What does “Innovate better” really mean?

In this series of blog posts, (Improving collaboration, breaking down silos, and innovating better. What does that all mean? & Breaking down silos, what does that mean?) I have talked about the jargon that tends to fly around social business. Today, I’m going to make it personal.

When we talk about innovation, we’re really talking about doing things differently to achieve better outcomes. Dictionary.com defines innovate as “to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.” This sounds great and it makes it clear why leadership wants their companies to innovate better, but it’s never as easy as it sounds. There are many challenges and personal behaviors that need to be addressed to be truly innovative and be successful at having your employees innovate better.

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Breaking down silos, what does that mean?

silos

During my last post Improving collaboration, breaking down silos, and innovating better. What does that all mean?, I shared what “improving collaboration” probably means to most people in the context of making business better. Today, I’m going to delve into the world of silos. What are they, what does it mean when someone tells you they want to “Break down silos” and finally how to challenge the person to understand what they really mean when referencing this jargon.

What is a silo?

According to dictionary.com, a silo is “a structure, typically cylindrical, in which fodder or forage is kept”. In the business context, a silo generally represents a wall or boundary put up by an organization to keep them focused on accomplishing their goals and keeping outsiders from interfering with progress. Sometimes these are also called “stovepipes”. Some might even go on to add that it’s an organizational construct designed to protect and serve the hierarchy. The bottom line is that silos are a method for ensuring focus around specific business deliverables.

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Improving collaboration, breaking down silos, and innovating better. What does that all mean?

I’ve been in the Enterprise 2.0/Social Business space for almost 5 years now, and have been both on the customer and vendor side of the table. What most people are guilty of, is really not knowing what the heck they want to do. I was guilty of it too. I thought Improving Collaboration and Breaking down silos were great business problems to solve. It was until recently that I started focusing around the business value of Enterprise Social that it hit me. Most people talk in jargon and have very little insight into what the underlying business problems are that they are trying to solve. Don’t get me wrong, they know their business problems, but in most cases haven’t connected the dots between problem and solution. Why? Because it takes a lot of analysis and thought to develop that understanding and most of us lack the time to do it.

Over my next few posts I will examine this jargon and help people understand each of these, very vague, clearly misunderstood, terms used around social collaboration inside of companies and help people help their organizations to get past the jargon to provide real business impacts.

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You can run, but you cannot hide

Today’s post is a writeup I did for the GIT Society for Information and Communications Technology newsletter which is targeted at information and technology professionals in Austria:

You can run, but you cannot hide

There are changes coming that you cannot avoid. For many, this will change the way we work and will force us to re-evaluate how we share information inside our organizations.

While social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter may or may not be in your future, you may not have a choice but to be “social” inside your organization. Companies are starting to see the advantages of opening up information and allowing it to flow freely. This isn’t appropriate for all information of course, but many topics such as operational excellence, product Q&A and employee communications all benefit from Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) and transparency. This allows people who have an interest in the information to find it easily and leads to things such as increased sales, reduced costs and improved satisfaction.

Having this type of accessible information is essential for competing in a global market where time zones and languages may make collaborating difficult. By having information available, it makes finding things faster and provides better agility allowing organizations to outmaneuver the competition.

Even if your organization does not have an ESN today, there is a high likelihood that you will soon. Many business applications you already use are adding social components to their applications, and platforms like Yammer are already accessible to your workers. By understanding how ESN’s drive change in your organization, you can be prepared for this shift before it happens and ready to leverage it when it does.

The 5 W’s of Enterprise Social Networks

Even though there is a growing amount of information on the web on enterprise social computing a concise guide for executives is needed to outline the benefits and challenges of deploying it to your business.

What is Enterprise Social Networking?

Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) is a set of tools and behaviors that promote open conversations within an organization to achieve business objectives.  This leads to more engaged employees, increased innovation and faster business outcomes. It is also commonly known as; Enterprise 2.0 & and Social Business.

ESNs can be externally facing for customers, partners, suppliers (or any group you communicate outside of your company) or internally facing for employees to work together.

Before embarking on Enterprise Social Networking, companies must provide the following table stakes for the organization in order to realize a sustainable success:

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Groupthink: The company ‘A-Hole’ and why you need one

I’m sure you all know one. That person that’s always trying to poke holes in your work, the one that never seems to be satisfied, the one that you get frustrated with because it seems like things are never good enough to escape their critique. Well, believe it or not, this person is a very important role inside of your company and more importantly inside your social networks to avoid a phenomenon called “Groupthink”.  Groupthink is a mode that a group of people gets into when they desire harmony in decision making without a realistic appraisal of alternatives and where there is a desire to minimize conflict.

Sure, we all want harmony in decision making, that makes our jobs easier, but does it give us the best decision? Most likely not. Let’s face it, how many times have we been in the situation where we know what we’re doing isn’t right, but the effort required is just too great considering your workload or the political cost?  When you add a boss’s opinion to the mix, the chance that the group will align with his/her opinion is very high, despite the fact that it could possibly be the worst possible approach.

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The loss of in-person communication skills

I was at my local climbing gym last night, and saw something disturbing. A mother and daughter next to each other, each with their noses buried in their smart devices, totally ignoring each other. This went on for over 2hrs. While this isn’t breaking news, I am dismayed by what seems to be  happening to us. Are we eventually going to lose our ability and desire to communicate in person? To entertain each other when bored?

Do you whip out your smartphone in the middle of a conversation without even thinking about it? It would seem to send the message:

You’re really not worth my attention, so instead I’ll focus on someone/something that is.

Are we sending the wrong message to our kids?

We seem to prefer our connections over our relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone, but I have to wonder what it’s doing to me as well.

Is this just normal evolution, or are we choosing a path that will have longer term impacts on our future?

For Enterprise Social Networks, how much adoption is enough?

Originally posted on the Yammer Blog, I wanted to share here for people that might not follow that blog.

In traditional enterprise change initiatives, you tend to start with a defined set business requirements to address a given problem or opportunity. Socially-driven enterprise change, however, is different because parts of the organization are already changing prior to full articulation of a problem or solution. Companies find their employees using social technologies without any formal support within the organization. People are finding value, but may not be focused on quantifying that value into a business case that can be used to support the effort.

Once a company finds itself in the midst of groundswell of social adoption, it needs to determine how to effectively integrate it into its culture and operations.  And a key consideration is; “How pervasive must adoption be?”  To determine the answer, the organization must understand the scope of the solution:  is it a global one or targeted to a specific department?  We can then start to map the population to the AdoptionCurve to best predict when users will start using the solution.

Effort/Cost of Adoption

If we look at the effort it takes to achieve widespread adoption in a large enterprise, the further you get along the curve, the more effort (and cost) is needed to get people on board. This typically means engaging smaller groups that may have very specific individual reasons for not adopting social, and may require things such as small team meetings, printed collateral, travel and other off-line channels. At the extreme, this may include classes and/or mentoring programs to help people get up to speed.

The ROI of Adoption

As we start to examine the ROI of social inside an organization, we must start with the value and then subtract out any cost to achieve this value. The further along in the adoption curve the higher the cost of getting people on board. This increased effort has an impact on your ROI and can significantly decrease the ROI without significant gain in adoption.   (Note: This assumes that each individual contributor provides potentially equal value). The actual value to the organization can only be answered if you determine where your stakeholders and use cases fall on the adoption curve. This can be achieved by performing a Stakeholder Analysis to determine where the various stakeholders fit along the adoption curve and the potential value each represents. For example, Sales may be late adopters because they are too busy focusing on customers to experiment with new tools and processes but may offer great value by shortening the sales cycle.

When to stop?

Knowing when to stop focusing on adoption is difficult, but I would offer that once you reach the point where the costs are starting to impact the ROI in a negative way, that you should give up on adoption and focus your efforts elsewhere. In an average large organization getting 100% adoption is very unrealistic. Usually complete adoption falls in the 60-70% range due to many factors.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are reducing the value that your solution provides, but instead that you are reducing the cost component of the ROI equation, leading to higher efficiency. This is something IT has been doing for years.

What about the rest?

Focusing on getting the Late Majority and Laggards to adopt social technologies may not be your best use of effort initially, but eventually they may become participating members of your network. Keep focusing on the people who drive value out of the solution and the others will eventually catch on (or not). It is through recognizing the success that the solution creates, that the others will participate. Even with that being said, there is a small fraction of your employee base that will never use a solution. Their reasons in many cases are valid. I would encourage you to try to understand why people don’t want to use the solution, but not put a lot of effort into trying to change their minds.

Where to focus?

Knowing where you effort can be best realized is a challenge as it may be different for every company, but in general, you should look to areas where you can increase the value with the least amount of effort.

One area would be to help to ensure the people who are using the solution are leveraging it to the maximum. I cannot begin to tell you how often I see solutions (both social and non-social) implemented where people are only using 10-15% of the capability. When I asked to better understand their jobs, I often come across many more ways they could realize value, but they seemed to lack the understanding of how they could do this. A good way to do this may be through a capability blog, where you take one capability and demonstrate how it works and how people are using it to make their jobs easier.

Another area of focus could be around bringing new employees on board. Since these individuals are new, they are much more likely to adopt something new and can be brought up to speed using these new methods of getting their jobs done faster and better. One thing to keep in mind is that as a community matures, the rules of engagement for new users will also change; you should be periodically checking to ensure that the new user experience remains easy.

Conclusion

While there are no hard and fast rules for determining when to shift your focus, by understanding where your key stakeholders fall on the adoption curve, you can better understand the timing. The cost of adoption will eventually cut into your ROI — this realization should drive your actions. By continuing to share the success that your adopters are realizing inside the organization, you will eventually draw the others in. Behavior change always takes a long time; it is always best to be patient and focus on activities where you can have greater impact.

Why Google+ is not an Enterprise Social Network

One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Are you worried about Google+ as a competitor in the Enterprise Social Networking Space?”. At first, I thought the answer was simple, but I wanted to really get my thoughts together on this and share them with everyone.

My previous post about Why Google+ is a -1 for me covers part of my reasoning. It seems that in order to have any enterprise penetration that Identity and Access Management is a key component that is missing today. You have to assume at some point Google will figure out how to integrate Google+ into it’s Google Apps suite. This will no doubt make Google+ available to many small companies who figure it’s “good enough”. But, there’s a more fundamental issue that really makes Google+ a bad fit for companies.

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