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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.
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.
Convincing an employee to take on the new practice of working out loud depends on being able to make a credible case for their personal benefits. Working Out Loud sounds new, different and risky at first.
Amy Edmondsen has done extensive research on team collaboration and demonstrated that a key component of participation in collaboration in teams is a sense of psychological safety for individuals. People need to feel it is safe to take interpersonal risk to learn, collaborate and experiment together. It is challenging asking people to Work Out Loud if the leadership, performance or other aspects of the culture make that personally difficult or disadvantageous.
One of the reasons that the Value Maturity Model above works to build collaboration and working out loud up from connection and sharing is that it is a way to build trust and develop the culture of collaboration from safer foundations. Focusing sharing and solving around work needs and goals through working out loud can make it easier to change the culture leveraging work needs and key strategic priorities.
Working Out Loud can contribute to changing an unsafe culture, but that will take the work of Change Agents to role model the way and to run the risks of pushback. The kind of Change Agent who will take on a harsh culture to drive change is rarer than we would like.
The Practitioner’s Hard Benefits
A lot has been written about the human benefits of working out loud. Deeper connection to others, richer learning, personal purpose and fulfilment, the personal rewards of generosity and collaboration are all real and lasting benefits of working out loud. However, business is business and some users are looking for ‘hard’ financial benefits as their sole focus for change. The more demanding and siloed the performance environment, the more likely you will need to build your story on financial returns.
There are few sectors more focused on hard measurement of value than financial services. When I worked in banking we used to say there were four things you could do to create value for a customer. Our customer propositions were focused on the bank’s ability to:
- save time,
- save money,
- enable people to make money, or
- protect money or other assets (from risk)’.
A variant of these four holds for the personal financial benefits of working out loud to a practitioner:
- Save time: avoid search, avoid learning time, avoid wasted work & prevent duplicate work
- Save money: prevent duplicate work, improve alignment, avoid coordination costs, avoid expensive learning, avoid errors & rework, improve personal productivity & effectiveness
- Make money: better align to needs, leverage diversity of ideas and solutions, leverage broad contributions & agility of teams, reuse intellectual property, make experience a transferable product
- Protect: benefit from experience & learning of others, manage experiments easily, reduce risks, improve quality, etc
Each practitioner’s potential benefit equation will be unique. Work with their needs and circumstances to identify a suite of hard and soft benefits that engages their attention and provides an incentive for them to start the journey of working out loud.
Effective collaboration in your organisation depends on trust. The best way to build trust in your organisation is through collaborative work.
Trust is a consistent theme of this blog because it is fundamental to effective performance in organisations and social relationships. However, we mostly take it for granted and organisations often go out of their way to remind employees that they are not trusted and should not place their trust in the organisation.
Trust in the Work
One commenter on my recent post on collaboration and every day work suggested I was missing the need for trust to support collaboration. My response was that trust comes through actions and interactions. Organisations often talk about trust as an abstract and something that can be worked on itself.
The reality of most trust building activities is that they create no trust unless they are connected to the fundamental interactions of the organisation. Trust is a manifestation of the expectations of interactions in the organisation, i.e. culture. Trust is human. All the fancy trust building exercises will fail if people believe the real interactions that support the work will occur differently.
Founding trust in and around the work to be done is important. Collaboration can deliver this new foundation for trust. Transparency helps employees better understand what is going on in the organisation. Networks leverage that transparency to deliver new accountability to help people have confidence in the work of others. Collaboration networks better enable employees to judge the intentions and capability of others based on the past performance in public interactions with others. Each of these interactions fosters a better level of understanding of the potential for trust.
Most importantly of all, collaboration networks can increase the interactions and the experience of generosity between employees. We all find it hard to trust strangers. Sharing a social network enables people to develop a deeper understanding of all of their peers not just those in their own teams.
Organisations that want to increase the level of trust between employees can benefit from focus on encouraging employees to work out loud and seeking opportunities for collaboration in their everyday work.
Get Out of the Way
Organisations also need to take care that they send signals that reinforce the value of collaboration and trust in every day work. Treat collaboration as inherently risky and you will discourage your employees from participating, trusting their colleagues and trusting the organisation.
When collaboration technology enables new interactions in an organisation, it can be easy to identify all the new risks that can be created. The traditional corporate approach to risk is risk elimination. Why not turn off the solution or the feature that creates the risk so that there’s no exposure to one poor decision by an employee. However, to avoid a rare event, this approach either excludes collaboration opportunities from the organisation or signals to employees that they cannot be trusted.
A better management of those risks is to place accountability on employees to manage the risks, both for themselves and others. That is a signal of trust in your employees and your willingness to make them responsible for a better workplace. That’s usually how you manage those risks outside collaboration technology where you have less control over what employees say and do anyway. Treating collaboration technology as specially unsafe is a bad signal for trust and ignores the opportunity to teach employees to the benefit of all the work.
This last point is significant. Trust, collaboration, agency and agility that you grow in your collaboration platform doesn’t stay there. Each of these capabilities are based in our human characteristics and follow wherever your employees go. They spread through the whole organisation. Manage trust well in the collaboration of every day work and the whole organisation will benefit.
Collaboration and other future work practices require investment from organisations to foster community and support the changes in practices. The potential value from this investment is better work organisation-wide.
Speaking at Intranets2016, I had the opportunity to see a showcase of presentations from organisations large and small on how they have leveraged value from new ways of working, better communication and collaboration with employees. I also got a chance to speak to many of the people attending the event and discuss their challenges and concerns.
Reflecting after the event one thing was striking: Each of the case studies had invested time and resources into helping their organisation get the most out of collaboration and community. They had spent time and money on strategy, on design work, on employee engagement, on training and community management. They had ongoing resources devoted to realising the value of community. When I spoke to many members of the audience winning the support of their organisation to invest in these elements was a major challenge. The success stories were successes because their organisations supported their team to realise the value of changing work.
Many organisations have not yet realised that the potential value creation from their new intranet, their new productivity tools or their new collaboration software far exceeds the investment they need to make to support change and adoption. These tool are part of the furniture in an organisation and while from time to time we invest in the latest version to stay effective, not much more is expected from their use.
Organisations that invest in community and collaboration know the value creation opportunity is far greater than a more effective tool. The value creation opportunity goes to the heart of their organisation by making work better, more productive and more effective. What little resource they choose to invest will deliver benefits that are multiplied by all the work that they do in the organisation. Scrimping or not investing at all in this capability leaves the tools to miss their potential and the community of users to miss the benefits.
Champions of social collaboration and new productivity solutions need to do more than fund the technology. They need to help the organisation see the strategic value of the new tool in new ways of working. When that value is clear then the business case for ongoing investment and in community and change is much more obvious.
Intranet projects are still popular these days. There is great new technology platforms & many new features available. Internet designs have moved on a lot so your old intranet is starting to look a little tired. Now your employees have new devices so your intranet needs to be mobile first and responsive. Think of the opportunities for new branding, a new name, better search and a refresh of all the content. Finally the intranet could be at the heart of the knowledge management and collaboration in the organisation. Delivering a new intranet is a signature career achievement.
Stop. Are you sure you need that new intranet?
New intranets don’t come cheap. Even after the technology solutions is acquired, the expenditure has only just begun. All that wonderful new design is going to cost money. You will need personas, card sorts and then branding advice. Getting the information architecture right can make all the difference so you will need a lot of time spent on the taxonomy of content, hierarchies of information, businesses and users. Glossaries and other reference materials will need to be reviewed and updated. Search will need to be tuned to make sure that it delivers the right options. All your existing content will need to be reviewed to fit into the new design. Throw in a policy and product information refresh and the costs and time skyrocket. Then there is the maintenance costs of all that content. Add in personalisation, collaboration and social features and the work never ends.
What is the Intranet really for?
To senior managers, an employee communications or HR team, an intranet is a showcase of the organisation, its business strategy and its knowledge. It is the one source of truth. It is the hub of collaboration and a critical place to share messages with all employees. This perception can create a whole lot of politics that disrupts the effectiveness of your new intranet. People become focused about the need to control the design and the content. User focus is swapped for the desire to meet the needs of the hierarchy. That control has real consequences when it disengages users. Worse still it can force one template on everyone and make everyone into ‘content providers’. The costs of this control are in content that gets out of date and grey market sites that spring up to break the shackles. Soon the efforts to get around the intranet are drawing investment, effort and attention away from the platform. Confusion escalates and the intranet site is on its way back to being a stale reservoir of knowledge.
To an employee an intranet is where all the links in corporate distribution emails go. Usually the intranet is the last place they go to look when they and their colleagues don’t have the answer to hand and local searches have turned up no relevant ideas. Often the intranet is the place where knowledge is tied up in clunky processes & policy that don’t reflect their day job. Everything is anonymous. The context and authority that comes from human connection is lost. An employee does not care about single sources of truth or showcases of corporate messages. They care about findability and usefulness. Nobody browses an intranet willingly.
I know many organisations who have built elegant product sites on their intranet to explain all the features, process and policy relating to their products. Too often they discover that their teams use the customer facing website for product information. The structure of customer facing product information is usually better suited to employee’s roles in explaining that information to customers. It is indexed for Google search. Legal requirements ensure that product teams keep the external information that matters up to date. Also the employee can send the customer a link if they need to explain lots of detail. The pretty intranet is a showcase but the internet is the workhorse. How much of your intranet site could you do away with by directing employees to external sites?
Are the behaviours going to change?
In our work, we create value through our actions. If the behaviours aren’t going to change, then don’t change the intranet. Changing only the technology alone, will foster only cost and confusion.
If you do want to get better at collaboration, communication and knowledge management, start with a clear understanding of the value to the organisation and the value to the user. Look for ways to achieve your goals that involved changed behaviours and community, not technology. When you are clear on the value of changed behaviours, you will be clearer on what your technology needs to look like to support that work. Now you won’t be forcing an intranet as a solution and you will be able to look at the breadth of options from social collaboration, to working out loud more, to using external internet sites and other tools of helping employees to find what matters most to help them do their job.
You will also have built a case for the whole organisation to align to working in new and better ways.
Value is created in enterprise social networks as people connect, share, solve and innovate together. That value creation is an outcome of the work people choose to do together. Measuring the activity in the technology isn’t a measure of the value created, it is simply a measure of adoption. The value of the adoption comes from the organisations strategy and the work of its teams.
However, the features in a typical Yammer post, or any enterprise social network, can give us a guide as to how people come together in networks to work in new ways. Let’s break down a Yammer post using the Value Maturity Model so see how new organisational value gets created.
Connection brings people in the organisation together often for the first time. That connection can be a simple as the feeling of belonging or recognition when a post gets a like. It might be bringing people together around a topic of current need or ongoing mutual interest like a community of interest or a community of practice. Most directly, connection can be a way in large, distributed or siloed organisations to find the people responsible and get in touch to move work forward.
Sharing lifts information out of its hiding places, makes it findable and directs it to people who need to know. That can happen in the enterprise network through replies that answer common questions for everyone’s benefit, provide links to information or provide documents meeting a present need and saving future time and searches. Shares make sure information reaches the right people whether a group, an individual through a private message or even by taking a message out to email to those who don’t regularly use the network. All sharing is silo-busting. Adding topics, either in a message or later, provides people new ways to navigate information and helps make information searchable. Sharing creates a rich domain for social learning and helps the new employee seeking to learn more. A culture of sharing fosters working out loud to help people achieve personal purposes, bring work to the surface and further increase these benefits. Most importantly of all, this activity helps build a shared and discoverable context for the work of the organisation reducing errors, duplication and improving problem solving and efficiency.
Value creation accelerates when an enterprise social network becomes a way for people to come together to work on solving problems. People can ideate, offer solutions and work together in the thread or in groups to discuss ways to solve work problems with existing or new solutions. Having a way to discuss and work through problems in products, policy or process, either through fixes or hacks, helps the organisation continue to flow for those doing the work. The problems raised in this way are able to be solved not just for one user but for everyone in the organisation. The value of these solutions will increase as the problems that teams tackle increase in value. Leaders, experts and creative individuals can help enable the organisation to move past its daily obstacles and create better experiences for customers, employees and other stakeholders. The benefits here are in work in the network and out in the organisation that continuously and responsively improves organisational effectiveness.
Innovation adds value to the organisation when employees feel enabled and encouraged to put forward possibilities, to seek ways to make them happen and to recruit capabilities and coalitions to experiment and execute on opportunities. Vibrant communities will work well beyond a single post out into the broader organisation to make their ideas a reality and help the organisation to respond to its opportunities. Innovation allows employees to explore ways to better fulfil the purpose of the firm, to radically reshape the processes of their work and to deliver new forms of value.