Social Business – only Facebook for Companies ?
Several years ago, when we started to reorganise our technical development we discussed as well about networking and how to connect more people inside of companies.
I always had the feeling that I find more right people outside the firm than inside. To prove that I searched in LinkedIn for my „companies name“ and „project management“ and found more than 800 entries but very few in our internal lists. That felt somehow wrong and I thought that it shouldn’t have happened.
After that I had several discussions with friends and colleagues from other larger and smaller corporates. No surprise, they shared the same experience with that. I am happy that we changed that and if you wish you can do the same.
Now what YOU can do today to improve your situation:
First up – you should know what you need. So after conducting some internal surveys it may turn out that a lot of colleagues use social platforms for all kinds of personal issues ( see video ) but business wise they still rely on traditional networking, 1o1 and old-fashioned telephone or email-lists. With that in mind you should set up a team to build a prototype for internal social communication, practically to copy private behaviour into business context. That’s easy said, but hardly achieved.
The members to invite should be hyper diverse – with representatives from all major stakeholders – IT, HR, Legal, Communication, and a lot of operational functions. To open your mindset you should undertake some anthropology and visit other companies, even better from other industry sectors than yours. That because you can check in other bigger corporates if they have found solutions already and maybe have programs or processes in place. My impression here is that you will hear a lot about initiatives, good intentions, but also dying platforms, dead ends, aso. There are many teams out there struggling with the organisational setup, others with the definition of the right software, others in difficult discussions with their local works council and many more pitfalls. But you will also see that quite a lot corporates are dealing with this topic and some have reached mature status.
When browsing the Internet you find many successful software stories. Many great articles and useful hints about that topic might appear and you can easily get the feeling of somehow “being behind today’s status” without such systems in place. The opposite seems to be the reality, very few non technical firms have achieved their goal to be internally well connected.
Coming back to the team I suggest to make a rather ambitious plan, a tight time schedule and to go more agile than regular. That may feel a bit cumbersome because many project members are used to follow more regular „MS Project – Gant Chart“ processes. But how do you want to make a clear structured plan if you have not even a precise clue of the end result? The only thing you might know is the ambition to connect people easier, find their skills easier and eventually ask them for help for your personal tasks. It may be funny and challenging at the same time. If you have some know-how about SCRUM in your company it is even better. If not, I would certainly start to read about it or join a seminar.
Also to be faster you should involve all relevant stakeholders from the very beginning. That helps a lot because in this case many pitfalls are identified before your colleagues form IT even start to decide for the platform or the structure or the guidelines or the roll-out scenarios.
Another enabler is a „Lean Startup“ approach, the so called MVP, the minimal viable product strategy. Very often we tend to program a complete platform or execute a project target until we have reached the fully wanted and assumed functionality and then test it with a pilot group, say 100 – 150 people. Quite often the target changes during this time or the environment or the involved people or the market… In this case here we might find out that we simply have no idea how the ideal platform has to look like and so it’s better to pivot to a more simpler but broader roll-out: More users and less functions and then check how it works. Personally I think it is the better way – to learn during usage and then add functions one by one. Now again, software engineers may smile here and maybe even yawn but in non-IT companies you won’t find so much „Google“ or „Apple“ mentality.
And then you have the platform – Tataa… and now, what now, who is using it and why or why not ?
Well, here comes the even bigger challenge – people. As much as we can predict the usage and estimate the possible needs and wishes via surveys, it all culminates in the culture of a company. It’s a tough job to engage colleagues to take part and communicate in new ways. You are dealing here with employees from all ages, genders, mentalities – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, introvert, extrovert, aso.
Clever advertisement is one enabler. If you don’t promote your activity people will simply not recognize it. The world is so full of changes and information, why care about „that new software thing“. Try to reach the people in situation where they are less stressed. Advertise in the elevator, the parking garage, the floors, the mensa, meeting rooms, the gym, restrooms. Make a buzz, create a story and let your colleagues play with it. Curiosity is a good and seductive feeling – use it. We have seen here some very interesting ideas and unusual marketing campaigns but as we learnt it was worth it.
Another hint may be to radically change the place of information. If you erase folder structures and replace them to new systems cleverly you will support parts of the change process as well. For example by moderating and monitoring project flows and general information via the new system and even better, and this sounds funny but is very real, change the place where to find the weekly lunch plan 🙂
Now the biggest hurdle – the middle management
The biggest challenge you have to face is the change in the mindset of the managers. No matter how clever your software is ( and there are huge differences in the systems ) if you don’t make it to convince the middle management you will certainly fail. The C-Level might support your project – great, the IT might support and install a proper tool – also great. Even the users might want to share and communicate like they do in privacy. The managers though make the difference. If they support their team members to use these tools, if they use it by themselves – that’s the big force to make social platforms run in corporates. If this group doesn’t want it and looks at team members who use it in a way of wasting time, you have a problem. No employee will use a system that the boss is banning. What is essential here is the „what’s in it for me“ part. If the managers meet their goals faster because they get access to more valid information and their team or department members become faster by these tools, Social Business platforms become an asset for them. Then your system will „tip“ and become a strong knowledge base for all.
Imagine being in an international company with, say 5, 10 or more subsidiaries. It’s not so strange to think that the answer to some of your questions might be in a colleague’s mind in an office somewhere abroad. A person you may have never seen and maybe never will. But with the connector „Social Business“ running, you have the chance to meet digitally. And even better, creative ideas have the chance to grow and be fed with more content of other people only because they become visible. I think it is worth to think about that. And if you don’t think it pays back, have a look at Mc Kinsey’s studies on that matter. The software is out there – try it.