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

From the blog

Don’t Underestimate the Power of (Social) Collaboration. It Is Not a Given

Gran Canaria - Degollada de las Yeguas in the SpringOk, back to Social Business. After the last few days where I have been blogging a number of different times about some musings on redesigning and refining further along the workplace of the future, it’s time to get down to business again and continue to share further insights around social networking / computing for business or the good old Social Business itself. By the way, stay tuned because very soon I will be putting together an article where I will explain why I’m going to move away from the social business concept into another one that I think is much more accurate and fitting in helping explain where we are today with the whole mantra behind Social. But till then, how about if one of these days you come to work and you bump into a rather controversial article, a superb read, actually, that questions the whole social business industry, right where it hurts the most:  Social Networking for Business doesn’t count much on today’s CIO’s top priorities, after all. Disappointing or a huge opportunity? Both, eventually!

A couple of weeks back Prem Kumar Aparanji, a.k.a. Prem, put together an article where he was reflecting on a recent research study by Gartner (Strongly recommend going through the links he references to get a better grasp of what the survey tried to accomplish), where some really interesting data came up; the most thought-provoking piece was probably that one where it was mentioned how Social Networking (for business) wasn’t a top priority for CIO’s out there in 2012. Not all CIOs though, but about 100 of them who took part in the survey study, which I still think is significant enough to notice. You would expect that it would be rather worrying that, still in 2012, the whole area of Social gets questioned and even misses the point of reaching the Top 10 priority list from CIOs. In this case it comes up as the 11th priority. And, it may well be, indeed, worrying to some extent, but it is not new. It’s been happening all along for a good number of years already. But with a different name. 

Indeed, I am referring to good old Knowledge Management and Collaboration, once again, just to detail a bit more the parallel roads both fields have been running all along. And it’s interesting to notice how when I used to work within the European Knowledge Management deployment team inside IBM, about 11 years ago, we faced the very same upsetting reality: KM (And Collaboration, for that matter), wasn’t the business top priority at the time. In fact, it didn’t even show up on the Top 20 priority list for Lines of Business. Thus, a few years later, seeing how social business is coming into the Top #11 is not such a bad achievement. On the contrary. Lots of opportunity in here!

So, I know what you are thinking now, if social is not in the Top 10 priority list from (some) CIOs why is that? I mean, what’s happened for that scenario to be so gloomy and yet strike us as a common reality for the last 18 years and counting… First with KM and Collaboration back then and nowadays with Social Business. Well, I am not sure what you folks would think, but I tell you what my gut feeling has been telling me all along: KM, Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing, Social Networking AND online communities have always been “taken as a given” by both IT and the business. And the higher you go in the organisation the much more ingrained that perception of being a given it is.

Just think about it. When was the last time that you, as a knowledge worker, received some kind of formal, (or informal) training, or education, for that matter around how to collaborate effectively, or share your knowledge in a much more open, transparent and public manner? Even through email (Yes, I know, quite an oxymoron right there, right?!?). Probably never, I would guess. But then again when you join a company that’s one of the traits that is expected of you: be a team sports, of a rather open and collaborative manner, that is, a good team player who can collaborate across the board, otherwise it would be rather tough. Or simply put in another way, in today’s current working environment, would you be capable of getting work done on your own, in a single project, on a single team, and with a single set of priorities and goals without having to collaborate with others? I will go and answer that one for you… You won’t. You never have. You never will. 

That’s why collaboration, whether traditional or social, is no longer a nice-thing-to-have but more than anything else a business imperative. Yet, it’s hardly embraced by the corporate world. Why? Because everyone feels that every single knowledge worker out there is a collaborator by nature and as such it’s a given that everyone would know how to collaborative effectively. When we know that’s not going to happen, at all, and to prove that we have got the perfect example that’s been demonstrating and showcasing it decade in decade out and we are still struggling with it: email.

I probably don’t need to say much more about it, right? Although I can perhaps formulate a single question to try to address and answer that concern: do you feel you are effective and productive enough in your day to day collaborative work today using email, or traditional knowledge based repositories for that matter? Like I said, no need to provide an answer on that one, although I think we all know it already. I think we all know what really needs to happen to turn that situation around 180 degrees and start thinking it’s a good time to shift gears and realise about a single fact that would change the way we do work today: never underestimate the power of (social) collaboration. 

Whether you are the CIO, the CFO, or from whatever other high end of the org chart, you should always consider the fact that not everyone is a true collaborator, that not everyone knows, and fully understands, how to use (social) collaborative tools, that not every knowledge worker out there would know how to get work done in a open, collaborative, transparent and public manner and that as such you would need to accommodate an opportunity for knowledge workers to get properly trained not only on how to make use of the various knowledge sharing, collaborative and social networking tools, but also the behaviours that would involve such change. Social collaboration is all about a mindset. In fact, I would come to question the validity of using social networking tools to collaborate effectively. You can still do that, that is, become much more open, public, transparent, trustworthy, engaged, committed, etc. etc. without perhaps even relying on (social) tools. They are more cultural traits of how knowledge gets shared across. And for that, it’s always important to have the right level of support and don’t expect other people to embrace new ways of working, because they are just simply not going to work. 

That’s why the role of executives, in whatever the organisation, is so important and rather critical, and in the context of social business, even more! Because knowledge workers, as they become more aware and excited about new, smarter ways of getting work done, would need plenty of support, sponsorship, servant leadership, commitment and proper attention to ensure the right mix is put together. I mean, imagine what would have happened if back in the day, folks would have been educated, and trained, on how to use email properly as a powerful collaborative and knowledge sharing tool, instead of being considered today a huge productivity drain, provoked by ourselves, in the first place! 

That’s certainly something that we wouldn’t want to have around nowadays with regards to Social Business, don’t you think? Take, as an example, the recent entry posted over at Mashable under the suggestive title “5 Things That Waste Your Time at Work” and think about it for a little bit. Here are those productivity wasters: 

  1. “Trying to contact customers or colleagues
  2. Trying to find key information
  3. Duplicating communications
  4. Attempting to schedule meetings
  5. Unwanted communications”

Now, if your company suffers from any of those business pain points, do you feel that having proper education and training on social networking tools AND habits would help you address and fix some of them accordingly? Take the example of tagging. Done and shown properly, it’ll help address #1, #2 and #3 right there! With very little effort, and yet with tremendous potential and huge benefits. And that’s just tagging. Think now of the huge amount of unwanted communications you could reduce by adopting that social mantra of narrating your work, working out loud or just simply observable work. And the list of use cases goes on and on and on… Here’s another one: how much time do knowledge workers waste on inefficient meetings? Those meetings they get dragged into time and time again for hours no end every single day. Well, imagine what it would be like if those same knowledge workers would reduce, dramatically, the time they spend on meetings and get work done smarter, not necessarily harder, using social, collaborative and knowledge sharing tools. 

Still think that Social Collaboration is a given, and therefore should not be in your Top 5 priority list? Hmmm, you may need to re-think again the business pain points you are trying to assess and a find a solution for. Because you may have it already right there! Waiting for you … 

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  1. Bravo Luis! Well stated.

    Communications and Collaboration and now Enterprise Social is critical and expected but taken for granted by so many companies.

    It’s a little like people who just eat to stop hunger. Food is so critical to our health and performance, yet most taken nutrition for granted. The right nutrition (social collaboration) can make all the difference in performance.

    I would add one key advantage regarding Social. People are too busy to be organizationally altruistic. Email is self-serving (“Hey you, I need something from you.”). Collaboration solutions have traditionally been adopted by altruists (“It’s easier to do this by email, but by using this collaboration tool, I’ll be helping colleagues.”).

    Social, on the other hand, delivers (for the first time) BOTH. There’s tangible value to the individual (“I can find more info, reduce spam, and get more help in problem solving.”) AND thereby delivers more value to the community like knowledge sharing, transparency, engagement.

    It’s these paired benefits to individual and organization that make Social so powerful. Once a company or individual goes Social, they will not want to go back to Email.


  2. I am starting to think more and more that standard onboarding practice is that group managers should have the conversation with their new employee on what the team collaboration expectations are. Not so much on how to use the tools (though I think that should exist too), but on expectations for response, access to colleagues (and managers), general preferences for the various tools, etc…

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