Sunday, July 17, 2011

Social business in the enterprise: two stories

There has been a lot of interests introducing social platform within enterprise to improve knowledge sharing and business interaction. Putting in place the tools are relatively easy, identifying the opportunity to use interactive 2.0 tools to add value to the business is an art (as it requires good understanding of business needs and organisation culture), ensuring the online interaction/conversation is authentic, meaningful, genuine and deep is the hardest.

Here are two stories to get me/you recognise the challenges in using 2.0 tools to flatten hierarchy:

1. A senior executive is hosting an online discussion with his global team. He invites everyone to ask questions and leave comments relating to a strategic topic. One staff has a question, but instead of posting on the forum, the staff feels more comfortable sending the question to his line manager, asks his line manage to review and edit the question before he posts it up to the forum. What intrigue me is that on one hand the senior executive wants to break down hierarch using the forum, on the other hand, the hierarchical structure continues to reinforce the norm to seek line manager's approval before one can speak, and even so, what he posts up is not his authentic voice. Does the discussion forum achieve the purpose of supporting 2-way dialogue to break down hierarchy?

2. A blogger posts a blog post with a controversial title which gives the impression that he does not agree with a senior executive's judgement. Within 24 hours after the blog post went up, the blogger receives a call from someone working in senior executive office sharing the feedback that blog post may give the wrong impression to other readers and suggests the blogger to edit the blog title. What intrigue me is that many enterprise wants to promote blogging to improve knowledge sharing, but on the other hand are not ready to tolerate diverse views and perspectives. What is the point of blogging when blog posts can only agree with the status quo?

It is a long journey for business to go social within the enterprise (Euan Semple asks us to be patient in his recent blog), because it is not system implementation, it is not even cultural change, it is a fundamental change in how the hierarchy works and how every individual interact with one another and establishing new norms. And when we get there, it is going to be satisfying to look back and realize so much has evolved and everyone has changed.


Euan said...

Great stories Bonnie and symptomatic of the distance we have yet to travel!

Bonnie Cheuk said...

Thanks Euan, I look forward to reading your book. I see many examples of superficial social platform use to create so-called value in Enterprise. Many projects are designed with good intentions, the sponsors are eager to embrace new technologies and make a difference, and some of the success stories I heard of show high participation rate. However, let's be mindful that quantity does not correlate to the quality of conversation (i.e. deep, meaningful, engaging, resulting in a change in awareness and deepen understanding on both sides). The worse case is that executives in power "force" participation to boost interaction rate (and increase superficial dialogue). We have a long way to go to become a social enterprise. I do believe we can make small change one-step-at-a-time and show the leaders the way, and reveal the benefits of a networked organization.

Justin said...

Great post! Authenticity and the willingness to be wrong in the process of creating or sharing knowledge are of such importance in any KM initiative, but especially where social media tech is used. Some senior executives seem to push for communication and collaboration, without ensuring that the "space" allows an employee to know that they will not be reprimanded for saying something that their boss may not entirely agree with, or be viewed as incapable for providing a thought that is perhaps not sufficiently thought through. When present, these organizational traits of course stifle creativity and innovation, and as you say hamper any potential benefits from KM.

Some managers simply may not know that staff-members are uncomfortable or that this kind of environment exists (or what to about it). Others may wish for this environment to exist to ensure they remain in control, and out of fear of exposure. For the former, hopefully employees can address their managers about the issues, and help them to work on improving the situation. The latter obviously requires a deeper, more deliberate intervention of some sort. Either way, there needs to be more in the way of leadership awareness, consistent communication from both sides, incentives for sharing, and leadership demonstrating actual evidence of change in management practices.

I am beginning to see the need for more of a "conversation-based" mindset to KM, with an expectation of spontaneous, free-flowing exchange of ideas, some of which may not be fully developed, all while attempting to reach some form of consensus or coordination. However, without a fundamental appreciation for the need to change the way we interact, and all members of staff accepting a certain level of equality and honesty during exchange, it seems the issues you raised will continue to exist. This goes beyond social media. As you suggest, we need to create new social norms of management/interaction in our organizations.

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