Last week I got into yet another spirited conversation on Facebook – this time about the barriers to success in Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs). Think Yammer, Huddl, Sharepoint and so on.

Den Howlett has written a very thoughtful piece on the subject as a result here on Diginomica, and has created six hurdles that are placed between ESN projects and success. To continue the debate, here are my thoughts…

Why are we doing any of this? Unless there is a strategic outcome in mind that makes sense to everyone then all you will ever do is tinker around the edges. But then you can still pick off elements of that strategy as a starting point.

Ever the iconoclast, I’m not convinced that successful delivery of collaboration tools and services is predicated by have a clear strategic outcome, other than “surely we can do things a bit better around here?” How teams interact in themselves, and with others, is something that is remarkably situational. Technology may well have give the possibilities for more effective ways of working, but I’m increasingly of the view that the only people who’ll be able to work out not only how, but what are the people themselves.

Can management rid itself of the concentration of attention to short term metrics? Playing to the financial community alone is a guaranteed course of failure. Management that is strong enough and smart enough to clearly communicate value to all stakeholders stands a much better chance than the CEO whose only purpose in life is to brown nose Wall Street. Unfortunately, I suspect the vast majority of managements are too weak to get past this one.

I fear Den might be right here. And for all of the talk of radical new approaches to management and leadership that appear to be in vogue at the moment, one elephant perpetually crapping in the corner are the business leaders beholden to the analysts. To be frank, I don’t think it’s even “the markets” these days.

How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the bulb has got to want to change. In other words, management cannot simply like the idea, it must want change and want it badly.

Not only must they want the change, but leadership must also consistently demonstrate that they themselves can change. The evidence around public social networks from my #socialCEO research is that they predominantly don’t.

Looking at employees – what’s in it for them? Without clear value for me, I ain’t playing the way you want me to. I’ll revert to type and game the system. Ergo, the business loses albeit it may not see that until it is too late. How many organizations do you know that claim they hate works politics yet are riven with a jockeying for position among management layers?

Eight years ago when I was working at Reuters, there was a lobby asking to create “LinkedIn” for the internal organisation. I simply answered “Just use LinkedIn”.

There’s way more benefit to the individual in using external services (for the most part) than internal ones. Organisations should try to leverage that, rather than constantly thinking that information about networks in their organisations is some sort of proprietary secret.

Does management truly value its employees? The sad answer is often no. We see this across multiple dimensions not least the furore around Hobby Lobby. If you don’t care or care enough, you won’t succeed.

Our staff are our most important asset is a platitude in most organisations at the scale of almost Customers are at the heart of everything we do.  A rapidly changed communications landscape, from internal networks to LinkedIn to Glassdoor to Facebook make it all transparent. If you are going to say such things, you’d better really be living them.

Where are the substantially influential groups of forward thinkers that can provide solid counsel? Right now, I see most of them on Facebook yet I can guarantee that’s not the place the decision makers turn in order to find knowledge or insight. What’s worse, that group doesn’t seem to be growing substantially. Instead, I see plenty of ESN mavens doing little more than trotting out ‘the obvious’ but with little depth to their understanding of business dynamics. Or worse still, yelling about some mythical oncoming revolution.

Well, personally, I’m trying to get my take on all of this out to as many different groups as I possibly can. I work with people in the technology space, the HR space, internal comms, marketing, PR, customer engagement, and my own career background is equally diverse. That, though, sometimes is the the challenge.

Big organisations crave specialism. What’s going on with ESN is (for it to have impact) truly cross-disciplinary (technology, marketing, organisational development, management and leadership development and a bit of social science in the mix too). But specialism craves experts, not generalists who can join the dots. I’m definitely making headway, but my work life would be a lot easier if I’d set myself up as someone who configured a product, selling project services into IT departments.

One thought on “Six hurdles

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