Social Collaboration There’s more to it than just implementing a tool. It requires a mindset change.

By Shashi Mohan, EVP, CTO & CIO, Business Head – UnMail, Intellect’s ESN solution


Shashi Mohan, EVP, CTO & CIO, Business Head – UnMail, Intellect’s ESN solution

Change is the only constant. This statement may be clichéd, but considering the changing face of the global workforce, it is starkly true. It is noted by researchers that the current generation of baby boomers (those born between about 1946 and 1965) will be retiring within the next 20 years. This set will be replaced by whom we call 'Millennial' and 'Digital Native'. I call them the 'Digital Generation', always connected, communicating and collaborating in real-time – in other words 'always on' with their mobile devices such as smart phones browsing social media and e-commerce sites when they are walking, during lunch or at dinner tables.

Are Organizations Ready for Techno-Social Savvy Youth?

The unique needs, experiences and characteristics of this generation of people definitely change the attributes of the workplace - be it a global enterprise, medium or small organization. But one thing does seem certain – that they are highly knowledgeable and commendable in adopting effective communication technologies at work; resulting in improving the overall productivity of the organization. But the key question is: If our young workforce is clearly riding on the social boom, shouldn’t our enterprises be geared to meet their collaboration needs? It is time organizations go the ‘Social’ way. It is time they start considering Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) tools.

Collaboration requires a Mindset Change

A few years ago, Altimeter conducted a survey on how companies were leveraging social networking apps. The outcome was interesting - almost 60 percent of the participant companies were unanimous that ESN platforms helped employee retention and the productivity had gone up by almost 30 percent, if not less. However, interestingly, another survey report stated that not many companies were willing to join the ESN bandwagon. Some organizations that have deployed social networking platforms with a view to enhancing productivity and reducing communication cost found few takers, and a large chunk of them who want to use them are clueless on how to use it in the first place. Why?

If Whatsapp can’t, can ESN?

A friend of mine said that he is part of five different groups on Whatsapp, and each group has no less than 40 members. For as small as a 40-member Whatsapp group, not everyone is active – as a principle only a tad 10 percent show a lot of enthusiasm and the rest only cheer and forward the information to other groups they are part of. Now apply that principle to ESN platforms. Figuratively, in a 200-strong company, what are the chances that everyone participates in a discussion on an ESN platform? Mostly, people will find it attractive in the beginning, but interest may fizzle out if it doesn’t hold their interest or only a few people dominate the platform. The primary reason for this is that in most companies the approach ESN is as a technology deployment rather than a relationship or a value creation tool.

Adoption should be top down

From personal experience, I have understood that in the consumerized world, business units will adopt ESN only if the IT department doesn’t force or compel employees. This is just one part of it. The other three impediments that I have seen in my experience include, culture, misinterpretation and lack of leadership.

Enterprises that understand the importance of ESN, however, often seem to ignore the nuance of encouraging employees and creating an environment to boost productivity. The top-down approach is critical to the success of ESN platforms. Executive leadership should to be the first movers, not the managers. I don’t expect my coding team or a testing group to start conversing from day one. This won’t happen. CXOs should step in and start building the organization culture. It is okay to not expect the front team to build the culture for you. This is how most new
adoption happens.

So what can you do?

What should CEOs do to make their organizations more Millennial friendly and attract the best talent? If a cheat sheet helps, here’s one that worked for me.

Build your core team. Get the ‘20s’ team to lead, advise, suggest and recommend what works best and what needs to be done to promote collaborative culture.

Set a 60-day plan. Create a set of priorities that the team needs to achieve. Give them the freedom to do research, engage with others, and transform.

Analyze the outcome: If 3 out of 5 favor collaborative tools, take it as a positive sign. Structure your analytics around ‘for’ and ‘against’. Fence sitters do not matter.

Share the outcome: Create excitement around the positive outcome and the benefits of ESN.

The idea is to understand the current culture and see how much time it would take to usher in the new culture of collaboration. The team that is tasked with the collaboration initiative should maintain an ‘open-door policy’, whereby employees, customers, and vendors are encouraged to maintain an open dialogue with company leadership.

Only after all this, you start identifying the platform that best suits your employees, vendors and customers. As a leader, it is incumbent on you to start collecting and sharing in order to shape specific outcomes.

Organizations that just follow what their competition is doing may well end up wasting their resources, time and money. How is your organization geared up to usher in the new collaborative culture?


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