Beyond Adoption to Value Creation


A great deal of attention in enterprise social networking has gone into ‘driving adoption’. A focus on adoption can distract organisations from the real challenge of any business activity, creating value in fulfilment of the organisation’s strategy.

Adoption is an intermediate goal

Adoption is a means to an end. Adoption is a tool of value creation. It is not the result. The desired outcome is the value created by an engaged community that allows for the fulfilment of a strategic goal through outcomes like better alignment, innovation, adaptation, better customer & community focus, greater agility or improved efficiency.

The desire to move beyond adoption is growing. Luis Suarez recently argued that the language of driving adoption is missing the mark. Joachim Stroh has also highlighted ways in which we need to move beyond traditional adoption.

The logical next step from adoption is the end goal of work. Business and people work to create value in line with a strategy. We need our use of enterprise social networking to create value for each users and for the business as a whole.

Adoption as a goal alone can lead us astray

Our focus on adoption is often reflected with concerns from our traditional hierarchical ways of working. For example I have been asked the following questions about adoption that indicate something is going astray:

  • If we don’t have universal adoption, how will people get our messages?: If you are focused on one-way communication, there’s a good chance they don’t listen to your messages already.
  • Can’t we just mandate adoption? You can, but it rarely works to create an engaged & valuable community. Incentives may be a transitional tool to help people engage with the solution but take care that they don’t make participation an end in itself.
  • Won’t our people resist adopting this new solution? If the solution offers no value or is seen as a distraction from real work, they should resist. If it creates value for users and they see its value to the organisational strategy then this is an issue that we will overcome.
  • What’s the right number of users to adopt a social network? There is no magic number. The right answer is enough of the organisation to create enough valuable conversations for users and the organisation. That can be a surprisingly small percentage of the organisation, provided they are well connected into the larger organisation.
  • We have lots of users. Nobody knows what to use it for. What do we do now? You have users but it is likely you don’t have a community that understands how to do things together to create value for your strategy.

Most importantly of all, enterprise social networks are infrastructure, not tools. Employees need to make sense of a new enterprise social network and integrate it into their work. There is no pre-ordained usage that people can adopt like many other technology systems. Adopting a network as another conversation tool may be interesting but rapidly loses relevance in a busy workplace with many high volume channels for communication. The best guide to employees is to direct their sense-making into how it will create value for their work and strategic value for the organisation.

Often adoption drives demand a lot of overhead and effort. They are pushing something into a community. Where this effort goes to creating niche use cases with easy adoption, selling a uniqueness event in an enterprise social network or investing all the time in unusual campaign activities it can backfire. Employees who come to think of the enterprise social network as being used only for a special activities may not consider the opportunities for every day value creation. In these networks, there is a dramatic difference in utilisation between when adoption is being driven and every day use limiting the potential of the platform. Use caution that your efforts to drive use reinforce the connection to value in daily work and strategy.

Importantly adoption is rarely a goal that makes sense to the managers and leaders whose support is needed to foster a collaborative culture and role model usage. Conversations advocating adoption of social collaboration and other future of work practices can seem abstract and a side issue to the work of the organisation to many managers. Managers are looking for how enterprise social networks contribute to value creation.

Personal and Strategic Value

Value is different for every organisation as organisation’s purpose, strategies and goals differ. Value need not be a hard dollar return on investment. ROI can rarely be calculated in the abstract for infrastructure. From an organisation’s perspective defining a contribution to a strategic goal is often more effective.

Value is different for each individual depending on their goals, their role, their work preferences and their needs. Individuals will need to change their work practices in ways that make sense to them. Role modelling and storytelling will assist this journey but they will make their own sense of value.

There are 5 key elements of the work to moving the focus of enterprise social networking to value creation:

  • Create Strategic Alignment: Make explicit the connection between social collaboration and the strategic goals of the organisation. At a minimum, these conversations will educate your employees on the purpose, strategy and goals.
  • Guide Personal Value Creation: Guide employees to understand how the enterprise social network creates value in their work. In my work with organisations, I use a Value Maturity Methodology based on users maturity through 4 stages Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate.
  • Experiment & Learn: Create an environment for employees and the organisation where the enterprise social network fosters experimentation to create new forms of value in work. Encourage sharing and solving challenges.
  • Foster A Learning Community: An engaged and aligned community of employees working together for business goals is the greatest opportunity for value creation in organisations. Focus on how community accelerates value creation and the key roles required in any community. Understanding the roles of champions and leaders is critical.
  • Discuss Value Creation: Social networking accelerates double loop learning. Discuss value creation in the network as the work conversations occur. Celebrate lessons and successes. Back innovations with corporate muscle. Use these new learning conversation to foster alignment with strategic goals and encourage people to find new personal value.

If you would like to create greater value in your enterprise social network or discuss how the Value Maturity Model applies to assist your organisation to create strategic value, please get in contact. I am available through @simongterry or Linkedin or

Leaders Create New Meaning

Fools & Leaders Question Meaning

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. Oscar Wilde

When it comes to serious challenges in life, Oscar Wilde & Neil Gaiman have a point. A key advantages of humour is that it allows for the lightheartedness and irreverence that lets us reconsider our understanding of our circumstances. The fool in a medieval court was the one who could speak new truths because he could play with meaning and context.  

Great insights and opportunities for change come when people rethink the meaning of their circumstances and their actions. 

Philosophical issues like meaning and sense are not popular topics in the halls of business. Ask a manager to unlearn some common practice and you will get a blank stare. Often those who start conversations that question the sense of commonly accepted practices and beliefs are quickly categorised as fools.

Managers find it hard enough to embrace the time for reflection in the midst of the pressures for constant action. However, we need leaders to go further and find new meaning to realise the value for their businesses and the potential of the future of work. Creating change and new value depends on the ability to make new sense out of circumstances and opportunities and translate that new sense to new behaviours.

New Thinking Needed

Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought. – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Spend time with the creative, the innovators, the entrepreneurs and the change agents and you discover that they specialise in looking beyond typical thinking. Making new sense of their circumstances and translating that to new action is a speciality of those who create change. The inspirations from a new sense of possibility is where they find the opportunities to act in new ways and to break through the perceived limits and institutions that have constrained others.

In some cases, this new meaning is a denial of constraints. Roberto Unger described what he called ‘negative capability’ as ‘denial of whatever in our contexts delivers us over to a fixed scheme of division and hierarchy and to an enforced choice between routine and rebellion’. Many entrepreneurs and change agents refuse to accept the currently accepted options presented for a problem or practice.

Finding another creative way beyond the frustratingly constrained choice between insider (who is constrained, muzzled & influential) and outsider (allowed to be unconstrained, confrontational & excluded) is critical if we are to see greater change. What matters in many organisations is not the loudness of the talk, what matters is meaning and action.

In his book Opposable Mind, Roger L Martin described one positive capability to break the accepted meaning as integrative thinking, a capacity to take a wider view of the systems and outcomes and find new paths forward. We need to ensure that the creation of new sense is a valid management activity if we are to leverage its creative potential in the future of our work and our organisations.

Lead Sense-Making

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock pile when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.- Antoine Saint-Exupery

As managers adapt to a rapidly changing world, they are going to need to accept new uncertainties. We will need to help build the capability to still manage.

The best way for managers to deal with the rapidly changing circumstances we find in the new networked economy is for them to lead the process of making new sense of why organisations exist, the value that they can create and how. The future of work is the future of leadership and human potential.

This change in leadership will require managers to break with the comfort of current approaches to the understanding of their organisation and roles. Incrementalism which is by definition grounded in current meaning will not deliver transformative changes. Managers will need to explore new meaning, experiment with its application and convey that meaning to others through stories and action.

Sense-making is a critical foundation for a responsive culture. We already see sense-making as a characteristic of success in the use of new forms of collaboration. Sense-making is also a critical component of personal knowledge management in an era with an abundance of information and stimulation. Instead of a once-and-done exercise in understanding leaders will need to embrace a continuous learning and sense-making to find new and better opportunities for change.  This ongoing process will need to be a part of people’s work widely across the processes and interactions in the Responsive Organisation.

People make new sense of themselves, their roles and their position in the world as they choose to adopt new behaviours and create new value. We need to explicitly design our processes and roles to allow for sense-making. Only through leadership of this work will we find the new ways to change the culture & practices of our organisations

Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviors – Clay Shirty