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Cultivating a Culture of “The Best Ideas Win”

Vala Afshar, CMO of Enterasys Networks, on enabling social sharing.
Culture is what happens when the manager leaves the room
photo by Michael Blann, Getty Images

“I guess the simplest definition of culture is what happens when the manager leaves the room.”

That’s Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), chief marketing officer of Enterasys Networks, a provider of network infrastructure in Andover, Mass., talking to MIT Sloan Management Review.

It’s easy to belittle social-network activity. “What do I care what so-and-so ate for breakfast?” “Why would I tell the world exactly what I’m doing at every moment of the day?”

But personal updates are the lifeblood of every network, whether it’s a public one like Twitter or Facebook or a private one like Salesforce.com’s Chatter (which Entrasys Networks uses).

If your employees fear that their communiqués will be dismissed as trivial by bosses with bigger fish to fry, then people will never post anything authentic. They’ll only post what they think the C-suite wants to hear — and once that happens, your internal social network is no better than the hierarchy it’s supposed to be flattening.

This brings us back to Afshar’s quote. How do you know your company’s culture is benefiting from Chatter? You know it when your employees post the same things they’d post on Twitter or Facebook. That includes criticizing an executive decision, bemoaning an empty vending machine, or sharing what they ate for breakfast.

One way to create a culture of sharing, Afshar notes, is to make sure company executives are unabashed about disclosing their daily exploits—especially during business hours. “We started chatting sales wins and we started chatting meetings with customers and partners,” he explains. “When I hang up on this call, I’m going to chat to a thousand employees, ‘I just had a conversation with MIT Sloan Management Review about business and social transformation.’ Everyone’s going to know about it, and I’ll start to see likes and comments.”

The idea, of course, is that a social network permits instant companywide messaging in a way that’s much more feedback friendly than an all-company e-mail. Employees of all levels get to share opinions in a forum that anyone in the organization may access. In an organization like Entrasys, with 1,000 employees, that’s significant. On paper, there are various structural levels between the rank-and-file and the C-suite.

“Because we have social technologies — and all of our employees have access to them and all of them feel like it’s a safe environment [in which] to ask questions and share opinions — ideas can reach from an intern to the CEO unfiltered,” Afshar says. “And that gives the perception that structurally we’re flat. That’s when the best ideas win, not the best titles.”



To successfully implement an internal social network, enable your employees to use it from day one, Afshar recommends. “I went to the IT team and I said, ‘I want you to create every employee’s bio on Chatter automatically, and I want you to preload their employee batch photo, on every account. And then they can go modify their bio.’ So one day a thousand employees come in and they all have Chatter accounts, they all have their photos loaded. And if they wanted to change the photo, obviously they could. So, we essentially … removed that work [of getting started] and got it out of the way.” Want more on this topic? We recommend the Fast Company article “How to Build an Internal Social Network That Your Company Loves,” in which Chris Dannen (@chrisdannen) describes how Possible Worldwide set up a “skunkworks” to create its social network from scratch.


  1. Vala,

    Social networks certainly have power, but there is far far more power to a fully engaged workforce. This is relatively easy to do because it is a science in which certain actions consistently create disengaged employees while at the other end of the spectrum there are actions which will consistently create a fully engaged workforce. There are very good reasons why this is true and why any executive or manager so motivated can do it. The reward is a workforce that loves to come to work and is at least 300% more productive than if disengaged. If your company strategy needs fixing, they will do it for you.

    Best regards, Ben

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