The Openness Route to a Collaborative Culture

Leadership Openness Culture ESNEnterprise Social Networks are almost universally seen by their leadership sponsors as one of the enablers of a more open, collaborative, and transparent organisation. And indeed we work with them to achieve those goals through strategies and implementation plans which are tailored to their specific people, processes, systems, priorities and appetite for change. We are endlessly mindful of "adoption" - how to get a critical mass of adoption without which the ESN fails its purpose. By a chance encounter* I learnt that an effective starting point is to begin with a laser focus on Openness. Collaboration then becomes an almost natural outcome of Openness. For me that was an insight.

ESN adoption at scale is an enabler of culture change

In our detailed planning for ESN implementation for clients we work hard to build a deeply tailored change management and culture change program with the objective of achieving adoption of the ESN at scale. Obviously if adoption at scale is not achieved then the potential benefit of the ESN as an enabler of culture change and "collaboration" is severely reduced. You can't break down silos and hierarchies if the ESN does not span them.

This has to looked at in the context of our preferred approach to ESN implementation, which has two distinct deployment components. The first is the vertical application assessment, prioritisation and deployment strategy which is heavily and deeply linked to specific business processes and metrics. These focus more on business outcomes - efficiency, effectiveness, customer intimacy, innovation - and less on cultural change. 

The second component is the "horizontal" implementation which most often links to broad organisational change objectives which are part of the leadership team's agenda. Often it is about breaking down silos and hierarchy, or helping enable inter-generational teams, or bringing fundamental change to sales and marketing and customer relationships, or addressing talent acquisition and retention, or future of work strategies for example. Achieving adoption at scale is a common characteristic, as is the ideal of a more "collaborative" organisation.

Two beliefs of ours impact on our approach to the horizontal case. The first is that the oft-quoted "organic adoption" approach to implementation will not lead to successful outcomes (we won't go into the reasons here but comment below if you'd like to know more). The second belief is that collaboration needs a business focus, that is "collaboration" is a means to an end and we need to spell out those ends.

Openness as a step on the collaboration journey

Up to now the outcome of our work has been a series of implementation strategies and plans for the horizontal case which in total we believed would lead to adoption at scale. But if we consider Openness as a distinct first objective then it provides a new way to structure the program.

The belief is that enabling people to become more open will provide a path of least resistance to collaboration, if not a natural outcome. It's a sensible proposition that people who have become more open will naturally collaborate. It's also a reasonable proposition that being more open helps people and teams discover how diversity and inclusion drive creativity and innovation.

Leaders can create a culture of trust and Openness by making sure they engage in transparent business practices. Creating systems, including the enterprise social network, for high involvement in change efforts, openly discussing decision-making criteria, giving and receiving feedback, and ensuring organisational policies and procedures and applied fairly and equitably are all valuable strategies to increase transparency. 

The issue then becomes what tools, exercises and experiences an organisation can provide to accelerate the transformation to Openness. And with respect to the enterprise social network the issue is how to design use cases which enable and accelerate the cultural transformation.

Colleen Barrett SouthwestOn an individual basis, it's important for leaders to remember that people want to know their values, beliefs, and what motivates their decisions and actions. Colleen Barrett President Southwest Airlines, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, is fond of saying that "People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities".

Here again an enterprise social network can accelerate and enhance people's understanding of their leaders values and norms. 

Conclusion - reshape the ESN implementation plan to support opennness

If we accept that Openness is the first stop, or the first reference point on this journey, then we must design specific use cases in how we implement an ESN which are phased and prioritised to achieve this initial goal.

This is a new insight which we will be building into our methodology and we're excited to think that this will help achieve ESN adoption at scale.

*The chance encounter was with a executive from the Manpower Group who, as I understand it, are internally focusing on Openness as a step towards a more collaborative and transparent culture.

Walter Adamson

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