The role of enterprise technology adoption is an interesting one. It requires an understanding of what the recipient needs to hear in order to get them interested and then to get them using a new software, application or program (I posted earlier on this in Why we need Heads, Hearts and Hands for E2.0 adoption). When you are tasked with championing a new enabling technology, you are faced with the task of convincing a number of people that this is something they have in fact been waiting for – whether they know it or not. I believe in addition to the usual courses of awareness, communications, training and posters screaming out WIIFM, one needs to offer something that everyone would appreciate – EMPATHY. It is not enough to throw a technology out to a user base, no matter how sexy its promise of deliverance from all pain points. The technology adoption strategist has to walk in the shoes of their early adopters, the early and late majority and even the laggards to really figure out how to craft their adoption strategy. Although considered a desirable trait, empathy is not a very common one or one that is cultivated within many companies. Yet, it could make all the difference in the approach to a huge change management effort.
I have been recently reading Dev Patnaik’s Wired to Care and found myself nodding vigorously at his narrative. Patnaik makes a strong business case for the need for empathy - debunking that it is a nice to have soft squishy quality that doesn’t necessarily translate to tangible business outcomes. He uses myriad examples where empathy has opened up new business opportunities and broken the log jam of unsuccessful initiatives. Patnaik’s company Jump slogan proclaims they are ‘One part humanist, one part technologist and one part capitalist’ (their interesting blog on Hybrid Thinking).
Another great case-study of a company marrying the horsepower of online communities and its own strong empathic nerve is Lego. I recently picked up this post about their respect for the Lego fan base which is proud of creations and has gone to great lengths to carefully curate their own collections, both online and offline. What better way to connect with them and connect all of them, than to set up an online community (called ReBrick) of curated content. This way they respect the passion of their fans and give them a venue for self-expression. This is also the company that reaches out to its customers on a regular basis and happily supports and participates in fan-organized events, which easily brings together 6.5 million people together every year.
To me, cultivating empathy seems like common sense, something that comes naturally to me as I easily get interested in anybody and their story (everyone has a story). I feel the inclination has served me well in my career so far. It is valuable to be able to read a situation, and even more valuable to be able to read a person in a situation. Whether one is in Marketing or Change Management, in Sales or in Customer Service, in Product Development or Communications, we are all in the business of working with other people and getting to know what pain points they have and understanding what we can do for them is a great asset. This is not just about cultivating social currency with peers and clients, it runs deeper than that. Empathy is the relentless desire to understand your constituency. Seth Godin’s recent post captured it nicely, ‘The challenge of communication isn’t to never miscommunicate, it’s to cut down the time between the interaction and the realization that the communication didn’t get through. Because the sooner we know we’re not connecting, the sooner we can fix it.’
There are more than 180 million blogs out there and I still see advice recommending people to set up a blog of their own - it’s good advice. When I set up my blog 12 months ago, I had doubts about if I could keep it up and if anyone would be interested in reading what I had to say, especially given the proliferation of bloggers. I set myself up on Tumblr, a very user friendly blogging platform. I did purchase a domain name on Wordpress, but have yet to make the migration. Today 48 original posts later, I enjoy the opportunity to put a viewpoint out there. A few of my friends have asked me to comment about what blogging about my work and associated domains has taught me along the way :
Writing about what you work on is powerful reinforcement - In these times of wanting to find meaning and purpose in one’s work, many including Seth Godin tout the importance of writing about your work because if it is not exciting enough to write about or talk about, you are probably not as moved/challenged/thrilled by it. The writing bit gives me a chance to capture reflections which can sometimes be transient in the harried pace of work and, crystallize them in writing. Enterprise social collaboration practitioners and evangelists like Bryce Williams and John Stepper have called the exercise ‘working out loud’.
Blogging when you can is acceptable – I envy Seth Godin who can and does write everyday, he counsels everyone to do it (found this short video on why blogging is useful even if you are the only one who reads it because having to write intelligent things about what you notice in the world makes you smarter, and yes, it does involve a big leap to jump into public writing on the web where there is no deniability left, you own your words!). Everyone will have a different standard and preference for themselves - short form versus long form of thought or, writing with a focus on one topic or writing about anything that piques interest, writing on a schedule or sporadically. The practice has helped me reflect more, process more and eventually express better (I think). I personally prefer to write when I find something that moves me and makes me think about something deeply and not against deadlines, even self-imposed ones.
A shared learning journal is good for cultivating professional intelligence and networks - I have always enjoyed reading and have always had bad memory for details, but capturing it in writing helps me reinforce what I have enjoyed learning. I write first for myself, but have enjoyed sharing the blog with others who might have similar interests. We live in an era where business models and established paradigms are being challenged dramatically and the area of enterprise social collaboration is still an emerging one and it is common for those of us in this space to be collegial towards each other and to willingly share experiences. This has an exponential effect on learning. Hybrid Pedagogy posted a very apt line in its latest post titled Learning in the Collective - Blogs are a medium for learning, but they do not teach. Rather, they generate the space for a collective to emerge. Blogging is also a great way to build a digital footprint of your opinions over the lifespan of your career, where you have agency to contribute to the body (even an informal one) of knowledge in your area of work. I suspect this will become an expectation of most professionals in coming years.
Don’t overthink it, just start somewhere – Although I can speak five languages, my English language education in a school in Kuwait did not train me for creative writing. So when I started my blog, for the first two months I posted short safe blurbs about what I had read (a step above sharing links with single line comments on Facebook or LinkedIn), but realized that I loved metaphor and context (knowing multiple languages sometimes helps in that regard) and if I dared, I could express in a fuller way. The medium gave me a chance to experiment and stretch. The act of writing itself helped me gain more confidence in my writing. I asked a couple of colleagues, who were professional writers in my firm to tell me if what I wrote was good enough for a public audience, they were kind with their counsel.
When you blog on the web, you are inviting readership and connection from a large audience that doesn’t know you or your mind - it’s an open invitation. My posts have earned me social currency with peers in the industry and have helped me meet and connect with others in the same line of work, because of how a certain post resonated with them. I may never have crossed paths with these people otherwise, except for fleeting exchanges at an industry conference. Making such connections has been very satisfying and valuable, in some cases the connections have come close to the kinds of working relationships one develops with colleagues. Especially in the area of enterprise collaboration, there is more gray than defined, which makes it both sensible and necessary for industry peers to gravitate to each other and learn from each other.
Participatory behavior and reciprocity has generous paybacks - Thank you to those who have followed me over the past year. Everytime you Google+ ‘ed and Retweeted my posts you were cheering me on, some of you have been brave enough to comment as well. I have followed a lot of you back and read your writings, which have expanded the horizons of my mind. The Google Analytics dashboard covering the last 12 months tells me that I have had a respectable bounce rate and pages/views with thousands of site visits from visitors in over 60 countries, more than half of them are regular visitors. I don’t write my blog based on an SEO strategy and do wonder why one post gets Google+ ‘ed 25 times and another gets Tweeted 21 times and yet another (which I thought was even better) gets very little attention. Some posts get picked up months after I write them, but that too is the beauty of this medium, these online conversations can have a long tail.
Take a break when you need to - Last month, I did not post my usual 2-3 original posts per month. I experimented with Technology Sabbaths on Saturdays, which meant when I wasn’t catching up on my usual Google+, favorite blogs and Twitter feeds, I was spending time with my children, cooking (more than usual), working out, visiting family, meditating or reading books by Eckhart Tolle (not on the Kindle). I am not Verge’s Paul Miller, but found this self-orchestrated hiatus refreshing.
I share my experience so that some of you might consider blogging about your work or even your interests (if you are not already doing it) and find it to be a satisfying endeavor. If you are still not convinced that blogging is for you, I leave you with this viewpoint from Dorie Clark on the HBR blog, who says it way better than I do, ”When I worked as a reporter a decade ago, I knew that when my editor decided to put something on the web — but not in the actual paper — it was a brushoff. Fewer people would see the web content, and (pre-Google) it would evaporate into the ether; it wasn’t solid like an actual paper on someone’s doorstep. Now the hierarchy has been reversed; an article lives forever on the web and will be seen around the world.”
I was in Paris earlier this month, my second time in 10 years. It is a city that can’t fail to inspire philosophers and poets and move artists and romantics. The city has no shortage of perspectives, which would make for a photographer’s delight. More on this particular shot at the end of this post.
A few weeks ago, a young start-up entrepreneur who shares a mutual friend approached me for my perspective on his POC – he is planning to build a social CRM platform. I was pleased to see that he started with the right idea about weaving social into an essential business need. Another company Sendgine (covered in Forbes) and introduced to me by a business acquaintance explained in a demo how it is trying to turn email on its head. Sendgine uses train thoughts (their vernacular for a thread of conversation) that combine aspects of email, social collaboration and project management. These are new-ish players into a space that has the likes of Jive, Telligent, Bazaarvoice, Lithium and many others. What does all this development in the social space mean for large enterprise implementations?
Most social providers have targeted the market by size of organization (large enterprise scale vs. small to medium businesses) and by uses cases (CRM, community management, internal communications, collaboration, content management, talent management, customer service, product reviews and so on). Some providers operate in a space where internally driven social efforts start overlapping with Marketing driven, external facing, social media efforts (that also makes for a topic to be explored and understood). Is there a proliferation of too many players in the space or is the fragmentation justified? Does any one player command the meta-view?
Companies are still defining their social ecosystem. It is a fast evolving space, but one with a lot of potential. McKinsey’s latest report on Enterprise Social titled Evolution of the Networked Enterprise cites results of a global survey that claims that 83 percent of respondents say their companies are using at least one social technology, while acknowledging that significant organizational barriers need to be removed in order to realize the full potential of social tools. For now, most enterprise implementations are employing one or more of these routes in their social enterprise journey (not necessarily in this order):
#1 - Implement a stand-alone solution (the likes of Jive, Yammer, IBM Connections, Socialcast or others) and move towards integrating it with the company’s existing intranet - usually considered the singular destination for information that is openly available to everyone in the organization. This can provide incremental improvements in terms of knowledge flows and significantly impact how staff ‘interact’ with information. The organizations that do this strategically will usually do this centrally and ensure the entire company is on board as part of a larger enterprise content management (ECM) effort. The result : a consolidated platform for internal conversations, communications and collaboration.
#2 - Implement a stand-alone solution for clients setting up customer communities, a powerful tool in the arsenal for B2C and gaining traction in the B2B world as well (see Vanessa Di Mauro, CEO Leader Networks post on Cognizant’s B2B online communities, a good example). The result : Improved relationships in a peer-to-peer setting and better products/services based on actual feedback/collaboration between provider and customer. It is a chance for the customers to feel a sense of transparency and being heard, which ultimately translates into a higher level of trust – critical in sustaining long term business relationships. The clients find it to be a good trade-off, they are part of a peer group that is likely struggling with similar issues and can discuss business approaches within a community setting. In B2B interactions, this will never substitute for in-person contact, but goes a long way to enhance the richness of dialogue with the client.
#3 - Integrate the company’s social platform with a critical business process making an improvement in the process flow. Imagine when social extends into the enterprise’s supply chain system, the talent management and CRM systems and the sales-inventory tracker system, now imagine if it was a single platform connecting those systems. It is then that it transforms into an engine that can provide exponential improvements and become a crucible for ideas and action. The result : Depending on the level of integration and cultural adoption of the social platforms, it could offer an incremental or exponential improvement in processes and knowledge flows within and outside of organizations.
In the current landscape, enterprise software providers have gravitated towards the use cases that make for a logical fit with their legacy software or play to the strengths of their businesses and embedded social therein. Kenexa, a leader in HR technology solutions offers social solutions that can help their clients with their social recruitment brand strategies (Human Capital Management). Oracle, on the other hand announced at the recent SXSW that it would meld its social engagement monitoring analytics and social marketing into social relationship management (SRM) and integrate across all its customer service platforms. This means if the business sponsor for an enterprise social platform implementation is more keen on CRM, they are likely to go with the likes of Salesforce Chatter, Oracle SRM or others that have a strong CRM suite and a sponsor whose priority is aligned with talent management and employee engagement will look to a different kind of a social solution. The business sponsor who wants to drive internal conversations and collaboration to propel innovation and improve employee engagement might choose one of the platforms that have stronger plays on the community and collaboration front like Jive, Socialcast, Yammer, IBM Connections or Tibbr. There are also a number of smaller and newer players (the likes of Artesian, Kana, Mzinga, and others) that find it is worth a shot to enter a space unencumbered by legacy platforms and carving a market niche with SMBs, after all it is open territory - the Wild West of enterprise apps.
The meta-view is not complete without including the people aspect. In the case of good cultural adoption, people will view themselves as becoming contributors and mavens within the social space and even bullhorns for their departments, their projects and their favorite causes within the enterprise. They may even reach a level of altruism where they view part of their participation to include promoting peers and being actively interested in their peers’ work. In case-studies of excellent adoption, employees go on to shape their reputation taking on at once, the role of coach, communicator, connector and leader within an enterprise social network, a platform that seems to provide a fair and flat ground for everyone’s voices. One of the biggest organizational barriers to realizing the full potential of social is usually the combination of corporate culture and current management practices. A McKinsey article on social media skills for leaders says it better than I could - “…What’s more, there’s a mismatch between the logic of participatory media and the still-reigning 20th-century model of management and organizations, with its emphasis on linear processes and control. Social media encourages horizontal collaboration and unscripted conversations that travel in random paths across management hierarchies. It thereby short-circuits established power dynamics and traditional lines of communication”.
As for the photo, the above is a shot of Quai de Montebello taken from Petit Pont a little after the golden hour, on my walk back from Saint-Michel in Paris. The Petit Pont is a bridge that was destroyed atleast thirteen times since its original construction (changing a few things along the way like the number of arches, construction materials and so on). I thought this was an interesting photo to attach to the post that was discussing social implementations from a few different perspectives and acknowledging the fact that the infrastructure might not be quite right just yet, but we’ll get there.
The rapid clip of connectivity technology has helped us seek more, know more, do more and be more. In a dash to reduce everything down to a perfect humming machine, we squeeze out efficiencies from routine tasks through workflow applications. In the pursuit of golden nuggets of knowledge distilled from our business transactions, we analyze large datasets with the help of algorithms. In the process, we risk losing some of the human factor and some of the tacit knowledge that is embedded in any work. While glorifying the power of technology, we sometimes overlook the fact that processes and tools are only as good as the people wielding them. Taking a metaview of the whole is not only powerful but essential.
Today’s social tools make it both easier to express oneself and lean in and listen to other minds. People use company social networks and public platforms like Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr, Google+, Twitter to express themselves. All this expression and opinion out there is like manna to marketers, who otherwise fund focus groups and research studies to know more about what is on people’s minds. Most companies still use digital marketing as a digital version of traditional marketing and still only broadcast out. The mavens of social media will admit that sophisticated sentiment analytics tools only go that far – they can highlight what people are talking about and that can be used to fine tune what is fed back to them. However it is the conversation angle that takes the relationship with an audience to the next level. If you really want to capture the hearts and minds and engender long-term employee engagement (through enterprise social networks) and customer loyalty (through external social media), you are better off leaning in to listen and having a conversation, engaging someone’s attention and arresting it for more than the fleeting minute that someone would otherwise spend scanning or reading your message.
In my experience with social networks, I find that it is the access and the conversations that enrich my experience and make it worth my time to be part of those networks. I have lurked as well and found it helpful when I am just learning about something new or lacking the knowledge and confidence to pipe in on a topic. John Hagel, author of The Power of Pull has explained in his book why we need to be engaging at the edges of our organization, the edges of our industry and the edges of our spheres (highly recommend the book). He recently spoke at the SXSWi conference of moving from storytelling to narrative. He is prescient and knows that one way broadcasts, no matter how clever the tag line or how furious the pace of tweeting, are just that. That is wise caution to marketers who may have prided themselves on being able to stir enough emotion in the minds of their audience even with one-way marketing. Real conversation on the other hand has a chance of standing out, making a deeper impact, especially in the deluge that is social. And what would be needed to have a real conversation? Ofcourse real people on both ends and something Dan Pink calls Attunement in his recent book, To sell is human. Dan Pink calls out Attunement (the A of his ABCs) as the quality to be able to connect with another person or people that makes them want to give you their attention (and eventually money, if that’s in the mix). That quality of empathy is a key requirement for those who step in as enterprise community managers within enterprise networks or as social media managers. They are the front line of a company and can be incredible ambassadors for the brand and culture. They would have to genuinely believe that these kinds of connections are becoming critical for learning, self-improvement, progress and indeed even survival in the world of today’s business. This is in resonance with the connection economy that Seth Godin talks of and what Nilofer Merchant explains in the Social Era (earlier post). These trends affect all functional disciplines, not just Marketing. In my current world of Knowledge Management, there is a decided shift from capturing and managing codified knowledge in neat labeled containers to learning to trust the exchange of tacit knowledge through social networks. One still needs the former, but it just isn’t enough anymore.
One of the latest examples of a company shifting its product strategy based on this trend is Google. It is switching off its super efficient Google Reader because it has proof that Google+ does a better job of engagement and community building, there has been a lot of noise about this in the last few days. Google Reader is an excellent functional tool, an aggregator of RSS feeds, but doesn’t have the same kind of socialness to it that Google+ does (by some accounts something Google did that as part of its product strategy years ago). I think they have the right idea and know a thing or two about customer engagement. I enjoy being on Google+ and meeting, listening to and talking to industry peers and others with shared interests, people with whom I would have never crossed paths otherwise. As for customer engagement, I was presented a lovely custom Google logo when I visited the search page this morning, wishing me a Happy Birthday! A good first step.
Thank you for the warm wishes, Google+, looking forward to talking.
My last post was on cultivating networked knowledge but my context was related to a business environment. Today I found out that Dr. Sugata Mitra won the TED prize for 2013 this week. I heard his brilliant TED talk on child driven education a couple of years ago, and found it to be a dramatic vision for what was possible in collaborative learning. This physicist turned educational scientist’s journey from a Hole in the Wall to S.O.L.E. has been incredible. Mitra explains how self-organized learning environments (S.O.L.E.) are powerful and even necessary for disadvantaged areas where teachers won’t go or are in very short supply, and he had serious research to back this assertion. He researched school level children in rural areas of countries like India, Cambodia and others - children, who had been never exposed to a foreign language, advanced studies, a rich collection of books, computers or a formal learning system (schools, tutors, etc) and turned them into exemplar learners in very short periods of time. Dr. Mitra was questioned if this kind of learning was in fact deep learning, he used scored tests drawn over a period of time to prove it was. His School in the Cloud concept has enabled young school going children in very disadvantaged neighborhoods to be connected to retired school teachers in the UK for a short hour every day, but that interaction gives them enough fodder to stretch themselves and tackle problems among themselves (in effect, one of the students becomes the surrogate teacher in the physical absence of formal teachers for these children). His ideas on industrialized educational systems that are outdated are similar to those of another respected educational thinker, Dr. Ken Robinson (see earlier post). Dr. Mitra’s work reminds me of the underlying principle of the Montessori method which is based on the theory that children are motivated to learn on their own when surrounded by appropriate learning materials. I know from personal experience how wonderful that method was for my own son.
Dr. Mitra’s work is a brilliant example of not only what is possible in terms of collaborative and social learning, but how effective it is. His ideas are worth scaling up. Even with very limited resources, the children in his research showed unimaginable gains. Translating it back to the world of knowledge workers, the School in the Cloud gives an amplified meaning to the idea of cultivating networked knowledge and a lesson for the rest of us.
One of the best pieces of advice that I received from one of my mentors, was to read more and read different genres. She was referring to books, but the same principles apply in the world of networked knowledge. Managed knowledge, the one that you could neatly account for, curate and stuff in a box has been making room to accommodate networked knowledge, changing the ways of traditional Knowledge Management.The hybrid and diverse thinking that comes as a result of being plugged into networked knowledge has the potential to propel us to a point of advantage. This as an idea is powerful and there are plenty of devices for networked knowledge, from LinkedIn to Quora and from Google Plus to Twitter.
Networked knowledge has a lot of potential but it should not be mistaken for a silver bullet for innovation and ideation (some of it is just noise), it is however a strong tool that can be added to the innovation suite. The dangers of being part of only specific networks is that you unwittingly apply a filter and in fact, narrow your vision and your choices. Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble warns of falling into just that trap with an internet that is constantly being personalized. To avoid falling victim to echo chambers in networked knowledge, one must be actively thinking about punching holes in their echo chambers (as David Weinberger calls them). For example, if you work for a large Fortune 500 company, occasionally attend a local startup meetup to get a feel for the way things tick in a small entrepreneurial environment where people build something from scratch. If you are surrounded by colleagues and peers of your industry and domain, listen in to a conversation from a completely different world.
Knowledge Managers in their traditional roles have gathered, processed and disseminated knowledge in neat nuggets, they are adroit at tapping into a lot of information to distill the ‘best’ - the traditional data>information>knowledge>wisdom pyramid. However, recently even David Weinberger has been challenging the classic pyramid. His book Too Big to Know is a great read for anyone trying to understand the world of networked knowledge. If we are faced with such a shift, how does it all affect the traditional Knowledge Manager. As we start using collaboration or social technologies both within and outside our companies to grow our networks and our knowledge, we assume people know how to use networked knowledge to their advantage. We assume that social collaboration is intuitive and to some degree it is, but most could benefit from an education in this area. The fluid nature of networked knowledge means that Knowledge Managers will lean on the power of storytelling. Knowledge Managers will have to be honest with their stakeholders about the upfront and ongoing investment of time and attention in networked knowledge before the advantages become apparent. This is where it gets tricky. In an environment, where people are short on time, attention and anything else, they will need to be persuaded to make such an investment. John Stepper of Deutsche Bank oftens blogs about how one can manage one’s professional enterprise and intraprise networks. He also highlights the benefits of managing one’s online reputation in these networks in order to be more visible within their organizations and outside, learn from and teach others and become recognized for their knowledge in a certain area. And even Stepper admits that in most corporations, this represents a huge cultural shift.
Collaboration technologies will mature with time - the stand-alone social or intranet specific extensions of today will be integrated into other systems of the company that are specific to critical business processes. They are not there yet. In the meantime, the added role for Knowledge Managers? To be pivotal cultural catalysts and coach people on how to tap the chaos of networked knowledge to their advantage.
Collaboration is a good thing, a sacred concept in today’s business world and hailed as a key multiplier for success. In an increasingly complex landscape, it counts as a business necessity especially in very large organizations that become silo-ed as a result of their size and structure. When trusted collaboration is missing, the ‘silo syndrome’ sets in, something that Eva Rosen calls out in her book, The Culture of Collaboration – she describes it as an organizational dysfunction where finger pointing is the result of a lack of collaboration among people in multiple functions and business units whose complementary skills are necessary to create value. Collaboration puts our personal communication skills to the test as we work across departmental, cultural and time zone boundaries, especially as a lot of our work interactions these days occur over collaboration technologies. We may find ourselves using any of the elements of the collaboration technology portfolio that contains conferencing capabilities, enterprise social software, mobile apps, telepresence or video conferencing and instant messaging. Most of these tools are now considered utilitarian, but some organizations still view enterprise social software with some cynicism. In a recent interview for the McKinsey Quarterly, Don Tapscott, a leading business strategist and thinker in the area of the intersection of business and technology, challenged that cynicism and referred to such social tools as the operating system of the 21st century enterprise, in which the platforms are where talent (employees) build capability.
Tapscott and others say that the enterprise social platform is not a technical solution - it is much bigger than that – it is an organizational development program. So then which department would make a natural fit as owner of the enterprise social network? Should it be Internal Communications or Human Resources or Knowledge Management or Marketing or IT or Strategy. The answer: they should all co-own it, even though only one of the groups may lead the actual deployment.
Collaboration within and across an enterprise is a mindset, not a toolset. It stems from the very core of an organization, from the behaviors and tone that the leaders of the organization set and from the recognition that it is a vital component for success in a global economy that has knowledge and connectivity at its foundation. It can be the one factor that ensures long term survival of an organization, and gives an organization the ability to carve out its own unique cultural marker in a landscape where long tail business models are becoming prominent (earlier posts on this here and here).
In the less optimal end of the spectrum, large organizations are siloed and fragmented. In its best form however, a very large organization that has staff across many countries and continents and working in various departments, has the potential and power of a mini-city in corporate terms. These multiple departments and their people have complementary skills whose sum total is larger than its parts. As a matter of fact, employees that have figured this simple fact about collaboration and are able to leverage it to be more effective in their work have tapped into a goldmine. Enterprise social networks make tapping into that goldmine a little easier, but ultimately it is the mindset that trumps any toolset. If employees don’t collaborate across the organization without the platform and don’t appreciate the value of such collaboration, they will not suddenly change their behavior in the presence of one. A strong adoption program could help here, but will leave that for another post.
For those that are natural collaborators, social networks within the enterprise present an incomparable opportunity that can catapult them to a different dimension (more about how the influence of pull in my earlier post here). Based on Dr. Morten Hansen’s book, Collaboration, the employees that make the most natural collaborators are T-shaped - they perform well both in their own jobs and have the ability to work vertically and horizontally (my earlier post on T-skills here). Dr. Hansen identifies other types of workers as well - lone stars, butterflies and laggards, and in his book illustrates why sometimes even collaboration can be done wrong. Employees may participate in endless committees or other collaborative groups, but may contribute very little in terms of overall outcomes. Susan Cain, author of Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, argues why working in solitude is as much a contributor to creativity as is groupthink. However Cain points out that online networks are an exceptional medium where shared brainpower can be optimized, going on to say that the offline equivalent of such groupthink would in fact be disastrous. She cites examples of Linux and Wikipedia, the results of online collaboration and insists that throwing a number of people in a conference room for a year, couldn’t have yielded the same end result. This is an interesting point, because currently most organizations are comfortable with the offline version of collaboration and are still a little unsure of its online equivalent. The Cathederal and the Bazaar model has played itself out, and proven itself but only a few of the large corporations have embraced it to their advantage (an earlier post on this here).
Another aspect to consider as a success factor of collaboration is the goals and rewards mechanism around it, because it redefines organizational development and talent management in a transformational way. If individuals are recognized and rewarded only for their individual goals and not collective goals, the best intentions around collaboration have the chance to go awry, but will leave that for another post.
The photo above is from a family summer trip to India, in the beautiful desert fort of Amer of Rajasthan. The criss-cross of this courtyard in the palace square felt right for this post.
What makes the implementation of a social collaboration tool, an E2.0 tool different from say, the next generation ERP platform. Both implementations represent changes in workflows, but the former will create a structural change in workflows and the other a cultural change. The former can have a straightforward implementation and adoption as a technical tool and will be considered business critical and even treated more seriously. E2.0 tools on the other hand, operate in that new(ish) messy hybrid space where corporate culture and strategy intersect, and where the hard logic of productivity and the soft sell of employee engagement cross paths, and where informal learning, hybrid thinking and serendipitous innovation is often possible. That’s what makes the implementation and adoption of E2.0 tools deliciously interesting and challenging.
I straddle the world of business and technology in my role of driving E2.0 technology adoption in a global professional services firm. Rolling out social engagement tools and collaboration workspaces within a very large organization (150,000+) across the world means bringing employees of all levels and understanding on board and along for the journey. My stakeholders are driven professional men and women who have a clear head for numbers and processes and intuitively know that collaboration is a good thing. They are advisors to clients so have strong listening skills and an incredible capacity for focus and for consuming and processing information. Everyone in business is interested in social to some degree, as it ranks up there with the other significant business disruptors of today - cloud, data analytics and mobile.
To define the dimensions of my adoption strategy for an E2.0 tool, I think of my awareness, training and change management efforts in terms of Heads, Hearts and Hands (reminds me of Aristotle’s advice on employing Logos, Pathos and Ethos in the art of persuasion - but Heads, Hearts and Hands are much more easy to explain and remember).
HEADS - Cognition/ Logical : Most people have some experience with online social networks by now. In their personal lives, people have set their own rules for how and how much they want to engage in online social networks. Within the enterprise, the rules of engagement would be different from those of a personal social network. The more connected you are, the more likely you are to be in the know and be in a position to draw information when you need it – this social currency is invaluable especially in a large organization (I went into some detail in my last post on this). Employees, management and leadership need to be convinced that this is a worthwhile tool and not a time sink. Using the tool would connect them to people and ideas from across departments and practices and geographies in our very matrixed organization and in doing so, they would be able to tap into a rich pool of knowledge that could help them with their own business opportunities. After all, the pace of business is highly accelerated, and this network would be a chance to turn to a trusted peer group that was facing similar client and business situations.
HEARTS - Emotion/ Metaphor : One of the challenges of adoption of social within the enterprise is that the stakeholders are at different levels on the spectrum of understanding and ease of being around social networks. Given that some will need to be persuaded to use a new tool, behavioral change management will be essential. If they were net new to a social network experience, they would need help to overcome past resistance or even bias against social networks. To help, stories of how their early adopter colleagues engage with and use enterprise social should be communicated, employing persuasion psychology guru Robert Cialdini’s principle of social proof here. For those who are well versed in the use of social tools, they may need less persuasion but still need to be motivated enough to use these tools within the enterprise which is different from their use outside. Anecdotes of successful connections and learnings and business opportunities should be highlighted (over and over again, if necessary). For some groups, even initial incentives through a formal reward/recognition system or a gamification system should be considered. In the long run, I wouldn’t advise the same incentives as they should be successfully replaced by people wanting to engage on a social network because of the inherent value it represents.
HANDS - Practical/ Literal : The simplest of all instructions would be the how to’s. Social collaboration tools are usually very user friendly. For those who are uninitiated in the use of hashtags and multiple postings in the context of an online social network, a simple education in following people and communities or setting up a group would be the starting point. Ideally these instructions are communicated through short video tutorials and user guides. In a heavily regulated industry, these practical tips should be complete with indicators of acceptable online conduct and appropriate information sharing. Regulations around retaining information from social networks are still evolving and (understandably) companies in regulated industries tread with caution. For the senior stakeholders that could serve as visible and significant proponents, reverse mentoring sessions would be a gentle but effective introduction to the world of enterprise social.
Do you have any interesting adoption approaches for E2.0 tools?
The above photo was taken on a family summer trip to the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, added it here as a visual for the metaphor of heads-hearts-hands.
In a Sloan Management Review article this year, Andrew McAfee cited an example of how Tata Consultancy Services used an internal social network as a tool to enable their employees to ask and answer questions. The company realized after a while that the people who showed up high on their Leaderboards sometimes worked in positions that had nothing to do with the questions they were answering – instead were owners of tacit knowledge and were helping colleagues both out of altruism and for the peer recognition. In his seminal book The Power of Pull, John Hagel explains that in a world where information has become ubiquitous, the old rules of building up and protecting information silos are lessening in value and instead we must trust to rely on pull principles to tap into the creative potential of people and organizations (his Big Think interview is a quick overview). The book was re-released this month and the authors have expressed their satisfaction on seeing that the 4 big technologies they had considered earlier (social, mobile, cloud, data analytics) have moved even more dramatically than they expected.
Picking up on the social theme and technology, in very large organizations that have a proud presence in locations around the world and thousands of employees that might sometimes struggle to ‘discover’ one another, Enterprise Social Networks have donned many purposes. They have connected far flung teams to each other, connected people that have worked on or are working on something similar even if they sit in different departments and offices, connected people that have common interests, widened the horizons of employees by giving a glimpse into what happens in other offices of the same company making the enterprise a little bit closer and I daresay, a little more human. Some companies have even scrapped their decade long intranets and instead moved on to a social network as a substitute. They have moved from the idea of a Digital Habitat where they can store all their data in neat hierarchies to Digital Hangouts where they can search for and bump into information – formal and tacit - serendipitously. As more companies get on this bandwagon, it is clear that these networks start taking the form of virtual water coolers and digital hangouts for employees. Employees in Mexico learn about the holidays in India and colleagues in Australia see photos and hear of corporate events in Singapore or read personal accounts tied to a major event in the US - there is quiet value in strengthening the soft tissue of an organization.
There is a great degree of fluidity in these kinds of interactions, but that is where Hagel would say our opportunities await us (he talks in some detail about the power of innovative ideas seeping in from the edges of an organization). That is because the purpose of these networks goes beyond providing a digital habitat to employees looking to read the ‘company news’ in a more social way. These Enterprise Social Networks have the promise of shifting the culture of an organization dramatically. In an earlier post, I had written about how these networks enable improved employee engagement, morale and productivity, informal learning and creativity. However I believe there are even higher benefits for those who truly engage on these networks – they will have the ability to learn faster and drive their performance to a different dimension. They will also have the ability to draw people and ideas to them, in turn making it easier for the organization to identify resources and know-how when it is needed. This brings me back to the pull levers that Hagel refers to.
Other contemporary thinkers of these enabling technologies agree on the same principles. In her book, 11 Rules for creating Value in the Social Era, Nilofer Merchant explains how connections create value. Clay Shirky (Cognitive Surplus) and Chris Anderson (Free) illustrate how emerging social technologies have dramatically reduced the cost of pooling efforts across a large number of people. John Seely Brown (co-author of The Power of Pull) may not have been talking about Enterprise Social Networks when he was addressing the Stanford graduating class last year, but his perception is very relevant : We are again at a very special moment – it is a Cambrian Moment … where classical boundaries are being blurred – boundaries such as those between the virtual and the real, between learning and teaching, between cognition and emotion.
The above photo was taken on a business trip to Lille, France in the lovely Meert Chocolate shop. The careful stacking of the boxes reminded me of a habitat and the Meert tea room more of a hangout. Had to pick chocolates for the theme, it’s December!
Stories are just data with a soul. (Brené Brown)
Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo) says Big Data is like watching the planet develop a nervous system. One of the cool Big Data projects that is going on right now has nothing to do with any specific company’s or industry’s datapoints. Instead it is a globally crowdsourced media project focusing on humanity’s new ability to collect and visualize vast amounts of data in real time. Rick Smolan’s project called the Human Face of Big Data, is a mobile app driven project. The data console feature is fun to watch and captures moments and snapshots of people’s lives and minds. A book with some of the photographs from the project will be available in a couple of days - the result of a massive curation project.
And speaking of curation, for those of us who work in a company’s Knowledge Management group, the need to explain what KM is all too familiar. Most people know what it’s not - it’s not Sales or Marketing or Finance or HR or Communications or Training or Product Development or any of the other traditional functions in a company – we see ourselves as the connectors between all those functions. I tell them KM is the systematic capture of information that is generated within an organization, and sometimes supplemented with information from external sources, so that we know more by surfacing the information that is currently tucked away in pockets of the company. I tell them that KM as an idea, is necessary in any organization that is information-intensive and people-heavy, and especially important in large professional services firms where our formal knowledge is as important as our tacit knowledge and that having all this information at our fingertips makes us more competitive and ready for the marketplace. And that’s where it starts sounding like I am talking about Big Data. But the coming of Big Data actually encourages Knowledge Management to move to the next realm.
No longer content with having structured information at our fingertips, organizational planners, strategists, investors, marketers and the sales force would like to have insight at the speed of thought – which means tapping into unstructured information as well. It demands the ability to capture information both within and outside our organizations and the capacity to see the patterns. The organizations that will be able to tap into that reservoir of rich knowledge through connected enterprise solutions, will be the first out of the gate. Ofcourse once such a connected enterprise solution is available, everyone can get it for themselves. But it will be the pattern reading and the storytelling that will make the ultimate difference. The final spoils will go to those that will have the agility to leverage the patterns they see to their advantage (my earlier post on this).
As far as the technical possibility goes, the more ambitious enterprise software vendors claim that that kind of data integration and knowledge harvesting is around the corner. They might still be underestimating the effort required to string together legacy information systems (especially in large organizations) and although conceptually spot on, it will be some time before we can see the results of such a powerful possibility.
The above photo was taken on a business training trip, travelling from Oss, Netherlands to Lille, France.
Are you part of crowd-anything? (Hint: we all are!)
Last summer, Seth Godin launched a Kickstarter project for his next book The Icarus Deception partly to make his point to the publishers and booksellers and partly to demonstrate the power of Kickstarter as an amplifier of ideas, and new avenue of crowdfunding for the creative types and the power of patrons who desire to be part of a tribe. Seth has always been one of the rare breed of those who have the audacity to question themselves and the status quo. But in a similar step, a few days ago Dan Pink announced that he was inviting almost a hundred people to join his launch team – in effect employing his fans and readers – his tribe to spread the word about his new book To Sell is Human (the book’s title I am sure is only coincidental to the ask). This fan base in effect would become in whole or an extension of Pink’s PR, Marketing and Comms team. The book will go on sale on December 31 this year. The power of tribes and their potential to disrupt business models is now an established reality. The question is – is that revolutionary? only in that most authors today don’t take that path yet but through the ages, creative works and scientific research have always been supported by those who have found the appeal in providing such patronage either through their funds or their explicit endorsement. The idea of the tribe existed even then, but it has been democratized to an unbelievable degree through the Internet.
The idea of the tribe and crowdsourcing or crowdfunding or crowdmarketing or crowdgenerosity in a world that is hyperconnected has been the focus of research and writings by Clay Shirky (Here comes everybody and Cognitive Surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age). While Shirky, a NYU Professor has shared the research results on his study of the social trends of internet technologies for many years now, he recently brought up a subject even closer to home through his comments on the new challengers of the staid establishment of physical Universities – MOOCs. Shirky’s excellent blog post analyzed the successes of Udacity and Coursera and how they would stack up against other online and physical providers of higher education (I gave my own shoutout to Udacity and Coursera when I started taking courses with them this year). A big believer of the open system, Shirky challenges his peers to look at the cost of higher education and its corresponding value. On the note of transformed learning, although focused more on the K-12 education, Sir Ken Robinson’s views on school education and Seth’s Stop stealing dreams are worth checking out.
The power of crowds to self-organize around a social network or website came to the fore during the recent superstorm that rocked the states of New York and New Jersey. Many volunteer groups assembled their efforts in support of those that were most affected as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Outside of the well-known disaster relief organizations like Red Cross, new sites popped up, some like HealHoboken were set up within 24 hours by the NJTech Meetup after the hurricane ripped through the area. Others like Jerseycares gave people several choices for hurricane related volunteering from churches that had damaged roofs or affected congregation members to soup kitchens to debris cleaning on the shore (among the choices were also the advantage of being able to filter volunteer options further by age, for those who had teenagers who wanted to pitch in).
Do you feel like you belong to a group, a tribe as a result of affinity to any crowd-effort?
‘Accumulate learning by study and understand what you learn by questioning’ - Cha’n Master Mingjiao
Most businesses expend considerable effort in establishing processes and procedures so that systems work in a certain way. However using discipline to take a fresh look on a periodic basis at what is in motion is equally important for businesses to keep fresh and on top of their game. The professional network company LinkedIn epitomizes networked knowledge through its product and has put this idea to the test in recent months, during which it released new features in rapid fire succession. The company launched a new project track called Project Inversion where it tossed out its usual process of feature development, testing and deployment run through a centralized base of resources; instead it systematically automated some of its key processes and in doing so, drove an accelerated speed of development and roll-out. The reduction in cycle times was not only possible by automating some processes, the engineering team went as far as changing the coding of the platform itself to make it conducive to automated processes. The team also made change management an integral part of their feature releases.
It is probably not a surprise that a company like LinkedIn would invest in re-engineering itself to this degree – it is long-term insurance against competitors - it survives because of its ability to stay ahead in the game of professional connections. The model can be easily replicated but for now LinkedIn is still the number one professional network. There are others in the same space like Xing, Branchout (Facebook’s foray into professional networks) and Viadeo, but none of them have gotten as ubiquitous as LinkedIn which currently boasts a membership base of 175 million. And although (just like Facebook) all the new features that are released may not be what the customers want, LinkedIn hedges its bets by testing their acceptance in the marketplace within days (sometimes hours) as opposed to months, demonstrating a true advantage. If you are interested in some of LinkedIn’s engineering projects, you can read more here. I blogged about the themes of ‘constant reinvention’ and ‘failing fast’ in my post Today’s Value is Tomorrow’s Commodity last month; it would seem that LinkedIn could easily claim those attributes.
The past few days have been dramatic enough to have been lifted from a movie script. Scenes of fallen trees uprooted, caved house roofs, strewn power lines, traffic lights running on generators, blocked road signs everywhere, people on foot waiting in lines for 4 hours for 4 gallons of gas, fuel pump fights and car drivers driving maniacally, ignoring the dangers of passing through non-functioning traffic lights – and all this is in my quiet leafy suburb of New Jersey. With no power and therefore no TV coverage or Internet connectivity, I had no idea of the mayhem that was going on in New York the day of the hurricane. I risked 15 mins. of car battery power to listen to Mayor Bloomberg’s radio address coverage on Tuesday (the day after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York and New Jersey), reassuring the people of his city that the crew of his city would not rest till they were safe.
As it always happens with me, I picked up the two books that were looking to find me at exactly this time. Professor Clay Christensen’s book, How will you measure your Life walks us through his life’s journey and personal philosophy. Most of us know him for his coinage of the term ‘disruptive innovation’, as the author of ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ and the founder of Innosight. His story is that of many wise decisions (even the small ones), the choice of deliberate parenting and a serene submission to his faith. Professor Christensen knows his own compass well – something most people struggle with; he has also managed to stick with it through life’s many turns making his story a compelling read. He has positioned family, career and faith with equal importance in his life and talks about that balancing act throughout his book (warning: he makes it sound very easy). As a business consultant, entrepreneur and now University professor, he has touched the lives of many while drawing on a very solid personal true north. In the middle of the storm, the book reminded me of what’s important in life and the primal instincts that are tested when a hurricane is heading our way – our desire for safety (both our own and our loved ones), our need to be connected to others and the fortitude of our mental and physical reserves.
The other remarkable story was that of Jacqueline Novogratz, the amazing founder of Acumen Fund. I first read about her in Rajeev Peshawaria’s Too Many Bosses, too few leaders. But I only managed to read the book she has written, The Blue Sweater last week, with no power and a flashlight held close while Hurricane Sandy surged outside my home. The book is more than the story of Ms. Novogratz’s own passion, compassion and intelligence, it is the story of a nation, the realities of the organized philanthropic world that most of us are unaware of and the ripple effect of the tireless work of dedicated social entrepreneurs. It reminded me that no matter how bad it was to not have power in my home for 8 days straight (and still counting), that there are millions upon millions of people in the world who can’t claim to have lost the basics in life for a few days to a nasty storm – basics like heat, electric power, a warm meal, running water, clean drinking water - because they have never had these basics that I take for granted.
Both stories also highlighted the importance of being connected to others, in normal circumstances but especially in moments of crises. During the hurricane, Twitter updates were a major source of news for us from power and utility company updates, school systems, the county’s office and other emergency organizations. Similarly Facebook updates were essential in knowing how all our friends and neighbors who were impacted were doing - with landlines down, cell phone towers damaged and device batteries that suddenly needed to be conserved, these social networks were critical and efficient in getting the word out and in. This disaster situation has definitely restated and reinforced the power of online social networks. With the widespread disruption that Sandy caused, and unfortunately because of it, businesses will definitely be looking into how they should be leveraging online social networks and social media more effectively.
Why no photo for this post, when Sandy was one of the most photographed hurricane ever? Couldn’t bring myself to capture the devastation on film myself.
As if the aspiration to make all of the world’s information accessible and findable was not enough, Google is foraying into the world of original content as well. When Google’s ebook ZMOT, the Zero Moment of Truth was released last year, I was impressed by the brief but well presented overview of the modern and connected consumer’s psychology at play and what it meant for the traditional marketing mental model and purchase funnel. The search engine proclaimed that given the changes in consumer buying behavior, the Internet (or specifically a search engine) had become the first point of promotion between a business and its customer or as the ebook suggests, even the ZERO point of marketing. Now Google has rolled out Think with Google, a collection (although not comprehensive by any stretch) of stats, facts (infographics and other forms), essays, interviews and trends on digital marketing, complete with an online magazine of original content Think Quarterly.
A basic digital footprint has become table stakes for any company by now, but there could be many that could pick up the datapoints and rationale on Think with Google to string a cogent agenda for an integrated marketing strategy. Whether a self-serving promotion for SEO marketing or an education for the uniniatiated, Google has ventured to provide a basic starter, no-cost resource of facts around digital marketing for marketers and market researchers. ZMOT has published its second edition this year, which delves more into the ‘how’ of ZMOT marketing. The next site I’d like to see come out is, Think Like Google!
When IBM Chairwoman and CEO, Ginni Rometty spoke about constant reinvention and ‘failing fast’ at this month’s Fortune Most Powerful Women conference, she also advised placing strategic beliefs above strategic plans. The texture of business has been dramatically affected within a short span due to the confluence of factors like easy and fast connectivity, open innovation, social platforms and globalization, forcing even companies with long roots to re-examine their businesses and be on the constant lookout for where the demographic, economic, technology and social trends are leading. All these factors can affect strategic plans, but as long as a company is following its true north, it can sustain itself over the long term. Ofcourse these rapid changes inflict confusion and anxiety among employees as well, and it is likely that they need to follow the same advice. Industries go through upheaval, new technologies replace older technologies (and many times even people). As professionals, we find that the skills we cultivate so carefully over time, become outdated in a short while. Today’s value becomes Tomorrow’s commodity. This in effect forces all of us to be in a perpetual state of learning, keeping track of the arcs of change and retooling to stay competitive - not necessarily a bad thing (after a while, it becomes a mindset rather than a conscious effort). It turns out what is good advice for organizations thinking of their future roadmaps, holds for individuals as well.
When asked how Ms. Rometty kept a global employee base of more than 450,000 aligned to the company’s strategic beliefs, among other things, she mentioned their internal social business tool that has helped create a feeling of connectedness through the organization - both for sharing and brainstorming ideas and engaging everyone. For all the glory and might of technology, it turns out that it is still the force of people and their belief in a higher purpose and their adaptability to the ‘arcs of change’ that trumps all.