Social business adoption in the workplace

Summary:What does becoming a social business actually entail? A practitioner in the trenches shares his top strategies and techniques for driving engagement with social tools.

As I look to examine what we've learned about enterprise social media over the last few years, I'll be hosting some guest posts about those who have been working hands-on in the space and examine what they've learned. Please reach me via the ZDNet contact form if you have a similar practitioner story to share.

The following is a guest post by Kieran Kelly, an enterprise collaboration consultant who has worked with leading orgnizations to realize better ways of working through social business strategy, user adoption tactics, measurement frameworks, and use case design. His background in government sector systems integration has led, in more recent years, to involvement with social technology initiatives and a deep interest in the principles of social business.


Motivating people to adopt social technology in the workplace isn't always easy. Even highly resourced efforts can take years before true adoption takes place and the promised value has been unlocked. We need to dispense with dreams of effortless collaboration and fabulous emergent effects, and instead focus on understanding the needs of our ecosystem, so that we can design strategic use cases that catalyze value through better, social ways of working.

The path to social business maturity often involves many experiments, false starts, reluctant users and sometimes even outright rejection. If you can accept these likelihoods, embrace the apparent failures and continually renew your approach then your efforts will, in time, be rewarded. There are three aspects of social business strategy that, in my experience, are essential for success.

1. Clarity of Vision

The social business journey has been underway in the workplace for quite some time, but progress for the most part has been limited. Very often a social platform has been stood up and pointed to in the hope that employees will spontaneously change the way they work, or else tools like Yammer have appeared unofficially and attracted small but loyal groups of users. In both scenarios the efforts tend not to be aligned with the goals of the business and are not guided by a well-informed and unified strategy.

To realise deeper social business value from your existing toolset you will need to design use cases that address specific business needs. But before this can happen, a clear understanding of your current ecosystem is needed in order to show what you can realistically achieve, the steps you will need to take and the barriers you must overcome. Once you have a clear picture of the true situation on the ground you can be strategic about where to focus your efforts. The aim will be to identify a small number of use cases - just 2 or 3 at first - that are highly focussed and manageable and which can demonstrate the value of the initiative to the wider community. Use case design will be addressed in the next section but for now we will concentrate on where you are.

Key Elements of Social Business Adoption: Vision, Use Cases, and Measurement

During this process of discovery you will need to engage with stakeholders and users to learn about several aspects of your business. Here are some of the main areas I have explored with clients:

Business Goals - To prove the ongoing value of your use cases you will need to align them closely with the goals of the business. If all you can do is demonstrate a busy environment and plentiful content, but cannot show how it is helping the business meet its goals, then you will find it difficult to secure deeper buy-in and elevate the organisation to the next level of social business maturity. Ask the business what its objectives and KPIs are over the next few years, and focus your efforts around these.

Technical Landscape - What systems are already in place? How do they conflict with or complement each other? Are there different groups in your organisation using different systems to do the same kind of work? Where is the potential for integration? By answering these questions you will build an understanding of how well your use cases can be met by the current infrastructure, where the conflicts are and what capabilities are missing.

Leadership - The stance of leaders can make or break your initiative. Be sure to inform them of what you are trying to accomplish and take account of their suggestions and concerns. Ask them what they would like to achieve through new ways of working. If you do not attract the buy-in and support of leaders early on they are unlikely to adopt social working practices and lead the rest of the organisation by example.

User Groups - Map out the different user groups in your organisation. What do they do, and where are the lines of collaboration? Between which groups is there need for better visibility, sharing, and interaction? By building up a picture of user groups in this way, you will be in far better position to identify high-value use cases and understand how they’re likely to impact the surrounding ecosystem.

Pain Points - Talk to users to find out their pain points and frustrations, and ask what they need in place to solve their own work problems. What systems, processes and working practices are falling short of their needs? Don’t assume that a soup of social functionality will relieve all of their pains.

User Motivations - Different individuals and groups are motivated in different ways. Use cases that play to these motivations will be more readily adopted. For example, a sales team may be driven by financial incentives whereas a team of software developers may be more driven by recognition and reuse of their solutions. By discovering different motivators you will be able to design use cases that help users get what they really want. A sales use case might involve leaderboards and other game mechanics to drive competition among the team, whereas a use case for software developers might make new software components visible to others and notify authors each time they’re reused.

Current Ways of Working - Users have preferred ways of getting things done. Even if new tools offer greater ease and efficiency, habitual ways of working tend to reassert themselves time and time again. By understanding how people currently work, you can design use cases that either integrate with existing workflows or else incorporate measures that help change habits such as training, incentives, relocation of resources, and scaling back of old systems.

These are just some of things I have taken into account of when helping clients build a picture of where they are where social business can take them. As your investigation progresses along these lines there are bound to be other considerations, unique to your organisation, that suggest themselves - be sure to include them in your analysis. Once you are clear on where you are, you can set a course for where you want to be.

Related: Does technology improve employee engagement?

2. Preparing robust social business use cases

If you have:

• Engaged with users and stakeholders;

• Identified business goals and pain points;

• Analysed user motivations and ways of working; and

• Rationalised your existing technical landscape;

Then you (cont'd)

Topics: Social Enterprise, Collaboration, Enterprise Software


Dion Hinchcliffe is an expert in information technology, business strategy, and next-generation enterprises. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the digital business transformation firm Adjuvi. A veteran of enterprise IT, Dion has been working for two decades with leading-edge methods to bridge the widening gap between business and... Full Bio

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