A Shift in the Messaging around Social Enterprise

I’ve noticed a shift in how vendors and some IT professionals have been talking about Social Enterprise, especially enterprise social networks. In the past, it was felt that social enterprise adoption, especially social collaboration adoption, was a bottom up process. Knowledge workers wanted to work together better but found that their tools were inadequate. Provide the tools and adoption would spread virally. The truth is, that didn’t happen. New ESG research on knowledge worker attitudes toward Facebook-like enterprise social networking tools shows how little impact knowledge workers see these tools having on their ability to collaborate or be productive.

Subsequently, there has been a shift in the messaging from vendors of these enterprise social networks. Now, we are being told, it’s really a top down affair. Upper management must make a commitment to change the culture of their organizations in order to see value from these social tools. Within this narrative, the cultural change will drive more innovation and productivity.

This is a blame-the-end-user game. IT bought into these tools but they haven’t been welcomed with open arms by knowledge workers. Subsequently, social enterprise is perceived of as having a poor ROI. Productivity and innovation gains tied to social collaboration tools are not emerging in the eyes of the knowledge workers who feel they can perform the same collaborative processes without having to learn how to use new software. Forcing a company to change its culture to justify a software purchase is backwards.

Where did this idea come from? Some companies wanted to change their culture. They realized that they operated in a disconnected and stratified environment. It had become obvious to them that their company was broken down into small pockets of people who were comfortable sharing knowledge with each other but not with others. The introduction of enterprise social networks created both an opportunity and process for changing that environment. It didn’t matter if it bubbled up from a department level or from the CEO’s office, both of which happened. What mattered was that someone wanted to change.

The problem is that for software vendors to make a living with enterprise social networks, they have to sell to more than just those companies desperately in need of transformative change. They have to convince every company that they need to transform the culture of their organizations in order to be competitive. Hence, the shift to a top-down approach. If you convince C-level executives that they need this cultural change they will buy the tools to enable it. If nobody actually uses those tools, so what? You can tell them they are driving adoption wrong, that they are allowing resistance to thwart necessary change. They can be convinced that they need consulting services to help get their organizations in shape.

This is not an approach that will work. A CEO or CIO can dictate that everyone have a product on their endpoint of choice. They can demand that processes change to use these tools. What they can’t really do is force valuable knowledge workers to use them. Instead, they have to present a compelling reason why using enterprise social networks – whether standalone or embedded in other systems of record – will help the workers in the trenches do a better job. They also have to show how that translates into success for the company and success for the individual.

Pushing social on knowledge workers won’t work anymore than pushing food on someone who’s not hungry. They first have to be hungry for what enterprise social tools offer and feel good after using them. Then, knowledge workers will buy into the promise of the Social Enterprise.

Topics: Enterprise Mobility