One word as a focal point for change – Collaboration

Taking up my last post on the role of social software and collaboration technology in organizational change management (“Cultural change and developing collaboration capabilities“) I want to add Charlie Bess’ view on EDS’ Next Big Thing Blog. Here Charlie holds that collaboration is the focal point for change in 2008:

[collaboration] can be applied at many levels to the changes that are underway.

At the cultural level, we’re all familiar with web 2.0 and the collaboration across organizations it supports. Wikinomics states the view of collaboration between organizations, increases diversity of perspective enabling innovation and reaching objectives more quickly.

At the software level, the concept of SOA is based upon the collaboration between services, enabling clear separation between the interface and the underlying data, freeing up organizations to focus at a higher (more business oriented) level.

[…] Companies need to be more agile, moving from viewing change as a periodic disruption of the status quo to accepting continuous change as the norm. Information technology (IT) has an important role to play, since it enables agility through collaboration. IT needs to collaborate with the rest of the enterprise in meeting the business objectives, probably until it fades into the business itself.

It’s timely also that Josh Bernoff, co-author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (blog here) was recently invited to the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast. Topic of the talk is “Be a Social Technology Provocateur”. Get the mp3 here, listen to it.

Makes me wonder – is there a place for a “consultant provocateur” to get enterprise social software going? Provocation is such a bad and naughty word. Well, sometimes it’s a necessary part of the consulting task/project at hand, smartly disguised as innovation consulting. But this works best when combined with the credibility and professional ethics that clients always need. Being pushy is a dumb idea. Bringing an outside-in perspective is a good start, and if let’s add smart questions, communication, promotion, explanations of best practices. So we can make friends and win inner-organizational allies etc. – even when we’re shaking the boat?

Cultural change and developing collaboration capabilities

Scott Anthony – president of Innosight (see some of my innovation related posts over at bmid) – compiles some of the drivers needed for organizational change, based on a panel discussion he moderated with CEOs from Dow Corning, Eastman Kodak, Procter & Gamble etc.:

  1. The need for a crisis or some kind of “burning platform” to motivate transformational change
  2. A clear vision and strategy … that allows room for iteration
  3. A recognition that transformation is a multi-year journey
  4. A need to put the customer or consumer in the center of the transformation equation
  5. The critical importance of demonstrating to skeptics that different actions can lead to different results
  6. The need to over-communicate to employees, customers, stakeholders, and shareholders

While I doubt that implementing social software in the enterprise profits much from a state of crisis (we need some careful planning and concepts which suffer from too much fuzz, social software doesn’t help turning the ship around quickly – at least not in financial terms, etc.), the other success factors make perfect sense. And they’re people centered success factors – highlighting communication, leadership and (customer) relations.

So it’s kind of disheartening when Susan Scrupski paints a bleak picture and perspective of the setting, the context and the understanding of organizational change for enterprise social software (“Corporate Antisocial Behavior: the Enemy is Us“):

I once heard from a Wall Street executive that he was no longer permitted to use the word “social” when describing 2.0 opportunities. It made senior management uncomfortable. Similarly, if there is more emphasis on social than networking, our clients raise the justifiable question of employee productivity. When we talk about collaboration and breaking down barriers with earnest information-sharing and knowledge harvesting, the conversation is more intriguing. But, realistically, can technologies engender cultural change? That is the $5 billion dollar question that will be answered over the next few years.

It’s 4,52 billion USD by Forresters account (btw, I’ve made a long german language comment arguing it’s actually a lot more). What stresses me out is this “being uncomfortable” – this is strange: Management is supposed to be people business, it is inherently social by all accounts.

Well, here’s my answer to Susan: It’s the social stuff that makes “Enterprise Social Software” projects both complex and worthwhile. Technology is easy to figure out, while it can effect interesting and complex changes. And some technologies can engender cultural change:

the way I see it is that social software is both a driver and an enabler (or infrastructure) of organizational change.

All the while this changing of work practices, routines etc. doesn’t come easily. So I’m glad I am a subscriber to the Anecdote newsletter, because I learned early that Shawn Callahan, Mark Schenk and Nancy White have published a new Anecdote Whitepaper entitled “Building a Collaborative Workplace” (pdf):

Today we all need to be collaboration superstars. The trouble is, collaboration is a skill and set of practices we are rarely taught. It’s something we learn on the job in a hit-or-miss fashion. Some people are naturals at it, but most of us are clueless.

Our challenge doesn’t stop there. An organisation’s ability to support collaboration is highly dependent on its own organisational culture. Some cultures foster collaboration while others stop it dead in its tracks.

To make matters worse, technology providers have convinced many organisations that they only need to purchase collaboration software to foster collaboration. There are many large organisations that have bought enterprise licences for products like IBM’s Collaboration Suite or Microsoft’s Solutions for Collaboration who are not getting good value for money, simply because people don’t know how to collaborate effectively or because their culture works against collaboration.

Of course technology plays an important role in effective collaboration. We are not anti-technology. Rather we want to help redress the balance and shift the emphasis from merely thinking about collaboration technology to thinking about collaboration skills, practices, technology and supporting culture. Technology makes things possible; people collaborating makes it happen.

This paper has three parts. We start by briefly exploring what we mean by collaboration and why organisations and individuals should build their collaboration capability. Then, based on that understanding, we lay out a series of steps for developing a collaboration capability. We finish the paper with a simple test of your current collaboration capability.

Looks like an interesting read for enterprise social software (who really need to understand change management deeply) consultants.

Focusing on people and work relations, usability and more …

Socialtext has announced version 2.20, with improvements to the user experience and added Dashboard and People modules. Besides the “Facebook for the enterprise” approach, that puts people and work relations at the center of interest, I particularly like the focus on integration and usability (yes, this is important): Ease-of-use can be a dig differentiator in this market of “enterprise collaboration suites” (wikis are a central part still) – corporate users don’t want to spend days of training to learn “systems”: It’s better to spend the time (and consulting budget too, you know) on coaching and implementation, supporting early users, building up internal support (and use cases) etc.

Here’s a video demo of the newly added capabilities (via Jon Grorud and Socialtext Customer Exchange):

In this context, Scott Schnaars explains the direction and goals of Socialtext along four business use cases:

  • Collaborative Intelligence for sales and marketing
  • Participatory Knowledgebase for service and support
  • Flexible Client Collaboration for professional services
  • Business Social Networks for partners and customers

Disclaimer: Jon pointed me to this video, alas – I am subscribed to Ross Mayfield and the Socialtext news and feeds anyway. Consultants need to stay up to date … and that’s where this is apt:

Disclaimer 2: I know there are other players in this market too, like Jive’s Clearspace, XWiki, BlueKiwi, MyWorkLight – even Lotus Connections might stand the test and integrates well (I don’t have to link the IBM guys – do I?).

Wikibility of Innovation oriented Workplaces

This is the networked professional’s web 2.0, via Sebastien Sauteur I found Vincenzo Cammaratas master thesis, called “Wikibility of Innovation Oriented Workplaces – The CERN Case” (pdf). Here’s the abstract, I have skimmed through the +100 pages over the weekend and recommend it basically:

[…] Wiki systems and other social networking applications
represent an important shift on the way in which people work: at the opposite of other previous IT technologies in this field, the Enterprise 2.0 is not about simple devices of office automation, but requires (and brings to) a dramatic organizational culture shift. In particular Wiki offers new possibilities and opportunities in order to exploit in a more effective way the entire potential of the collaborative work coming from the active participation of all the individuals that are present in a workplace.

This dissertation wants to contribute to the current debate on the cultural shift that the introduction of this tool in a workplace is able to produce: we will see that, for a Wiki – or any Enterprise 2.0 tool – being effective it has to activate a virtuous circle able to create new knowledge.

The peculiarity of this work is that it focuses on this particular cultural
aspect and aims to define the features of the ideal workplace that can optimize wiki use in order to be innovation oriented and “hence” competitive.

Once identified these “cultural key drivers” and defined Wikibility as the
cultural attitude of an environment able to make the Wiki use in a workplace effective, the further scope of this thesis is to measure the presence of this Wikibility mind-set and to propose a new tool (not yet validated). This sort of cockpit could be useful for the management that, interested to promote a better and true collaborative approach to work, wants to be sure on the effective support in order to produce true innovation.

I like the goal of his work and am absolutely sympathetic (hmm, wikibility, yes, a neologism but I dig it) – but I am also a bit cautious. “Measuring” organizational culture and designing a cockpit or “dashboard” that enables management to steer (and control) processes of organizational change sure is attractive, as is the vision of an “ideal wiki situation” where implementation of enterprise 2.0 is naturally, but I doubt that the CERN situation nor the learnings made there can be replicated in “normal organizations”. And I sure don’t buy the idea that a fitting organizational culture must be present in advance, as “a preliminary workplace attitude”, put forth here (see slide 15):

Of course it helps if the people “grok it”, and it helps a lot if management gets it too, but otherwise I side with Mike Gotta (“Enterprise 2.0: Culture Required?“)
and Michael Idinopulos (“Culture is a destination not a starting point“).

Mike, (who referred to Michael’s post) says:

You can be very successful in use tools associated with E2.0 (blogs, wikis, tag and social bookmarks, etc) even in situations where culture is “unhealthy” – and when participation is more or less “directed” by role, workflow, and functional duties

Michael entering stage too:

[…] There is a view out there that an organization needs to have a “culture of collaboration” culture in order to successfully employ wikis and other Enterprise 2.0 tools.

That view is dead wrong. I’ve seen wikis thrive in un-collaborative cultures. I’ve seen wikis fail in collaborative cultures. I’ve seen wikis thrive in an organization alongside failing wikis in the same organization.

Even within “non-collaborative” cultures, people have to work with other people. We’ve seen lots of examples of wikis being introduced into those cultures in very safe ways – to streamline and simplify existing business interactions within existing organizational silos.

He also elaborates on an example of how social software inside an organization can act as a change catalyst – yes, the way I see it is that social software is both a driver and an enabler (or infrastructure) of organizational change.

Notes from the trenches …

Andrew McAfee makes a case for prediction markets, citing James Surowiecki:

“[…] the most mystifying thing about [prediction] markets is how little interest corporate America has shown in them. Corporate strategy is all about collecting information from many different sources, evaluating the probabilities of potential outcomes, and making decisions in the face of an uncertain future. These are tasks for which [prediction] markets are tailor-made. Yet companies have remained, for the most part, indifferent to this source of potentially excellent information, and have been surprisingly unwilling to improve their decision making by tapping into the collective wisdom of their employees.”

Janet compiles Enterprise RSS Day of Action posts, pointing out Scott Niesen who calls for altering the conversation about RSS:

Like most new technology companies we had a vision of how RSS could be used behind the firewall and we wanted feedback to see if we were on target. In the early days we started these conversations by focusing on the technology. These conversations didn’t get very far. The inside joke was that we were starting the conversations by asking, “How many pounds of RSS would you like to buy today?” You live and learn. Now we start the conversation talking about communication and collaboration challenges. The conversations last longer and are far more meaningful.

Naming is important, so I like this “Communication & Collaboration Delivery” instead of Enterprise RSS.

And there’s an interesting chart on Enterprise 2.0 adoption here at Read-Write Web (“Enterprise 2.0 To Become a $4.6 Billion Industry By 2013“), citing a report by Forrester Research:

web 2.0 adoption

Yes, it’s sad to see that small and medium-sized businesses don’t see the opportunities. Way to go for social software consultants – more explaining, teaching and coaching – customized to this “long tail” of businesses – is needed. Still, the problem of “getting past the IT gatekeepers” is mostly a problem of big enterprises, which have other upsides still:

Enterprises are keen in adopting web 2.0 principles in both external and internal aspects. Knowledge Management is being replaced with web 2.0 collaboration and social networking applications. The executives understand the need, but knowledge of web 2.0 and how to implement is still missing. They are opting for less risky web 2.0 pilot applications instead of realigning their business strategy with web 2.0. But I am sure success of pilot applications will lead to bigger initiatives. It is just a matter of time and confidence.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with doing pilots first, funding a small team and bringing in external consultants like me to get up to speed quickly. Don’t spend hours pondering the details and splitting hairs – actually use this stuff and find out.

And finally, when shall the next Wiki Wednesday Stuttgart be? My favourite date is July 9th, between the European Football Championships and summer holidays in Baden-Württemberg.

The power of networks and pragmatic adoption

Please take note of my post at bmid on Clay Shirky‘s new book (“Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising without Organisations“) as it also explains nicely why it makes sense to think about social software uses in the enterprise: When technology becomes “boring”, i.e. taken for granted, it has the chance to move into the mainstream of people caring more for business problems and efficient solutions than for tech in itself. Now’s the time for pragmatic minded enterprise 2.0 consultants, rosy times ahead, obviously.