The real reason they’re not using your enterprise social network

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Perhaps pixie dust is the missing ingredient in the workplace. Until we find a cache of the stuff, we have to settle for the other two. While I happen to be a person of faith, we can for today’s purposes call it “putting things you believe in into action” and let that one rest. However, I do want to talk a little more about trust. It’s weighing on my mind a lot lately, as both my data and my gut tell me it’s a lack of trust that’s hurting adoption of enterprise social at Microsoft.

Charlene Li’s recent post (and book) about lack of leadership being a key adoption suppressor isn’t wrong. I just have data that shows our leaders are using our network as much as anyone else, but they’re using it poorly. So, I think leadership use is *necessary*, but not sufficient. And I believe the real answer lies in the level of trust inherent in the company culture.

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Trust is foundational, a keystone in all our relationships. It’s self-evident in our relationship with a significant other, but isn’t addressed overtly within teams often enough. The book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” places the lack of trust as the #1 reason for failure in team collaboration.

How does this look? As I mentioned in my previous post on trust, there are at least four fears that directly impact our desire to work openly: fear of punishment for failure, fear of exclusion, fear of losing territorial ground, and fear of losing status. Watch for signs of these fears, and you’ll find mistrust. Let me offer a specific example that’s troubling me because it’s appearing more frequently.

I reached out to several leaders of active, but private, groups on our Yammer network, asking them why they had made their group private. I heard a similar response from each: while they agreed with open collaboration as a general rule, they claimed this group was different because they needed to discuss “confidential” information. When pressed on what was so confidential, it turns out it’s things like plans for role and compensation changes that aren’t yet fully baked. Of course, this makes up less than 5% of the group’s content, but apparently that means the whole group needs to be private.

I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed. This is hierarchical thinking that stems from either a fear of losing power, which I don’t believe of these individuals, or a fear of exclusion by looking stupid for not having thought of everything. They appear not to trust that their employees can contribute to a discussion about something that will directly impact their job and their livelihood, and yet still understand that they won’t have the final say.

Openness doesn’t imply chaos. Open collaboration allows for clear owners of decisions. Even holocracies, a radical experiment in transforming traditional corporate hierarchies into more participatory management, mandate clear ownership of decisions. However, more voices in idea formation and data gathering are better.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Our CIO addressed trust in a recent internal blog post. He hit on a likely reason that it’s been getting worse and not better lately: “Trust is especially hard in times of constant change and in times when we’re accelerating more than ever before.” The risk of looking dumb by putting your ideas out there is particularly high when it’s impossible to keep up with the influx of new tech, new business models, even new paradigms. I admit to feeling it every time I post here.

There are at least two solutions. One from that same CIO blog post in the spirit of Hemingway: “I will always trust everyone at Microsoft until they breach that trust.” The other is less profound, but possibly harder to realize. Could we all just accept that none of us has all the answers, all the data, or all the latest news? Could we have a little humility? You and I both need the wisdom of our crowd to survive and to thrive. As I fly to Chicago right now, I know that I don’t need to know all the hip restaurants. That’s what my network is for. Could we expand that concept to our work?

When we accept that we need our crowd, we’re motivated to get everyone to share their work. I learned from a colleague that a major energy company is shifting an internal sharing policy from “need to know” to “no harm to know.” From “closed by default” to “open by default.” That’s fantastic. Imagine how empowered those employees feel. Their company trusts them to be smart in using a larger corpus of IP to innovate and move faster. Dan Pontefract’s recent book, “Flat Army,” defines engagement as “the state in which there is reciprocal trust between the employee and leadership to do what’s right however, whenever, and with whomever.” (p.14) I’d love to know how employee engagement rises following this policy change.

I asked Dan to elaborate on the concept for this post. Here’s his response:

For a culture of collaboration to manifest, indeed trust must become the DNA of the organization. As I wrote, “We must be able to trust those in our organizations to explore the human condition through the course of regular business practice. Micro-managing, for example, is merely another name for distrust.” In other words, if a leader doesn’t trust her team, or an employee doesn’t trust his leader, there is ZERO chance for a ‘culture of collaboration’. Instead, we mire ourselves in a ‘culture of the disenfranchised’, drowning at the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Dan goes on in Flat Army to suggest that companies should replace a Return On Investment focus with attention to their Return on Intelligence, Innovation, and Ideas. I contend it’s impossible to make that shift without a culture of collaboration, which in turn won’t flourish without trust.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
― William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

I propose that in our careers, the Bard’s “few” should at least include everyone that’s joined the same company.

I challenge us to evolve, to overcome our fears of things we can’t predict or fully understand, to trust our colleagues enough to share and work openly.

I challenge you to find an opaque distribution list, secured internal SharePoint site, or private Yammer group, and ask yourself “will it do any HARM for anyone in my company to see this?” Then, open it up to everyone in your company and exercise that trust muscle.

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