Implementing a "solution" to an undefined problem sounds like something that no rational business would do, yet it happens often and particularly in the case of enterprise social networks.
The "problem" lies in how jobs are done
In the latest of a series of posts on implementing social learnings into business Helen Blunden identifies the common practice of organisations operating in the mindset of a solution or outcome without understanding the business issue.
We see this often as well. And where the enterprise social network has simply "emerged" into an organisation through organic adoption, ironically, it is often the worst outcome. I'll explain more about this later as that point may seem counter-intuitive.
My response in a comment to Helen's post was:
"And I'd add that in my experience where social platforms are implemented without clear specific operational business use cases then they are often deprecated to "Corporate Communications" or similar.
This latter group then go on an endless cycle of focusing on "solutions or outcomes" such as "engagement" while at the same time and in particular relentlessly using their "communication" skills to push a message rather than substance, as they are divorced from the substance of how people do their actual work.
This inevitably leads to your point that this "only make them resent you because you've wasted their time and failed to provide any meaningful context to their work". And thus the cycle continues.
By my observation, this is a very very common circumstance in many large Australian organisations."
So perhaps a leading indicator of the potential failure of enterprise social technologies is where Corporate PR / Communications has been given a leading role in its implementation?
This is the subject of an upcoming post. There is no doubt that they have a role, but not the leading role.
The key point that Helen makes is that in order to implement a "solution" e.g. "collaboration" that you have to know how jobs are being done - the problems to be solved are at the workface of how people are doing their current jobs.
This is why we are strong advocates of the "use case" model of enterprise social network strategy and implementation, and why companies like IBM have their Social Business Patterns (or in longhand Social Business Use Case Patterns).
The base case, the business case, the KPIs and the ROI are all built on specific use cases about how changes will help the way real work is done. Better "communications" from Corporate Communications is rarely a viable use case, and in fact as Helen notes often leads to resentment among those it is supposed to "engage".
So follow the work, implement any "fast fixes", and assess in a methodological way the specific ways in which social technologies might help.
Irony - organic adoption leads to lack of adoption
I mentioned earlier that where an enterprise social network has been organically adopted that this is often a signal that ultimately it will become an orphan child with just a few close friends, and often after wandering the streets will be adopted by the kind Aunty of Corporate Communications.
it is ironic because it is usually brought in to an organisation by enthusiasts who have a work process need - a need often unfulfilled by corporate IT systems. The power of easy organic adoption is that it serves and identifies that need.
However, as the use of the organically-adopted system spreads its strength becomes its weakness, for the following reasons:
- The use cases and baselines have never been defined;
- The KPIs have never been defined;
- The business outcomes and ROI have never been defined and therefore never measured.
This inevitably means that when a member of the executive teams asks "what business value are getting out of XYZ" the answer is "we don't know".
BUT - since "improved communication" and "collaboration" are good things (but not good enough to warrant the attention of people doing the real work) then a good "solution" is seen to be to hand this "thing" over to Corporate Communications. It's a readily accepted poison chalice which leads to the vicious circle Helen noted in her post.
Integration into how work is done
Do the math - get down and dirty at the workface and figure out what the problem is that needs solving. Then make the case for the enterprise social network, if this is what is needed. We've said it many times - integration into how work is done is critical.