What Babe the Pig teaches about driving enterprise social adoption

We all loved the movie - who doesn't love a talking pig? - but what does Babe teach us about enterprise social adoption? Tim Walters explains.

Next to "Why won't Google allow me on +?" a currently popular question among Content and Collaboration professionals is, "How do we encourage employees to use social and collabortion tools?" I hear this question frequently in discussions with clients about intranets and the Information Workplace. My colleague and collaboration guru Rob Koplowitz probably answers it in his sleep by now, and published a summary of best practices last year.

Last week, the question unsurprisingly popped up on the extremely useful LinkedIn Intranet Professionals forum. There has been a rich set of responses so far, including some healthy scepticism about the fundamental value of enterprise social. I encourage you to see the ongoing exchange in it's entirety. For the sake of the Forrester blog audience, here is a slightly modified version of my LinkedIn response.

Stop me if you've heard this one before . . . but think about Babe (Universal, 1995). Contrary to all tradition and expectation, Babe the pig becomes really good at helping Farmer Hoggett herd sheep. It's fantastic! A huge success!

But there's no inherent value in herding sheep. You don't herd sheep for the sake of having well-herded sheep - you do it because having the sheep where you want them when you want them there makes it easier and more efficient and more productive to extract value from the sheep. (Such as shearing them, or . . . other ways of extracting value.)

How does this apply to promoting the use of social tools? Same thing, but with fewer talking farm animals. In short, with enough effort and clever change management, you might overcome workplace traditions and achieve significant adoption of enterprise social practices. But there's no inherent value in using social tools. In fact, there's evidence that being social and collaborative in the wrong context can be actively unproductive.

The question is always: How does this activity create value? From the organization's perspective, this boils down to how does it create business value by, for example, making an R&D cycle shorter, a sales effort more likely to win, a marketing campaign more effective, etc. If you identify those impacts, then you can market them internally at the division or team level: Use these social tools, because we know and can prove they will make your work more successful.

Finally, this trickles down to the personal level, if an individual employee can see that being social makes a difference in the things that motivate them at work - whether that is meeting a sales goal, learning a skill, building a better network, or whatever. The hard part is that these motivational triggers vary a lot and are not easy to identify. (Unless you create a meaningful trigger by, for example,  building social activities into every employee's bonus plan.)

Also, I think it's important that employees can see these effects at work. It's not enough to be told that, in theory, being social is useful. You want to be able to point to people who actually did engage in the social practices you want to encourage and as a result actually did enjoy some identifiable benefit.

Finally, as one of my colleagues likes to say, at the end of the day (literally), what really motivates employees is getting out of the office a few minutes earlier and spending a little more time with their kids/spouses/friends/dogs/talking pigs. If writing in the company wiki or replying to a blog appears to mean only that I have to spend even more time at work, the social initiative is probably doomed.

How are you putting social and collaboration to work in your organization?

(P.S. - In the movie, herding sheep well did have inherent value -- but only in the context of a herding contest.)