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

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Open Business – The Narrative vs. The Ruthless Measurement

Prague in the Spring - Old SquareSocial Analytics. Don’t you just love it? Oh, metrics, what would we do without you in the business world, right? They are the main reason, apparently, of our mere existence in a corporate environment. And, lately, attempting to measure the Return On Investment of Social / Open Business has been grabbing most of attention in the last 3 to 5 years, but perhaps for all of the wrong reasons altogether, since time and time again we just seem to keep focusing on “measuring what’s easy as opposed to what’s important.

Just like with technology, we seem to have developed, over the course of the last few decades, a fetish for trying to measure everything, and I mean everything, that happens around us, specially, in a business context, because, apparently, that’s the main only criteria we are using in order to improve the thing we are measuring in the first place. And it’s been rather interesting to see how over the course of that time, and more vehemently as of late, we seem to have dropped the whole topic altogether on measuring the ROI of social technologies, which is quite intriguing on its own, since it seems to confirm it’s been pretty much useless all along, since it is no longer possible to revert back on our Adaptation to Open Business practices. They are here to stay and it’s just a matter of when, not anymore about how, what or why. 

Yes, I know, change is inevitable, after all, and the only thing we can do, eventually, is delay it. That’s probably the main reason as to why very few people are continuing to question the value of social networking for business. It seems like everyone has finally come to terms with the fact that, whether we like it or not, Social / Open is here to stay. But things weren’t always like that in the past. In fact, there have been numerous different articles, insightful blog posts,  inspiring dissertations and what not, that have attempted to come up with a good, smart way of hinting how we may eventually measure the effective use of Social / Open Business. Pretty much like we did with Knowledge Management over 18 years ago and that we still haven’t managed to get it right, after all of that time. Somehow, I keep making the connection that perhaps we have attempted to measure what we shouldn’t have in the first place and instead we should have put our efforts in helping out, plenty more, with that adaptation to Open Business. 

As usual, Seth Godin, in perhaps one of the top blog posts from 2013 (Yes, I know, that’s how good it is), pretty much nailed the whole argument around what has been the current state of affairs in terms of measurements within the business world. To quote: 

As an organization grows and industrializes, it’s tempting to simplify things for the troops. Find a goal, make it a number and measure it until it gets better. In most organizations, the thing you measure is the thing that will improve.

Not much that I can share across after such brilliant reflection, other than perhaps add further up one other key element that seems to describe, pretty well, what may drive that kind of industrialised mentality: inertia. As in why change what has worked in the last few decades, right? Well, wrong. That’s the problem, it hasn’t worked out all right, because more than anything else what’s happened is that we have diverted our attention away from the real thing and just decided to muse on what’s easy, i.e. the low hanging fruit, what we can quantify in an effortless manner iteration after iteration. But Seth states it much more beautifully with this brilliant conclusion that I half referenced above already. To quote again: 

“Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.”

So, what can you do then? What’s important? Well, lately, to me, for a good number of months, it’s been down to two things: Results and Relationships. As you may have noticed, none of those really focus on measuring the use of the digital tools at our disposal, which seems to be what most social analytics efforts focus on at the moment. Somehow I suspect we need to perhaps level up the game and start focusing on what kinds of measures, if any, at all, we would need in order to quantify the effectiveness of not just using social tools, i.e. the low hanging fruit, but the bigger challenge: the modelling of new behaviours. That adaptation to new ways of smarter work I have been mentioning for a little while now and which I think would be much more relevant. 

That’s exactly what I am focusing on at the moment, at work. Not necessarily on measuring the easy bits, in terms of adaptation and enablement, but more on trying to identify how the power of storytelling could help us provide a much more meaningful and empowering method to quantify and measure those results and relationships. How? Through sharing of stories, of insightful anecdotal evidence of how knowledge workers have been capable of transforming the way they work by addressing business problems and fixing them adapting to new social / open gestures while getting their day to day work done in an effective, productive manner.

The fascinating thing about this shift is that over the course of the last few months I have started to notice how business storytelling is starting to make (big) waves into the corporate world in terms of how it’s helping organisations understand what an effective method it is not only to facilitate knowledge transfer or innovation, or to give meaning, or to improve employee engagement, or to progress further, but also to capture such knowledge in a much more noteworthy manner that could help out everyone make sense of it all in much more profound ways through a key element that I am incredibly excited about seeing it emerge time and time again lately: Narrative

Every single business out there needs one. And perhaps if there is anything good that Open Business is facilitating at this stage it’s that huge opportunity to help inspire the creation of that narrative that employees cannot only identify with, but breathe it, as part of their new fabric, their DNA on how they work, eventually, something that I am 100% sure doesn’t just happen with the low hanging fruit metrics. Why? Because we can’t relate to numbers and figures out of context. We can relate though to people sharing their stories, connecting, collaborating, sharing their knowledge openly with one another, to eventually produce better business outcomes by working together smarter, not necessarily harder. 

Networked and hyperconnected. 

Oh, and if you are interested in the whole topic around Narrative, please do allow me to point you to one of the First Thinkers on the topic who, just recently, put together, a series of 3 blog posts that I can certainly recommend everyone to go and spend some time reading, and reflecting further along, on the huge potential impact of narrative in the business world. Neither of those three posts would leave you indifferent, I can tell you that. Here you have them Aspects of Narrative Work: Part I, Part II and Part III by the one and only: Dave Snowden. 

[Thanks ever so much, Dave, for generously sharing them along with us!]

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    1. Hi Joachim, catching up with conversations on the Social Web, now that my connectivity issues seem to have been fixed. [Phew!] Oh, yes, spot on! It’s going to be very interesting to see whether HR is ready to transition from Human Resources into Human Relationships, specially, when that means they would need to stop treating us as mere resources, easy to dispense away in order to “save costs”. Human Capital, I guess, is going to take a new meaning based on those results being driven by relationships and everything.

      Somehow, we will have to wait and see whether HR is ready to make the jump into the front stage and help lead the efforts or whether they will keep waiting for another decade, while the rest of us have moved on … Clock is ticking … although it’s never too late to join, right? 😉

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