Social Business : Adoption or Adaptation ?


“Employees adoption or Business Adaptation”. It was the title of my presentation at the Social Business Forum in Milan last month. A couple of things before sharing the slides.

The starting acknowledgement – which I found in a couple of  presentations by other speakers – is quite simple and is subject to less and less discussion. Whatever you call it, enterprise 2.0, social business or anything else, the theoretical concept is impressive but when it comes to fact it works at worse not at all and at best not particularly well with results that are fat from expectations.

If something works well in theory and not practically it means that that’s not the idea that’s wrong but the way it’s implemented.

Adoption or the art of passing risk on to employees

Today most programs rely exclusively on adoption. A nice word meaning that employees are asked to change in a company that does not change formally and where their behaviors will often go against the norm, against managers’ expectations and against what the large majority is doing. Imagine a country where people drive right and where the government decides, one day, that driving left would be better. In the end 80% of drivers keep on driving right, 20% left and the police enforces the law that was left unchanged. Maybe you find it satisfactory but I don’t. It’s important to convince people and make employees drive change as much as possible but if it’s pretext for burying one’s head in the sand, not undertaking any reform and aims at not displeasing anyone it will never lead to anything. In such cases, either change is strategic and has to be done or it’s not and doing nothing is better.

“We should not expect an application to work in environments for which its assumptions are not valid”.”.

Anyone should think twice about this quote from Goldratt. Replace application with method, process, practices, behaviors and you’ll have a pretty good diagnosis how what’s happening today.

Today’s enterprise is a bad environment for new approaches

If adoption happens it will be because an environment has been created in which the assumptions that found the Social Business / Enterprise 2.0 model are valid. An environment where businesses hire people according to the skills that are needed in this environment, not antisocial people with a rock star CV that will go against the what leaders expect. An environment where specific things are measured, evaluated and managed in a specific way. An environment where knowledge, expertise and experience will be used a the design stage of any process or operating model, where flexibility points are embedded in processes and where employees are empowered for better execution.

None of this things will happen unless it’s decided and enforced to make the business change as a system accordingly. It’s a matter of transformation (as mentioned in Jane McConnell’s Digital Workplace Trend report) and if businesses do not decide to adapt, employees adoption will be nothing but a smoke screen leading to failure.

Don’t reinvent the wheel : an enterprise is still an enterprise

So, what model to choose to audit the current situation, decide action streams and build a program ? No need to reinvent the wheel, an umpteenth social matrix to become popular on slideshare and join the club of the famous buzzwords inventors. An enterprise is still an enterprise and a good old framework is enough to start working and ask the right question. So I reused the famous McKinsey’s 7S framework that’s still vert accurate and added a couple of questions to ask and things to do. Not exhaustive but enough to start the work the right way.

Here it is. Enjoy your reading. I’ll write more about the conference in a future post.

  • After first reading through your post and slides, I played a little mind game. I read it again, only this time replacing all mentions of “social business” with “Lean”. Guess what? It still made perfect sense.

    Now, what does that tell us? There are multiple ways to interpret it, one of them being that all of this applies to any corporate transformation. That would be the pessimistic view.

    I like to think it means something else though. Lean and social business are very much alike. The Western industry did not really get on the Lean wagon, because it is so difficult (if you have an hour and want to see a really good presentation on this, check out Marc Onetto’s presentation on Lean at Amazon here:

    Now we have a new opportunity to do this cultural transformation on the way companies are lead, when much of the same thing comes wrapped up in a technology package. Hey, we love new technological toys, and it is so much cooler to change things with technology than it is by just working together with people.

    Then again, as most attempts at becoming social fail, perhaps even this shiny incentive is not enough.

    • 100% agree. Not only changing with technoloy is cooler but it’s also easier since technology – when well leveraged – is a powerful enabler.

      But unfortunately technology is, most of times, seen as the goal and not the means and what lots of business do is to make people adopt technology instead of using technology for doing things in another way. The reason is easy to understand : adopting a technology means you adopt the management philosophy that comes with. When this philisophy is the exact opposite of the one that is currently alive and enforced in the workplace you need to use the new technology in a kind of silo, appart from real work and operations.

      So it’s still a matter of philosophy in the workplace. But I’m not sure technology will change it. I’d rather bet on what I heard from an old famous (and technology-savvy) philosopher two days ago : actual change is not the consequence of tech innovation but of the retirement of the previous generation.