I spent last week in Las Vegas and came out a winner. No, not at the craps tables (even though I did walk away up a big $6.00). I spent my time at JiveWorld 2012 and came out ahead in my understanding of where social business is heading and how a bunch of today's sharpest enterprises are benefiting from a deeper level of employee-centric thinking.

Power to the Plums

Tony Zingale, Jive's CEO, gave a very stirring pep talk to all the attendees and leveled a rather provocative challenge to business and IT executives when he asked "What have you done for the people?".

Corporate projects for communications, collaboration and knowledge management have been around for the last two decades, but when have they been chartered around an idea where the employee should be the one in control? UX design is still treated as a luxury for consumer facing experiences and has only in the last few years become paletable for employee applications. The vast majority of employee facing applications and projects have no true UX component, and on the rare occasion when there is a design activity, it is more often than not a graphic designer for the projects where an executive has demanded that the end product "look cool".

One of the nice surprises at JiveWorld was that aside from the keynote presenters, almost every session was run by Jive customers where they briefed their audiences with insightful nuggets from their experiences in getting their enterprises to embrace the social business paradigm. Big company presenters from PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers), CSC, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, T-Mobile and others were all there and each one had a story to tell about how they were empowering their people to work in ways that made sense to them.

The people from Enterprise said it most concisely: "We believe our best ideas come from our people at the front lines." This perspective begs the question; Which comes first, social business tools or a "plum-tree" organizational culture? For those who have not seen it before, the plum tree model was described in detail in the classic corporate survival guide manual for right-brained thinkers in a left-brained world: Orbiting the Giant Hairball. This question was the one not asked, but it may have been the most important, given the philosophical shift that must take place for the value of social business tools to be fully realized within the enterprise.

Give and You Shall Receive

When Tony asked "What have you done for the people?" he was talking about all the people, even the bean counters. Referencing McKinsey's recent paper on the value of social technology and the projected return on productivity of 20 to 25% for the workforce, Tony followed up with another question: "What would you do with one more day per person?"

Knowing that many old-school companies still cling to the accounting models that put little to no value on worker productivity, Tony pivoted before the typical response to the productivity investment narrative was raised and went straight, not to the point, but to the lines; the top and bottom lines. The benefit of the extra day was never looked at with the lens of "You mean I can fire 20% of my staff?" The chosen lens was that your revenues would grow from increased effectiveness of sales and operational staffs. When not talking about the top line improvements, the bottom line was also improved with million dollar savings from call deflection. 

Zen and the art of Community Maintenance

Whether it was Tony or Jive customers talking, there was a consistent thread in every conversation or presentation. Increases in revenue and productivity did not come from imposing message control and governance models, in fact they came from the opposite. Using a more Zen like approach to messaging and content governance was the mantra of every presenter. The leaders of the PwC presentation actually told their audience that their recommendation was to roll out social business tools from Jive "irresponsibly fast". Yes, you read that right, a big five consulting firm told a live audience to be irresponsible.

The recommendation was made because the benefits were less likely to realize themselves when attempting to control what was a fundamental shift in the where both the power and value of information are best kept and leveraged. Borrowing a metaphor from the open source software movement, PwC likened the shift from a highly controlled environment like a cathedral to the rich and vibrant landscape of bazaar, it was made clear that philosophical shifts don't happen in degrees, they are shifts in perspective that demand new ideas and models.

Of all the conversations I participated in at JiveWorld, my favorite by far was in the bar after midnight. Tony sat with me for a little over half an hour where we jumped back and forth between railing against old-school thinking and reveling in the possibilities brought about the inside out model of communication and collaboration for forward thinking enterprises. It was a fun session of smack-talk with a bunch of Jive talking thrown in.

Editor's Note: Think Stephen is right about the value of user experience design? Get started with How To: Getting Started in User Experience (UX).