Designing Social Workplaces isn’t Hard, but it is Complex

At last week’s E2.0 conference in Boston, I was surprised and pleased by the way my “in-the-flow” phrase has gained common currency.

I was also surprised, but less pleased, by some of the “best practices” I heard flying around. Whether in keynotes, sessions, or just hallway conversations, I heard a lot of claims of dubious merit, claims like:

  • Start with a small pilot and let it grow virally
  • Invest heavily in community management, because a community is only as successful as its managers
  • Workers won’t use social software without personal incentives
  • Workers who don’t belong to the Facebook Generation don’t “get” social software.
  • Social software adoption requires a culture of collaboration
  • You shouldn’t launch collaborative tools without a collaboration strategy

There’s a common theme behind all this advice: You should be scared of launching enterprise social software, because achieving adoption is really hard, really time-consuming, and really expensive.

Sorry friends, but I’m calling Bullshit.

I had to read Michael Idinopulos’ post a couple of times to make sure I understood it.

Basically – in a round about way – he is describing two things:

  • The complex nature of organisations. 
  • That social business tools work, because they help people get work done ‘in-the-flow’.

I agree entirely – and this makes the AHA case study a great example.

But lets address this issue of organisational complexity.

Sometimes a simple intervention – like introducing a new technology – can make an immediate impact. But we don’t actually know why, although we can observe the benefits when it works. Do the same again in a different situation and you take a gamble on the outcome. For systems of engagement, this is the problem of copying macro level case studies when change actually happens at the micro level of individual groups and individuals. Sometimes it only takes an influential blocker, a critical system that doesn’t integrate well, a policy that can’t be side stepped or a group that has already picked their own solution – suddenly the dynamic changes.

I use those words deliberately, because the character of some organisations is to be conservative, others are prepared to to be more reckless. Smart organisations take a design-led middle ground. They don’t follow knee jerk reactions to new technology, but they don’t fall for shallow thinking either.

To help make that point, here are some different case studies (I’m focusing on enterprise microblogging, as there is a level of commonality between them – but this also follows on from some earlier posts):

Each of these examples had a different journey (Micro), but each had a positive story to tell (Macro).

Incidentally, the CIO behind the case study that Idinopulos described has written a detailed post describing the “15 Key Steps for Successful Implementation“. This isn’t simple, but the steps make it less complex; and its all about finding that fit so that users can get into the flow easily.

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2 thoughts on “Designing Social Workplaces isn’t Hard, but it is Complex

  1. oh Jamesamazing experience today … 61 year old shift supervisor comes in to get more info on our new Team Sharepoint shared calendar … could I please resend an email with the link onto the blue collar guys’ email accountwhy ? the 61.5 year old operator who is the resident bluecollar guys’ IT geek guru wanted the link so he could try it out on their desktop for his mates I sort of trickled it around … and gradually it’s getting adopted … knowledge ninja stuff huh ?cheers@KA

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