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The Social Enterprise: Technology is the Easy Part - System Change is the Challenge

Social Business Technology is Easy, System Change is the ChallengeLately I've noticed how some people seem very eager to question the need for social intranets or who claim, leaning on recent research showing low numbers in adoption and value generated by social technologies, that due to various reasons social networking and collaboration just cannot happen inside organizations.

It should come as no surprise that these statements are often made by people who have invested a lot of themselves into the old communication paradigm — broadcasting of centrally produced and controlled corporate messages — and thus also have the most to lose as organizations start transforming to the new paradigm — network-driven free form employee-to-employee conversations.

Their roles are changing, their expertise is becoming less relevant or requested, and business stakeholders outside the Corporate Communications department are gradually questioning the relative value of their contributions.

I won't start an argument with these people. Instead, I tell them to come back five to 10 years from now and ask the same questions.

The Benefits of Hindsight

Generally speaking, most of us are too quick to draw conclusions about the adoption and consequences of the introduction of new communication technologies. We are either unaware of, or tend to forget, that it usually takes years or even decades before a new communication technology is adopted by the masses and before we can see, in retrospect, the real consequences of its introduction. The printing press, the telegraph, the phone, the radio, the PC, the mobile phone, email, the world wide web … and now social media and the mobile internet.

All these communication technologies have had a major impact on how we think and behave as individuals, organizations and society, but it didn't happen overnight. As crazy as it may sound, it took over two decades for email to reach mainstream adoption in organizations (from the late 1970's to late 1990's).

It is safe to say that we are still at the very early stage of exploring how social technologies can be used to improve communication within and across organizations. If you ask the average large or midsize business, it was probably only a couple of years ago that they lifted their ban on external social media. There are of course quite a few organizations out there that still ban employees from using external social media.

Furthermore, it is only recently, during the past one to two years, that organizations have started to deploy something that resembles an enterprise social networking platform and made it broadly available to the workforce. More often than not, they have deployed these platforms next to other systems such as ERP, CRM and intranets, turning it into another system silo. Integration of social technologies into processes and ways of working in daily operations is still not a mainstream thing.

It's More Than Technology

Deploying a new technology is of course the easy part. The hard part is changing the communication culture so that new and smarter ways of working can emerge. Yes, that's right — the communication culture has to change if we are to introduce smarter ways of working with social and mobile technologies.

A new communication technology itself enables and might also accelerate a transformation of the communication culture, which in the case of social technologies means a change towards greater openness, transparency, participatory dialog and recognition. But there are other and less easily changed things that set the pace once the technology is made available to employees: the nature and robustness of the existing communication culture, leadership style, management practices, incentive models, readiness to change in general and so forth. This is why it takes such a long time for a new communication technology to transform how organizations are working and doing business — there are other things in the equation that have to change as well, things that aren't changed so easily as technology.

This is what is next for the social enterprise. After deploying the technologies, we need to change the system to enable a new communication culture, and thereby smarter ways of working, to emerge. Now is the time for the hard work to begin. Roll up your sleeves and start changing the system.

Title image courtesy of djem (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Oscar is a regular contributor on the topic of the Social Enterprise. To read more of his thoughts see The Six Pillars of Social Business

About the Author

Oscar Berg is an experienced management consultant who is passionate about helping customers to become more successful by improving communication, sharing and collaboration.

 
 
 
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