Home Interview with Forrester’s Josh Bernoff on His New Book Empowered

Interview with Forrester’s Josh Bernoff on His New Book Empowered

Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler’s new book Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business, a follow-up to Bernoff’s and Charlene Li’s 2008 Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, was released today. Empowered takes a look at several trends we’ve been following at ReadWriteEnterprise, including Shadow IT, innovation managment and microblogging. We caught up with Bernoff to talk about the new book.

Josh Bernoff (left) and Ted Schadler (right), courtesy of Forrester Research

Could you start by giving us a quick high level overview of what the book is about, and specifically how it impacts IT?

Empowered is about how to manage your company in the age of the empowered customer. Customers have much more power than ever before with social, video, mobile, and Web services resources available to them. Companies working in this environment need to empower their employees to reach out to those customers with technology solutions.

Regarding IT, IT departments no longer control the technology in companies — the employees are able to get access to it for their own projects, because it’s so cheap and easy. So IT needs a new role — as a supporter and helper, rather than being in charge of all tech for the company.

A lot of the ideas in the book have been around since at least theClue Train Manifestoin 1999. So is this groundswell really happening now? For example, are Whirlpool and United really suffering from the events you cite in your book?

I think United and Whirlpool’s brands have suffered, especially since Whirlpool’s Maytag brand is supposed to be about dependability.

As for the ideas — Cluetrain was a brilliant stab at some of these ideas, but a decade later, companies are actually having to deal with a majority of their customers in social networks. Plus we have actual experience with what companies are doing and what works. So this isn’t a yawp in the dark — it’s actual to give real, prescriptive advice with real case studies and statistics, now.

How have organizations been receiving your message? You give a lot of examples of companies that are embracing these ideas, but the ideas still look really radical compared to what’s going on in most organizations I’ve gotten a good look at in the past few years. They really resist change and they’re anything but “bottom-up.”

Change starts in small ways. I’ve seen companies like Aflac and American Family Mutual Insurance embrace these changes. There is a “loosening up” going on because it’s very hard to lock things down any more.

I would not say there is a trend to more bottom up, but there are more bottom-up type companies becoming visible, and this is causing people to rethink the way they run things, at least at a departmental level, if not always for the whole company.

The reason I’m skeptical is because I think a lot of companies will look at the expense that it takes to make REAL change (not just spamming Twitter) will be too expensive. Letting CSRs decide to replace merchandise could get expensive.

If you approach this right, it does not have to be expensive. It’s about reaching out in the right way to the right people at the right time.

A twelpforce rep helped me last week when I desperately needed a cable to fix my GPS before a trip. Once I was in the Best Buy store, I ended up buying $1100 worth of stuff. That’s pretty cost effective.

A huge amount of customer service is outsourced to call centers owned and operated by other companies. Do you think this is a sustainable model?

I want to be clear that this is not a book about customer service, although that’s one topic we touch on. As for outsourced customer service, people often hate it. If it’s done with quality, it can include outreach on social channels as well. If it’s not done with quality, it will come back to bite the companies that are doing it.

Have you seen any examples of outsourced employees being “HEROes” [“highly empowered and resourceful operatives”]? If it not, is it possible in theory?

You need a strong partnership. At Aflac they built a community for their independent sales reps — those kind of people could be HEROes, I imagine.

Communicating and collaborating across silos is a pretty common selling point for vendors of “enterprise 2.0” software and services. What’s the value in doing so, instead of keeping workers focused on their own projects?

People who keep to their silos are not going to find the next big idea. And at the current speed that customers are moving, I don’t think a company can continue to run that way. Slow = dead.

What technologies can help companies make this adjustment? I’ve been covered idea management software lately and you touch on that a bit in the book. You also mentioned Deloitte Australia‘s use of microblogging to generate ideas for the company. When should a company use idea management and when should it use microblogging?

As with all social tools, the choice of what you use depends on your objective. Yammer is great for fast-flowing in-the-moment collaboration, but not so good for sustained innovation. Idea management tools like Imaginatik are better for sourcing a million dollar idea.

What should IT staff be doing to get ready for these changes?

We have several chapters on IT in the book. Here are some tips.

1. Don’t just say no to technology projects in a knee-jerk fashion. Help do a realistic risk assessment and assessment of resources.

2. For small to medium projects — the lifeblood of innovation — provide support and recommendations, rather than own them.

3. Focus on people as the security perimeter — with people having their own devices, it’s no longer enough to just lock down the tech the company owns.

4. Create governance councils for new technologies to help people across the company to innovate with them and develop best practices. Examples could include social, mobile, and video.

5 .Take a customer-facing employee to lunch. Learn about what your line of business colleagues are thinking!

What books – other than this book and Groundswell – would you recommend managers and IT read?

I also think there is an affinity between the recommendations in Empowered and Charlene Li’s Open Leadership — they fit together well, and leaders of all kinds need to know about the challenges Charlene describes.

Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody is great and while I haven’t read it, I’m fascinated by his new one, Cognitive Surplus.

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