A Useful Guide to How Companies Can Empower Employees to Move Business Forward

Aaron Strout Reviews Bernoff and Schadler's 'Empowered'

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Aaron Strout
Aaron Strout

It's been nearly two years since Forrester Research's senior VP-idea development, Josh Bernoff, co-penned the groundbreaking book "Groundswell." Widely viewed as one of the first meaningful business books focused on social technologies, Bernoff and co-author Charlene Li's initial offering laid the foundation for Bernoff's second work, "Empowered." Building on the POST methodology (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology) featured in "Groundswell," Bernoff introduces the concept of a HERO (Highly Empowered Resourceful Operative) in his latest book co-authored with Forrester colleague Ted Schadler.

While the HERO acronym comes off as a little contrived at first, it is the right fit for a book that asserts that technologies like smart mobile devices, pervasive video, cloud computing and social technology have moved beyond the experimentation phase and inside the walls of corporate America. Due to the disruptive nature of these technologies, Bernoff and Schadler insist that companies need internal HEROes and grassroots technology projects to take full advantage of social and mobile technologies.

Bernoff and Schadler begin each chapter with an engaging case study, moving beyond the usual suspects like Dell, Zappos and Intuit (although there were some of those as well) to accounts of how HEROes from organizations like Microsoft, the NHL, FICO and Black & Decker helped solve problems and create real value for their customers using some of these newer, disruptive technologies.

Perhaps my favorite story in the book is that of Leonard Bonacci, director-event operations for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles who saw a problem -- unruly fans at the stadium -- and solved it by creating a text-messaging-based solution provided by a company called GuestAssist. Using a simple mobile technology called short codes, Bonacci and GuestAssist were able to reduce complaints at Eagles stadium by crowdsourcing the job of security -- that is, asking fans to assist in the policing of unruly fans. It's these types of innovative approaches by rank-and-file employees that Bernoff and Schadler hold up as the key to success at companies big and small.

But the authors are not content only to report -- they have developed prescriptive frameworks to help companies succeed. One is IDEA: Identify the mass influencers; deliver groundswell customer service; empower your customers with information; and amplify your fans by finding the people who love you. And for me, IDEA embodies the essence of what it takes for companies to succeed in the new world of web 2.0 technologies and social media.

Demonstrating that they weren't afraid to practice what they preach, one of the more useful aspects of the book is its own use of web 2.0 technologies, namely the social bookmarking site Delicious. Bernoff and Schadler's sharing of their "notes" with anyone who has web access makes it easier to dig deeper into the research, case studies and other background material that went into the writing of this book. If you want a sneak peek, the "Empowered" notes can be found here.

If I have one complaint about the book it's that it lacks some of the big picture/strategy elements that shined through in Bernoff's "Groundswell." That's not to say that "Empowered" isn't strategic, but it appears to purposefully take more of a pragmatic approach than many business books. Given the glut of web 2.0 and social media-focused business books on the market, this "roll up your sleeves" approach by Bernoff and Schadler may result in them getting lost a little in the shuffle.

All in all, "Empowered" is a well-written, useful guide to how companies can empower their employees -- or HEROes -- to move the business forward. And while I don't expect it to be the juggernaut that "Groundswell" was when it introduced social technologies to the marketing world in 2008, its fresh case studies and insights will be very helpful for business people looking to build the case for web 2.0 and social technologies.

In addition to being the head of location-based marketing at WCG, Aaron Strout is also a blogger, podcaster and co-author of the soon-to-be published "Location Based Marketing for Dummies" (Wiley).
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