"The most important thing collaboration enables employees to do is form bonds and connections with one another, in effect building relationships," Jacob Morgan writes in his book The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Emerging Social and Collaborative Tools. Morgan, who advises organizations on how to use social media technology through his business Chess Media Group, said the book contains much of the information and insight he has gathered from his consulting work. It was written, he said, for companies of all types and sizes that are looking to become more efficient and profitable.
Morgan makes the case that the relationships developed by engaged employees are key to how collaborative an organization is. He said the real value in enterprise collaboration comes through as more employees "share, communicate and engage with one another." That's what generates the flow of ideas that leads to innovation -- and ultimately to new ways of generating revenue, cutting costs and improving company productivity, he said. The more that organizations can enhance a worker's capability of forming strong ties with other employees, the more collaborative and successful an organization can become.
We spoke with Morgan to get a clearer understanding of how organizations might make better use of emerging enterprise collaboration technology and to dig deeper into the subject matter of enterprise social media.
Rather than just go along with the assumption that email will go the way of the dinosaur, you state in your book that enterprises must stop using email to communicate information. Why is that?
Jacob Morgan: I don't think they have to stop using email altogether for everything. But email is not a very efficient collaboration tool. There are some things email is good at and some things it is not good at.
I remember when email was used for asynchronous communication. Somebody sent you a message and you got back to them when you could (usually within 24 hours or so). Now all we do is wait for emails and respond to them. We get emails for everything nowadays, and we are told via push notifications when we receive emails. It's gotten to the point where we are notified that there's a note waiting for us. It's kind of like me calling you on the phone to tell you that I left you a voicemail. The second we get an email, we respond to it and then we get another email right back. It has become a glorified chat messaging tool!
I think email might make sense as an alert mechanism to notify us of activities that we need to respond to on other platforms. Kind of like a modern pager, which used to tell us that we were needed and gave us a phone number to call. Instead of a phone number, we will get messages that say "you should respond to xyz," or, "this document should be reviewed."
What are the main issues for widely dispersed organizations looking to improve or implement collaboration initiatives?
Morgan: There are three types of resistance and they come from managers, IT and employees. Ultimately, the one that is of greatest concern for organizations already in the process of deploying enterprise collaboration is employee adoption. In other words, how do we get employees to use the tools?
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There are a few key things that organizations can do to ensure employee adoption of collaboration technology. First, focus on the individual value instead of the corporate value for positioning and messaging. It's important to show the employee how this makes their job easier, and you need to lead by example -- [get] senior-level executives on board. Of course, you then have to make sure that resources exist for education and training and make sure collaboration is integrated into employee workflow. Next, listen to employees for feedback and suggestions and implement the valid ones. Finally, all this should help create a culture that supports collaboration.
If organizations are using social collaboration tools effectively with customers, why aren't they making the same gains within the enterprise with employees?
Morgan: Much of what we are seeing in the enterprise started with consumer-facing tools, but there are greater barriers to entry on the enterprise side. For starters, many of the enterprise tools can become quite costly, whereas Twitter and Facebook are free. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars just on technology is not uncommon.
Then you have other issues, such as security, loss of internal control, integration of other business technologies, the corporate culture, employee adoption, and a host of other obstacles that need to be addressed. It's much easier to get something started on say, Facebook, than it is to deploy something new and get employees to use it.
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What is the recipe for building trust with employees and inspiring them to use collaboration technology?
Morgan: I'm not sure there's an actual recipe for anything when it comes to enterprise collaboration. Every company is like a chess game: while goals are similar and the concepts for how the game should be played are the same, no two chess games are ever alike. At the end of the day, I've seen companies do some very creative things. Yum! Brands (a global owner of fast-food restaurants such as KFC and Taco Bell), for example, used decals in restrooms and on elevator doors to encourage employees to fill out their online profiles and encourage collaboration. Other companies have done "no-meeting" days during the platform launch, where everyone basically spends time playing on the new technology. Scavenger hunts, employee gift bags, messages from the CEO, town hall meetings and employee stories have all been used effectively at companies around the world to encourage adoption of enterprise collaboration tools.
You outline a handful of case studies in your book. Are there some common themes that can be derived from them that organizations can use in their deployment of a social media strategy?
Morgan: The common themes in the success stories I've encountered are telling the story of collaboration, focusing on individual value (and not just corporate value), leading by example with senior leadership support, conveying the broader message and vision, and making it fun.
Organizations also need to put strategy before technology, listen to the voice of the employee, learn to get out of the way, and integrate collaboration processes into the workflow. Then, inside a supportive environment, measure and look at the metrics that matter to the company, persist in implementation, adapt, and evolve. In the end, organizations that are effective in all this will understand why I believe collaboration can make the world a better place, and will recognize the value in both work lives and personal lives.
Jacob Morgan is the principal and co-founder of Chess Media Group, a management consultancy and strategic advisory firm that helps organizations understand how to use social and collaborative tools to solve business problems. Morgan has worked with organizations such as the U.S. Department of State and Adobe Systems, and he writes the blog Social Business Advisor.
This was first published in July 2012