To lay the groundwork for her talk at this year’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, Community Roundtable Principal Rachel Happe likened e2.0 to a very famous rabbit hole. And us? Naturally, we’re Alice, falling swiftly down into the darkness.  

Curiouser and Curiouser

The truth is, today’s rate of change is so fast that nobody knows exactly what they’re doing. We’re all trying to adapt as quickly as possible out of necessity, but when there’s no end in sight it’s easy to feel as though we’re going in circles.

Happe observes that the crux is this speed, and the way it continues to accelerate: “I have more power in my pocket on a normal day than most companies did when I was born. I didn’t even have Velcro on my shoes when I was born. The pace of change in my lifetime has been huge.”

From shoelaces to Velcro to smartphones-- it’s exciting, but our brain space, our capacity for understanding and functioning right along with these developments, has not improved. Like Alice, we feel bewildered, frustrated, and sometimes even attacked by the world we’ve created.

From a business standpoint, this makes people the most expensive and the weakest link. Moving forward successfully means figuring out a way to optimize human performance in a way we’ve never seen before.  

You Can’t Buy Human Optimization

Happe says the smarter organizations she knows realize that relationships and people are going to be the competitive differentiators of the near future, but that we are still just figuring out how to navigate them.

The first attempt, seen in many organizations, was throwing money at social business tools and hoping for the best. But as Genentech’s Principal Systems Architect, Andy Wang, pointed out, we have to shed the belief that if we build it, they will come. Enterprise 2.0 is not a field of dreams. It needs to be constantly maintained to keep people constantly engaged.

Our second attempt was terribly executed community engagement. It was spamming consumers with Tweets and Facebook posts, and it was information overload on internal microblogging platforms. In other words: lots of noise, very little actual conversation.

Third time’s a slow-going charm because it turns out that truly optimizing groups of people introduces many things into the framework that organizations aren't exactly comfortable with: Connection, caring, empathy and vulnerability. Especially vulnerability. These are the things that we practice in our personal lives in order to to have good relationships, but, Happe says, “we don’t put those values on the corporate spreadsheet, we don’t account for that, we don’t do gap analysis charts around that and what I’m telling you today, is you need to start figuring out how to account for that value.”

Soft Actions = Hard Returns

Many experts are now saying that what employees really need is meaningful work, empathy, listening, caring, and to feel relevant at the end of the day.

In his own talk, Socialcast CEO Tim Young told a story about how he asked several people what they thought about during their commute to work and how they felt. Turns out most people don’t know exactly what they’re going to do when they get to the office, and they feel anxious about it. The same question about the commute home yielded a similar answer: more anxiety over not getting enough work done and how to make up for it the next day.

If we want to pull employees out of Wonderland, it's important to give them the right tools. Yes, we're required to adopt quickly, but being smarter and pickier about which tools we actually need to function efficiently is going to become increasingly important. Sometimes all you need to build something great is a hammer and some nails, you know? 

Happe ended her talk with some comforting words. She says the companies that superficially add social tools to existing processes may appear more successful, but it takes much more work than that to transform a business around relationships. Investing heavily in Enterprise 2.0 will certainly cause a dramatic spike in internal and external chit chat, but the thing about ROI is that while it's measurable, it's not immediate and it takes constant maintenance. 

Even better, Happe says that though social technologies help sustain relationships, and can often help turn them into real friendships, it's the behaviors we're most familiar with that remain the most effective: "There are no subsitutions for direct engagement. If you want a partnership, get on a plane."