Flippancy: The Biggest Threat To Enterprise Social Today

For years many have lamented that rigid hierarchies, silos and knowledge is power beliefs were the greatest barrier to social success in organizations. Rightfully so, as many of us in this space of social advocacy answered the tough questions that stemmed from fear and pushed through those that saw it as folly and/or a passing fad. Many today still speak of it and write about these as the biggest hurdles for organizations. But a new specter is creeping in – flippancy. This the “ok, we have social tech now too”  leadership attitude that has, in part, emerged as a result of what many had actually hoped for – A plethora of social tools. Many are light, embedded and free and have permeated the enterprise making social tech commonplace and thus social (i.e. cooperative, collaborative, sharing) behaviors more common. A good problem to have?

Additionally, the social tech ecosystem has expectedly fractured; social intranets, social LMS, enterprise social platforms, chat platforms, text-based services, not to mention public platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, etc all compete and often exist along side each other in the organization. The fracturing is giving social advocates headaches as community and collaboration behaviors retreat into private groups, departments and project teams… new digital silos. When this occurs, the work being done may happen faster, may be even better due to the ease of access to content and co-workers but the work itself isn’t necessarily going to change, and the agility of the organization won’t rapidly improve. The conversations have just become more challenging.

When you talk of the meat and potatoes of enterprise social, about building the company as a community of radical transparency and cross-silo connection, you are likely to be dismissed with a flippant “oh, yeah we have X and let everyone use it.” The tech v. sociology/psychology is being won by the machines. No longer is mindset and behavior change or for that matter culture change warranted in the eyes of these leaders, they have done their job and washed their hands of it. They have email 2.0 now!

Helping organizations to adopt these technologies is no longer the critical need. The need now is in helping them see past adoption and getting deeper into the real value they offer; business transformation and responsiveness that only the connected organization can achieve. This is a big leap because to org leaders:

The tools are available – check!
The tools are being used – check!
Employees are connected and productive – check!

For any leader focused on meeting client/customer needs today and achieving quarterly return numbers, everything looks splendid, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Try convincing them of an unsettling future and you look like a sandwich board wearing sidewalk preacher! But this is the charge now.  Your next steps – moving from adoption to adaptation!

  • Mind the Gaps. Point out the deficits in the offerings, the competition and the internal skills. Collaboration, as Marcia Connor once stated, solves new problems none have solved before.
  • Map the Silos. Data speaks! As organizations increase their digital communication channels, the tools offered by OrgNet and SWOOP to name a few provide analytics that reveal where healthy communication resides and where it has gone dark.
  • Bring the Outside In. The world is changing rapidly. The next disruption is upon us and it’s not cliche to say so. Just look what Uber and AirBnB are doing to transportation and accommodation industries in under 2 years! Your connected organization gives you the greatest opportunity to capture and convert information quickly.
  • The Past is Prologue. Surface historical shift in technological disruptions and flaunt the cause and effect themes that emerge. Fear sells (but the whole Blockbuster and Kodak stories are old news now.)
  • Identify the Cutting Edge Users.  They will be tomorrow’s norm. Let’s get to tomorrow faster! Shift your attention from solely raising up the laggards to supporting the leaders. Find and amplify their progressive ways. Partner with them.
  • Build Customer Partnerships. If the ESN has been internally focused, now is the time to build client/customer collaborations. Not surveys and focus groups but open and honest conversations about needs and wants.
  • Curate, Curate, Curate. The answer is out there and in here. Look before you create. You need a framework for this now.
  • Attack the Learning Paradigm. Training has to be dismantled. Moves to microlearning (umm formerly known as performance support) floating in the workflow are a good start but managers need to be coaches and mentors. Experimentation is a must and failure has to be tolerated. Systems changes around recognition and rewards should be addressed as well. This is a part of a larger organizational change in learning.

The fear about social tech has subsided. The dismissal of it as a passing fad is no more. Social has gone corporate and not necessarily in a good way. To combat flippancy we need new conversations. It’s time to beat your swords into plowshares – there’s work to be done in the fields!

Social Tech Made Easy Makes for Soft Social

When we want to improve our health, we often have to make small, difficult choices like climbing the stairs rather than taking the elevator. Similarly, if we want to improve our organizations we need to make small, difficult choices like starting a debate, engaging the strangers within other departments, and being critically honest.

Enterprise Social could do better by doing less. In an effort to make social tech more like public social tools, vendors have actually made the tools less social by making them easier and familiar. Yes, ease of use is positive as it is all about adoption but adoption is the vendor’s end game, it can’t be the goal of organization. For example by simply “liking” or adding a GIF or emoji as a comment, we end the potential for conversation before it can really start. This is fine outside the organization as people flit from post to post in Facebook, yet how many times have you seen anyone there ask “I see you liked my comment. Why?” Maybe it was obvious but maybe not. And similarly when we choose to hold critical discussions in private groups, groups typically formed around function or departments, we cripple the opportunity for diverse opinions and ideas – those things that truly advance organizations.

Given the dismal state of employee satisfaction/ engagement today, should the goal of social tech be only to help get work done or do we want to have it help us challenge how and what work gets done?

If you want to make things better the next time you have something to share or something to add, remember that although the elevator is available, you can and should take the stairs.

But It Won’t Scale

Chat platforms like Slack are still the darling social tool of startups. A former colleague of mine working in a small, geographically dispersed startup noted “I can’t imagine work with out it.” The criticism of chat platforms however is that they won’t scale if a company of 20 becomes one of 200. Functionally speaking, this is probably correct. It’s a team tool and typically as an organization grows teams divide and functional groups and departments form. If Slack remains, it’s a get work done tool, not a cross company communication, learning, large-scale collaborating, innovation tool; a tool to help the company remain agile.

However to start by identifying its shortcomings and labeling Chat platforms as the wrong solution long term is missing a huge point. What can scale, because of its use, is attitudes about social tech and it’s value to an organization. A small group is the nucleus of a growing organization and chat platforms help make social activity a part of the company’s day-to-day, not apart from it. This is something that’s very difficult to grasp in large enterprises that try desperately to plug in an ESN after living on email for decades – here, social is perceived as a separate activity from work and it’s typically a long slog to get the tech adopted let alone help adapt or even alter their work.

In today’s chat tool leveraging startups and small enterprises I suspect cultural DNA is being rewired for greater social, so even if chat platform like Slack don’t scale, the attitudes, the belief and the value of social will.

Technology will fade, ideas rarely do.

Strengthening Our Social Supporting Muscles

I hurt my shoulder swimming (yes, you can get hurt swimming). Apparently I have a labrum abrasions (see picture) causing me to have painful movement, too painful to swim. Surgery on my shoulder is an option but may be unnecessary. So physical therapy has been my course of action and as I’ve learned it’s not my shoulder joint that needs to be fixed, rather it’s the small, little known muscle system around the shoulder that were too weak all along. This weakness caused me to alter my swim stroke and thus damage my shoulder. So of course this got me to thinking…

Approaches to performance improvement efforts are similarly surgical in nature. We directly attack the problem itself. But when the performance issue is say less tangible, like improving organization communication (collaboration, cooperation, openness, or transparency), we initially target individual or group behaviors and begin working on the people directly.

Typically it goes like this:

– We need to be more agile, adaptable, innovative…

– We need to collaborate more, open up and be more transparent

– Let’s buy Yammer… or Slack… or Jive. Or

– Let’s “create” a CoP so people will talk and share and innovate more… or

– Let’s revisit our knowledge management approach… or

– Let’s have the c-suite blog more… or

This approach is a mistake. At worst it is an expensive, morale killing failure and at best it is so slow it stumbles on for months or years with weak support.

Communication, collaboration, cooperation, etc. in the organization, like my shoulder, are really supported by little, unseen systems:

– Who gets to talk to whom and when?
– What gets rewarded and recognized?
– Is management leadership or overseer?

Just think, if I have surgery on my shoulder but return to swimming with the same underdeveloped system (muscles) that supports the movement (shoulder), it remains weak and I will eventually fail again.

Similarly, if we just implement a new technology or target individual/group behavior change and the system that supports the new behavior remains unchanged (weak) the new behavior too will eventually fail again.

Address the system which will alter the behavior and change the culture.

Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy

Over that last few months a local workshop for non-profits has been gathering weekly. Around 80 people from various organizations are involved. The hosts invited everyone early on to join Slack to apparently be leveraged between live sessions and carry on the dialog (I say apparently as this was not actually articulated).

After several weeks, 10 people have posted once… each. Three of the 10 were the hosts. It’s a ghost town. Go figure.

This isn’t really about Slack though…but it is. You see, Slack is often chosen because it’s free and it’s supposed to be simple and fun. It’s the gold standard for chat today. Every start-up is running to it – the “email killer”. But that doesn’t make it right for everyone or every situation and simple and fun doesn’t equate to adoption, that my friends is a people issue. But an even bigger problem than this group failing to connect with Slack is that many will walk away blaming the tool.

The reaction by this group is inevitably one of Slack is stupid. And for many that’s it, the social soup is spoiled. Wrong tool, wrong reason (if any reason), poor planning, poor implementation, and poor support. Bolting it on and flicking the switch works for very little with the exception of an electric light. Many will leave this half-baked effort viewing all enterprise social tools and efforts as pointless voids and frustrating time wastes. So next time the opportunity arises, it will likely be met with a “oh yeah, we tried social media. It didn’t work” response, making sincere efforts all the more difficult due to the often impenetrable wall of first impressions.

This is ultimately a failure of expectation, or a failure because there was an expectation that connection, conversation and collaboration are easy because you’ve employed simple technology.  Thanks to all who leap before they look…

Just because the tools are getting simpler to use, more natural, and common place and even with a lot of fun buzz and hype – it doesn’t mean it’s going to “work” out of the box. It is still and always will be people and purpose, trust and not technology that drives the social engine.