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Applying mechanical process productivity to collaboration provides us with an efficiency benefit case for collaboration. Understanding the true benefits of collaboration requires us to understand the knowledge work systems in place and the broader effectiveness of the organisation at creating value.
Value of Collaboration is Not Easy
We always facing the challenge of valuing the benefits of collaboration. Collaborative technology is part of the infrastructure of the organisation. It’s use is open to many applications that will be co-created by the employees and shaped by the organisation. Many of the outcomes are not direct; collaboration facilitates a more effective organisation.
The temptation is to play it safe. We can use the same process efficiency mindset that applies to any other system to automate processes. The question usually asked is “How much more efficient will our people be when they use a collaboration system?’ A number of studies have looked at the impact of collaboration systems on in process efficiency of knowledge workers. One of the most widely quoted statistics is the McKinsey survey that identified 20-25% of the time of knowledge workers could be saved with better ways to search for and interact on information. This mindset often drives an adoption focus to collaboration projects that misses a bigger opportunity to create value.
25% Better Off?
If you are processing iron ore into steel and you find a way to do it 25% better, then you will have 25% more steel or need 25% less inputs. That is a mechanical process saving. Inputs became outputs at a cost. This is how our traditional efficiency mindset has focused us on measuring value.
However, knowledge work isn’t like steel manufacture. At the end of a knowledge work process, we still have the inputs and the outputs. Both the inputs and the outputs can be shared widely at very low cost because they are easily reproducible. Most importantly, neither the inputs nor the outputs are fixed.
Let’s consider a practical example. As a knowledge worker, you are asked to create a new process to improve the efficiency of steel production. Is the goal to do this 25% faster? No, the goal is to create the most efficient way of producing steel. There are four elements that measure effectiveness of your work:
- Reduce waste: If there is no better way currently possible or someone has already done the work, then don’t work on creating a new process. Do something else.
- Reuse existing knowledge: If someone has developed a process that is more efficient, use that process as a basis. Don’t start with a blank page.
- Create new knowledge: If you can bring together people who have never been connected, if you can share information that has not been shared you may be able to solve new problems or create an entirely more effective process for steel manufacture. This is likely to impact a much larger value opportunity than knowledge work in your organisation.
- Create new value with existing or new knowledge: Your new process for steel manufacture will be able to be shared across your organisation and may even become a product in its own right.
The economic value of these four elements aren’t productivity measures of knowledge work. The economic value is the impact on the production of steel and the greater value created in the organisation by collaboration to improve steel production. In my experience the benefits from simply stopping wasteful projects without any value add, is an order of magnitude larger than the productivity benefit from reduced search by knowledge workers.
Thinking more broadly about the economic impacts of collaboration can create a dramatic step change in the benefits for an organisation. Rather than looking at efficiency in the cost base of knowledge work, collaboration impacts value creation organisation-wide. This new view has a critical role to play in shaping leaders support for collaboration and the level of investment an organisation should make in fostering collaboration in the organisation.
One core reasons collaboration tools have an adoption problem is a lack of benefits to users. That problem is not solved by a new tool. The benefit problem is solved by working out loud purposefully – creating an environment to learn, solve problems and create new solutions together.
The reviews of Facebook at Work are starting to come in. The claims from Facebook are intriguing: no community management required, no need to worry about adoption (after all its Facebook – your users are using it already) and so on. Does a new solution like this solve all the issues with collaboration at work?
Universal Adoption Isn’t Enough
We have had similar promises before of universal adoption before. Many existing IT systems providers were convinced that collaboration was a layer or feature that they could add to their applications. After all, they had adoption and use of their system, so the collaboration would naturally work in their system, particularly if they forced it into the existing processes. These systems have largely failed to deliver on expectations because the basics of value are not met. People don’t expect to connect with others or to share their work while working on processes in ERPs or other IT systems. Usually people collaborate to avoid the restrictions of these process driven systems or to achieve better outcomes than they can get from the system. Forcing in additional messages and conversations brought greater burden and more noise than user benefit.
Facebook begins as a dominant personal social tool so it starts in a much stronger position for adoption. For Facebook users, it is already platform to connect and share with others. Many sophisticated users already work there, marketing themselves and their businesses and engaging communities through Facebook pages and groups. Carrie Basham-Young has reviewed how easy Facebook has made it in Facebook at Work for people to Connect and to Share. We might wonder how the separate Facebook at Work profile will compete with the personal profiles for time and attention. Many users will already be connected and sharing social updates with work colleagues through a personal profile. Even so, Facebook will undoubtedly be able to capture a large share of the corporate graph and its watercooler conversations.
Sharing Isn’t Enough
Velux recently shared some insight into their adoption of social collaboration. A key insight of that case study was that sharing social status updates alone is not enough to create value. They needed to solve problems and create new value together. They need to move beyond what they saw as the pattern of ‘working out loud in Twitter’ to a more purposeful form of work asking questions to solve problems and connecting around key projects and activities. Like all social collaboration tools, Facebook at Work will need to help organisations navigate this transition and its history may be its disadvantage in this regard.
The Solve and Innovate steps of the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration will be where users see novel benefit and what keeps ensuring that they devote time and effort to using the new tool. Facebook at Work has clearly taken this into account with its focus on categorising groups into Teams and Projects, Open Discussions, Announcements and Social. However, if the traditional Facebook patterns of behaviours of social announcements and other forms of social sharing dominate, Facebook at Work will have not advanced the collaboration in the organisation, they will have simply extended Facebook use deeper into office hours. What if the patterns of Facebook use prove harder to change than our work email practices?
Purposeful Working Out Loud Required
Working out loud requires people to consider the purpose & effect of their sharing. John Stepper’s discussion of the 5 elements of working out loud makes this explicit. Working out loud only makes sense when it makes work better for you and for others through learning, winning or giving help, making a new connection or other ways of solving every day work challenges.
All forms of social collaboration, no matter how smart the technology, require individual users and the organisations involved to solve the challenge of creating connections based on purposeful working out loud. Slack another adoption success story is now being queried for the value of the conversations it creates. Slack’s solution is often suggested to be in its integrations but these can be complex to navigate and even discover for a new user dealing with a high volume chat channel.
Creating value for users and organisations is what will ensure that we change the long entrenched practices in way we work and we will consistently value new approaches to collaboration. Organisations need to invest in change support and community management to achieve an ongoing uplift in the value of collaboration. Facebook at Work is unlikely to magic this away any time soon because the context of value creation in each organisation and for each employee is different. The organisation needs to use new methods of working and collaborating to create its own approach to success. This is why customer success processes at other collaboration vendors have been notoriously resistant to being reduced to an algorithm.
Human relationships are flexible and driven by shared information, influence, trust and other personal dynamics. These dynamic relationships will subvert any formal fixed hierarchical relationships.
We see the fixed relationships of the hierarchy. We obsess about their nominal power. What we don’t see is how the network wins slowly through human relationships. Networks of information, influence and trust shape how the hierarchy behaves:
- Want a positive decision from the CEO? You know who to lobby to influence his or her opinion.
- Want to know why some customers can get what they want? Look for their networks and connections into your organisation and into competitors.
- Why do all employee emails leak within minutes? Look for the gossips and informal relationships outside the organisation.
- Want to know why some are promoted over others? Look for the networks of previous experiences, trusted relationships and reputation helping careers along.
As soon as a new hierarchy is created or control processes are tightened, human nature starts subverting its effect in the name of relationships of information, trust and influence. The rational slowly yields to the relational. The network wins in the end because it leverages the human social process of decision making.
Fighting the influence of networks makes life less human. Embrace them as a part of any hierarchy.
Senior leadership engagement in change is a hot topic. Social collaboration makes the absence of leader engagement obvious. I’m often asked to speak on collaboration, learning and leadership to senior executives. As I used to be one, people want me to share a little of my passion for these topics. Here are some suggestions to guide you in your senior leadership engagement.
It’s not a priority
Collaboration, leadership and learning is unlikely to be a priority for your senior leaders. Sure they’ll discuss it but they don’t want to do it. They don’t know anyone who got made a CEO because his team was the most collaborative or the most agile. There is always a bigger business or customer problem that is on their mind.
Rather than engage in an argument as to why this mindset is wrong (it is – see Big Learning), I start with understanding the real business problems that they want to solve. Once we understand the business problems we can connect collaboration, learning and leadership as solutions to that problem.
Avoid Capitalised Nouns
Senior executives are busy and distracted. They don’t want jargon and hype. They are allergic to empty captalised nouns. The more you use words like Collaboration, Leadership, Engagement etc without making them tangible the less credible you are. The more it sounds like a futuristic vision or a quixotic quest the less relevant you are to their world.
Stories make change tangible to busy & smart people. Ben Elias of ideocial.com remarked to me recently that it is hard for people to conceive of how their organisation could be highly collaborative. They have never seen it, so the ideas and practices don’t connect with their reality. Specific stories make that connection. Tell rich and engaging stories of how things can be and how to get there.
Ask for something specific
There’s nothing worse that taking the time of senior leaders, winning their support and not being able to define exactly what you want them to do. Always have a specific ask of them ready to go. Have two in case they say yes to the first. Better yet have a personal ask that is framed as something simple that they can agree to do to sustain change. The 3 simple habits of working out loud was designed as one such example.
When you are done, Stop. Leave.
Senior executive time is precious. Give it back to them. Tempting as it may be to bask in the glory of a good meeting and deepen rapport, you will win more credit by leaving when you have done your job. Remember when something is not a priority you are always on borrowed time.
The public in social media and enterprise social media gets all the attention. However often the greatest connection goes on out of view.
With social media channels inside and outside organisations comes the direct message and the private message. These are key parts of the value created by a network.
Private messages are the communication channels that are most comfortable for many users. These messages don’t offer the value of full working out loud but they can play key roles:
– creating access
– building and deepening relationships begun in public
– exchanging confidential information or additional context
– coaching users
– helping connect community management and community leaders.
In the passion of adopting new public ways of working, we cannot overlook the value of integrated private messages. After all some times the first step to working out loud is sharing something with just one other person.