Saturday, January 18, 2014

Positioning enterprise social collaboration at the heart of business transformation in 2014: Be mindful of 5 pitfalls

Since I published the book "Social Strategies in Action: Driving Business Transformation" (Ark Group) in Sept 2013, I had some in-depth discussions with business executives, technology leaders, social business consultants and in-house evangelists who have hands-on experience introducing and using social collaboration technologies to transform the way we work within companies.

Through these conversations, I am made aware of a gap in my book which on hindsight I should have paid more attention to. I have emphasised throughout the book that successful social business (defined as using "enterprise social collaboration platform" and introducing "collaborative way of working" to drive business transformation within companies) must align with the company's strategic business objectives. The question is how do we (as social business leaders) position enterprise social collaboration program as strategic and critical to deliver the company's business strategy, and how can we engage with the senior executives to establish the much needed strategic alignment?

This critical success factor is highlighted in a number of enterprise social media/social business conferences I have attended recently. Here is my observation:

1. In a typical panel discussion, increasingly, I noted the panel comprise of speakers talking about enterprise social collaboration platform being adopted in their global companies for over 5 years, as well as speakers who have just started the journey a few months back. 

2. These practitioners both share the passion in rolling out enterprise social collaboration in their organization, and interestingly, they ask similar questions. The company with more social business experience asks "Now what after 5 years? How we can ensure what we are doing still align with the business goals? How do we (re)engage with senior executives and demonstrate value?". The company with less social business experience asks "How do we start in a way that is business focussed, on strategy and enable the company to deliver his objectives? How do we engage the executives and show them the value of a different way of working?" 

To engage with the business executives on a strategic level, to get buy in from business, and to truly put social collaboration on executives' radar, here are the 5 pitfalls that enterprise social collaboration leaders (myself included) need to be very mindful of. I am keeping them in mind to guide my thinking and practice in 2014.

The 5 pitfalls are:

1. We are perceived as too passionate. As enterprise social collaboration leaders, we tend to see every opportunity that social collaboration can bring to an organization in a positive note. We see potential use cases to deliver business value and transform business anytime anywhere. We ask "how could employees work and communicate in outdated mode and waste so much time". I am full of passion to drive the change, but I have also learn that we should not forget the business executives, team leaders, functional heads have a business to run and a P/L to manage. For them, social collaboration is an enabler to deliver their business goals (and only if they see it can help them immediately). They don't need to be passionate about using the enterprise social collaboration platform like we do. We like them to be passionate about empowering their team and creating the right environment to deliver their goals. We need to be pragmatic, learn to re-set our expectations as to what we want the business executives to be passionate about. We can do so by seeing the world through the executive's eyes and thinking like an executive.

2. Social collaboration is not always "best practice". An experience senior executive reminded me that social collaboration is not a panacea to all business problems nor can it meet all business needs. Not all business activities require crowd-sourcing for input, not all business communication requires feedback and follow up discussion. Some companies have been effectively engaging with employees before social media technologies come into picture. We need to recognise and admit we are here to introduce appropriate communication tools for the right purpose. Listen carefully to the executives' needs and do not assume going social is "the only right way". I also learn one should not pitch social collaboration as if all existing communication practices are ineffective. Business executives can be pissed off. We need to learn to be humble, recognise existing strength and good practices, and present a more balanced view when introducing social as a better of working to address specific area of concern.

3. We tend to position ourselves as social business evangelists, it is time to position ourselves as executives and think like business executives. It is easy to suggest any enterprise wide social collaboration program need to align with the company business objectives. In practice, the alignment is often very difficult to achieve, especially in large companies where there are multiple products, sales and operations heads operating in multiple locations. Having direct access and buy-in from the CEO and the next level down is a great start. Having a mandate from the executive team that social collaboration is a key enabler to drive business performance is critical. To align with the business objectives, we need to focus on implementing early use cases that contribute directly to the success of the strategic initiatives that are on the executives' radar. Continuously demonstrate strategic alignment by reporting success alongside other established business reporting metrics. Very often, in the spirit of driving early adoption, we take a scattered gun approach to reach as many users as possible, which drives short term success, but unless this approach converge with the company's strategic business goals, the momentum will remain at a grassroots level and the benefits delivered become patchy or hidden to senior executives. The senior executives attention will soon fade away, and so will the social collaboration program.

4. Generic use cases are too bland to excite and drive behavioural change. As enterprise social collaboration becomes mainstream, consultants and social business leaders are sharing more use cases to illustrate the power of a different way of working. Unfortunately, many use cases I come across are too generic and out-of-context. For example, social collaboration can improve communication, employee engagement, document sharing, improve learning etc. They are too bland to create emotional attachment to get the executives excited and take further action. If this is about transforming the way we work, then the context to introduce social collaboration at work has to be artfully crafted to create a realistic image in your audience's heads. The business lingo we chosen to introduce these use cases are critical to get attention. I remember a colleague asked me, "So what does social collaboration really mean for a sales manager who are busy meeting clients and closing deals? Why should one be bothered?". Telling the sales manager to embrace social collaboration platform to improve document storage, sharing, commenting and findability is meaningless. In fact, he is probably doing all this by email. Explaining to him that he can address a telco client question faster by leveraging the global network, finding the winning sales presentation Tony (or insert any real name) has developed for a client based in Hong Kong and saving him 8 hours reinventing the wheel, and that he can keep his finger on the pulse on a key account (insert a real client name) and know the real-time insights the global sales team are gathering from client meetings will stimulate the sales manager and his whole team to want to come onboard. Social collaborations leaders need to be the "translator" to turn generic use cases into business-specific use cases. By doing so, we can show the executives vivid examples as to how benefits are delivered in real business context.

5. Driving change is extremely hard inside a company. Recognize this is a fact. There are many social business thought leaders and consultants who champion new ways of working and manage to get the CEOs buy-in to make an investment. However, once the enterprise-wide program is kicked off, the real change and resistance happen. I know of consultants/evangelists who are frustrated by the slow pace of change, and they complain about entrenched behaviours/culture. As a result, they move to other assignments only to find out they experience the same slow pace of change and get frustrated once more. We need to accept changing employees' day-to-day work habits is very very hard. We need to be determined to embrace the challenge, be persistent and even better learn to love the challenge. We should tell it like it is to the business executives who understand how hard it is to drive change. One executive suggests to me that it is helpful for the social collaboration leader to set expectation upfront that there are going to be numerous failures along the way amongst other emerging successful use cases. 

Thinking ahead as we enter 2014...

2014 is going to be an exciting year for us to reflect, consolidate and learn from the past 5 years as we strategically move forward and position social collaboration at the heart of business transformation agenda. 

Whether you are 5 years into your social business journey or just starting now, I hope by being mindful of the above pitfalls, you can build rapport with business executives and establish closer alignment with the business strategy.

Once you get the executives buy-in, there are other useful tips you can draw on to drive social business adoption within companies. You can read them in my book titled "Social Strategies in Action: Driving Business Transformation". You can download a free chapter here. I welcome your feedback. 


Unknown said...

Starting today, we should look forward for the transformation and establish closer connection with the business strategy to change the way we work within a company. I also agree that social collaboration is not always best practice. Sometimes we need to learn to be humble and to listen carefully.

Unknown said...

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