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Exploiting Social Collaboration: It’s About Culture Change

 Author(s): Gloria Burke, Posted 01/26/12

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Let’s be honest.  Most people do not like change.  A mere mention of the word sends some into a panic; the prospect of change triggers feelings of uncertainty and raises barriers. There is, however, a minority who readily embraces change – and yet another group waiting for evidence that the proposed change “is a good thing” before adopting it. 

I’m in the minority who loves change – the opportunity to learn something new. I will admit, I was reluctant to swap my beloved Razor Phone for an iPhone, swipe my airline card to get my plane ticket, or replace my check book with a debit card, but Google, American Airlines and Bank of America did such a great job of socializing the value of changing my behavior, that all resistance faded. Today, I can’t imagine my life without these conveniences. Can you?

Let’s put “change” in the context of Social Media for the internal business enterprise. Why should social connection, knowledge sharing and collaboration matter to company leadership? Why is it important to imbed these practices into a company’s culture? Let’s look at three aspects:

(1) Social media makes knowledge sharing both explicit (written) and tacit (what people know and are currently thinking), transparent and fluid. Many companies wrestle with knowledge access and management issues caused by multiple silos of authoritative content.  Adopting social collaboration platforms, tools and processes enables companies to break down restrictive access barriers. In the past, employees viewed hoarding knowledge as power and associated it with job security. Today, one who readily shares knowledge and expertise whether by contributing documents to a knowledge base, writing blogs, or posting to newsfeeds wields greater power.

Employees contributing intellectual capital are recognized by peers through ratings and comments on their submissions and, in some cases, employees are incented and rewarded for contributing to the company’s knowledge base.  These “knowledge champions” are seen as high value contributors – empowered by the sharing of knowledge, not the hoarding of knowledge.  Knowledge is now more fluid and far reaching. An email sharing knowledge one to one or one to a designated few is limiting in scope. Conversely, a newsfeed post or a blog post sharing that same knowledge is available to all employees interested in the subject. Similarly, an employee seeking an answer to a question on a specific subject can direct it to all employees with that expertise (known or unknown) and find the right answer quickly.  Social media makes this serendipitous form of learning possible.

(2) Consistent capturing, repurposing and reuse of knowledge, in particular for client proposal, contract and engagement assets, delivers measurable value to the business through increased employee productivity and improved operating efficiency. By capturing and sharing lessons learned, the quality of business offerings and solutions evolve, new ideas and innovations are generated and client satisfaction and marketplace agility is increased.

(3) When subject matter experts share their expertise in a socially-enabled community setting, the opportunity for members to enhance their skills and expertise, and advance career paths increases exponentially.  Socially-enabled communities play an important role in knowledge transfer.  They promote connection and collaboration, diminish the learning curve associated with new hires and employees who are assuming a new job role, and serve as an ecosystem for the development of ideas and innovations. Communities become a knowledge-sharing hub – a place where employees can go “to get work done.” Efficient access to subject matter expertise, relevant information and timely answers to questions make employees more productive.

Research published by Forrester, Global Enterprise Web 2.0 Market Forecast: 2007 To 2013, projects that enterprise spending on Web 2.0 technologies will reach $4.6 billion by 2013 and climb to $6.4 billion by 2016.  Gartner predicts that social technology will be integrated with most business applications by 2016. But, deriving value from social media is not just about implementing Web 2.0 technology. It is, in fact, transforming a company’s knowledge-sharing culture and influencing daily behavior patterns to ensure effective adoption and exploitation of the new social tools and processes. 

Change is not easily accepted across a large business enterprise; the challenge is greater for global companies where cultural behaviors and language barriers add complexity. Companies using a “build it and they will come” or organic implementation model can expect a long transformation journey and run a higher risk of employee frustration and failure because value propositions are often at too high a level to be meaningful to employees. Whereas, companies that use a structured approach to implementation create searchable profiles to help employees build a company presence and to establish a valuable network of colleagues, develop and evolve company-sponsored communities of excellence to foster connection and collaboration, and conduct role-based awareness campaigns, communications, training and support to realize a more rapid rate of adoption and more consistent and effective level of use.  

Transformation is a journey, not a destination and it tells the story of change. It’s been 18 months since Unisys embarked on its journey to socially-enable its global work force. We are well on our way toward achieving that goal with more than 15,000 of our 23,000 global employees connecting and collaborating with social media tools. It is our hope that we will reflect back a year from now and wonder how we ever got along without them.


The statements posted on this blog are those of the writer alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unisys.

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