Forced by digitalization and new ways of working, more and more companies want to build a strong Social Enterprise Network (ESN). Companies often have the following requirements when they think of an ESN or social collaboration tools:
Social Collaboration Tools should…
- …solve all knowledge management problems
- …enable employees to work self-organized
- …motivate employees to share their knowledge
- ….make experts and their knowledge visible and available for the whole company
- …always keep knowledge up to date and use it across department boundaries
- …increase innovations.
But the reality is different.
I have rather made the following experiences:
- …documents and knowledge are hardly found
- …many parallel running systems are implemented
- …employee store knowledge on their computer so they can find it better
- …social collaboration tools are not used
- …knowledge transfer across teams and departments does not take place.
What’s going wrong here?
Each working area has different requirements. However, when a tool is rolled out for everyone, the different requirements are not taken into account. In the end, a tool should help to solve a certain problem. Only then employees see the benefit, which is the prerequisite for acceptance and use of the tools.
Myth: When you implement a tool, networking happens automatically.
This is what many companies think. Because there are so many simple tools that can be implemented quickly without a great IT knowledge. There is no analysis what the employees really need in their daily business. The tools don’t suite the requirements of the employees. That’s why they won’t use the tools or participate in an ESN.
So what should be considered for an ESN and social collaboration to succeed?
The following I describe some suggestions and best practices from a variety of projects – conception, development and implementation of ESN and social collaboration tools.
1) See the introduction of an enterprise social network and social collaboration as a business case
Before implementing tools, first you have to work out in a business case which goals you would like to achieve with an ESN and with social collaboration and how the achievement of the goals can be evaluated. You should consider and harmonize the individual goals of the various projects within the organization. The point is to determine interactions. It often happens that different teams use different tools, resulting in many isolated solutions that are not compatible with each other and can be intelligently linked. This quickly leads to confusion what to use and which tools support which processes best.
2) Be clear about business processes and change before you introduce tools
Another common pitfall is ignoring change and corporate culture: You must not just focus on the tool. The focus is on the way how employees collaborate and network. It should be clear to everyone involved what the way of working looks like today and what should be different in the future and what the employees and teams need for this. Then you can decide which tools can support processes, new structures and forms of cooperation.
3) Deal with change step by step and have a pilot group
There are three ways to introduce new tools: Top Down, Bottom up or a mix of both.
In the top-down approach, the goals and measures are set by the management. The risk can be that the needs of the employees are not considered.
In the bottom-up approach, on the other hand, the master plan comes from the operational departments. The risk is that the acceptance of top management may be lacking and no budget is approved.
The most promising approach is a strategy mix of both approaches: the management creates the framework conditions, the teams and employees give recommendations based on their needs. This ensures orientation to the corporate strategy and prevents isolated solutions. Nevertheless, employees are directly involved and contribute their ideas to the project.
Choose one or more pilot groups to try out the tools and new ways of working out. The employees involving in the pilot groups can give feedback before rollout in the whole organization. The goal is always to involve all participants and to implement changes step by step and not to change habits all at once. Best practice is to identify power user who support other employees in the use of the tools and help to master the change.
4) Implement suitable training courses
Furthermore, employees need meaningful training for the use of the tools: in addition to IT training, you should also train how to use the tools in daily business and in the different collaboration scenarios. So the employees understand the business benefits and the way of working togehter in the future. Instead of „feature and functions training“, practical scenarios and use-cases should be trained.
Even if the tools are very user-friendly so that they can be used intuitively, you should provide training. The purpose of the training is also to intensify communication with user groups. Mostly it is not only about IT, but about questions like how to deal with knowledge and new forms of cooperation correctly and whether there is support from the management level or from other power user. Employees should also be allowed to express their concerns. And only train when the tool is available. Otherwise everything will be forgotten again. It’s hard to believe, but this is very often ignored.
5) Have a marketing raodmap to communicate the tools
If the introduction of new tools is not communicated to the employees, no one will use the tool. As with training, the right time is important: only start communication when the tool is available. Or teaser the benefits. If you still have weeks to wait for the introduction, the enthusiasm is gone again.
6) Build a user-friendly structure when employees are asked to document their knowledge and experiences
Sharing knowledge and saving or writing down one’s own experience costs employees a lot of time. Documenting is often seen as a major hurdle and a very unpleasant job. It is also sometimes unclear which knowledge is relevant for documentation. If you provide structure, such hurdles will be mainly removed. What do you find more pleasant? A blank sheet of paper or blank wiki article with the request to write down everything you know and what is important for the job? Or a pre-structured wiki article? It’s much easier to write down a checklists of your experiences than providing a full written text.
7) Give information and knowledge a process context
Collaboration tools, tools for knowledge management and an esn should always be seen in the context of the business processes and should support the activities and tasks of the employees.
Context is king. We move from workflow to a learning flow. On the basis of the processes, all contents/knowledge objects that the employees need for their tasks are placed context sensitively. So the provided knowledge and information can be used without effort. Tasks and problems can be solved faster. The employees directly see the benefit for their work. There should also be feedback possibilities for the employees to post their own experiences or to constantly improve existing content.
You can’t assume that only by providing the right tools an enterprise social network and new ways of working will succeed. You should always consider the requirements of the employees in their daily work. Only then they can see the benefits of an esn and social collaboration tools and will use them properly.