Reconciling the Conflicting Priorities of Your Enterprise Social Network

Competing Values

Social business is maturing and becoming part of the mainstream tool belt of many companies, yet success is still elusive for many. A recent article in PC World titled Many employees won’t mingle with enterprise social software states that the lure of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is often unrealized. The article also suggests that 70-80% of companies who are implementing an ESN are struggling with them. It goes on to list several reasons for this. They also include a decent case study from GE to demonstrate the success that can be achieved. However, I feel the article is too specific, leaving the reader to extrapolate how this applies to them.

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You can run, but you cannot hide

Today’s post is a writeup I did for the GIT Society for Information and Communications Technology newsletter which is targeted at information and technology professionals in Austria:

You can run, but you cannot hide

There are changes coming that you cannot avoid. For many, this will change the way we work and will force us to re-evaluate how we share information inside our organizations.

While social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter may or may not be in your future, you may not have a choice but to be “social” inside your organization. Companies are starting to see the advantages of opening up information and allowing it to flow freely. This isn’t appropriate for all information of course, but many topics such as operational excellence, product Q&A and employee communications all benefit from Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) and transparency. This allows people who have an interest in the information to find it easily and leads to things such as increased sales, reduced costs and improved satisfaction.

Having this type of accessible information is essential for competing in a global market where time zones and languages may make collaborating difficult. By having information available, it makes finding things faster and provides better agility allowing organizations to outmaneuver the competition.

Even if your organization does not have an ESN today, there is a high likelihood that you will soon. Many business applications you already use are adding social components to their applications, and platforms like Yammer are already accessible to your workers. By understanding how ESN’s drive change in your organization, you can be prepared for this shift before it happens and ready to leverage it when it does.

The 5 W’s of Enterprise Social Networks

Even though there is a growing amount of information on the web on enterprise social computing a concise guide for executives is needed to outline the benefits and challenges of deploying it to your business.

What is Enterprise Social Networking?

Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) is a set of tools and behaviors that promote open conversations within an organization to achieve business objectives.  This leads to more engaged employees, increased innovation and faster business outcomes. It is also commonly known as; Enterprise 2.0 & and Social Business.

ESNs can be externally facing for customers, partners, suppliers (or any group you communicate outside of your company) or internally facing for employees to work together.

Before embarking on Enterprise Social Networking, companies must provide the following table stakes for the organization in order to realize a sustainable success:

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For Enterprise Social Networks, how much adoption is enough?

Originally posted on the Yammer Blog, I wanted to share here for people that might not follow that blog.

In traditional enterprise change initiatives, you tend to start with a defined set business requirements to address a given problem or opportunity. Socially-driven enterprise change, however, is different because parts of the organization are already changing prior to full articulation of a problem or solution. Companies find their employees using social technologies without any formal support within the organization. People are finding value, but may not be focused on quantifying that value into a business case that can be used to support the effort.

Once a company finds itself in the midst of groundswell of social adoption, it needs to determine how to effectively integrate it into its culture and operations.  And a key consideration is; “How pervasive must adoption be?”  To determine the answer, the organization must understand the scope of the solution:  is it a global one or targeted to a specific department?  We can then start to map the population to the AdoptionCurve to best predict when users will start using the solution.

Effort/Cost of Adoption

If we look at the effort it takes to achieve widespread adoption in a large enterprise, the further you get along the curve, the more effort (and cost) is needed to get people on board. This typically means engaging smaller groups that may have very specific individual reasons for not adopting social, and may require things such as small team meetings, printed collateral, travel and other off-line channels. At the extreme, this may include classes and/or mentoring programs to help people get up to speed.

The ROI of Adoption

As we start to examine the ROI of social inside an organization, we must start with the value and then subtract out any cost to achieve this value. The further along in the adoption curve the higher the cost of getting people on board. This increased effort has an impact on your ROI and can significantly decrease the ROI without significant gain in adoption.   (Note: This assumes that each individual contributor provides potentially equal value). The actual value to the organization can only be answered if you determine where your stakeholders and use cases fall on the adoption curve. This can be achieved by performing a Stakeholder Analysis to determine where the various stakeholders fit along the adoption curve and the potential value each represents. For example, Sales may be late adopters because they are too busy focusing on customers to experiment with new tools and processes but may offer great value by shortening the sales cycle.

When to stop?

Knowing when to stop focusing on adoption is difficult, but I would offer that once you reach the point where the costs are starting to impact the ROI in a negative way, that you should give up on adoption and focus your efforts elsewhere. In an average large organization getting 100% adoption is very unrealistic. Usually complete adoption falls in the 60-70% range due to many factors.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are reducing the value that your solution provides, but instead that you are reducing the cost component of the ROI equation, leading to higher efficiency. This is something IT has been doing for years.

What about the rest?

Focusing on getting the Late Majority and Laggards to adopt social technologies may not be your best use of effort initially, but eventually they may become participating members of your network. Keep focusing on the people who drive value out of the solution and the others will eventually catch on (or not). It is through recognizing the success that the solution creates, that the others will participate. Even with that being said, there is a small fraction of your employee base that will never use a solution. Their reasons in many cases are valid. I would encourage you to try to understand why people don’t want to use the solution, but not put a lot of effort into trying to change their minds.

Where to focus?

Knowing where you effort can be best realized is a challenge as it may be different for every company, but in general, you should look to areas where you can increase the value with the least amount of effort.

One area would be to help to ensure the people who are using the solution are leveraging it to the maximum. I cannot begin to tell you how often I see solutions (both social and non-social) implemented where people are only using 10-15% of the capability. When I asked to better understand their jobs, I often come across many more ways they could realize value, but they seemed to lack the understanding of how they could do this. A good way to do this may be through a capability blog, where you take one capability and demonstrate how it works and how people are using it to make their jobs easier.

Another area of focus could be around bringing new employees on board. Since these individuals are new, they are much more likely to adopt something new and can be brought up to speed using these new methods of getting their jobs done faster and better. One thing to keep in mind is that as a community matures, the rules of engagement for new users will also change; you should be periodically checking to ensure that the new user experience remains easy.

Conclusion

While there are no hard and fast rules for determining when to shift your focus, by understanding where your key stakeholders fall on the adoption curve, you can better understand the timing. The cost of adoption will eventually cut into your ROI — this realization should drive your actions. By continuing to share the success that your adopters are realizing inside the organization, you will eventually draw the others in. Behavior change always takes a long time; it is always best to be patient and focus on activities where you can have greater impact.