Ain’t Nothing Special

 

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Yesterday I saw a list of all the reasons why people don’t use social technology to collaborate in their work. You know the kind of list: fears, habits, lack of understanding, lack of leadership, etc.  I have to admit I sometimes tire of the focus on the negatives, especially as a sales pitch for consulting work. My response was to point out to the author that at the heart of almost all the points that were raised was a lack of an understanding that collaboration is how work gets done. When we are clear that collaboration is an important part of work then we get over our objections and make it happen.  It also opens us up to consider the most effective ways to connect, share, solve and innovate together.

Ain’t Nothing Special

We can easily fall into the trap of selling collaboration technology as special. We’re adding new technology. Magical things will happen. You can have new conversations. You can do new work here. We will achieve all the abstract goals that you have always wanted like engagement, innovation, customer loyalty, productivity, and much much more. As much as we talk about them, these abstract capitalised nouns remain abstract because they aren’t the work most people are doing.

Positioning collaboration technology as different and special runs straight into a priority problem. Where do I get the time to do this new and different thing? How do I even find the time to learn how to do it?  With new and different also comes risk. What if I aren’t any good at this new magical and different thing?

Positioning collaboration technology as wondrously different also runs into the problem it is not new. This technology has been in use for nearly a decade and stretches back to models of technology that have been around far longer. Why are we talking as if it is special?

What is the Work?

Ask a different question instead. What work in your organisation requires people to collaborate? Focus on the work and not on the technology. Go find all the instances in each of your work processes today where people have to find coworkers to help, share information, share documents, solve problems together and meet and interact around business challenges.  That work is going on right now all around you. Start with the collaboration and bring the technology.

When you start with the collaborative work, you are having a different conversation.  The work is going on. You don’t need anyone to prioritise their time different. You only need them to consider which way will make their work more effective. How could that collaboration be different if they worked out loud? How might it be easier, faster, better quality or otherwise more effective?

Put the collaborative work of your organisation at the heart of your collaboration technology. Your users probably don’t want anything else there.

Talk is Talk. Work is Value

Because collaboration technology is often owned by support areas, we can see it as a communication technology. We can focus far too much on the new conversations that will come along as the community builds. You do not want to position collaboration technology as a place for chat or social interactions.

The purpose of your organisation is the work that you do. That work involves connecting, sharing, solving problems and making change. Do that work in your collaboration technology. Focus obsessively on creating strategic value by connecting to the collaborative work across the organisation. When you do so, you will surprise the organisation with the value that can be created by working differently. You will also find that most of the barriers disappear as people race to be involved.

Vibrant Groups

In the Office 365 Community, I was asked by Cai Kjaer of Swoop Analytics how we can identify groups in social collaboration tools that are thriving, struggling or dead. We are becoming increasingly aware of the value of great group and team structures to the success of collaboration in organisations. With that in mind, group health takes on a key role in the success of networks.

Here’s my response to Cai’s great question:

Because groups exist for diverse purposes it is hard to assess universally but here are a few reflections at each level of a group’s purpose. I haven’t mapped to your three levels but there is a mapping that is possible from the themes below. e.g. Dead is when it is not a group anymore and at the other end if it is Solving work problems it is clearly thriving.

Is it still a group (Connect)? Most basically does the group serve a purpose that continues to attract people? Are people joining, do they come and visit the group and is it not losing its membership? Groups can exist as a kind of social distribution list. These groups can remain dormant/passive for long periods of time but play an important role when they are needed. More importantly does it connect people who are not connected elsewhere?

Is it still sharing information (Share)? Is new information being shared in the group? Are there interactions on the information in the group (Likes/Shares/Replies)? Is there a core champion team creating an experience for others in the group? How diverse are the contributions to the group? Is it playing a role brokering information sharing between different parts of the broader network?

Is it doing work (Solve)? Do posts in the group get a timely response? Does the topic at the heart of the group animate people to do things? Is the activity drawing in a wider group of champions and also activating more interaction from all the members of the group? How does the group drive value for members and for the organisation? Does the group create a strong cluster within the wider network?

In my view this is a cascade. If groups aren’t moving up the maturity curve, then they are falling down. Attention is limited in large organisations. People move on to other things when they don’t create value for them and the organisation. The exception would be groups as previous referred that exist solely for option value (i.e. might be needed later such as a CEO briefing group or a YamJam group). These groups should be few and documented in the community management strategy.

What’s your view? What defines a vibrant group? How do we get early warning of issues with groups?

Beyond Adoption to Value Creation

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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 www.simonterry.com

The One Success Secret to Social Collaboration in the Future of Work

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There is a lot of advice out there for organisations trying to achieve success in social collaboration and new ways of working. The future of work is very popular now so there is a lot of effort to sell the newness, the complexity and its special nature. Much of that advice makes efforts at social collaboration sound difficult to achieve or alien, if you are working today in a traditional organisation.

Despite all that discussion, there is one practice that helps make initiatives in social collaboration successful and increases the value that is created in the future of work. That practice is simply:

Treat it as just work

We work collaboratively every day

Every day people collaborate at work. Mostly they don’t call it collaboration. Instead, it is seen as having a conversation, sending an email, persuading someone, getting advice, getting help or working together on a task or project.

Social collaboration extends the opportunities of who can engage in this collaboration. Social collaboration tools enable this kind of work to be done with more people, faster and with better ability to leverage the knowledge created. If social collaboration tools don’t make it easier or better to do this kind of work, then users won’t and shouldn’t use them.

Treating social collaboration as a special activity distinct from work confuses people. They debate when they should use this special collaboration. They question the value of collaboration. They can’t see the point. And each time they go back to their work and start collaborating with others again.

Work is why we share information

Many people can immediately see the value of social collaboration as a way to share information. Your enterprise social network looks like Facebook. Your corporate blogs look like the ones in the public domain. Your wikis and knowledge management systems may even be familiar too.

However, this familiarity makes people uncomfortable at work. Clearly we don’t usually share the same information at work as we do in Facebook.  Many people ask: What should I share? What do I have that is worthwhile to share? What will happen if I share the wrong thing?

However in any organisation the best reason to share information is to work. People share information to do work together and to create value. Connecting with work colleagues, working out loud, solving work problems collaboratively and innovating with others are the reasons we share information at work.

Work isn’t special

Treating social collaboration as work addresses other issues that organisations face as they move into the future of work.

You have the policies, processes or campaigns to do your work. You don’t need special approaches to start social collaboration. Your normal work rules and processes should cover your social collaboration too, including rules on privacy & confidentiality, behaviours and performance processes.  If these approaches break, constrain or prevent new forms of social collaboration, there is a good chance they don’t work for other forms of collaborative work and should be changed. Don’t create special rules.

Do you gamify your daily work processes? If you don’t gamify everyday work, don’t gamify engagement with a social platform. Remember it is the work that creates the value, not the adoption. Don’t confuse the tool with the result.

Don’t start with special things. Start by helping your people to do their work better. If your organisation has never ever sought any input to its product development processes, doing a special product ideation session can be valuable, but it is a terrible way to start a social collaboration journey (especially if you fail to follow through on the ideas). You don’t want people building an idea that a social collaboration tool as something for special, rare & unique events. You want people realising its potential to do work and solve work problems each day.

Treating social collaboration as work also addresses why senior executives and other leaders should participate. This is not a special domain. This is where the work gets done. If you want to lead, lead here too. 

Work Creates Value

Most importantly, considering social collaboration as work drives our attention to the question of the value that the work adds.  When we work, we know we need to work more efficiently and find ways to make our work add value. That is part of the deal with work.

Focusing on social collaboration as work also reminds us that we should work to realise our strategy as an organisation. The collaboration must realise the organisation’s goals and the goals of the individuals who need to work.  Collaboration for its own sake is a waste.

Start Working to Work Better.

Social collaboration is the same. We shouldn’t focus on the tools. We should focus on the value of the work we do and how we can do better.

If you want to create value from social collaboration and new ways of working, start by treating it as work. Then ask people to improve their work. Experiment and make changes to make work more productive and effective each day. You will need to change processes, policies and organisational structures over time, but you will be guided by the collaboration of your people. That is the way to realise the human potential in your organisation.

The journey won’t be easy. There will be setbacks and lessons to be learned. People will need to learn new ways and adapt to change but an engaged group of people working together will create greater value for your organisation over time.  

That sounds just like work too.

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The Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate maturity model assists organisations to accelerate the value of the work their people do in social collaboration tools in practical ways.  Accelerating the progress of collaborative work from Connection to Innovation significantly increases the returns to individuals and the organisation from new ways of work.  Importantly it also engages people in shaping the future of work in their organisation. If you would like to learn more, please get in touch.