Be careful your adoption strategy does not reinforce an existing mindset

Photo by ddqhu

Note: as part of our launch of a new ESN Health Check Service, we will publish a mini-series of blog posts sharing some of our research into user adoption strategies and tactics for social collaboration platforms / ESNs — and this is the fourth one…

Leadership involvement is an effective way of encouraging employees to adopt social collaboration platforms and ESNs, but it also risks reinforcing some of the mindset and behaviours that these projects are trying to overcome.

Too often, senior leaders use ESNs as megaphones to push one-way communications about things that have already happened, rather than to consult on what should happen, which gives little opportunity for employees to share their own insights and ideas. We have seen many instances, especially where companies are only using a basic ESN such as Yammer, where it is a CEO blog post that brings people to the platform, if only to comment “well done!’ or “great!” rather than engage in deeper discussion.

A better approach is for senior leadership to use ESNs in their sense-making and decision-making processes, whilst they are still considering alternative ideas. A good example is Jos de Blok, CEO of Buurtzorg, who shares his ideas on their ESN — mostly in the evenings — in a genuine attempt to get input and ideas from colleagues.

In her excellent Digital Workplace research report last year, Jane McConnell highlighted how the most difficult challenge for social business organisations is to change the mindset of employees. Consequently, many companies still struggle with “slow-decision making, often consensus-based” and “hesitation or resistance to rethink how we work” — behaviours that are even visible within their ESNs, which theoretically should make new ways of working possible.

If organisations do not take seriously the challenge of changing the mindset, then whilst they might obtain some productivity improvements using social technology, they will never get the competitive advantages that can emerge through truly new ways of working.

ESNs can be an important element of the connective tissue that enables individuals and teams to work with greater contextual awareness of business goals and directions, and ultimately help enable more autonomous swarm behaviours. But on a simpler, more day-to-day level, ESNs create ambient awareness of what colleagues are up to, which enables employees to build upon each others ideas and spot nuggets of improvements just from the output of daily work. In the ideal organisation, an ESN can provide the technological embodiment of the Toyota’s People Systems Thinking, but this requires a mindset that is more about peer-to-peer collaboration than just more effective top-down communication.

Encouraging your CEO to blog is ok, but a better approach would be to encourage genuine participation in the platform, even if it is just ‘liking’ or sharing other peoples’ posts and acknowledging good ideas. This will have a great impact on user adoption in the long-term, than the rush to read and praise the great leader’s first blog post.

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