Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Social Business Starting Point


After reading Riitta Raesmaa's excellent post "Trust-based Collaboration and Cultural Differences", a summary post of the topics Riitta has been writing about during 2011, I was inspired to do the same thing. Looking back, I realize that my main theme for this year has been social networking as the operating system of an enterprise, and that using social software to enable people to connect with each other, with the resources they need, and with the tasks they need to carry out to achieve their goals is the starting point of a social business transformation (see ConnectednessSocial business can be really simpleWe Should All Care More About Transparency)

Happy New Year! 

Informal networks have always been important, if not to say critical, for good decision-making in organizations. They have compensated for the lack of bandwidth and the slowness of formal information flows, the ones which typically follow the hierarchic reporting structure of organizations, by rapidly bringing new and more complete information to the awareness of decision-makers. Yet until recently the power to build and maintain informal networks were primarily possessed by those people within an organization who possessed formal positions in the hierarchy. Their positions allowed them to allocate the time and resources to build their informal networks. Anyone who had a strong informal network could influence decision-making, and informal networks were considered as something bad – especially if someone outside the hierarchy had strong informal networks.

Today informal networks are increasingly considered as an organizational asset, especially if they become visible and if more people are given the chance to develop them. The social web and enterprise social software enables people to connect and build their own networks without much effort. This means they can more easily get access to the information needed making the right decisions themselves, right there in the situation where they are need to make a decision. As more people are empowered to do this, the enterprise becomes more agile and responsive, increasing its chances of surviving and thriving in a global, connected and rapidly changing business landscape. So if there is any art the modern enterprise needs to learn and master, it is the art of connectedness.

The core of social business is to create transparent and open digital environments that people are free to join and where they can participate and engage in conversations with anyone about the things they care about. At work, the things people care about would most likely be their work, their colleagues, their customers, and their shared objectives and purpose. You can mobilize them to engage about virtually anything, be it ideas, tasks, customers, products, continuous improvement, or processes.

When people can gather around the things they care about, even if what they care about is just to get their work done, they get the opportunity to get to know and build trust in each other, creating and developing the kind of relationships that make up the foundation of sustainable organizations.

So, the core of social business is to connect people with other people, tasks and information. That way you can mobilize people throughout the workforce, activating the relevant talent and expertise, to achieve just about anything.

What is still lacking in most online work environments is a really intelligent system that informs people about what’s going on elsewhere, a system that provides them with cues and signals telling them when it’s time to act, when there is certain information they need to consider, and so forth. It is common knowledge that we need workplace awareness to be able to work together efficiently and effectively. We need workplace awareness to be able to make the right decisions, because a decision is right only if it serves not just our own goals but also the goals and purpose of the entire enterprise – and that can’t be done without considering many of the decisions and actions other people make

Most online work environments are still just information self-service desks with a bunch of applications for performing specific tasks. They are designed to keep us on track with the task we have at hand so that we perform the task as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, they are also designed for sub-optimization when they really should be designed for synergy-creation and coordination, allowing us to look in any direction in order to find the right path forward. An environment that is designed for synergies and coordination must by necessity be built on openness and transparency. This is one of the main reasons why I am such a strong advocate for openness and transparency.







Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Social Collaboration vs The Existing Communication Culture

Sometimes (and quite often according to my own observations) there is a significant gap between the existing organizational culture and the kind of culture that readily will embrace and adopt social software and social collaboration practices. The existing communication culture, which can be seen as a subset of the organizational culture, reveals a lot about an organization’s readiness to adopt social collaboration practices. Here are a few characteristics of organizations where there is high resistance (or ignorance), especially among management, towards the new ways of communicating and interacting which social software enables.

Tightly controlled communication flows

  • The organization is strictly hierarchic in the sense that it is not ok to bypass the chain of command when communicating with others. Hence it is unthinkable that an employee will communicate directly with the CEO, and vice versa. Management wants to maintain the illusion of being in control of employee-to-employee communication, especially when it comes to employee-to-management or employee-to-group communication.
  • The organization is heavily dependent on email communication. They are using email groups for communicating information to specific groups. No-one is allowed to email any other groups than the ones they belong to. They are not allowed to email other groups within the same hierarchical branch of  the organization chart, or everybody within their branch or division. It might even by that only managers are allowed to email groups, while all others are just passive receivers (forget about announcing that you're leaving for another job).
Overreliance on traditional communication technologies
  • There is little awareness of other ways of communicating than face-to-face meeting, phone calls, emails and documents, as well as of the limitations and problems of the existing ways of communicating. The technologies provided by the organization are limited to phones, email, and a traditional intranet which serves as a top-down, one-way communication channel and information self-service portal.
  • The individuals in the workforce are not very used to new technologies such as smartphones, web conferencing, chat/IM even in their private lives. Virtual collaboration does practically not exist and even if there is an inherent need for it, it is rarely articulated. Awareness of the business drivers and possibilities for virtual collaboration is low.
Lack of understanding of the importance of communication
  • Managers don’t see communication as their key responsibility and their communication skills are not being considered important when appointed as managers. They are considered good managers because they are loyal to the management and bureaucrats who love - and excel at - reporting facts and figures upwards (and sometimes downwards) in the hieararchy.
  • Communication skills and the understanding of the importance of communication is also low across the workforce. Many employees believe that the purpose of documentation is to produce documents and don’t really understand that the purpose is to communicate certain information in an effective and efficient way to anyone who might need it.
How do these observations relate to / correlate with your own observations? Which barriers do you see as the main ones when it comes to failing to adopt social collaboration practices?