MAD Perspectives Blog

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 HP, Culture Shock & Social Networks

Peggy Dau - Monday, August 09, 2010

Last week I began a discussion about the impact of corporate culture on a company’s level of comfort with social media.  While I was thinking about this week’s continuation of this discussion, the CEO of my former employer, HP, resigned due to allegations of misconduct.   This news hit the social airwaves like tsunami last Friday. I enjoyed a 24 year career of Hewlett-Packard Company, which means I was lucky enough to have learned from the founders, Bill and Dave, what it means to be open, ethical, moral and to do business with integrity.   One of the key elements of HP’s Standards of Business Conduct is to “think about how your decision or behavior would look in a press article”.  This is a good foundation for us to consider when we think about how a company’s culture and organizational model impact the company’s use of social media.

HP’s culture and what became known as the “HP Way” focused on innovation, integrity and collaboration.   This culture was a natural match for social media.  The predecessor to today’s social networks was “MBWA" or management by walking around.  In HP, this meant an ability to learn from others in your office.  Employees would mix and mingle and share experiences.  Many careers grew through discovery and learning from peers.   HP’s founders would have been cautious about protecting HP’s Intellectual Property but they would have loved the ability to crowd source innovative concepts. However, over the past decade or so, the culture at HP changed.  This was a result of both external and internal forces.

External forces include the internet and the rampant availability of information.  They also include the increased demands from the financial services sector for all companies to provide and meet quarterly estimates.  This kind of instant gratification will change the way any company works.  Internal forces took the shape of CEOs and managers hired to lead change (defined in many diverse ways) but who each also had personal agendas.  In all cases the “HP Way” was deemed out dated and the collaboration of old gave way to siloed, hierarchical organizations with formerly empowered employees fearful of making even the smallest mistake.  Could Mark Hurd's HP, with a culture of cost containment, hierarchical decision making and limited employee empowerment, succeed in social media?

Interestingly, the answer is yes.  Consistent with its current command and control model, HP has a well defined, publically available, blogging policy.  They even have a digital media council, which includes representatives from all business units, that sets the policy for how HP will participate in social networks.  Any employee that will represent the company on a social network must take the requisite training.  So, HP empowers its employees with guidelines of expected behavior.  Is that really empowerment? I check on various HP blogs from time to time and follow several twitter feeds.  I find them interesting but cautious.  I think that HP could use social media as more than another PR channel.  I believe this is indicative of the internal culture.  That said, HP is number 22 on the NetPropex Social Index, which measures the social network activity of the largest U.S. corporations across a variety of social platforms.  Imagine what HP's score would be if the former culture of openness and collaboration was prevalent.

As a former HP employee and current HP shareholder, I hope HP’s next CEO balances innovation and operational excellence.  I hope they remember that their 300,000+ employees are the company’s biggest asset.  I hope they empower them to connect, communicate and collaborate, using social media, with their peers both inside and outside the company to create and innovate market changing solutions.

What’s your perspective?