Exploring the quantum leap

Have you ever asked yourself what’s the long-term ambition of  your collaborative tool, employee community, internal ideation project? Is it about getting colleagues enthused, providing innovative solutions to business pains, helping people to go home happier and more satisfied about their job?

In the last few years, I’ve probably experienced the full spectrum of goals and outcomes that can be delivered by Social Enterprise initiatives with many successes and a fair number of not so transformational efforts. I’ve measured savings due to reduced travel and phone costs, increased productivity through a better choice of communication and collaboration channels, shorter time to market thanks to expertise location and knowledge reuse, a stronger sense of belonging and a better morale for largely distributed organizations.

While such results should already be considered valuable outputs from initiatives that have been able to reach a critical mass of adoption, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering whether that’s all we can aspire to.

Our recent Social Collaboration Survey proved how most of the market is still immature when it comes to collaborative programs. In a very simplistic way I’d guess the following taxonomy hold mostly true:

DEPLOY and PRAY. An amazingly large number of organizations (around 40%) simply stumble across some enterprise social software. The thought goes something like “let’s deploy it among our [team / department / group / population] to see if it sticks”. That’s what I call “Deploy and Pray” approach. The business is as far as it can be from the roll-out but the same is true for the supposed users that struggle to understand why on Earth they should bother about learning yet another empty, not so friendly and clearly useless tool. Somebody in the C-suite shouldn’t have anything better to do. Even if no real budget has been assigned or spent on the experiment (but people’s time is expansive), its (very probable) failure pushes the management to believe that “this collaboration crap” doesn’t work. A huge missed opportunity to get the journey started.

FOCUSED COLLABORATION. A smaller fraction of the market is convinced that Social enterprise projects are just… projects. As such somebody is called to articulate a business goal, a roadmap, a staffing request, a business case and the technological platform needed for the launch. While some not so obvious key factors are often forgotten even at this level (namely why this should be relevant for the end-users, how to bring them on-board and why this is not yet another project…), at least collaboration is seen a tool meant to reach a goal. That’s definitely a great start. Probably the best one you can hope for in this economic climate.

THE CONNECTED ORGANIZATION. Going through a successful pilot or aiming straight away for the long haul (risky, very risky but you could be lucky), some organizations successfully industrialize internal social networks as the connective glue, the nervous system of the business. Most of the population is actively participating and explicit business-related benefits appear on the radar. The top-management helps guaranteeing the required resources and visibility while the organization collaborates across departments, hierarchical levels, geographies, even across company’s boundary.

Along the various levels, lack of resources (both investments and competencies), unclear roll-out strategies, missing top-down commitment and measurement explicitly ask for a better way of managing social undertakings. Sort them out and you’ll be ahed of the pack.

What is probably less adamant is anyway how that’s not enough.

I’m afraid that by focusing so much on roll-out details, we are somewhat loosing sight of the bigger prize and destination: designing and building really human centric organizations both for employees and customers, thus fundamentally rethinking how organizations work and even what they are here for in a collaborative economy.

This last step is more of a revolution than an evolution as it dramatically upends the basic constructs we give for granted in any organization:

Unfortunately, more than solutions and recipes at this level I only have lots of questions:

  • Are successful enterprise social networks enough to nurture a new kind of organizations?
  • If they aren’t enough, how much do they help with this endeavor?
  • Are they a needed step or human organizations are possible even without any supporting technology?
  • Is it at all possible to help established traditional organizations in the quantum leap (the paradigm shift of the diagram) or is this something you need to have in your DNA since the beginning?
  • If the quantum leap is doable, how to best facilitate it in terms of new leadership, management, incentivation, organizational models?

How to prepare for the next 100 years? Any thoughts you want to share?

Emanuele Quintarelli

Social media enthusiast and Social Business Leader in EY. Research, reports and reflections about the introduction of web 2.0 inside the enterprise.

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