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5 Key Approaches to Overcome Barriers and Ensure Success with Enterprise Social

Enterprise social technology can help accelerate change, but technology alone is not enough, you need to invest in organizational change

I was intrigued by a recent article in McKinsey Quarterly: Digital hives: Creating a surge around change by Arne Gast and Raul Lansink. The article echoed the themes of my recent presentations about overcoming the barriers to success with enterprise social. While enterprise communities can help drive change, getting people to transition to using enterprise social networks (ESNs) requires an investment in change management.

I have tried to boil down the key foundational elements to driving adoption, change, and overcoming barriers into 5 key steps that are similar to those recommended in the McKinsey article:

  1. Clearly identify the business problem. As a general rule, people in organizations don’t just collaborate for the sake of collaborating. We collaborate in the context of a business activity, process, or task. We engage to solve problems – to get something done! So, if you want to get your team to use an ESN to collaborate, make sure there is a clear connection to a business problem. Instead of saying, “Let’s do social,” I think we should be asking: What business processes would benefit from social capabilities? And, right from the beginning, we need to be asking ourselves: How are we going to measure our success? What does success mean? This is one of my favorite questions to ask clients: How will you know if this project is successful?
  2. Understand your culture. Barriers to getting value from social software are minimized when the organizational culture is aligned to support collaboration. Remember that “helpfulness” must be actively nurtured in organizations. The McKinsey Quarterly article talks about this as well: “Digital hives involve large numbers of previously “disenfranchised” employees in setting strategy, company-wide transformations, and customer-outreach initiatives. Creating these hives requires a delicate balancing act—not least a willingness by top managers to let go. Managers should not be afraid to commit themselves explicitly to acting on the results of these initiatives and should encourage unrestrained participation, however unpredictable the consequences.”
  3. Recruit “friends.” In other words, you need some champions. The most important champions are leaders. For social collaboration to be successful, leaders have to not only explain the “why,” but they also have to demonstrate the behaviors. This means that leaders have to make the connection between the social tools and the business. And then they have to demonstrate their commitment by modeling the behaviors. Leaders are your best champions – but not your only champions. In addition to “formal” leaders, involve and engage your organization’s key influencers.
  4. Understand the comfort zone for your users. I rarely see people talk about this when it comes to ESNs, but my experience with organizational change in the context of the knowledge management programs I’ve been involved with for the past 20 years has made me very sensitive to making people go someplace new to do something that they already have a comfortable place to do. What is the number one place where everyone in your organization goes to collaborate with others today? Email. So, if you want to help introduce your users to an alternative collaboration method, make it easy for them to engage via email. I really love the email summaries I get from the various Yammer networks I belong to. I use the summaries to stay on top of conversations and then typically click through from email to Yammer on topics for which I want to engage. This means that I don’t have to leave where I am already working to engage in my social networks.
  5. Show me. When it comes to enterprise social, assume that all of your users are from Missouri, the “show me” state. I think a big mistake that people often make when it comes to enterprise social is that the behavior is natural and that people will just know what to do because many users are familiar with social tools on the internet. Your users will want some direction. Familiarity with internet social tools does not necessarily drive behavior inside the enterprise. And, despite the fact that the average age of Facebook users is rapidly getting older, not everyone in your organization uses social tools on the internet. Your users want and need examples of, for example, what makes a good post. They also need information about what is and isn’t acceptable from a governance perspective.

I encourage you to read the McKinsey Quarterly article. There is a great exhibit that outlines 7 key elements of a “digital hive” that I agree are critically important. I think it’s important to remember that implementing a successful ESN should be viewed as a journey, not a sprint. A few things to remember:

  • You don’t need 100% adoption to be successful – you need meaningful outcomes. All the planning and preparation and communications in the world will not get 100% adoption – and that’s OK.
  • Align where work gets done. Enterprise social provides a new a way of working and requires a culture where it is safe to ask questions and provide answers and comments without fear of repercussion. You need to allow time and practice to change the way people work.
  • Lead the way – get your leaders engaged, but recognize that they are not the only influencers.
  • Be patient – change takes time. And here’s a bit of heresy: you may not be able to get everyone on the same network. Your sales people who use Salesforce may not want to give up Chatter. Your information workers may really love Yammer. Instead of trying to make everyone use the same tool, what about pressuring the tool vendors to talk to each other? Aligning where work gets done means keeping people in their comfort zones! There may be more than one way to get there.
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