If you’ve read this blog before, you know that the central theme here as well as in my work is centered around performance acceleration and so I love seeing quality stuff on this topic. Dion Hinchcliffe has a super post up on ZDNet addressing the topic of performance in the context of Enterprise 2.0.
Dion provides a very balanced score card on the results to date as far as Enterprise 2.0 is concerned:
In fact, I would propose that most of the theoretical discussion around the benefits and returns of enterprise social software is largely out of context. We still focus too much on the tools themselves (which are exciting), the potential for radical organizational change and/or transformation of traditional hierarchies (also very interesting, yet it unnerves those trying to run a business even though such transformation takes a time), and a focus on new collaborative approaches instead of looking for the best way to solve business problems. What is often lost when the primary focus is on Enterprise 2.0 — defined here as freeform social tools in the workplace, or the “Facebook imperative” — is a concentration on developing solutions to achieve specific business objectives. When you have tool myopia, it sometimes seems like every business problem looks like a nail for your particular software hammer.
The topic of performance and alignment around business objectives has been covered by a number of thinkers and doers in the space, including Hutch Carpenter, Bertrand Duperrin and Oscar Berg. Over a year ago, I proposed a simple illustration for practitioners to consider, that differentiates between the notion of social computing (concepts and tools) and Enterprise 2.0 (a state the enterprise achieves), depicted by this diagram from a much older post:
Similar messages have come from a number of folks, calling feverishly for business justification and performance alignment. Some great examples from Bertrand, Oscar and Hutch here. That’s a sampler but these and other thinkers have contributed excellent thought leadership and grounded ideas on this topic.
Dion brings up a good point that there’s too much focus on tools. No question about that. But his second point about radical transformation is far more important:
There’s still plenty of theorizing and even calcified views around the promise of social for social’s sake where making the business social from the core out is just the right thing to do. I’ve firmly believed and consequently advised clients to look at it differently. At a time when organizations are looking to pull themselves up from a near death spiral by surgically focusing on set of needed business fixes, instead of providing the necessary depth to articulate what’s structurally wrong with a given mode of conducting a business activity and how enterprise 2.0 could be a possible performance enabler, the focus often is on the benefits of social towards more nebulous outcomes such as openness, information and email overload, sharing, and productivity. All of these are important but addressing these benefits need to be a means to some measurable business end.
Where it can get even more dangerous is proposing decentralized DNA changing models to move to social from structured and process, again with an under appreciation for business context, decision facilitation structures and other political and incumbent design realities on the ground. Not to mention, proposed decentralized governance models as amuse-bouche. To be clear, I’m not against proposing DNA changing business designs in principle, but boy you better be able to back up the justification behind that 24 month turnaround plan your suggesting that’s more substantive than the revolution that is socialized work without a cause. Right about that time, the CIO sitting in the room is quietly thinking, “I have a worldwide SAP upgrade to worry about, thank you”.
The notion of emergence where adoption of these E2.0 concepts and tools comes from the bottom up just never sat well with me. But, ironically, if there’s one place where I consider emergence to be totally applicable is in fact the DNA change process, built off of the success of discrete business outcomes and subsequently federated across the enterprise. That’s a topic that I deal with all the time, but I won’t get into it here.
And culture, whilst certainly a common adoption barrier, is often cited as a huge deterrent to adoption, when in actuality, the required business alignment was missing in the early stages resulting in fuzzy understanding around participation incentives by end users to give enterprise 2.0 a real chance of success to begin with. Practitioners are beginning to see that culture and behavior can actually be harnessed to drive adoption and ultimately performance. Change is scarce currency in any enterprise context.
Not that it matters too much, but the process pundits will continue to barf on social as long as these altruistic benefits of the enterprise social web command the airwaves. To their credit they have a point in that its going to take a lot more to unlock those business initiatives (and budgets) that are enabled by structured ERP systems or Microsoft SharePoint that conveniently shows up with Windows Server on every Sys. Admins desk.
Ultimately, a central problem lies is measuring or estimating performance for Enterprise 2.0. As Dion says it is in fact notoriously difficult. But it shouldn’t be done in the first place. Performance or return needs to be calculated and measured at the programmatic level around business solutions your trying to affect. Enterprise 2.0 approaches and technology are but one part of the overall strategy, investment, return and risk model.
Social because its better than anti social is hard to argue with, but it just won’t cut the mustard in the long run, especially on Mahogany Row. Focusing on business performance, and a credible, honest assessment of where social and collaborative concepts actually can in fact move the needle, will.
Talking about honest assessments, here’s a quote from Chris Yeh, a vendor and investor in Enterprise 2.0 software that speaks volumes:
Customers who buy PBworks as an experiment in “social software” tend to see an initial spike in activity, but disengage over time.