I recently spent some time facilitating collaboration strategy development for a Fortune 500 life sciences company. In one of our discovery sessions, a divisional CIO expressed a sentiment that I hear with surprising frequency. It goes something like this:
“You know, I just don’t get it. Our researchers came to me and said they really needed a wiki for use in their lab work. So, we went through the exercise of selecting and deploying a wiki tool. It’s been up for six months now, and they’ve hardly even touched it. What a waste of time.”
It’s surprising to me because you would’ve thought we’d learned our lessons by now. Take Knowledge Management (KM): for all of its limitations as an approach for sharing intellectual capital across an enterprise, some deployments are more successful than others. The winners took a thoughtful, disciplined, best practices-driven approach to their objectives. Just because your employees embrace Web 2.0 tools in their personal lives (and many of them don’t) doesn’t mean they’re going to come flocking to your Enterprise 2.0 tools—generating amazing business value and making you a hero in the process. It’s not going to happen without some focus and planning.
Although Enterprise 2.0 (“E2.0”) initiatives require a higher level of flexibility and grassroots engagement than KM, a clear approach is still required. In our work with clients, we’ve learned that a developing an effective response to the following opportunities significantly increases your chances for success (regardless of the tools / technologies deployed):
- Patterns: Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do your employees. Don’t expect them to be information designers. Build lightweight templates that give your employees some sense of how they should engage. Also, don’t fall in love with your templates; once your employees start to engage, they’re likely to rearrange what you’ve given them—sometimes dramatically—into something that better supports their objectives.
- Seeding: Once you’ve established your engagement patterns, spend time with your knowledge workers getting some initial content into the toolset. Think about Wikipedia; if you want to author a new wiki biography for a newly discovered Marx Brother, the first thing you’re going to do is look at the bios of Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo to see how they’re written, what information was included, etc. Your employees take the same approach to business information.
- Critical Mass: If you look at Forrester’s Social Technographics, it becomes quickly apparent that the majority of the population either only consumes from, or doesn’t participate in online social interactions. These tendencies carry over to the work environment. When recruiting employee groups to pilot E2.0 tools, look for clusters that are predisposed to engage online. While workplace demographics (e.g., functional area, average age, etc.) are useful to inform the selection process, a better approach is to do some anonymous surveying to understand the relative levels of online social engagement taking place among your employee groups. Don’t expect to build an Enterprise 2.0 kingdom in the middle of a Web 2.0 desert.
- Champions: While the need for leadership engagement has not changed from the days of KM, the nature of their engagement is dramatically different. Traditionally, the role of the champion has been one of “leading the charge”; rallying employees as the centerpiece of a large marketing / internal communications blitz. Perhaps the CEO’s mug on a coffee mug? Anyone?
In the E2.0 model, leadership has to engage in the conversation as a participant. It’s insufficient to replace the executive newsletter with a heavily edited (and comment-free) blog. Champions need to be willing to interact as peers—taking some shots, calling a spade where appropriate, and representing the organizational viewpoint in an honest and forthright manner. Of all the opportunities, this one is the hardest to realize—traditional corporate culture is frequently not conducive to open, “check your titles at the door” engagement. But, it also has the highest potential for payoff.
Even with all the effort, not every implementation in every environment is going to be successful. Which is why we recommend an implementation approach built on an entrepreneurial approach to piloting: invest lightly, pilot across a range of formal / informal business process / use cases, and plan for rapid iteration. As you succeed (and fail), take what you learn about your business and your culture, and evolve your approach and toolset in response.
Who knows, you may end up generating amazing business value and becoming a hero after all.