For years, tech-savvy early adopters have adopted and used social tools such as blogs, wikis and micro-blogging at work. During recent years, more and more organizations have decided to deploy software platforms that bring such tools to the fingertips of all or a large portion of the employees.

"The means for harnessing our cognitive surplus are the new tools we have been given, tools that both enable and reward participation. Our motivations for using these tools are the ancient, intrinsic ones, motivations previously remanded to the private sphere but now bursting out in public. To be turned into something real, however, all of this raw capability still requires opportunity."

From “Cognitive Surplus” by Clay Shirky

The reasons may vary, but the fact that social tools have been bundled with information management platforms such as SharePoint mostly likely has made the decision to introduce them fairly easy.

It is almost as if this has taken both corporate decision-makers as well as the early adopters by surprise. Now that we all have the tools, what shall we do with them? How can we use them to change the way we work? And even if we see the use cases and want to change our ways of working, how do our work environments encourage and enable us to do this? 

Change Needs to Come From the Top

While attending the Social Business Forum 2012 in Milan in early June, I had the opportunity to listen to John Stepper from Deutsche bank. One thing that stuck with me from his talk was when he said that there is a grass ceiling for grass-root initiatives, they can only change work to a certain extent.

We can change things in our close surroundings that help to reduce waste or enable value-creation, but to reap major benefits from social business, the changes must be made on a deeper level and wider scale. Top management has created the ceiling and they are the ones who need to remove it.

To do so they would have to actively change a lot of things, from performance models and IT systems to their own management style and practices. It goes without saying what will be hardest to change and where the showstopper is. A manager would naturally ask questions like “What's in it for me?” and “What will happen to me if we change the systems that I have a role to play in?”

It Isn't Just About the Tools

This is why change will not happen in most organizations. It is clearly so that the norms that define how we communicate in organizations (what we say, when, to whom and in what way) have been shaped by the systems and structures which we have introduced in our organizations to enable, route and control the communication and information flows.

Thus we cannot change the existing norms, introducing new ways of communicating, without actively changing the systems and structures that shaped the existing norms. Changing the IT systems, for example introducing social collaboration tools to allow new ways of communication to emerge is an obvious part of the equation, but there are more factors to consider if the productivity equation for knowledge work is to be solved.

Image courtesy of Rachelle Burnside (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Other articles by Oscar Berg you might be interested in

-- Don't Sell Collaboration Too Cheap