I was discussing with one of our execs the progress we'd been making on social media proficiency internally.
And he asked a great question that made me think:
"So, has anyone fundamentally changed their work processes because of the platform?"
And I realized this is the next frontier on what's turning out to be a large-scale social engineering project.
Getting Business Value Out Of Our Social Software
As we make progress in this journey, I've got my eye out for different catagories of business value we're seeing. I suppose, at the same time, I should also be keeping my eye out for business value we're NOT seeing yet.
And, as I've mentioned before, we're seeing business value -- in many forms -- across the board:
- People with specific interests are finding other people with similar interests
- Rather than searching big content repositories, people are asking other people for help and answers
- A pan-organizational "social fabric" has been created that wasn't really there before
- Folks who spend time on the platform are better educated -- and more engaged -- in EMC' business
And more. And, just to be clear, there's no shortage of business benefits -- I still stand behind the broad assertion that this has been one of the most ROI-positive IT projects I've seen in my career.
Interesting "value nugget" of the week:
EMC runs a healthy program to bring a large number of interns and co-op students into the company. They started introducing themselves to each other on the platform.
What started with "name, rank, serial number" blossomed into a wonderfully diverse set of conversations about careers, favorite hangouts, what it means to work at EMC, what is everybody doing, and so on.
I would argue that -- whatever millions that EMC spends on this intern/coop program -- we've now made it 10-20% more valuable, simply because we connected people to each other, and connected them all to the broader company.
At zero incremental cost.
But we want more. Much more.
Fundamental Process Change Is Hard
So, if we look around, and adopt the "glass is half empty" mindset, it's not pretty.
A lot of documents still get pushed around in linear workflows, rather than collaborative discussions.
There are many people who still think that meetings require a meeting room, or a concall bridge.
We still are largely communicating with internal audiences by pushing stuff at them, rather than inviting them to participate and engage.
Only a small number of people have figured out that writing blog posts are a better way to communicate and engage than, say, writing formal status reports that rarely get read anyway.
Put differently, there appears to be two tranches of work behavior that are under transition here:
1 -- the "engagement" phase where people get comfortable sharing, communicating, etc. on an online platform.
2 -- the "re-engineering" phase where people wake up and realize that there's a better way to do traditional work processes across the enterprise.
We're doing OK at the first one, and terribly at the second one.
Why Is This?
First, until we get a critical mass of people who feel comfortable in engaging on the platform (and the behaviors that entails), we can't really re-engineer many of our larger-scale business processes.
Going back in history, we had the same problem with email -- we needed enough people to use it before we could start re-engineering how we worked.
So, I guess I could give us a pass, and say "be patient". But that's too easy.
Second, there has to be an external incentive to change a process. Business processes within large organizations are very stable and entrenched. There's a lot of effort required to do things differently.
And, of course, there's the natural human tendency to not fix what ain't broke, right? Sure, the way we do things today is inefficient, inconvenient, ineffective -- but it works, right? And the company is doing OK, right? So why mess with things?
I think it's that second characteristic that will prove harder to change.
Unfortunately, in my experience, business processes aren't amenable to change unless there's an external crisis looming: the company is unprofitable, or new management is taking over, or a competitor is raising the ante in your business.
It's not too often that people sit around a room when the weather's fine and say "how can we re-engineer things to make them better?". And, if they do, the drugs seem to wear off pretty fast.
And there's a third aspect to this that I'm mindful of: new business processes get created all the time. Someone has a new problem, and there's no pre-fab answer, so you have to get creative.
And, to be fair, we're scooping up more than our fair share of these new, emergent business processes.
So, What Will The Lever Be?
I don't want to wait until my company is really stressed about something to force a change in process. But I do believe there needs to be some tension in the air to force a productive change discussion.
I think I know what that lever will be.
I think we can market to ambitious middle managers -- looking to climb the ladder -- looking to make an impression, and get noticed. We can position "reengineering business processes around social software" as a way to be cool, and show some next-gen leadership.
We tend to hire people who are fairly ambitious and relatively competitive. I think that -- by harnessing into everyone's latent need to show off a bit -- we can spark some friendly internal competition around demonstrating leadership ... ;-)
The question is -- how? Do we have some sort of formal (yet fun) competition? Do we message in a variety of forums? Do we make some sort of Innovation Award For Social Media?
I'm not quite sure of the best way to approach this.
But I'll let you know what we end up doing, and how it goes ...