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March 23, 2010

How to unleash empowered workers without creating chaos: The HERO Compact

by Josh Bernoff

Our new book (at publisher now, due in September) will be called:

Empowered: Unleash your employees, energize your customers, and transform your business

The reason we changed the title is to emphasize the new focus, which is actually getting stuff done. Our thesis is this:

If you want to succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve their problems.

We call these empowered employees HEROes (highly empowered and resourceful operatives) and they're the reason for the book. From working with many, many companies on social technology projects, we've found that the hard part is not just the strategy. The really hard part is running your organization in such a way that empowered employees can actually use technology to solve customer problems. Over and over again, we find these HEROes hamstrung by their own companies. No amount of shouting or idealism can solve this problem, since it goes to the heart of how companies run.

But you can't just let people in your company build whatever they want. You need a new way of managing to get creativity without chaos.

Three groups need to work together: the HEROes themselves, their management, and IT. All three must change their roles. At the center of the book is a new idea we call the HERO Compact.

HERO Compact
If you work for a company bigger than about 30 people and you actually want to get stuff done, you and your company have to pay attention to this. Social and other technology projects challenge the status quo.

The HEROes themselves may be building mobile applications, creating a viral videos, or building a community. Regardless, they can't just go and do stuff -- they must do it in a way that benefits the corporation. So their job is to understand what their customers need, come up with solutions, and do it in such a way that they don't threaten corporate strategy or information security.

Management used to shut this "unauthorized" activity down, but were rewarded with worker that just did their jobs -- which is not good enough in the age of the groundswell. If you're a manager wondering how to get more creative solutions out of your staff, this post (and this book) is for you. You must constantly communicate that innovation is a priority and reward it, including things that fail. You need to run interference for your workers with groups like PR and IT. But you also need to assess and manage risks from these projects, and set clear corporate priorities that your HEROes can follow.

IT departments are in transition from managing big technology projects to, often, supporting projects created by HEROes in marketing, sales, customer service, or elsewhere. IT's new role must shift to being the trusted advisor to these folks. They need to help manage security risks and keep the HEROes safe. And when projects need to get up to IT-level scale, they need to help scale them up.

This is a new way of running a company, folks. It values innovation over locked-down policies, and it threatens people who to keep doing things as they always have. But in a world where customers have so much power through social, mobile, and other technologies, it's the only way to survive. If you want to move at the speed of the groundswell, you have to support your HEROes.


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Kapil Poojari

While this is a theoretical framework and interesting to read. Would you be also writing more about the actual implementation ?

Second question that i have is from the perspective of a new company it is still easier to implement. How does a large company start.

It would be interesting to know views of CEO's of large companies about this framework. How does this compare with some of the things that Vineet Nayar talks about as they implemented their employee centric approach.. http://www.vineetnayar.com

Josh Bernoff

@Kapil There will be a lot more about implementation -- a whole book about it, in fact.

We will be sharing what to do, how to do it, and quantitative measures on this blog over the next few months.

The focus is on large companies.

David Dai

I am incredibly interested in this book, and I eagerly await its publishing. I'm currently reading Groundswell and I wish I had started 2 years earlier.

A couple of questions:
1. Perhaps you will explain this in the book, but what sort of approach will be most effective? If I am a low level leader in the org, what level of executive support is necessary to truly affect this change?

2. Will differentiating factors such as industry and employee demographic be addressed in your discussion on implementation?

Josh Bernoff

@David Dai: Anyone employee can(and many do) create customer-focused solutions in companies. If you want to make an impact, though, the level of resistance you face is related to how open your organization is to innovation. Your approach as a HERO is to prove you can accomplish something and take personal responsibility. Your approach as a manager is support this activity as a corporate policy.

We have a whole chapter on differentiation by industry and job description. Look for details on this blog in the upcoming months.

Damon Oehlman

This is a really interesting looking book. As someone who is moving on from the corporate world in the next month or so I think it will be interesting to see how long it will take for organisations to effect the kinds of changes required to embrace HEROes and truly facilitate innovation.

I think there are a lot of people who are passionate about innovation embedded in large companies, but the level of frustration is rising and it is definitely time for corporates to start harnessing that wasted energy.

Sol Thompson

This Seems like a very interesting book I like how they used the word HEROes to define workers seem like a good technique to make them feel more important


Who are those mysterious Managers? Any manager in a large organization? How to pull large projects with with model like new CMS implementation? Most of the online initiatives require teamwork and multidisciplinary expertise, not just lonely Hero's. How the teams are placed here?

Josh Bernoff

Anastasia: it starts with a HERO. And those mysterious Managers are the people with authority to help get stuff done.

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