Communication comes in many forms, not all of them verbal and many of them under-valued… If eBay has taught us anything, it is that what one person considers waste can be another person’s prized possession.
Summary: ‘Bring your own device’ has transformed mobile access to corporate information thanks to new consumer devices being adopted faster than their corporate equivalents. Could ‘Bring your own profile’ do the same for corporate knowledge by leveraging consumer social networks?
The adoption of enterprise social software continues to grow. Social media command centres are becoming more commonplace, certainly for recognisable brands. Conversation hubs to facilitate knowledge-sharing are replacing older groupware tools and email discussion lists. Sentiment analysis is a relatively new form of analytics, tapping into current moods and trends visible through user-generated content that are less predictable than your traditional statistics but can prove invaluable to enabling smarter decisions and actions. And internet-connected mobile devices are granting access anytime anywhere, putting the individual at the centre of anything and everything he/she/it chooses to participate in.
But in the world of work, there is one aspect that is already proving tiresome. The need to recreate your profile in a multitude of different enterprise social networks. Uploading a photo, adding a description, declaring skills and interests. Signing up for groups, duplicating opinions across platforms. Change company frequently (increasingly likely in the current era), or live life as a freelancer (also increasingly likely), and it becomes a regular chore.
What if, as has occurred with mobile devices, you could bring your own profile to work? Simply grant permission to your current employer to recognise your online career profile as an employee, and former employers to include your profile in their Alumni network. With a history of contributions that would enable the network to auto-suggest what company groups you are likely to want to affiliate with, and could recommend when you are likely to be able to contribute to something the organisation is seeking help with.
Whilst there are plenty of technical details to overcome, there are benefits for both the individual and the organisation in terms of skills recognition and knowledge transfer. The individual is able to integrate more quickly into the corporate social network. The company has a constantly maintained employee directory that can be easily expanded beyond organisation boundaries to include alumni, associates and other interested or relevant parties. And accurate recognisable photos in most cases too!
To do so would mean integrating one of the online consumer social networks. I’m guessing Facebook is an unlikely candidate. Most people observe a separation that means Facebook is kept for family and friends, hobbies and informal events. Of the others, in English-speaking countries, the likely candidates are LinkedIn and Google+. LinkedIn has the weight of maturity and a thriving group system that includes algorithms to suggest what you might want to participate in. People are used to crafting and maintaining their profile for career development. It also offers the potential to integrate with the existing company pages and recruitment services. Google+ has the breadth of coverage, plugging individual profiles into a global search index that enables also sorts of SocialRank based possibilities. As well as social networking tools already popular within some organisations, the Google Hangouts. But it has some work to do still – few people maintain well-populated profiles there (in my experience). Others? About.me is interesting but just a static profile page for now, like an online business card but without the value of context.
I’ve deliberately ignored the enterprise social networking tools such as Jive, Yammer, Kenexa and SocialCast because, for all their newness, they still represent the traditional world of enterprise software. Focused on the needs of the organisation first and foremost. The future of work is about networked individuals with careers, interests and expertise spanning far beyond traditional organisational boundaries. The tools and services demonstrating the most agility to adapt to this new world of work are online and consumer-based.
Featured image: ‘Selfie’ kindly shared on Flickr by Tim Ellis
To be effective and productive in the modern world, organisations should not rely solely on hierarchical organisation charts to explain how work gets done. Networks help highlight individual contributions
The image above is a classic traditional organisational hierarchy. A manager responsible for making the decisions, supported by supervisors, each leading a team of people tasked with carrying out the decisions.
One of the biggest flaws within hierarchies is the tendency to treat all individuals at the each level as identical. In the example above, we have a decision maker, a group of supervisors: the blue dots A, B and C), and a group of do-ers: the red dots 1 to 9. (Yes I’m back with the pictures of dots again – goes with the name…) There are all sorts of challenges to the effectiveness of this system, not least trying to operate in an environment that doesn’t observe the rules of hierarchies and let’s everyone make decisions. But that’s for another post… This one is exploring how a network makes it easier to identify individual contributions and raise productivity.
Let’s rearrange our dots as the actual network that functions within this organisation:
The numbers and letters represent the order in which each individual was hired. The organisation chart does not tell us anything is different between the first person hired or the last. But the social network does.
Teams A and B are highly inter-connected. Team C is not. Supervisor C has barely any connections out of his/her reporting line and team. And we could guess that hires 7 ad 8 were made by C. All have come from outside the organisation and have yet to build up their network. The most useful member of Team C is no.9 because they have direct connections into both other teams and can more easily tap into their knowledge and expertise. But most interestingly, they have a connection with their manager’s manager. I’d guess No. 9 is heir-apparent to C’s job. C should be planning their next career move.
No. 1 is the longest-serving hire and well connected but not as well-connected as newer employees. Looking at the connections, the manager (purple dot) must be a more recent hire than no.1 because they have made connections with No. 4 and No.6 so they are not averse to communicating direct with team members yet do not interact with no.1. No. 1 is on the way out. Their career at this organisation has peaked.
No. 6’s career is on the up. Connected with people in all three teams, connected to all three supervisors and connected to the manager. Even if No. 6 knows nothing, they have access to everyone who knows something. The alternative scenario is that they are the person who knows everything, and everyone seeks them out when they need help. Either way, 6 is highly valuable to this organisation. Yet the organisation chart would suggest they are just a junior role.
Organisation charts make it far too easy to lump everybody into a single group – the level they are currently placed at within a hierarchy. And if you are near the bottom, you are expendable because the larger number of people at your level, the bigger the assumption that you are easy to replace. Imagine the company needs to reduce headcount due to financial difficulties? The common method in large organisations is to simply require all teams to reduce their headcount by the same amount. So teams A, B and C each lose a person, facing demoralising uncertainty and disruption in the process. The more productive approach would be to eliminate Team C, but keep no.9 and move them into one of the other teams. You’ve reduced the headcount by the same number, saved a bit more money because Supervisor C would likely have been on a higher salary and not impacted the two higher-performing teams in the process.
The image above visualises both approaches. On the left, the lowest performer from each team is removed. Look how sparse the connections now appear between the three teams. On the right, the lowest performing team is removed but the highest performer from within it is retained, and that isn’t the supervisor. The connections between the remaining individuals is much tighter, across the two teams. How much likelier is it that they will be able to support one another? None of this would have been evident by just studying an org chart that treats everyone at each level equally.
Of course this is a vast simplification of just one of the differences between networks and hierarchies. Hierarchies do have their benefits. They help us organise large volumes of information in ways that are simple to understand, making sense out of what would otherwise seem chaotic. But they do tend to create inequalities – it’s easier to reward the few at the top than acknowledge the many below – and their weakness is in failing to appreciate the messy realities about what is really going on. We are beginning to develop the tools to better understand and work within networks, enabling us to make sense out of the chaos without having to create a hierarchy in the process. Organisation’s that tap into this new found capability will out perform those that don’t.
Similar or related posts
Massive global online social networks have enabled consumers to disrupt markets and even helped citizens to disrupt governments. But what about social networks within business? Is there potential to improve the workplace?
The quick answer would be Yes! But the messy reality of most workplaces mean the outcome is not quite so clear.
Here are some real-world observations, based on organisations who have piloted and/or rolled out enterprise social networking tools over the past 2 years for internal purposes:
- The most active uses have all shared a similar trait: connecting a distributed peer group focused on R&D-style activities. People who talk the same language (i.e. domain-specific) and share the same interests but are geographically dispersed.
- The weakest use has been when it is deployed as a generic organisation-wide tool for everyone to start communicating online. There may be an initial flare of activity but usage tends to drop-off within 6 months.
- The organisations who experience the most demonstrable benefits are in intellectually competitive markets, particularly science, technology and engineering, where specialist expertise is highly sought and valued but where there is openness to expanding knowledge.
- Most senior managers are surprised at how well enterprise social networking tools are embraced when people are given the opportunity to participate.
- Most successful deployments have at least one role dedicated to encouraging and moderating participation. May be a permanent role, can also be an ‘on rotation’ responsibility.
Here are some factors to consider before deploying enterprise social network tools:
- What’s the intended outcome – Is it to strengthen relationships? Uncover hidden pockets of knowledge? Mine skills for collective intelligence? Involve people in decisions? Speed up access to expertise? Improve communications?
- Are the dependencies in place – Will people have time to participate? Will they care (priorities)? Will their contributions be acknowledged, used, ignored or dismissed? How will conflicts be resolved?
- What’s the overall culture of the organisation like – Is gossip encouraged or frowned upon?
- Don’t mix up collaborative working with social networks. Different audiences, different activities. But one can help the other to scale…
- Don’t get too hooked up on the technology choice – the value is in the conversation.
- Consider training to improve communication skills for key roles.
And if there’s one tip above all others for getting started, try focusing on a specific area of the organisation rather than thinking ‘we are going social’. Can an enterprise social network create the digital equivalent of the water cooler or coffee area for a peer group that is otherwise unable to chat on a regular or ad-hoc basis?
Related blog posts
- Collaboration is not the same as social
- Teams don’t scale but networks do
- The value in social networks
Flickr image: “Group Dynamics” kindly shared by Gary Cooper
Creating a hierarchy based on total scores and overall ‘influence’ risks lowering the value of a social network because total contributions do not mean every individual contribution is a good one
An example to follow on from a recent post: Social networks do not need a hierarchy.
A lot of social networking tools are focusing on the use of scores, badges and ‘gamification’ to encourage participation and highlight the key players, the ‘influencers’. Personally, I’m not a fan. I’m all for awards representing a significant achievement. But becoming mayor of the local train station simply by ‘checking in’ more times than anyone else is not on my list of priorities. However I have to accept the evidence. Simple games and badges work in certain scenarios – they increase participation compared to similar systems without them. But as Steve Jobs once said:
Incentive structures work so be careful what you incentivise people to do. Because it can create all sorts of unintended consequences.
The following picture shows the points and status for two people who have responded to a question on a Microsoft technology forum. At first blush, who is likely to be the authoritative source?
Yes, the one on the left is me. Or rather, my SharePoint clone. I haven’t participated regularly on a tech forum since the 90s. If I had taken the screenshot a few minutes sooner, I had a far more impressive null point (say it in a fake French accent and think of Eurovision). It seems I’ve been awarded 5 points for answering a question. On the right is another Microsoft partner who is also an MVP – that’s a Microsoft Most Valued Professional, an award given for contributions within the Microsoft community. And he has a tub-thumping 5,645 points.
So who’s answer would you trust the most based on this information? It’s OK, I’m not offended. I wouldn’t pick me either on this basis. Naturally, that’s the point of this post…
The question being answered was to do with enterprise search. I answered the question in its entirety. 7 steps that could be easily followed. The other partner added a general comment and a link to his blog post related to the topic but not answering the specific question. It provided no extra information but will have given him some more points and link love for his web site to boot. And why wouldn’t he, that’s what people are being incentivised to do. (Side note: I’ve greyed out the identity because the person involved is very knowledgeable about SharePoint and his MVP status is well deserved.)
I have a strong technical background in enterprise search and SharePoint. But that was quite some time ago. Even if I’d been given a big badge for it at the time, it wouldn’t matter now. Because the search functionality has changed dramatically over the various version releases and plenty of others have since caught up with my knowledge and surpassed it. The only reason I decided to answer a question in a technical forum for the first time in over a decade is because the person’s question had turned up in a search result. I was checking some information, saw the question was nearly identical to what I was checking and that it had gone unanswered for over a week. So I decided to respond. Likelihood of answering another one in the near future? Not high. And the world will (hopefully) keep orbiting the sun.
All a social network needs is a mechanism for connecting people with knowledge to people with questions. In short, it just needs a damn good search engine. This is why Flickr is such a brilliant example. You don’t search through photographs based on the points awarded to people based on their contributions. Not unless you are a fan following a celebrity photographer. Search and tags help you find the type of picture you are looking for. We are insanely good at judging whether or not what we are looking at is what we need. If not, move on.
Will that stop us from using badges and points in social networks and communities? Of course not. People are naturally competitive (whether we admit it or not) and crave recognition. Some are more easily satiated than others through simple rewards and manipulation. And when the network is owned by an organisation, there is value in discovering who are the most frequent contributors. Microsoft’s MVP programme is well run and those rewarded deserve the credit given for their ongoing commitment to Microsoft technologies. They donate a lot of time to help others. But displaying high scores on individual questions risks lowering the value of a network by focusing on the hierarchy of badges rather than the content. The better solutions are those that allow thumbs-up/down on an individual item basis. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a grand total of 405,421 ‘thumbs-up’. What might matter is that you’ve got 10 thumbs-up for the question I need answering compared to no more than 2 thumbs-up for everyone else who answered it.
The power and beauty of a social network is that each individual connection between two nodes can be as valuable as the next one. Introducing a hierarchy risks losing that equality and weakens the system.
Related blog posts
- Social networks do not need a hierarchy
- Networks need individuals who care
- The value in social networks
Flickr image: Badge collection by Drew McLellan. As with the original post, kindly shared and no badges or hierarchy required to discover it