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

From the blog

Don’t Start with the Tools: They Are Not Your Final Destination

Gran Canaria - Santa Lucía de Tirajana in the Spring“Don’t start with the tools. A fool with a tool is still a fool” is the last sentence, and powerful conclusion, from a recent short, but rather thought-provoking, blog post that my good friend, Oscar Berg, shared, not long ago, under the heading “Don’t start with the tools“. In case you haven’t read it just yet, I would suggest you spend a couple of minutes going through it, since it won’t take you more than that to read it through, and check out further the various reasons as to why he concludes his blog entry with such statement. It looks like years have gone by and we are still stuck on the very same problem we used to have 10 years ago: tools, tools, tools! Goodness! I am feeling dizzy already! Aren’t we all barking at the wrong tree? Isn’t it time that we move on to something much more productive? Like asking ourselves “how do you want to help your business become better at what you do, i.e. empower your knowledge workers to serve your customer(s) *even* better?

Earlier on today, I had a rather productive, and very enlightening, meeting with one customer to talk about social software adoption within the enterprise, and this very same reflection that Oscar mentioned on his blog post came up, once again. You know, “How do we get to make better use of our own social networking tools, as well as others out there like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like?” I mean, “Where do we start with the tools?”, “How can I keep control of where the information is going and how can I preserve our company’s knowledge with these social tools?“. You know, the usual kind of questions that focus on the tools themselves tends to provoke time and time again.

Well, we had a good 90 minute conversation where we discussed a whole bunch of various different topics and, eventually, funny enough, since it happens quite often, we ended up talking about how do we provoke that culture change where knowledge workers start feeling more comfortable about not just sharing their knowledge and collaborate effectively, but also demonstrating their own subject matter expertise? Ahhh, now we are talking!

I bet that if you ask social software evangelists out there about this very same scenario they would probably tell you how, more often than not, they keep circling around to always arrive to the toughest question of them all; it all starts with a conversation around the social tools available and how to engage them best, and then, eventually, as the conversations move forward, the culture aspect keeps coming up rather often, till, in the end, that’s what the whole conversation will be about altogether.

Yes, that’s the kind of great conversations I had earlier on with this customer. Like I said, we talked a lot about plenty of different things: education, governance, adoption techniques, communities, different community building techniques, how to let go of control, how to motivate your knowledge workers to engage, facilitation, support, etc. etc. But there was one that kept coming back time and time again, which is that one of how do we change the culture within our organisation and ensure our knowledge workforce fully understands and starts embracing these social tools to collaborate and share their knowledge more effectively with their peers and their customers?

Whoah! That’s the one million dollar question, don’t you think? And I bet that it’s got another one million possible good answers. Now, I am not going to cover them all over here today, don’t worry, but perhaps going to stick around with the one that we have been applying ourselves, within the IBM BlueIQ Social Software Adoption program I have been involved with for the last three years, which has basically been focusing on business outcomes, i.e. what it is that you would want to achieve at the end of the day, whatever that may well be.

When we first started with the program itself, we made the very same mistake of focusing on the tools themselves as everyone else by providing extensive overviews of the various different features and capabilities of what they could offer to employees. And even though those thorough overviews were helpful, we learned over the course of the following months how they were confusing and overwhelming people more than what we liked and / or hoped for. So, eventually, we didn’t get much further. People were saying they were already busy enough using other traditional collaborative tools, so they didn’t have time to dedicate to learn new things; they also mentioned how they weren’t going to bother since they themselves felt they were already rather productive; they also told us how overwhelming the whole world around social networking for business could well be, since they didn’t know where to start; *so* many options available out there! Thus eventually they were not as engaged with the whole program as we thought they would be.

But one day, probably around six months after we started, we decided to take things into a different approach; so instead of focusing on the social tools themselves, we decided to focus on the tasks and activities they were executing on a daily basis. Specially, those they were struggling with the most, i.e. their pain points, so that we could address each and everyone of them by injecting various different 2.0 flavours. Eventually, when we would show them how they could address and fix those pain points and get rid of those tasks and activities that made them lag behind things started to “click!”

And from there onwards, there was no way back! We started working on an Enablement and Education plan, where we would put together a good number of short, straight to the point, education modules that they could rather attend in live sessions, every week, or take the education sessions offline, at their own pace. But contrary to the initial set of education materials this time around we ensured that we would just focus on the tasks at hand, and demonstrate how they could execute them, even much more effectively, using a specific feature from a concrete social software tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Just that particular scenario, or use case, of how to get the job done much more efficiently, so that new knowledge could be generated and shared across and perhaps save a good chunk of time altogether that could be used for the next business process to be executed, because that’s basically what knowledge workers would care about the most: getting the job done in their day to day business activities.

As a result of following that approach, those education sessions are nowadays one of the most popular activities we have got available within the social software adoption program for fellow colleagues to benefit from; they themselves, through those various scenarios, have found out, eventually, how in most cases, social software within the enterprise is all about being smart and productive in delivering whatever the business outcomes you may be engaging with. Definitely, it’s never been about the tools, but about what the people would want to achieve as business results by being more efficient and effective in openly sharing their knowledge across and collaborating with their peers while executing those business processes to the best of their abilities. And talents. And networks.

Only then it would be when the corporate culture will start shaping up and head towards the potential right direction you would want to not only for yourself, as a business, but as well as for your knowledge workers. Show them the way, and don’t start the conversation with the tools alone. It won’t work. They are just enablers, not your final destination… Your business.

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    1. Hi Rebecca, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the feedback comments! Goodness!! I couldn’t have described the problem as good as those few words you just shared above! So spot on! Scary!

      I surely agree with you that most of the times we seem to get lost ourselves with the tactics, which are easier to obtain and execute than with the actual strategy, which is the tough cookie in this case. It’s also part of the short term vs long term dichotomy, as to which one would your business want to focus on. Hopefully, the long term one, because otherwise we are back to square one, once again!

      Hope it doesn’t happen this time around showing that we have learned the lesson over the last decade… Thanks again for those great comments! 🙂

  1. Great post, Luis. I’d like to insert one another thought, if I may.

    As you point out, tools are enablers – so are values/culture, offices/spaces, skills/expertise, context/purpose, education/training or incentives/motives. These are all enablers to achieve better business results (I’d include process improvements, too).

    So Enablers > Results.

    Now, E2.0, at its core, enables conversations, which in turn lead to better understanding, thus more informed actions.

    So Enablers > [Conversations > Understanding > Actions] > Results.

    I think it’s this bracket that now gets tremendous amplification through new E2.0 conversation patterns (with lots of uncertainty what to do with all these actions).

    Just a thought inspired by your post and maybe way off track.

  2. This line of thought is part of the introduction of any new tool into the workplace. Just recall the user progression for using email, shared calendars, word processors, spreadsheeting, etc. Every one of these took time to be weaved into the way people work every day.

    Looking at E20 in terms of replacing current work practice, it seems the email inbox and the intranet as a task list/sharing/collaborating mechanisms is what is being targeted most. So how can we effectively shift people from the current to the new? Understanding the concept of integrating tools into the work flow that produces a business result is easy enough. Now that we’ve identified the “what to do”, we need a lot more conversation of the “how to do it”.

  3. Funny things tools. If you buy a tool with the intent to use it for what it was designed for, then you had better really understand that, become properly familiar, etc.

    However, sometimes (and I had this epiphany recently) a tool that I had been using for a couple of years (Xmind) actually had a whole raft of other uses. It is basically a mind mapping tool, but it is quite surprising (at least to me) that using the tool, I could create a whole raft of other really useful diagrams (not models exactly because they are really just diagrams), but diagrams that were just about impossible to do any other way. I wouldn’t have thought to draw the diagrams that way, but the tool gave me a thinking model.

    So let’s not just dismiss tools as things that solve specific problems, but let’s look and see what power a tool gives us by opening up our thinking to there ways of solving problems.

    Yes a proper use of a screwdriver is to stir paint (just as k my ex wife!)

  4. I really appreciate your post, as in the last few years I felt a little bit “outdated” in my KM consultancy approach. For years I developed my KM solutions based on the statement “do not start from technology, start from people’s issue and day in the life activities” to make knowledge available when you need it and where you need it. But with the arrival of web 2.0 tool and techniques a strong importance was given to technology and although I am still convinced that a people centric approach to knowledge management is far more better than a technology approach, every day I hear people that stress the importance of tool and technology as the only solution to KM.
    Thank you again for your post, you make me feel better 🙂

  5. Thanks for this great post, Luis. It brings Oscar Berg’s “Don’t start with the tools” one step further: Don’t start with the tools, and don’t talk about changing corporate culture. People don’t want their culture changed! People want their pain points addressed, want their working lives more efficient and fun. When you can achieve this, then the culture will change automatically.
    In my experience, tools can only hinder change, e. g. by lack of usability, but never promote change. This can only be done by people!

  6. TQSM for sharing your thoughts and experience. Many business managers and administrators tend to fall into this trap. The irony is that some don’t learn….and later seek to blame others for failures.

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