Consumerisation is the trend in technology that first emerges in the consumer market and then spreads into business organizations. A great example is the burgeoning social web which is forcing increased awareness and use of enterprise collaboration tools (Facebook clones, LinkedIn clones, blogs, wikis, apps). In her book Get Bold, Sandy Carter (VP of Social Business Evangelism at IBM) defines a social business as a business that embeds ‘social’ in all of its processes, connecting people to people, people to information, and data to insight. If the word social is swapped for ‘knowledge management’, for those of us in Knowledge Management, the above sounds identical to a one-line description of our charter in companies. There is an uncanny resemblance between KM and Enterprise Social in their approach to connectivity and collaboration. For years, many companies have sought to understand whether they need Knowledge Management as a formal organizational function and if they do, what it should look like and how they use Knowledge Management as a discipline and philosophy to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace. For years, Knowledge Management has aimed to create a viable and dynamic ecosystem within organizations which brings people and information together. Now Enterprise Social seems to be carrying a similar mantle.
However it may be different this time. For the first time in the history of corporations, they face the prospect of hiring in a generation that is much more informed about certain aspects of business technology than the managers they will report into. Historically, the technology experience at work (or even college) was markedly superior to what one could enjoy at home – but now that position is reversed. But it isn’t just the technology, add to that the tenacity of a younger generation to cultivate social and knowledge networks in a way that seemingly doesn’t justify the investment of time and energy (atleast to a different generation which is used to getting credentials or an equivalent in return for time spent ‘learning’ or ‘engaging’). It isn’t all altruistic either, but does represent a very different mindset and reward system. Recognizing this sea change, the first reaction (a few years ago) by most companies was to categorize (and label) the incoming generation as Digital Natives. The second reaction was the attempt to understand what can be done to make the most of this reality. Companies set up youth focus user groups and (following that) set up reverse mentoring relationships between the tech savvy fresh recruits and senior leadership, in an effort to bridge the gap between the next generation of employees and the current one (acutely aware of the uniqueness of this knowledge gap). Wise moves.
By encouraging collaboration, strengthening employee engagement, tapping into collective intelligence and unleashing creativity that transcends the formality of organizational silos social collaboration within the enterprise provides the power and opportunity to change the very fabric of organizations. Going back to my original point of what can be adapted from the consumer market. As a business, understanding and cultivating our customer base always comes first, but Enterprise Social enables us to do the same for our own employees - a fruitful endeavor in the long run. Employee engagement alone is a worthy goal. Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.
As long as we are talking about ‘connecting’ with people and forging a sustainable connection then in addition to social technology, I see age-old notions of tribes and naturally sustainable ecosystems being surfaced as contemporary principles of successful business. From critical thinkers like Seth Godin who advises on creating and leading tribes, earning the permission to communicate and shipping to futurist Gerd Leonhard who shows us how the journey from Egosystem to Ecosystem is changing business models (his DO lecture). It seems very plausible that the organizations that will survive 50 years from now will be those that embed some (if not all) of these principles into their corporate code. These principles if properly taken up can be used to great effect to fundamentally change the culture within an organization in a way that makes it more adaptive, positive and transparent (the Digital Natives already know this bit).