Turning Strategy Into Action via Enterprise Social Networks

When I saw a quote from Bill Quirke about the "real value of internal communication" it nudged in me the often-felt frustration in seeing enterprise social networks (ESN) being deprecated to simply vehicles for "communication" and "collaboration". As for internal communication the real value of an ESN is to drive actions which reflect business strategy.

The purpose of an activity is to aid the business outcomes

Almost all organisations see the "merit" of improved collaboration and communication in the qualitative sense. Fewer are able to draw a connection between better "communication and collaboration" and the ability of employees to make decisions better - which add better value. And even fewer are able to map the metrics connecting better decision-making to quantitative outcomes.

As a result of not knowing the connection between "communication and collaboration" and specific business process outcomes many enterprise social networks we see - or are asked to review - have been self-deprecated to being simply a tool of internal communications. That in itself is not necessarily bad since effective actionable communication serves an important purpose in turning strategy into action. 

However, the fact that the link between communication and decision-making or actions has not been made during the discovery and design phase of an ESN almost certainly means that the communications which are now the primary content of the ESN are not effective communications. Stated differently, if the link between effective communication and collaboration, and better decisions and actions, was not made when considering the use cases for the ESN it is most likely that this link is also missing for the default use case of "better communication".

Furthermore, in the event of "organic adoption" - as in the most often the case of Yammer - then it is most unlikely that specific use cases and baseline metrics have been developed for any use cases. These have to be retrofitted, and baseline metrics are usually not available. This ultimately makes the business justification of Yammer substantially more challenging than if initial use cases, baselines and value maps are developed.

KINSHIP takes a clear approach to ESN assessment and implementation, focusing on proving specific business value from activities and outcomes, and leaving the general "collaboration and communication" argument to fend for itself.

From expediting communications to business outcomes

Recently, during a ESN strategy session, a client appeared to be content with their proposition that the purpose of the ESN was to "expedite communications". In fact after a time of us probing for the objectives - Why are we doing certain things in certain ways? Why does it matter? What do we want to accomplish? - the group seemed relieved to be able to tick this type of searching inquiry off the agenda and relax. The objective was now clear. Or was it?

Based on experience, we know that this feels comfortable on the day but does not lead to a satisfactory outcome when in 6 months time the question is asked "what business value are we getting from this investment?"

With just another hour's work, and some follow-up, we had developed a specific set of outcomes, which could all be measured. This was a far superior outcome than just expediting communications.

The specific use case is one of cooperatively working between a government Agency and 2nd and 3rd parties in regions across the State to raise and solve Agency-relevant matters efficiently and effectively, and as it turns out locally, and to share such outcomes with other regional groups who are part of the online community. It is an enterprise social network which reaches into the semi-public arena.

Step 1 - making the general more specific

In step 1 we moved from the initial statement of the objective, which the group found comfortable, that "The purpose of the online community is to expedite communications" to the next level.

The working group arrived at the following more specific list:

  • Expedite communications;
  • Inform better decisions;
  • Reduce response times;
  • Foster success through good news stories; and,
  • Gather more good news stories for general circulation within the Agency (to demonstrate policy outcomes).

Step 2 - move the specific comments towards measurable outcomes

This next level broke the general statement down to 4 specific facets:

  1. To encourage the raising of local issues within each regional group;
  2. To facilitate the solution of local issueslocally – facilitated by the online local group.
  3. To share knowledge and ideas across regional groups; and,
  4. To substantially reduce operational work.

Step 3 -  assign metrics

The next step was to explore what baseline data and metrics would support each of the specific issues, and to refine and adjust them to get those things which had the dual virtues of being most closely tied to work outcomes and were easiest to quantify. The result was a focus on three outcomes and metrics.

1. Encourage the raising of local issues within each regional group Count the number of local issues raised now prior to the ESN through the in-place process. Track this number into the future post-ESN.
2. Facilitate the solutions of local issues – locally – by the online local group Count the number of issues solved locally today, and track future post-ESN numbers.
3. Substantially reduce operational administrative work Track resources and workload today for administration, and in future post-ESN. In particular the following items should be tracked: time spent communicating routine administrative items with regional groups; payment of regional group members; time spent organising regional group meetings.

The outcome, with a relatively small effort, was to move from a concept of "more effective communications" to specifics of how the ESN will help employees do their specific jobs more efficiently and effectively and make better decisions. The outcome drew clear links from Agency Policy to outcomes.

This is a much better result for the client - and for ourselves - as the business value will be clearly apparent in the future.

At this point, having established clear ESN use cases with metrics, the smart organisation would take on board Bill Quirke's advice to now turn their mind to using the ESN for internal communications and how to turn those communications into action.

Related reading: The three hygiene factors for enterprise social success


Walter Adamson 

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