The doctrine of natural selection or survival of the fittest….implies that when variations...of a beneficial nature happen to arise, these will be preserved.”
Charles Darwin, “The Origin of Species” -- Chapter VII
Today’s conventional wisdom says businesses already recognize the benefits of introducing social technologies like wikis, chat and microblogging into the organizational workflow. It’s just a matter of making the technologies available to employees who are already familiar with Facebook and Twitter.
Why, then, do we see such dismally low adoption of social technologies?
Adapt or Perish
According to a recent Forrester report, only 3-4% of workers use microblogging technologies while 8-15% use social networks.
Students of Darwin will immediately recognize the problem. When environmental changes occur, organisms need to adapt in order to survive and thrive. However, when rapid or radical changes occur, organisms can’t adapt and wither away.
In the business world, these radical changes involve the introduction of revolutionary and disruptive technologies like social networking, wikis and microblogging. The vast majority of workers find these technologies daunting; they don’t grasp the benefits. They don’t see the benefits of change. Only a small number of early adopters rise to the challenge. The rest continue with "business as usual." This approach works for a while. Eventually, some nimble organizations are able to transform. These adaptive organizations begin to use social relationships and collaborative work habits to move faster and more effectively. Proposals are completed faster; contracts are completed with fewer errors. Pressure builds on mainstream businesses to adapt or perish.
That’s where we currently stand.
Revolution or Baby Steps?
Today, the vast majority of businesses face two options.
One is it undergoes a revolutionary, disruptive transformation of adopting next-generation social technologies like wikis, microblogging, social networks, ideation. This involves throwing out massive investments in well-established existing technologies like email and document management technologies and investing heavily in retraining its workforce. The challenge here is not the technology, it’s the people. And a recent CapGemini/MIT study found that 2/3 of organizations are failing to evolve into digital enterprises, primarily because of this resistance to change.
A second option is to use ubiquitous technologies like email and document management solutions as a starting point for transformation. Building on people’s familiarity with tools is a great way of easing them into new technologies. Change is hard because people don’t like to change the way they work -- they love the status quo. And this is where a "baby steps" approach comes in.
For example, using social email as a launchpad for integrating new collaboration and social capabilities into people’s existing workflows eases customers into the digital age. A case in point: research has shown that, whilst nearly 80% of firms have invested in Microsoft SharePoint, only 11% of staff use it on a daily basis (Source: Forrester). Using social email products like harmon.ie* (disclaimer: the author is an executive at harmon.ie) to get people to automatically upload documents to SharePoint when they send email attachments is one very simple way to integrate two existing technologies to create a new collaboration dynamic, without changing user behavior. In fact, a survey of 623 IT users sponsored by harmon.ie found 89% of users publish documents and/or emails on SharePoint when they can do so from within email, a 75% increase over those using the standard SharePoint interface.
By minimizing the need for workers to change their work habits, while mitigating the financial risk in investing in new and unproven technologies, a fail-safe methodology for embracing the digital transformation can be created and adoption barriers can be removed. As workers and managers see the value of digital collaboration, you can add functionality and social connections to the mix, enabling people to become more productive and find colleagues to help boost collaboration. That’s how enterprises using social email have increased end user SharePoint adoption from 20 or 30 percent to as high as 80 percent in just a few months.
The psychology of evolutionary change is far more productive than a "rip and replace" approach, because it assimilates the worker psyche with collaboration goals. Minimizing the need for workers and managers to change their daily work habits, while mitigating the financial risk in investing in new and unproven technologies also stands a greater chance of success and is a win-win situation for all concerned.
When faced with the two choices, it’s clear what Darwin…and nature…. would pick.
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