Your Enterprise Social “Pilot” is Already Doomed

Look. I get it. You’re not sure what you’re going to get from enterprise social. So you bring it in, flip the switch for a few hundred hand selected people, and you’re doomed before you’ve even started. Why? Because you called it a “pilot”.

I do understand the desire to call things pilots. In a previous role as a Technology Research Analyst, our team would often position pilots as a safe way to try out how some new technology might impact an area. The idea behind a pilot is that you’ll try something out, evaluate how it worked, and then there will usually be some sort of Go/No-Go decision.

But here’s the problem with calling your Enterprise Social rollout a pilot. Usually a pilot is limited to a select number of people, let’s say a hundred or a thousand. By doing so, you’re putting a fence around who the people in your pilot can collaborate with or who might have answers to pressing business questions. At my previous company, when we first experimented with ESN, we didn’t have any restrictions on who could join. One day, someone asked the question “I’m looking for a SME with wind turbine engineering expertise. Has anyone worked with someone on similar issues?” Within hours, this person had responses from someone in Ohio, Iowa, and Belgium. Had we restricted who had access to the network, this serendipitous connection may not have been made.

There is no way for you to know every single person that is necessary to invite in order for these serendipitous connections to happen. I remember when I was part of a Lync pilot. Sounds great in practice, but there were times when I wanted to IM a colleague of mine, but s/he wasn’t in the pilot. How was I going to give an honest evaluation when the people I wanted to collaborate with didn’t even have access to the same tool?

Second, I think there is some user psychology at play when people hear the word pilot. Like I mentioned earlier, a pilot implies that at the end there will be a decision to keep going forward or to stop altogether. That can be detrimental to how your pilot users think about their contributions. If this thing might go away, why should I waste my time contributing to it if I don’t know what will happen to my content? You really run the risk of your users not bringing their whole self because the project seems fleeting. Here’s a quote from a large oil and gas company that went down this path.

“We have called our Yammer implementation a ‘pilot’ and now an ‘extended pilot’ and it causes apprehension when users are deciding whether or not to invest the time to learn and contribute.”

So instead of calling it a “pilot”, refer to it as “phase one” or “wave one”. Why? Because “phase one” implies that there will be a “phase two, three, etc.” I heard one company say, “We call them a wave because you can’t stop a wave.” Now, you bring users into phase one and they suddenly feel like early adopters. These early adopters will now feel like they are the start of something grand. When people feel valued at the beginning phases, they’re more likely to become ambassadors in later phases. It’s kind of like being part of that group of fans that first discovers a new band. Those fans end up running your fan club.

Impact Hub West Minster called their rollout a “Pioneer Phase”

You’ll also do yourself a lot of favors by not limiting who can be a part of phase one. Instead leave it open and let people invite others. Invitations to join are a way of saying “Hey, I’m getting value out of this and I think you might too.” Remember, the more people you have in your network, the greater your chances are for unforeseen, serendipitous connections to happen.

There’s a great quote from this Huffington Post article titled “Enterprise Collaboration: Interested or Invested?

”Don’t try and run a proof of concept with a contained group,” says [Stephen] Lamb. “That will just show you that you can’t be effective in an open collaborative environment if you limit the interactions between users. It’s really an all or nothing commitment.”

When it comes down to it, you’re trying to build a thriving community. Yes, the technology is a component of that, but the technology is really only a small part of the experiment. You’re trying to prove that a need for your company exists to make connections that have never been made before. That there is a need to exchange information in ways people haven’t been able to. You want employees to work like a network. If you don’t create the conditions that allow for that to happen, you will have failed.

Hopefully you understand that I’m not opposed to the concept of a pilot. I’m opposed to what the word implies. It’s pretty clear that enterprise social is here to stay and organizations need to figure out how to acclimate their employees to this change. So don’t stifle this change, before you’ve even started, by calling it a pilot or limiting who can participate. Whether you’re ready for it or not, the wave is coming.

Be sure to check out my colleagues’ follow up articles on this subject:

Launching Enterprise Social by Noah Chandler

How Does Your Garden Grow by Steve Somers