Here’s a common scenario in organizations struggling to increase openness and collaboration:
Aaron figures out a work around in a finance system that will save time and money. Knowing it’s value, he emails the information to his manager, Susan. Susan acknowledges Aaron’s innovation in a glowing reply. Aaron continues to use the new process but the organization gains little.
Aaron’s organizational communication system has conditioned him to act automatically and maybe unconsciously. His habit is one where when he finds relevant information, he shares it in a way that provides him a reward. This is the Habit Loop Charles Duhigg wrote of in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business“, and I think it holds the key to helping organizations advance their efforts to be more cooperative and collaborative.
A quick thought led to a tweet that Chatbots in our #ESN platforms will be very good for human social interaction in organizations.
Supposedly Steve Jobs, Einstein, President Obama and others maintained wardrobe basics so they didn’t have to expel energy picking out clothing; simple (what to wear) and more complicated (what matches) cleared away. Similarly, chatbots will relieve us of the simple and complicated tasks that tend to eat up our time and mental energy; finding files, scheduling meetings, sourcing content, travel arrangements, ordering common products, and answering other’s simple questions. Chatbots will allow us to be more productive and attentive to problem solving and critical thinking – those things that really move organizations forward, those things leadership desires and employees want to do.
So I’ll go a step further and share that chatbots could be the tail that wags the dog. It’s pretty clear that as consumers leverage chatbots to make their lives easier in the marketplace, this technology in established ESNs will flourish. Can it be over done? Absolutely and probably will at first. Eventually though it will be seen less as a novelty and more as a critical player in proving the value of social technology in organizations – more than any other feature, function or vanity metric. To that last item, it will be very easy to measure how often a bot was accessed and how quickly and accurately it responded to requests. This data will be undeniable, revealing its value as performance support and time saving. Quite simply, our little AI friends could very well move companies to procure social technology and it’s adoption faster then any vendor pitch or consultant strategy ever could. Where then will it leave those helping organizations adopt social tech today? Helping companies change their employee’s work habits, behaviors and ultimately their culture… the really human stuff that only humans can do… for now.
Side note: Dion Hinchcliffe picked up on my tweet and shared a great article he wrote in a similar vein. Do take a moment to read. “How Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence Are Evolving the Digital/Social Experience“.
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.
Let’s take a moment and look at the idealistic, hopeful “promises” (the promise so many still speak of and fight for at least those who haven’t gone “corporate” so to speak) we saw emerge from around 2007 and compare them against the “common reality” we see in many organizations today.
Promise: Organization-wide transparency & openness
Common Reality: Organization-wide monitoring, measuring, judging and manipulating
Promise: B2B and B2C networks
Common Reality: Another sales channel
Promise: Social platforms to make work easier
Common Reality: Social platforms are another layer of work
Promise: Social Leadership
Common Reality: Executive broadcasting
Promise: Online customer communities
Common Reality: Customer service system
Promise: Platform owned by the workforce
Common Reality: Platform owned by IT
Promise: Increased connection for employee community building
Common Reality: Increased connection for expected employee work collaboration
Promise: Make work more human
Common Reality: Make humans work more (always connected is expected)
Of course this is not the truth for all organizations, some are meeting many of the promises but I don’t think that is the norm by a long shot. And this post isn’t meant to be a cry of surrender but rather a call to action. If you see it this way too, we need to be asking – Can we ever reach the true promise of (enterprise) social technology and if so, how?
Yes, yes I know that many have said L&D shouldn’t be threatened by social and social technology. The argument being that a focus on social can actually improve L&D efforts by extending formal learning impact which is true and many in L&D leadership have made progress… but many more have not and only play lip service to the notion (I know, I’ve lived it). L&D has traditionally argued against social technology on the grounds that people will share the wrong information. But there is another reality and maybe the real truth behind the dismissing. At the end of the day, L&D does just what the executives want, a course. And when numerous employees have taken the course and then do not really perform any better, the blame is more often than not placed on the employees and not the solution.
The reason for this? A fine blend of two ingredients at the management level; the leadership echo chamber and a heaping cup of cognitive dissonance. Systems->Behaviors->Culture.
First, the echo. Executives build inner circles; a cushion of trust that, over time, membership in grants one the benefit of every doubt. The next is cognitive dissonance; the reconciliation of two competing beliefs where placing blame upon the employees is chosen over the idea that monetary investments in technology and “expertise’ was wasted. Both result simply in – It’s got to be them, not us.
“Look at all the work we did.”
“Look at the features and functions we built. You (boss) liked them.”
“You (boss) agreed with them.”
“The employees didn’t invest the time.”
“They chose to ignore the content.”
“They didn’t revisit the material.”
“It’s their fault.”
But the jig is up.
Like we have always known, social technology opens things up. Social technology leads to transparency. Social technology can challenge the status quo. It doesn’t take too many voices openly sharing comments about ineffectiveness to upend the whole game. More often than not though the channel directly to the employees is either too long and narrow, blocked by protective layers of hierarchy, and/or hindered by a culture of complacency. That’s a lot but still L&D, or rather traditional training-centric L&D, should be afraid of social technology, it’s permeating the organization. Once executives understand that social for social’s sake has value (which many vendors have abandoned) it will open the doors to the boardroom to all and change will be swift.