E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Collaborative Culture: On Reinventing the Social Enterprise

Gran Canaria - Degollada de las Yeguas in the SpringThose folks who have been following this blog for a long while now would probably realise how, for quite some time, I have firmly believed that the main challenge with regards to the successful adoption of social computing within the enterprise is no other than a cultural one. Nothing to do with technology, or the tools, nor the processes, but the culture itself; and the interesting situation about all of this is that every single corporate culture, from every single business out there, is different. Different from one another. Unique. Something that whether we like it or not, we just cannot copycat. Not even with a cross-sharing of "best practices" on this very same topic.

So, eventually, what may work for one business may not work for another. That’s why, to me, the challenge does not lie with making the social tools available to knowledge workers, or apply day to day business processes to those social tools, but rather on how every single business would need to adapt, and unleash, their own corporate culture to these social networking tools. Why? Because more than anything else the experience is going to be different for everyone. Time and and time again! The corporate culture is the one that would eventually shape up how successful that adoption would be. Or not.

However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that we cannot do about it and, instead, leave it down to every single corporation to figure it all out by themselves. Actually, quite the contrary! There are a whole bunch of common traits that permeate quite nicely through each and every single business out there. No exceptions. And the interesting thing is that whether you have been trying to figure it all out already around Enterprise 2.0 for a while, or whether you are beginning to look into it, there are plenty of really good resources out there that we could look into for those common traits I mentioned above. In particular, one of them that I find is an essential read for all of us, social software evangelists, out there. And for all of those folks who are interesting in social networking for business for that matter.

I would strongly suggest you take some time out to go and read thoroughly the indispensable article put together by Deb Lavoy, published over at CMS Wire, under the heading Collaborative Culture, or the Real Enterprise 2.0. In case you haven’t read it just yet, I would highly recommend you do, because it is a stunning piece that truly highlights some of the main characteristics related to corporate culture that you would need to take into account in order for social networking to flourish within a corporate environment. Yes, indeed, it is that good! To me, one of the essential readings for 2010! Without any doubt!

Now, I am not going to spoil Deb’s entire article describing what each and everyone of those common traits are all about. Like I said, I would love for you guys to go over there, to that article, and read it through, as I am sure you would be enjoying it quite a bit altogether. However, what I would like to do over here is perhaps share a line or two, trying to add further up on each and everyone of those highlighted items that Deb covers very nicely and thoroughly; hopefully, adding my two cents into the conversation of what I think clearly highlights the way forward with regards to a successful Enterprise 2.0 adoption path. Sooner or later, slowly or rather fast, in small fractions or in full force. Either way, eventually getting there…

So let’s see where we end up…

  1. The Power Shift from Information Hoarding to Sharing: Yes, indeed, transitioning successfully from "Knowledge Is Power" to "Knowledge SHARED Is Power"; what in the past may have been an acceptable corporate behaviour, with the emergence and adoption of social tools, that’s no longer the case. It becomes one of those traits that will help improve the way knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge out in the open, and available to everyone. So that everyone benefits and those same knowledge workers can then see their digital eminence grow exponentially, which will always be a good thing for the business. Personal branding anyone?
  2. Replacing Perfection with Perfect Aspirations: That’s right, what my good friend Harold Jarche has been postulating for a while now: life (and work!) in perpetual Beta. That way businesses become more agile, more open, more engaging, more involved and committed to providing the best of customer experiences, even though it may not well be the case initially. That trait of failing, learning rather quick, and adapt accordingly would become essential for most businesses, including the various examples Deb mentions in her article as a good starting point…
  3. Transparency: What can I say about this one that may not have been said already? I think I could perhaps make the connection between the previous one and its aspect of failure with that one of co-creation. Transparency will help businesses go out and talk to customers about their own experiences with their products and make them co-participate and co-create unique experiences to the point where that direct, transparent dialogue would no longer be a nice thing to have,but an essential one to survive.
  4. Participation: Indeed, with transparency and co-creation comes participation. Perhaps a better description may well be engagement. And not just with customers and business partners. Internally, too! In fact, that internal engagement is going to be essential in helping prepare knowledge workers to be capable of holding meaningful conversations amongst themselves, to provide them then with a new comfort zone, before they go out and engage with their customers. For far too long people have been living inside their Inboxes as their main method of participating and certainly what may have worked there for decades may not well work out all right in the open, public, and transparent Social Web. So preparing to participate, to engage, is going to be critical. And the sooner folks would start, the better.
  5. Leadership: As Kathy Sierra once said, over 4 years ago already!, social networking for business will surely be surfacing a new kind of leaders, much better prepared to make the right decisions with the right level of information and knowledge about the corporation itself, and, most importantly, within a flattened organisational structure that would help them understand and fully embrace how, finally, work will get done more effectively around networks and communities, vs. just the traditional hierarchical structures and as such everyone can be the new leader. A leader who will serve to lead, a leader who will help their knowledge workers to be awesome at what they do best, to free them up from their constraints and let them become the free agents they have always been, but never fully embraced. True Open Leadership, indeed!
  6. Collaboration: And, finally, the glue that would make it work; the trait that most corporations have been enjoying already for decades with similar concepts like groupware and knowledge sharing, but that social networking tools will take into the next level; what Nancy Dixon described just recently rather nicely as "leveraging collective knowledge", that I blogged about yesterday. That massive online complex collaboration environment that would permeate throughout various different conversations and that would portrait quite nicely the 4 hallmarks that Deb mentions as well, and which are critical for open collaborative activities: shared mission, mutual respect, trust and commitment.

The exciting thing about all of this is that, whether we like it or not, most corporations out there already enjoy plenty of these traits; in fact, they have been living by most of them for decades, although perhaps in a different shape and form: one where closeness overruled openness: one where opaqueness darkened clarity, visibility and awareness; one where knowledge hoarding was seen as a healthy activity because most people didn’t know better (Still think you are indispensable?); one where management by fear was the rule, instead of a healthy fun @ work mentality; one where command and control (of the message and of the knowledge workers themselves) was considered appropriate, neglecting altogether freeing up the battery humans that Lee Bryant talked about a couple of years back.

Lucky enough it is also those very same traits and characteristics that I have discussed earlier on that are helping change corporate cultures at a rather rampant pace into embracing successfully social networking for business. So much so that we are not starting from scratch altogether; in fact, we are probably not inventing anything new in here, but instead, in this case, we are all now, fully embarked, on a new exciting and unprecedented mission: reinvent the social enterprise.

Is your corporate culture ready for it?

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  1. and thanks for turning this into a conversation. I particularly appreciate you adding your take on each of the dimensions -and those of people such as Kathy Sierra. I look forward to going deeper on each one with you.

  2. “Social networking” now so often stands in for the net-enabling tools to do it remotely. Yet, as you say, it is about people and actions that build culture.

    Case in point: yesterday, my CEO asked how much time I spent on deskwork vs. just being present, talking with our people. He wants us to do more management by walking around.

    This means to me: Build trust and culture in person if you can. If you connect virtually by phone or other social media, it works out, too; it just takes longer.

  3. brill! I went to Debs one half way through then returned here after reading it. I left musing on how the heck we really change stuff. Then I read this concept of latency – the seeds are already there. yes…what a positive approach, reinvention not creating something from scratch. The task becomes manageable, as it is already happening…!


  4. While to some degree I understand Luis’ comment that the “main challenge to successful adoption of social computing within the enterprise is cultural, not technology or processes,” if the technology doesn’t support the way that people want to work and relate to others then that also dooms adoption. The technology must not be some separate monolithic access point, but integrated into the fabric of the existing processes used by people on a daily basis.

  5. Luis, great post. I would add 2 items to Deb’s lsit:
    7. Velocity – knowledge is a form of currency and, as economists have long known, the velocity of circulation (of knowledge) is where the value is generated.
    8. Context – understand (probe), reflect (sense), re-invent and apply (respond) to increase value.
    @Don – these “necessary business tools” are assumed to be the paint/fabric we apply our (cultural) designs to. The fabric may (will) change and the design remains or evolves.

  6. Don – I believe the culture and tech need to come together to create a virtuous cycle. First comes the value or desire to collaborate, then comes the tech which (hopefully) supports, enables and reinforces, making it easy and productive to do so – that reinforces and expands the cultural imperative to do so.

    Peter – context is everything – couldn’t agree more. And I like your point about velocity. My pal @mpedson would also agree with you most heartily (and he’s a genius)

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