Weasels in the Woodwork

Dennis Howlett makes some terrific points in comparing the new Jive Software 'Social Business Software' that refreshes the Clearspace 2.5 product line today with existing enterprise incumbents.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Dennis Howlett makes some terrific points in comparing the new Jive Software 'Social Business Software' that refreshes the Clearspace 2.5 product line today with existing enterprise incumbents.

Dennis and his cohorts in the enterprise irregulars have seen a few laps of the enterprise software game played out, and the way things tend to pan out.

Deep pocketed and entrenched vendors have the luxury of going last, often trumping the innovation of startups with a roll up of best practice and technologies, sometimes through purchase and sometimes through technology build out.

Analysts have a vested interest in documenting business spaces as a narrow vertical snapshot in time; this is bread and butter for them and of course industry leaders do emerge from the pack to join the big league enterprise players, as Jive are attempting, and become bigger customers.

While Jive embarked on their Clearspace/SBS voyage in late 2006, both the big enterprise players and more importantly their client base have been around for a lot longer than that.

The 2.0 generation have been paying close attention to exciting and amazing developments in both software and in some cases changes in the way that users live because of it.

The vast long tail, the people who may be going to the Web 2.0 Expo for the first time this year, are just cottoning on and asking what's in it for them.

Where the Web 2.0 consumer culture makes it bright and easy to get stuff done on your terms, most companies are hierarchical, claustrophobic and stuffy by nature.

I am immersed in the difficult world of collaboration change management in my consulting work, and the various hierarchical corporate levels have many attributes.

Typically middle management have some very effective camouflage to shield them from the C level. When a vendor shows execs a dashboard they get very excited about the view they will have into their company culture (I was designing these dashboards in the elearning industry at the turn of the century).

The reality is basically garbage in garbage out - the dashboard is only as good as the information pool it is drawing from, if it even exists. There's only one thing more embarrassing than reviewing an empty collaboration environment for 6000 people a year after its expensive installation and that's sitting with a CEO who is asking why the content gas gauge is showing empty on his command and control cockpit...

Although Executive sponsorship and grass roots adoption is most definitely the sweet spot for embarking on a collaboration initiative - the commanders validating the minions usage of a system - middle management is the obstacle course that will slow things down.

Middle managers can expect hostile fire from all angles above and below them, have seen trends and fads come and go and been left with the blame for others initiatives when things didn't go according to plan.

There are many unsung heros in middle management, greasing the wheels to ensure execution of projects whose success is often claimed by others.

(The English 'Order of the British Empire' award, often awarded to successful business people by the Queen, is often said to refer to 'Other B*gger's Efforts' in the UK...).

There's a great churning complex social sea in many large companies of rivalries, resentments, outright hostility and opportunism. This is the nature of business.

Just as the big players in the enterprise space can afford to move last, it is often in upper middle management's interests to see which way the wind is blowing until the last possible minute before committing to a plan which ensures their success or survival.

This is a decades old reality which is the toughest nut of all to crack when designing and then getting uptake of collaboration practices to take root.

These weasels in the woodwork can sandbag and slow down projects like the best defense lawyers while appearing to be enthusiastic endorsers to their management. This is command and control in its worst light and can occur at all levels of the management chain.

To be fair, would you be enthusiastic about participating in the installation of a system which may make you a smaller cog in a bigger machine, possibly expose your incompetency and invalidate the competitive advantage you have over your colleagues and peers based on your golfing relationship with the chairman's brother?

That is essentially the type of behavior you are attempting to modify. Much of collaboration system design is around diplomacy and realistic pragmatic reorganization of people and content.

From a recent Reuters article by Mayumi Negishi about Sir Howard Stringer's continuing attempts to break Sony's silos:

The future of Sony hinges on whether or not Stringer, who spends two weeks a month in Japan, can unite a firm that is emerging from an internal power struggle between its software and hardware businesses.

"Sony's ability to manufacture hit products is crippled by office politics and bureaucracy," said Yoshihisa Toyosaki, president of IT consultancy J-Star Global and a former Sony employee.

"It could have come up with the iPod first, but it just didn't. The rest is history."

Companies can afford to pay for office politics and bureaucracy in good times, but when the economic tide goes out it does tend to expose where the weasels are hiding in the woodwork.

This climate is a good time to work on Collaboration strategy and tactics for this reason, and may also help vendors such as Jive with the difficult task or integrating their software into a social landscape that sometimes wouldn't be out of place on the Jerry Springer show.

Weasel Image: Studio of John James Audubon Long-Tailed Weasel, c. 1845 Gift of E.J.L. Hallstrom Copyright © 2009 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

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