Summer is upon us and I’ve been spending time reading through some of my notes of the various interviews I have conducted over the last 12 months in relation to collaboration tools and enterprise social networks.

I have interviewed over 250 ‘non-IT’ business users / advocates / leaders / stakeholders that have been introduced to new or upgraded collaboration platforms (O365, Jive, Chatter, Fuse, Yammer – the platform doesn’t really matter in relation to this article) and have found many of the comments follow a familiar pattern on the main issues which I believe companies still face in making a success of collaborative tools.

I should stress the issues may not be with the technology but a company’s ability to provide the appropriate implementation and change management support to assist participants in the adoption and utilisation of these tools.

I loved the work of Studs Terkel (just let the interviewee tell the story and don’t try to over complicate the message) so in the style of his oral histories here is the current story of 2015 directly from the mouth of a few participants faced with new technologies:

Making users feel safe

 “People wouldn’t have felt safe putting certain information on the site. Few understood the privacy settings and people are generally worried who can see what within the company. Leadership need to support and validate it before it gets used.”

“There is a hierarchy within the company and people generally would not follow or respond to comments by someone who is senior. It may be shyness or maybe culturally the way we have done things but we have to face this fact.”

“The most obvious element that is missing is the ability to make people feel safe. Networking with people in this company means putting your head above the water margin. It’s not something we do and we need a heavy support programme to show us how it’s done.”

Integrate into how people work

 The problem is that this isn’t “how we work” currently, it isn’t natural for people to use the tool and so the potential couldn’t be realized in this short time period. I think that if everyone was signed into the tool and they were encouraged to use it, it would be incredibly valuable.”

“I found the tool somewhat complicated if I’m being totally honest. Not being immediately able to find what I wanted or know how to do something made me slightly reluctant to use the tool regularly and left me frustrated.”

“It does feel a little bit like you are bombarded with reminders that someone has posted.”

“I did feel that some of the posts from individuals were not entirely appropriate for a company website and were more suited to Facebook. For example when someone is having a bad day and venting via their updates. I personally feel this is not something that you necessarily should be sharing with work colleagues and is best saved for a private social media page.”

This tool will be useful only if it replaces other tools. We get too much information and there’s not enough time in the day to process it all.

“Just more clutter which distracts me from my busy day.”

“During busy periods when colleagues are required to pull together and resolve issues against a deadline, I do not appreciate updates and activity streams bombarding my screen – which does not directly help with the matter in hand. Filter failure or not it is distracting.”

“The mobile app is just a tool for viewing the chit chat or direct messages so its functions are useless for me.”

“Unfortunately for me personally this is just another tool in an already overcrowded environment.”

 Governance and linkage with other channels

“If corporate messages were put on the collaboration platform it may devalue the message. People see the intranet as the official source of information.”

“Go where the people want to go. Don’t force people to choose between one and another. Intranet and ‘social’ need to be integrated.”

“I believe a ‘technology first’ approach has been taken by the tool. There has been poor implementation and communication planning. I just don’t know what to do with it.”

” The intranet is the backbone of the organisation structure. The social channel is the living parts of the organisation. Like skeleton and flesh. We need integration but not replacement. We also have other communication channels. I need easy to follow and seamless integration of content across the platforms.”

“It lacks the credibility of an official channel like the intranet.”

“We need to build trust on the channel. Some people trust it, others don’t.”

“On the platform everyone is an amateur. The intranet site is professional. If the social channel had more professional news and articles it may add more value.”

“There is concern over governance – my department on the social site has a page with outdated documents and people are discussing content within the document. I spoke to the intranet team and they didn’t have time to deal with content on the social platform as its run by a different team.”

“If management make an announcement and it is not on the intranet people may have issues. The expectation is it should be on there and not a social platform. It just doesn’t have that credibility.”

“I’ve not been on the social tool much. I wasted time looking at groups and communities of no relevance. It needs more governance. Too many groups now have details out of date – it’s getting worse than the intranet.”

“I’m frustrated by governance, or a lack of it. Imagery doesn’t look like the official brand. Too many sites are being setup and it’s becoming a mess.”

“I’m now seeing duplication with the intranet.”

“It’s not an official channel and it’s painful to find information.”

 Lessons learnt

 There are simply lessons that companies still fail to understand. To make these platforms a success you need to:

  • Have a strategy (business, content and knowledge)
  • Understand how the platform needs to integrate with intranet, document management, metadata, enterprise search and other channels
  • You need to do the ground work of business analysis, use cases and understand how people work. Ensure you understand what success is – and it can’t just be adoption.
  • Start small with good use cases that provide quick wins and have a supported phased approach to implementation. Volume brings value.
  • Provide the physical support – community management, advocacy, coaching and leadership support.

In essence enable the organisation, enable the technology and most importantly enable the people.

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