a more collaborative business model. These changes beg the question: Who will be leading the charge for a new way to work?
Fanzo, the digital strategist, responded the workplace is undergoing such rapid changes that both startups and enterprise is also embracing the “millennial mindset,” which is characterized by trying new tactics quickly and failing fast.
Carter noted however that “small changes have a monumental impact,” and some of the new ways to work are being lead by “we so called ‘digital immigrants’, those of us who didn’t grow up on social.”
Carey next turned to the notion of social business for social good, and asked REI’s Gephart if companies will be more powerful than individuals.
Gephart says that she believes that the power of the organization will likely have a greater impact than individuals. “We’re thinking more about how we lead change,” she says. “REI is a more cooperative organization, and that has an impact on who we can bring in talent-wise.”
Hindman, the startup CEO, chimed in and said that for him, the question is if he can get the right people. “How can the small guys like me compete with the big guys?”
Parkinson has a different concern: “How do we keep them in the organization?”
Fanzo counseled that the way to attract and keep young talent is to have a workplace culture that reflects some of what millennials value such as a having the ability to have a meaningful impact on the world, and flexibility over their schedules and their roles.
“Technology drives change so fast,” Fanzo notes. “You can hire people no matter where they live now–they don’t have to relocate like you had to in the past. “
“For brands,” he adds, “employees need to feel valued.”
And while startups arguably have a different org chart than an enterprise company like IBM, Nissan’s Parkinson points out that the corporate ladder serves its purpose. “When the organization is flat, it can be really hard to reach the right person,” he says. “Nissan is trying to become more agile. But you can’t do this without making money. You still have to have a bottom line.”
He further noted that big social brands such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are all struggling to figure out how to create revenue.
IBM’s Carter took up Parkinson’s train of thought adding that while all companies have to make money, the real focus is on creating value for your customers and keeping them coming back. “Your culture trumps your strategy,” she notes. “And innovation and strategy will drive your success.”
Carter’s statement prompted Carey to ask which is more important—your culture or your tool set?
Fanzo, a millennial himself who feels that his generation has been unfairly characterized as not like face-to-face interactions, says that for them, it is has to be has to be about culture and technology. “But he question is how do we properly introduce technology into a culture and when do you hold back on tech?,” he adds.
Carter says the she believes that social will amplify a company’s culture, and reiterates the need for a company to build a solid and supportive culture.
For Nissan, says Parkinson, “our question is how to innovate,” noting that other Korean car manufacturers take five years or less to bring a new model to the market.
He also says that another challenge Nissan faces is that people are coming to the company to get “a free MBA.”
“We have people coming in with seven degrees who want to launch their own startups but need to learn how businesses operate,” he says.
Carey wrapped up the panel by posing this question to each speaker: “ If you didn’t work at your current company, which of the other companies on the stage would you want to work for?”
Hindman says that he would want to work for Social Media Today because he’s drawn to the publishing industry, while Gephart demurred that while she admired the other companies, she couldn’t imagine working any place but REI. “They really stand by their core mission. Every employee gets one day off every six months to go outside and play.”
Carter says that she is drawn to REI because of their authenticity and how they drive value for their customers, but also like Splash because she loves startups for their innovation.
Fanzo, who had previously worked for the Department of Defense, said that while he loved the startup life, he would lean towards IBM. “They empower leaders who really make a difference.”
Parkinson seconded that notion. “IBM is really interesting,” he says. “They are changing the way we do business.”