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If you poison the well of your employee base by failing over and over again to make their lives easier, you may never be able to help change your company into the company it needs to be to survive, let alone grow, in the new economy.
Many IT departments have lost credibility, and it's not all their fault. Business managers are just as guilty of grabbing technology "solutions" and assuming they will get used.
I'm not looking to point blame here. I'm a reformed classic IT guy who went to technology first before everything else, and failed, like so many do when they pick the solution before identifying the problems and opportunities. It's painful, annoying, costly, and time-consuming--and it's embarrassing for everyone involved. Who wants to fail?
Time To Break That Cycle
It hit me at the E2 Social conference in June that we're finally at a point in the Enterprise 2.0/social business movement that there are plenty of success stories, and far more failure stories.
Those companies that have been waiting it out to see if this "social thing" is real are now getting comfortable that they are ready for the movement that's been underway for six to 10 years. They've seen that the economic changes that hit in 2008 aren't going away, and they need to take advantage of Enterprise 2.0 tools and processes to respond faster to market shocks and increased competition, all with fewer people to do the work.
So if you're sick of failing initiatives, you must do something different, and the solution isn't to rely on social software to fix what's broken or missing in your organization. On paper, it may seem that your fellow employees are interchangeable cogs, with a predictable set of costs and outputs, and that they're essentially the same when it comes to managing them. People are people, who respond to carrots and sticks and the normal corporate machinery, right? No, no, no ...
You absolutely must understand why the early adopters, the people who will jump on anything that's new and shiny and make things up as they go along, are entirely different from the people who want everything thoroughly documented, explained, and handed to them. And then there are all of the people in between.
There's nothing wrong with any of these people. They just have very different drivers. And that's both the challenge and the opportunity.
People don't hate change. That's a corporate myth we need to eradicate. People don't like change that's forced on them, change they don't understand and connect with.
As soon as you can find the hook that makes the change you want and align it with a change that they see as a benefit, you can amass an army of people who will go out of their way to help others understand why this change is good for them too. And you won't believe how fast that change takes place and how long it lasts.
If you have stalled on the path to Enterprise 2.0 or haven't yet begun, run three short experiments (interviews) and see what you uncover. You're going to want to talk with five to 10 people at least, individually, in each experiment, to get enough information to draw conclusions.
-- Experiment No. 1:
Find the people in your organization who are already in love with Enterprise 2.0, social business, or whatever term has some positive association for them. Ask them explicitly what it is that gets them most fired up about what they can do (or want to do) in this space, with these technologies. Capture any downsides they're seeing, but you're really looking for their passion. Ideally, record these statements in audio or video. As a fallback, write down the exact words they use; don't just summarize.
-- Experiment No. 2:
Have this group of E2.0 evangelists point out the people they've energized (by mentoring, coaching, or cajoling) into at least being interested in this movement, and repeat the above questions to that second group of people. Capture their feedback, including what they're still uncertain about, whether it's technology, changed expectations, or how they're compensated for their contributions. Maybe they're just afraid of looking stupid. Consider making the responses anonymous to get people to open up.
--Experiment No. 3:
Last but most important, find the people everyone knows absolutely despise everything about this Enterprise 2.0/social business movement, and ask them what they despise the most.
Seriously, you want specifics. And you should expect to hear things like: "this company isn't capable of collaborating" and "every 'collaboration' initiative we've ever tried has failed." Don't let these people just vent about why it can't work or hasn't worked--ask what should be done differently to be successful.
Can they imagine scenarios where their work would be easier to do if they could find an expert, tap people in another area, or find a project that's similar to theirs? Or are there processes and paperwork that they dread doing that could be done in a more collaborative way? For this group, I would recommend anonymizing their responses so that their statements can't be held against them, but remember who they are so you can go back to them later, once you've found ways to address their concerns.
Just like disgruntled customers, these folks aren't bitter enemies for life. If you correct a failure based on their feedback, the naysayers and cranks in organizations can become your strongest allies. But you shouldn't expect them to do the work of turning things around. It's up to you to help them see that you are on their side and have heard their concerns. It's a vastly underused technique.
However you approach E2.0, if you don't get going, you won't get any results. If nothing else, try these experiments and find out where you have some allies and potential allies to unfreeze your organization. There's work to be done!
Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)