Enterprise Culture & People: Where Reality Happens

I've just been reading reactions to last week's Enterprise 2.0 conference, which includes the endless sector name parlor game, and discussions around whether the market space is on Bambi legs, maturing ...
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor on

I've just been reading reactions to last week's Enterprise 2.0 conference, which includes the endless sector name parlor game, and discussions around whether the market space is on Bambi legs, maturing ...or as dead as John Cleese's parrot. It's all of those things and more depending on where you're sitting, what you've experienced and what you need.

After you get past all the armchair quarterback stuff, where theoretical folks play call online and at conferences what should happen next and how to describe it, you'll find real people who are getting on with solving real problems in companies and who are thrashing out effective solutions. None of these people care how you describe these initiatives, which are typically unique in their scope. There are equivalents but case history comparison can be misleading...no point comparing a packaged goods company social CRM marketing campaign with a bit of contextual internal collaboration against how a high security pharmaceutical company is reorganizing internally.

Where the rubber really hits the road in companies of all sizes is at the point where us humans are introduced to online technologies the problem solvers are proposing we use. It doesn't matter what the business problem is - enterprise resource planning, business process design or Enterprise 2.0 - the only thing these 'end users' are interested in is whether the new stuff is helping or hindering their career and whether they will get their work done more efficiently.

The internet contains an ocean of people who are remarkably self confident at writing 'How To' articles about things they've never actually done, and it can be quite hard to parse the difference between someone who is a convincing communicator and someone who actually knows what they are talking about. This is true both on the public internet ('10 Ways to Fix a Jet Engine') and inside the firewall within collaboration environments. Inside a company we usually quickly find context about over communicating colleagues in order to determine whether to tune in or out but on the internet no one knows you're a dog.

A fundamental reality is that no one cares about your whizzy new software or Powerpoint deck of crystal ball predictions for the future outside of a tiny bubble of those with skin in the game and enthusiasts for ideas they find exciting. The much harder part of any enterprise project is motivating people to stop hording so much information and start cross pollinating with their peers, colleagues and associates. Those in the IT world not unnaturally oversell this as a key attribute of their technologies ('now with 20% more social!) but the reality, as is evidenced by generations of shelf ware gathering digital dust is that tools are a relatively small part of the equation.

Would you adopt a Ford Mustang or would you make a decision to buy one and use it? The amount of tentative behavior by tire kickers in the Enterprise 2.0 & Social CRM spaces tells us that use and value cases are not broadly understood. In large part this is because there isn't a general need as there was for a Enterprise Resource Planning backbone, for example, once the value propositions of that thinking came into focus for buyers. (Manufacture and sell stuff more cost efficiently).

Some enterprises could realize colossal benefits from tighter collaboration but that view and value depends on where you sit in the organization, which brings us to Human Resources...the people that are supposed to frame the human capital and culture of a company.  I chaired the track to focus on this 'rubber meets the road' part of the Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara and some interesting concepts shook out of the sessions.

You can see the keynote conversation video 'Human Resources Meets Enterprise 2.0 and the Cloud' we started the track off with here (you'll need to register). Executives using products from Workday, Successfactors and Saba among others talked about their real world problems and initiatives. These relatively high level folks have very different perspectives (and bigger headaches) than those tackling the myriad operational problems human resources are painfully familiar with.

I was delighted that Michelle Johnston of CPP contributed time to participate in the Getting Beyond Compliance: Elevating HR's Enterprise Wide Strategic Role panel session; Michelle is an Industrial and Organizational Consultant with a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology currently completing her Ph.D in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Michelle played the role of iconoclast, pointing out that we have very little understanding of social and business interactions online from a psychological perspective. Watch out for an upcoming video interview with Michelle here later this week.

Rawn Shah of IBM wrote up his thoughts on the track on the Forbes magazine site - it's tough to moderate and take notes at the same time so it was great to read these impressions. Also on the panel was Josh Bersin, whose analyst company has provided research and advisory services for enterprise learning and talent management since 2001, an era when the Knowledge management eLearning world was broadly equivelant to where Enterprise 2.0 is now. KM World is on this week in Washington DC and many of the stalwarts of the Learning Management era of their last decade will cringe when they remember the fragmentation that occurred in that space. No one could agree on what to call anything once the Wall Street money started distorting KM nomenclature in attempts to differentiate in a then hot vendor market.The roll ups and buy outs started but since Knowledge Management failed to set the world on fire the space largely matured into training frameworks and not the precision strategic tools that pioneers hoped for.

Some Human Resources professionals want to get beyond their core responsibilities of hiring and firing, compliance, governance, policy and merger and acquisitions fire drills and take a seat at the big strategic planning table to leverage the power of collaboration and business networks at scale. They've been through a previous generation of Knowledge Management debate and lack of consensus very similar to some of the clumsier attempts to push methodology distortions in the Enterprise 2.0 space today.

In that previous generation people eventually realized no one outside their debating bubble cared about them anyway - the vast majority of people are not unnaturally only interested in what ideas and tools will do to help them succeed, not in adopting a new belief system that may lead them to some emergent promised land...

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