Monday, 4 June 2012

Productively Wasting Time

Let’s all admit that the majority of stuff within Twitter is a waste of time.  Let’s also admit that there is no real compelling business case for adding a micro blog (Twitter style feed) to your corporate intranet.  Now that we're all on the same page, does that mean we just throw out the idea of the Social Enterprise or Enterprise 2.0? 

Of course not.  But this also doesn't mean that we throw the concept of ROI out the window either.  We all know that employees are going to waste some time throughout the day regardless of what you provide them with.  For some it's the coffee run, or the water cooler; for others it’s the first 10-15 minutes of a meeting they spend catching up on what's new and how's the family doing before getting down to work.  The point is they are already "wasting" time.  Or are they? 

As an enterprise you'll need to accept that the vast majority of posts on your corporate micro blog will not have any enterprise value.  But that is not to say they are worthless, they will have community value.  They will build connections between employees.  They help build a sense of community within your organization.  It will enable your employees to productively waste their time.

This sense of community will encourage people to share their lessons so the community does not have to repeat the same mistakes.  These lessons will not always be ground breaking but if they save some members of the community just 10 minutes, it adds up fast.  More importantly it spreads this tacit knowledge throughout the organization, where it can be built upon.  As they say a rising tide lifts all boats.

This sense of community can also encourage mentorship.  Your organization may already have a mentorship program in place, but generally this is only for a select few or people in the organization being groomed for high level management or C Level roles.  This makes sense as it takes time to be a mentor.  But what if one person can be a mentor to many?  That is another benefit of the social enterprise; it allows more people to take advantage of the stars within your organization.  It also removes the formality so the whole mentorship piece becomes more informal and more elastic taking advantage of the different strengths within your organization.

It also provides a way to recognize rising stars.  The old adage that it's not about what you know, but who you know goes out the window to a degree by allowing employees to raise their own flag.  The social enterprise empowers employees to show off their skills and knowledge.  It also provides a mechanism for their contributions to be recognized regardless of how well they play the politics game.

I think we all agree, regardless of where you are in the corporate tree, that a sense of community within an organization is very important.  It's difficult to put an ROI on taking your employees out for some drinks or a meal to celebrate an event.  But we have all accepted that although we may not be able to measure the value of a happy employee we know it's important and most people are happier when they have that sense of community.  The Social enterprise is simply building off what we already know about the importance of community.  By moving part of the community interaction online it enables employees to build connections with parts of their organization they may not have been exposed to before.  It also enables the organization to record that community knowledge and present it to a larger audience where it can be further built upon.  Where that path leads will be unpredictable.  What we do know is that when people share ideas, good things happen.  Maybe the question needs to be looked at from a different angle. Can you afford to not have your employees productively wasting their time?  Maybe there is business value in the Social Enterprise after all.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Why would I share?

Enterprise 2.0 is  all about knowledge sharing.   The advantage of knowledge sharing for the enterprise is obvious, but what about the individuals?  What is in it for them?  Why would I share?

We are all taught from a young age the importance of sharing.   As we grow we are also taught there needs to be a balance.  After all you do not want to be taken advantage of.  Only share with people that are your friends, people that are nice to you, but don't give away everything.   In school it can be seen in the lunch room.  Sure it's nice to share a few chips from your lunch,  but you also need to make sure you don't go hungry.  As we get older, it moves to money.  Most of us are willing to share money with family, less money as the friendships grow less intimate,  but what happens when a stranger asks you to spare some change?

For many of us knowledge, in general, is a large part of our identify.  Our knowledge is what makes us unique, separates us from the pack.  In the enterprise our knowledge is our currency.  Knowledge gives an individual a competitive advantage over their peers.  There is a cost, in time and effort, to the individual in acquiring knowledge.  Their return on investment is the competitive advantage and recognition that the knowledge could bring.  Why give that up for free?  How do we still give people the return on the investment made on gaining knowledge while still encouraging them to share?

As you can see, which I'm sure is not a big surprise to anyone, there are some significant hurdles to overcome with user adoption.  The value in Enterprise 2.0 is only visible when users actually use the system.  In other words if no one is sharing there is no system.  So to drive adoption and see value from your investment in enterprise 2.0, you need to be able to answer the question: Why would I share?

If you’re a glass half full kind of person you will look at the above piece and point out that all I've shown is that people do indeed want to share.  They just need the correct environment to do it in.  How do we provide that?

It looks like your site must achieve two main goals:
  1. Provide a Return on Investment to the individual for their knowledge
  2. Establish and foster communities that provide the close relationships that truly drive sharing

If you step back and take a look at some of the more successful web 2.0 sites you'll notice these two items are very prominent.  One example is a site  like Stack Overflow that allows people to ask and answer questions on a variety of technical topics.  The site is leveraging existing communities that are already out there for these technologies, although does provide a platform for these isolated geographical communities to merge into a larger online one.  The site also provides users an ROI on their knowledge  by providing user recognition (badges).   It allows users to vote on answers provided by different people.  The more votes you get the more points you get, the more points the higher your ranking, the higher your ranking the more people will recognize you as a subject matter expert.  A different type of example is a site like LinkedIn.  LinkedIn allows you to build your own community by connecting to people that you know.  It also provides groups to allow people to ask and answer questions.  The difference here is on the ROI the system provides for knowledge sharing.  The ROI here is the ability to show your knowledge to potential employers as well as industry peers, to show yourself as a subject matter expert and give yourself a competitive advantage while also helping your community.

Why would I share?  Seems the answer is simple: To either help my community or to help myself, ideally both.  Does your Enterprise 2.0 site provide that?