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10 Common Themes in Successful Social Collaborations

When social collaboration is successful, it makes the organization adopting it more successful. The payoffs come in the form of innovation, efficiency, camaraderie, and engagement. What distinguishes the successes from the flops? Not every success story exhibits every one of these characteristics, but most could cite several of them.

Executive sponsorship makes a difference

Not every initiative is fortunate enough to have a CEO who starts blogging and commenting and promoting the social collaboration network as soon as it goes live. More often, the most passionate social collaboration advocates are several levels removed from the top of the company, whipping together a pilot project on a shoestring and trying to demonstrate enough value that senior executives will pay attention.

Seek executive sponsorship at whatever level you can find it. Inspiring a department head to participate on the network will give you the opportunity to show what social collaboration can do on that level, which can in turn be an argument for broader use and a more official endorsement from leadership.

Executive tolerance is just as important as participation. If you tell people the goal is an open and transparent organization and then have company leaders punish those who speak their mind, the online conversation will come to a halt.

Familiarity is just a starting point

Successful organizations don’t assume that employees will figure out how to use the collaboration network productively just because it looks something like Facebook. Make sure to provide the necessary guidance, training, and encouragement so that employees are successful in using your social collaboration tools productively.

Don’t hamstring use

At the same time when companies must win over employees who resist social networking, they also need to tap in to the knowledge and energy of those who have been using Facebook and Twitter for years. If they find that their supposedly forward-thinking organization has turned social networking into a bureaucratic chore, they will not be impressed. Don’t focus so much on preventing misuse of the social collaboration network that you prevent productive use.

Build on what works

Social collaboration advocates should pay attention to what works, and then do more of that.

For instance, when social collaboration starts at a grassroots level, give strong consideration to building on its technology of choice, even if it would not have been the first choice of enterprise IT. In some cases, that won’t be possible because the rogue product is truly awful, missing critical enterprise features. In that case, shut it down, but try to give the people involved a soft landing on your new, official platform.

Build on successful teams and processes as much as technology.

Get off to a good start

There are many ways to get started with social collaboration:

  • Embrace a grassroots effort and start to expand it, now with the organization’s blessing.

  • Launch a pilot project for one particular department or function, making the collaboration platform available to only those employees.

  • Launch the collaboration network to everyone at once, making a big splash, company-wide.

  • Launch the collaboration network to everyone at once, but target a particular department or function for training and support. If adoption spreads to other groups, that begin using it on their own initiative, terrific.

Any one of these can be successful, but the targeted approaches tend to work better. Pick a department or a function that you think has a good chance of success with social collaboration and try to generate some proof points that will convince others to come onboard.

Show relevance

Focused training works, as does encouraging employees to share lessons about how social tools work or don't in a particular job.

You can also use a mobile device to post a customer’s question to colleagues during a client meeting. Using a search of employee social profiles can find an expert in order to get the answer almost on the spot. That’s bound to impress your client!

Conquering time and space

These days, very few organizations operate by having everyone in the same place at the same time. They rely on home office workers, road warriors, branch offices, overseas offices, contractors, and outsourcing firms for different fractions of their labor.

There are all sorts of synchronous tools we use to collaborate long-distance. Social collaboration is a good asynchronous counterpart, able to work across time zones or generally deliver a message later to someone who is not available now. Compared with e-mail (otherwise, the default), social collaboration provides better context and a wider variety of modes of interaction.

Many social collaboration platforms also include synchronous communication tools such as chat or instant messaging, or the option of integrating with unified communications platforms for Internet video and phone calls.

The most successful users of social collaboration tend to have the need to support a geographically distributed organization, which provides the motivation for embracing the tools and learning to use them effectively. They succeed because they make mastering social collaboration a business priority.

Fight fragmentation

Social collaboration is often most successful as a unifying force in organizations that are otherwise fragmented. The enterprise social network can be a unifying force, for example, bringing together store managers from across the country and across brands to discuss issues they had in common.

Maintaining order

Social collaboration software is designed to help online communities be self-organizing as much as possible, allowing people to connect, share, form groups, and develop content on their own initiative. However, the most successful social collaboration strategists understand that communities don’t truly manage themselves, not entirely.

As social collaboration networks mature, they can also accumulate obsolete documents, inactive collaboration groups, outdated answers to questions and other content that could do more harm than good if users stumble across it in a search. Effective community managers try to minimize the accumulation of outdated stuff and eliminate it in periodic house cleanings.

Even more importantly, they highlight the best and most useful content and the most active and helpful communities, making those as easy to find as possible.

Showcase success

Social collaboration can be a powerful force for making people feel better about where they work and the work they do. Encourage the use of the network for peer recognition on an ongoing basis (all those Great job! and Congratulations on winning the sale! posts) as well as more official recognition for exceptional work.

Consider the use of social recognition apps such as Salesforce.com’s Work.com, which encourage employees to award each other badges for desirable behaviors. In addition to serving as visual tokens of recognition, these symbols serve a classification function, allowing managers to go back and see how much peer recognition each person has earned as part of a performance review.

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