KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Social is here; but it’s unevenly distributed

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This is my second #KMWorld blog post, many less than I’d hoped to have written by now!

One of the recurring topics across the sessions so far has been the potential and the challenges of creating a networked organization through enterprise social tools (such as Yammer, Jive, Connections or Teamworks). There was refreshingly little of competition between tools and vendors promising that their specific product would solve all your problems, and much more of a focus on the very real challenges in realizing the potential of such tools resulting from the challenges in getting user adoption of and engagement in these tools.

Dion Hinchliffe’s keynote laid out both the (theoretically) revolutionary potential of the networked organization, and its ability to tap into the knowledge and expertise of its staff. He highlighted how networked organizations are much more easily able to quickly mobilize knowledge for problem solving and crisis response and that networked organizations also have higher motivation and higher productivity with potentially large impacts for the bottom line (for-profits) or efficiency for non-profits. But he also highlighted that it is organizations and individuals which are struggling to adapt to catch up with the potential of the tools, and this is where a change effort needs to be focused. (there is an upcoming McKinsey report with more details on this but I’ve only seen an advance copy – will share a link once it is public).

Over the past few days there were several sessions looking at social tools where different organizations shared their successes and challenges and some of their insights on what is needed to make social happen. (A few notable examples were Ernst and Young’s introduction of Yammer, Pact’s use of Jive especially for communities and innovation, Microsoft on the importance of working on cultural change and Stan Garfield of Deloitte on the important role of leadership)

Some of the specific lessons that were repeated in several presentations were:

Simplicity: make it as easy as possible to use whatever tool you select. People are either unfamiliar and reluctant to use social tools at all so you need to make it easy and unthreatening for them, or they are familiar with tools they are often from the consumer world (such as Facebook) and want and expect the same kind of easy to use experience.

Give people practical ideas of what they can do socially: The best thing I saw on this was “Safaris” from Stan Garfield


Leadership: Leadership support is critical in terms of talking up the importance of collaboration and in providing resources and material support – but equally important is the behaviour of senior leaders as role models. If they don’t collaborate and have visibility in knowledge sharing themselves then their support is not credible. Having senior leaders participating in collaboration platforms showing that they value this in practice is by contrast a big draw to other staff as an opportunity to interact with leadership in a more human way.

Focus on business value not just sharing: its important that collaboration is embedded in existing work processes rather than being seen as an add-on. This way it becomes part of everyday work and also people will use collaboration when it helps them get concrete results. related to this is that it’s helpful early in rollout to work with a few receptive groups to get them to apply the tools and collaborative approaches to solving concrete problems which matter to them to win converts and quickly demonstrate benefit.

Use of carrots and sticks: there was a lot of discussion about gamification (see here and here) as a way of promoting adoption and engagement  – but this needs to be designed carefully to encourage the right behaviours. Early on material rewards might encourage participation, but longer term recognition for the value of contribution is much more effective. Things like likes shares, recognizing most valuable contributions or contributors are different approaches to this.  But also you might need some sticks – such as requiring people to participate  – or making this a more formal part of their job expectations. Again this needs to be handled carefully to avoid people complying in letter but not adding value. One example was from Microsoft where performance appraisals are based on impact but also on i) contribution to company knowledge ii) evidence that you have reused knowledge.

Adaptation to organizational culture: introduction of this new way of working needs to be tailored to the organization and its culture – in particular it needs to respond to concerns of middle managers who may feel threatened by the introduction of new tools and approaches, or concerns of IT and legal who may be concerned with data security and confidentiality.

Digital literacy: adopting collaboration tools requires some effort to improve staff familiarity and comfort with such tools in general, especially with an older workforce – approaches such as reverse mentoring (younger staff teaching older staff) can be very useful for this.

Community management: we heard evidence that hiring good community managers was critical to the success of online communities for internal and external users, and that investment in good facilitation could multiply their effectiveness in terms of bottom line results. First you need to have community managers for key communities, but you also need people with the right type of skills who respond to user needs and facilitate dialogue amongst members. (note quite often we focus on investing in developing platforms while neglecting to invest in the people who manage them).

Measuring and demonstrating results – if you don’t show quick progress then people quickly lose interest in social platforms. But because of the nature of platforms they might not show the most significant results i.e. changes in how the organization does business, for quite some time and without high levels of adoption. Also standard metrics of registered users, number of logons, contributions or replies, while valuable, don’t tell you much about the return on investment. The suggested approach to deal with this is to work with a few forward-looking groups who are ready to try using the tool and then get them to tell their stories of how working socially improved results such as by saving time a money, or helping them develop new approaches.

The last point I took away is that the above are key ingredients in any strategy to get people to work socially – but every organization is different and so you can learn from, but you can’t copy how others have done it.

So enough talk – let’s engage!

Written by Ian Thorpe

November 10, 2014 at 9:00 am

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  1. […] This is my second #KMWorld blog post, many less than I’d hoped to have written by now! One of the recurring topics across the sessions so far has been the potential and the challenges of creating a…  […]

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