I’ve been reading with interest recent articles and blog posts proclaiming that social practices won’t work in the enterprise. Posts such as ‘You ready to fail at social networking’ and the excellent post from Jeevan Joshi ’4 reasons why employee social learning will fail at work‘, have really made me think and reflect on the hype surrounding social business and more specifically the rise of social networks / communities within the work environment.
Whilst I agree with everything in respect of the challenges of adopting social tools, I disagree with the notion that social won’t work in the enterprise. My own experiences, which began in 2008 after attending the Learning Technologies Conference, have shown me that it is HARD work, even painful at times but the journey is a deeply rewarding one. I am not finished on that journey, personally and professionally, I never will be but I believe that it’s possible to bring social behaviours and a cultural change to the workplace.
So what have I learned along the way that I can share with you?
1) Focus on what the tools will provide you in terms of value
Rather than the tool itself, look to solve a problem or make things easier for people so it answers the WIIFM upfront and people are clear this isn’t a fad or the latest ‘jump on the bandwagon’ activity. Be sincere that this will change the way that you communicate and work together. Don’t just drop social tools in because it’s cool or because you think you should because other people are doing it.
2) Platform / application selection is important
Yes I know I said focus on the value and not the tools but you can’t bring any sort of platform or system in to the enterprise without it meeting security requirements or satisfying information security policy. I can speak from experience and have learned the hard way. I do appreciate this depends on the nature of your organisation but you must provide an environment where people can share and discuss work without worrying about security or employee data being in a public space. You cannot do this on your own so if you haven’t already engaged with IT, Information Security, HR, Risk, your Intranet teams and anyone else with a vested interest in social tools, pick up the phone tomorrow and have a conversation. You never know these conversations might be happening already and you’re just not part of them yet.
3) Be clear on what you want to achieve
- Do you want to provide a social space for your people?
- Are you looking to provide more effective ways for people to work together?
- Are you looking to improve methods of communication?
- Do you want to develop a more open culture of sharing?
- Do you want to easily identify & reward expertise across your business?
- Is it for better and more efficient knowledge & document management?
Is it all of the above and more? Whatever ‘IT’ is, don’t set out to achieve and deliver social learning. It won’t work, what’s more, if you go out with the “we’re going to deliver social learning” line, I’d re-think your approach entirely.
Social learning is a bi-product of ALL of the above; it isn’t something you can deliver. It’s something that will happen when you create the right conditions and it will happen over time. It won’t be something that is visible or even tangible, I believe it’s a cultural shift that will emerge in ways those traditional approaches to evaluation and measurement won’t come close to. It’s something that is deeper than transactional tasks, it’s what happens at work every day and has helped me put in to context the 70/20/10 framework better than anything else.
4) Be prepared for setbacks, challenges and old school mentalities
Just because you ‘get it’ and have a social account or two and are tech savvy doesn’t mean that other people will be in the same space. Be prepared, be prepared for setbacks and challenges but more importantly be prepared for people. People, who are set in their ways, people who, no matter how much value you can demonstrate, will push back. People WILL put obstacles in place either physical or mental barriers to the approaches you’re looking to adopt. Do NOT be disheartened and give up, instead understand that you are on a journey and that you need to take everyone on the journey with you, for some the journey will take longer than for others. Peter Senge said it best with the line “People don’t resist change, they resist changing themselves”. How right he was, however people can and do change, just keep demonstrating how much more engaging work can be and stick to what you believe.
5) Role model the right behaviours
This one is debatable in terms of most important, but I believe this is THE most important point of all. Regardless of tools or platforms, setbacks or challenges keep demonstrating the behaviours that you believe make social practices so important that your organisation can’t do without them. If you have tools already in place then use them, demonstrate how and why openness, transparency and trust is key. Demonstrate the power of openly sharing information and knowledge to others, even if it seemingly falls on deaf ears. Make sure you have a community management strategy, even a small presence makes all the difference when getting others to adopt new tools and working practices.
If you don’t have the network tools within work then use Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, Facebook or any number of sharing tools like Diigo or Del.cio.us to share resources and information with your colleagues. Why not start a Scoop.it Magazine, there is a fantastic article here on curation by @burrough on why L&D need to get on the curation bandwagon . The point is be creative, be brave and invite your colleagues to groups or circles or harass them in to following you and share information that they might find interesting. Look at this as a form of coaching as if people don’t see these behaviours anywhere else then how are they ever going to adopt them and start to role model these behaviours themselves. One of the challenges that you may face is the access to these tools within the workplace therefore it immediately becomes something done ‘outside’ of work and in personal time. This approach therefore may need some positioning but look to discuss what you’re doing and how you’re doing it at every opportunity – even at times if it feels like you are the lone voice and sound like a broken record. Celebrate any successes with your colleagues, breakthroughs will come, usually at a time when you least expect it from people you don’t expect it from.
So in conclusion, next time you read posts that state social will not work in business; appreciate them for what they are. They are useful reminders that help us recognise the challenges and things that we need to overcome first, before we evolve the way we work. I firmly believe that regardless of your business and present culture, social tools WILL work and networks will PREVAIL….you just have to work at them.
Can you share anything that may help others on their journey to the ‘impossible’?