This is the second post in a series addressing my 5 key takeaways after reviewing my notes from the June 2008 Enterprise 2.0 conference. I’m getting ready to attend the 2009 conference in June (you can attend too, at a 30% discount off the registration fee, just by clicking the Discount link to the right). Last week, I talked about point number 1: The importance of helping employees find ideas and each other in relevant context. Today, let’s move on to the next idea:
2. Enterprise 2.0 Should Replace Processes, Not Add More Processes:
Emphasizing efficiency in business operations is just good sense; the idea isn’t unique to Enterprise 2.0. But the social media tools of Enterprise 2.0 can advance your efforts to build greater efficiency into your organization. They can, for example, empower your employees to direct their own efforts from the bottom up, to build work groups organically on their own, to drive knowledge management and collaboration through processes of their own creation without top-down structural imposition. They can introduce greater openness to your organization, empower people to contribute across barriers of department or job description; they can improve management’s ability to share information with employees by making that information, easier to produce, easier to find and easier to interact with.
But Enterprise 2.0 tools can just as easily overburden your employees with too much process if your approach to introducing them is to simply overlay Enterprise 2.0 on top of the existing structure of your business operations and demand that employees integrate the new tools and processes into their work days along with the tools and processes they’re already using. Many an Enterprise 2.0 implementation has failed as a result of employees finding themselves crushed under the weight of process-overload. More than one speaker at last year’s Enterprise 2.0 conference admonished us not to introduce Enterprise 2.0 to our companies in an ad hoc fashion. Instead, they said, have a long term strategy before you start. Know where you’re heading before you start moving?
The reporting of project status by employees to management is an important communication requirement within any business, and we’re no different. At the time of last year’s conference, we employed a process in which employees reported status by filling out a Word template and emailing it to various email aliases. Recipients of the email could then respond also through email or by adding revision comments within the status document and sending that back as an attachment. Without getting too bogged down in what was wrong with that process, let me just say it was fraught with difficulty:
- If every manager made their own comments in the status document, the employee could have 5,6,7 versions of their report to reconcile.
- After the initial send, if anyone replied without replying all, then every further communication on that topic dropped out of the group’s view into the silo of one-to-one communicaton
- Because everything was in email, the information delivered in the status reports (and the ideas generated in the conversation in response) was not durable — it easily got lost in the recipients’ in boxes.
Admittedly, we had a knowledge management challenge on our hands — a fairly common one, I think.
So, when my colleagues and I heard, at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, about using the tools of social media to improve communication within a business, we got very excited. We began talking about adding Wikis and blogs so teams could build durable knowledge bases, we talked about building collaboration environments so teams could share experience with each other, find peers of matching skill set, and improve information sharing horizontally within the organization. But as we talked, we came to recognize that, though the potential impact of those tools is positive, the use of them does represent both time and effort for employees. We had reporting processes in place; we were hearing about new processes we wanted to experience. But we had to recognize that we, as management, had to make a choice: Ask employees to keep on with the old processes or ask them to stop the old in favor of the new. But we could not realistically ask them to try to keep up with both.
At its best, Enterprise 2.0 either fills gaps in your information sharing processes, or fixes the fail points within existing processes, to improve knowledge management efficiency. At its worst, it piles on as just additional tasks, divides employees’ attention and effort and increases inefficiency. Improperly implemented, Enterprise 2.0 becomes about doing more things; it should be about doing things better.
Next up: Simple Wins