Avoiding Common Mistakes Made in Enterprise Social Collaboration

As the Social Enterprise industry matures, more organizations are looking to understand how to use “social” for business and are increasingly experimenting with a variety of solutions and approaches.  When thinking about social and its application, many folks may think first of Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service – what with tools like Twitter and Facebook being practically synonymous with “social”.  But there are also plenty of opportunities to apply a “social mindset” to internal business functions like Knowledge Management, Collaboration, and Corporate Communications.

Rolling out a solution for these functions can be a huge undertaking, especially if the organization is made up of several thousands of employees, the existing technology landscape is complex, business process are not highly institutionalized and/or behavioral norms and corporate culture are less than explicit.  Becoming a Social Enterprise is transformational, requiring a lot of management, planning, and care in making the change.  Factor in that its a rather new concept and there are relatively few precedents set in the industry and existing points of reference within an organization to turn to as models for taking on this transformation.  Naturally, as organizations experiment with this new way of doing business, there will be challenges and some mistakes along the way.

Over the course of about 7 or 8 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many organizations (both large and small) in a variety of industries (from the highly regulated Financial Services sector, to the often progressive and experimental Consumer Goods industry) and have helped them on their journey to becoming a social enabled enterprises.

Based on that first-hand experience, and what is said in industry research and news articles, here are a few common issues and challenges in implementing Social Collaboration at the enterprise:

  1. It’s very difficult to prove ROI or the business value is hard to define
  2. Adoption rates are perceived as too low
  3. The expectations of senior executives and key influencers aren’t being met – their support for the program is waning
  4. Employees don’t have a clear understand of its purpose or why it matters for the job
  5. End-users don’t have a clear idea of how to leverage the application’s functions and features
  6. A host of operational issues rear their ugly heads unexpectedly and the team is unprepared to handle them quickly enough
  7. Requests for customizations or new features are not properly managed – either implemented too slowly or handled without an eye towards comprehensive design and architecture
  8. Resources supporting the program are overwhelmed and overloaded – they can’t get to a majority of their tasks
  9. Efforts of support resources and/or power users are splintered and not tied to a common goal
  10. Resolving issues or hiccups are more costly or take longer than planned
  11. The program’s reputation suffers from credibility issues with the organization

Whether your organization has already started its journey and some of the above sound familiar or your organization is still in the research and learning-how-to-get-started phase, the below are some elements to consider as fundamentals in implementing (or revisiting) a Social Collaboration program.  If you’ve already started, do a little health check with the below.  If you’re just getting started, use this as a checklist for getting your implementation off on the right foot.

Proper Planning:

  • Lay out the specific purposes of the program and the scope of its applicability to the business.  Many organizations start by saying their business goals are “we want to implement social”.  That’s great, but putting myself in the CEO’s shoes, I’d say “so what? What does this mean for our business?”.  If part of your company’s initatives are to be a progressive organization, than there is your so what: “by embracing the latest in productivity software solutions, we can be a progressive organization and attract the best talent in our industry.”
  • Explain how you’re going to measure your goals.  Goals should be specific, tie back to the original purpose, be objective and measurable, and realistic.
  • Map out the key activities and resources needed for the program to achieve its goals over the course of time.  In some cases you only have one person or even half of a person’s time to run this whole program – while that’s not ideal, sometimes it’s reality until you prove viability of the program.  Nonetheless, planning the key tasks and who will handle them will help prioritize activities so that your limited resources don’t burn out and can point back to moving the needle on the outlined metrics and ultimately program goals.

A Well-Structured Pilot

  • Take the opportunity to test out the program with a group that’s smaller than the overall population you plan on rolling the program out to.  I’m quite surprised by how many organizations “just roll it out” – this is a big missed opportunity to learn from mistakes on a much smaller scale, reducing the chance of costly errors and damage to the credibility of the program’s reputation.

Strong, Centralized Governance

  • Institutionalize mechanisms that can steer the program towards its objectives.  This typically includes some senior people that have accountability to the program’s success and act as overseers and can judge if the program is on the right track or may be going off the rails.  It would also include some folks who are more operational, ensuring that the decisions from the top are implemented according to plan and reports back on status, progress, and brings attention to any issues or risks that need to be escalated.

Often it’s the case that the teams taking on these huge transformational exercises are provided with meager resources and limited senior level buy-in or support.  Lucky are those organizations that start with executive backing, as they are frequently the ones that are most immediately successful with the resources and support to institute the above fundamentals more easily.  But don’t lose heart if you’re team is not as fortunate – investing in these activities up front may take time, persistence, and a little extra convincing of the stakeholders involved, but will certainly pay off in the end in helping your organization make the transformation to a Social Enterprise.

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