Pic Credits: Hugh

The ESN culture that traditional India Inc. needs

Facebook at Work got launched in India last week. In case you didn’t hear about it, you can read about it here, here or here. It’s a big step and impressive to see some of the traditional Indian corporates open up to enterprise social networks (ESN). Yes, that’s what Facebook at Work is.

Two doubts with the above articles.

1. While the articles say Facebook at Work has been launched, a friend tells me Facebook is yet to commercially launch it. This means Facebook isn’t yet charging it as a SaaS product. Anyone with inside knowledge on this?

2. The articles fail to mention some of the more known ESNs like Yammer (a Microsoft Office 365 product), Google+ (Google Apps for Work product) but instead compares Facebook at Work with Slack, which isn’t a fair comparison at all. Why so? Facebook pitched and dressed its press release saying so?

Before moving ahead, lets make it clear, I am a proponent of ESNs. They are an asset for a communicator and a great tool for making the workforce more engaged, connected and productive. Every internal communication team needs to make use of them to stop corporate spam (read mass mails)!

Facebook at Work is selling itself on its ease of use (watch Julien Codornieu, Director, Platform Partnerships, Facebook talk about it). It’s key but that’s looking at the immediate small picture. Adoption of Facebook at Work (or any other ESNs, in general) is a great step for the organisation’s cultural transformation. Let me put it this way, ESNs are the much needed boost in India’s traditional corporate culture transformation. The companies which have signed up have taken this bold step to change their organization culture. Kudos to them!

Adi Gordrej, Chairman of Godrej Group, once candidly acknowledged, “In India Inc., we have a bit of a (rigid) hierarchical structure.” (BTW, Godrej is one of the early adopters of Facebook at Work). Most of traditional India Inc. has a pyramid organisational structure and an anachronistic management culture. With that said, it is one thing to have Facebook at Work on-board, but to make the most out of it; the path is long and weary.

ESNs as a basic must require collaboration. Employees need to collaborate to drive the ESN, to create content and essentially increase productivity. Herein culture of the organisation plays a key role. An ideal culture for it would be where ‘digital’ isn’t a buzzword but a part of daily employee life and where the designation/tenure doesn’t denote who sir/ma’am is. Adoption of ESN as a part of the organization offers a move to grasp this culture.

ESN is a platform which breaks the barriers of hierarchy and puts all the employees at the same level. It’s a platform for genuine two way dialogue, which forms the basis of an effective and engaged workforce. The touch of curated and controlled ‘social’ is provided to employees via ESNs. It’s a great tool for organizations to connect their employees spread across diverse locations, possibly even remote locations. A culture of mutual respect is harnessed wherein all employees are invited to participate, without regard for rank, function or tenure.

ESNs have tons of benefit but to quote J. K. Rowling, “It does not do to dwell on dreams.

Let’s consider a more likely scenario; you and your work colleagues are making the most of Facebook at Work ‘Group’. But, for inputs from your tenured superior you will have to seek appointment and hold an offline group meeting. That’s against what ESNs stand for. It might seem insignificant, but that happening across the organization will be counterproductive to ESNs. Also, imagine a college campus recruit used to social media, using Facebook at Work and has each post filled with ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. Almost unlikely it would be comfortable and ‘social’ for him/her to be doing that. That’s the reality the prevailing culture of most traditional organizations will present.

It needn’t and shouldn’t be like that. The early adopters of Facebook at Work have taken the first step. The next step is to build the culture around it. While the amalgamation of corporate communication, IT and HR team will be running the show, the onus sits with the top management to encourage and more importantly, drive a collaborative workforce.

Unless the organisation culture puts everyone at the same level field and the top management is social (and not just digital, mind you), the success and engagement of ESN will remain a KRA for the internal communications team.

To end with a quote, “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” The adoption of an ESN has been the first step, the second is to mould and drive acceptance of the culture around it.