Over the course of the last six years, since I went independent, I have had the opportunity (and still do!) of unlearning a few things in the space of knowledge sharing and collaboration tools. One of the most significant and impactful ones has been acknowledging the fact what once used to be the main good old mantra from different Enterprise Social Networking platforms, it’s now pretty much obsolete having lost its touch with today’s more complex than ever business reality. It’s, finally, a good time to say good-bye to one-size-fits-all.
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have been involved with social tools for nearly 20 years, when I first got started with blogs and wikis while working at IBM. Back then, I had the unique opportunity of playing and experimenting with a new emergent set of collaborative and knowledge sharing tools that I knew were not only going to transform how I would get work done, but also how I would live my life from there onwards.
I still think today, if it weren’t for these social tools, my entire professional career would have been completely different altogether. To the point where I wouldn’t be able to tell you all what I would have done instead. I just know it would have been something that didn’t have anything to do whatsoever with technology. That’s for sure. That’s what I call having a massive impact on one’s life, don’t you think?
It should come to no surprise to anyone out there who knows me, or who has been following this blog for a good while now, how as I was getting more and more involved with blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, micro-blogging, RSS newsfeeds, podcasts, forums, profile aggregators, online community spaces, etc. I was pretty exited when IBM Connections became a product in 2007.
Deep inside I thought I would finally have a chance to bring all of that excitement of the huge potential of these social tools to the customers I was working with (Specially, in the KM and Collaboration space) and help them understand how those tools could transform entirely the way they worked AND lived, like they did for me. Oooh, the good old exciting times of early Enterprise Social Networking platforms! It still sends shivers down my spine, I tell you! And you?
During the early 2000s that mantra of one-size-fits-all was pretty much rather dominant across the business world. It was all you needed. Just one ESN within your firewall and the magic would happen just like that! If only, right? At the time, for me, that ESN was IBM Connections. You didn’t need anything else! And I loved it, till around early 2014, when I left IBM and I had a lovely wake-up call with reality.
That was a pretty mind-blowing opportunity for me to open up and discover that one-size-fits-all, if anything, was just a myth. Over the following few months, when I was starting up my own business as an independent adviser around Social Business and Digital Transformation, I realised I was ending up talking to lots of customers who were living a different reality than mine. They were using a plethora of collaborative and knowledge sharing tools to get their work done.
It was no longer about just having a single ESN to do what needed to be done. Quite the contrary, becoming vendor agnostic helps you understand that the Collaboration landscape is completely different today than what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, customers, indeed, would be working with one single ESN. Today, it’s a little bit more complex than that. The wake-up call is that a single ESN would no longer do the job. And that’s a good thing!
Work has gotten a whole lot more complex than ever before. The times where we were working with a single customer, on a single project, with one team, one manager, one set of common goals to execute on is a thing of the past. Nowadays, we have a tendency to work with multiple customers, different projects, blurred reporting lines, somewhat undefined goals and, above all, a completely different set of collaborative tools. We, knowledge (Web) workers, have finally diversified!
Or not. Over the course of the last 6 years I have pretty much become vendor agnostic. I have learned, mostly through the hard way (the most effective one, for sure!), to listen and understand customers’ needs and wants. It’s no longer about me, i.e. the vendor, but more about the customer and what they would want to achieve over time. It’s a truly fascinating journey, through lots of trial and error, that I have unlearned to be vendor-centric and become, instead, more customer-centric, which is where the magic usually happens.
That means that, when listening and paying attention to customers, you understand that different groups of people work in different ways and have completely different expectations from one another. Therefore, they use various social and collaborative tools to get their work done more effectively and accommodate accordingly. And it is just fine. It’s what my good friend Thomas van der Wal frames as Social Lenses.
It’s pretty much the very same reason as to why 19 years later, since Fringe was first born, that I’m still in love with HCL Connections. Not because of what it can do to help organisations transform how they think and can work different, which it still does!, but mostly because through those very same customer conversations I have learned to understand that it doesn’t fit all needs from everyone, but can complement them quite nicely, eventually, making the killer-app combination. And, after perhaps far too many years to count, it’s, at long last, learning to adapt to the new changing conditions through one of my favourite keywords du jour: integration!
That has been one of my key learnings in the last 18 months to two years, as I have been getting more and more heavily involved into the Office 365 ecosystem working with customers who are thriving in hybrid worlds. Customers that no longer buy into that obsolete vendor-centric model, but that truly believe collaboration is a lot more complex, nuanced, and diverse than whatever they have been involved with in the past.
Office 365 is a rather powerful set of cloud-based productivity tools. We all know that. MS Teams alone sparks mind-blowing opportunities to enhance and augment how smaller groups of people work in more dynamic, intimate, fast-paced, project driven environments. But does it cater for all needs? Should it? Is it worth it putting all your eggs in one basket?
I suspect your answer is probably going to be a resounding ‘No!’ So why do people keep questioning your decision as a customer to diversify, accordingly, to meet more of your needs and wants? Why does Office 365 still operate under one-size-fits-all and get away with it? Haven’t we learned anything from the recent past few years? At a time where we all are (customers, business partners, vendors AND competitors) more hyperconnected than ever, we seem to pretty much confirm we haven’t learned much. Sadly.
I’m pretty sure you may be wondering why I’m saying all of this and why I’m putting together this blog post in the first place, right? Well, there is a simple reason, really: I listen actively to customers.
Over the last few months I have talked to numerous customers who keep getting questioned, sternly, to the point of being put on the spot and embarrassed, every time they talk to either Microsoft employees, business partners or its underlying ecosystem, about why they aren’t using Office 365 to talk, connect, or collaborate with them. If you have been using Zoom, WebEx, Slack, Jive, HCL Connections, Chatter, MangoApps, Confluence, or any other collaborative tool for that matter with them their first question coming back is typically this one: ‘Why aren’t we using MS Teams for this?‘
What a missed opportunity, frankly. If you still believe one-size-fits-all works, if you still think Office 365 doesn’t have any proven alternatives in today’s digital workplace out there, if you still think these cloud-based productivity tools haven’t got a paragon out there, I’m pretty sorry to write this, but you are locking yourself out and missing out big time!
Not necessarily because of these digital tools per se. Frankly, Office 365 is phenomenal about a really good number of different work related activities and work streams. We all know that. What I think is the missed opportunity is in your inability to showcase empathy towards your (potential) customers, or business partners.
Ask them. Listen. Ask again. Listen again (this time around with intent!). Try to learn from / with them about why they have made the choices they have in the recent past for them to use one or another collaborative tool than what you are used to yourself. Leave your bubble, please. Don’t judge them. Open up. You’d be surprised about how the vast majority of times you would have a much better opportunity of generating business together if you show empathy to your customers and business partners and listen to them carefully, versus questioning why they don’t use X,
Exhibiting and embracing empathy as your modus operandi would help you walk miles without even saying a single word. But go ahead, ignore me. What do I know, right? Yes, you are right. I pretty much know nothing. But, please, if I may, allow me to point you to this short video clip where Satya Nadella himself explains quite nicely the effect being more empathetic has not only with your colleagues, but also with your customers, business partners, and why not, your competitors, not just to collaborate, but also to innovate together.
Watch the video, please, and next time you interact with someone outside of your own vendor bubble, whoever you may well be as a vendor, don’t question your potential customers and business partners about why they are using X, X or Z tool. Just ask them, instead, ‘how can I help you today?’
Doing that you will have already walked half the way where you wanted to in the first place. Believe me, hybrid worlds is where the magic happens. It’s where you start to open up to the world around you. It’s where you start focusing on your customers’ (and practitiners’) needs and wants versus just your own as a vendor.
Then, just watch how the magic unfolds and be ready …