Simon Terry

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You Don’t Have A Strategy if You Don’t Have the Work

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The commonest error in plans to develop social collaboration in an organisation is the most obvious error. Too many plans aren’t focused on the work. You don’t have a strategy for realising the value of collaboration in your organisation if it doesn’t focus on the work of your organisation.

Early Friday morning last week was the #ESNChat tweet chat. Rita Zonius and Dion Hinchcliffe were discussing a question about the plans for developing ESNs. Dion reiterated an important point – adoption or other abstract goals don’t matter.  Your business is in business and needs your employees doing something meaningful.

One Success Measure

The only measure of success that really matters to your business is the value that you create in your social collaboration.  Value doesn’t have to be measured wholly in monetary terms but for a great majority of businesses value will have clear measures and commonly direct financial elements. Value creation, broadly defined, is what separates successful businesses from the pack.

Your organisation exists to fulfil some purpose. The strategy that is in place in your organisation sets out how you will maximise the value of the work to realise that purpose. If social collaboration in your organisation is not directly connected to this strategy and the value to be created for purpose, then everyone in your organisation has the right, and the obligation, to (a) question why it matters and (b) ignore it.

Measuring value in collaboration is hard. This challenge is greater when organisations are often sceptical of new ways or working or chains of benefits. Usually the benefit realisation happens away from the platform and is measurable only in other systems. Many proponents of social collaboration choose to ignore the hard to measure benefits and focus on easier to track goals, like adoption, satisfaction, sentiment, engagement or measures created specifically for the organisation’s collaboration plan. The danger of failing to align the measures of social collaboration to the measures of the meaningful work of the organisation is the danger of irrelevance.

Parallel Paths

The most damning criticism of many social collaboration networks showing high degrees of adoption and engagement is that they are a “parallel universe” to the real organisation and its interactions.  In this parallel universe, the hierarchy is levelled, leaders are proactively engaging people in conversation, employees are empowered to speak up and discuss their whole lives and great strides are being made in engaging employees and advocating for social issues. In the office, not so much.

In this scenario, the lack of accountability for real work outcomes has allowed the collaboration network to drift into play-acting an ideal organisation. Without real work there are no hard decisions and no ugly compromises. Without real work, it is easier for everyone to get along. You only need a little bit of fantasy to undermine the interactions of an entire network.

When a collaboration network is focused on supporting the real work interactions that network is bound to what goes on across the organisation.  There is a greater chance that the discussions in the network will reflect the issues, the challenges and the interactions that happen in the corridors of the conversation, for good and for bad. Getting tough work challenges into a collaboration network, as ugly as they may be, enables the network to help address and improve them.

Many organisations like the idea of a utopian network that shows them their better side. Role modelling is a valuable purpose. However, role modelling only works when the interactions are real.  The network can only contribute to making those interactions better, if the work is being done in some way across the network. Without the work, there can be no greater value.

A better network for social collaboration does the hard work to fulfil the organisation’s strategy. You don’t have a strategy for your social collaboration if you don’t have that work and aren’t measuring its value.


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