The limits of social collaboration : a matter of “pull”

pushIf we had to make a distinction within social business approaches, it would surely be between internal and external facing ones. External facing ones with initiatives are more and more clear, business and even process driven, with clear mechanisms and measurement. Internal facing with poor measurement, where processes are left unchanged and where change is made “available”, hoping that common sense and seduction will do the job without having to deal with human and organizational change.

If you’re not convinced, wonder how many processes have been created or reinvented in the field of customer relationship management or marketing to support “enterprise digital and social transformation” these last years and how many businesses changed their reporting mechanisms, the way work is coordinated and even the way employee management is measured. QED.

The customer activated enterprise

No need to complicate the issue : customer proximity pulled transformation because revenue because customers bring the revenue and are reputation conveyors while employees are costs and convey problems. Some say customers are active players, others like IBM call it  “customer activated enterprises” : equipped to weight in a relationship where they have their word to say (they pay…) customers force businesses to reinvent the way they operate.  In a couple of years, businesses moved from media oriented strategies (new channels were used to push old messages) to relational and productive strategies, even to co-creation. The customer has stepped into the office and companies have to act accordingly, knowing that beyond “RTs”, “Likes” and “+1s”, they vote every day with their credit card. What is not the lesser argument.

In brief, that’s the result of a “pull” mechanism. What is it ? Reversing the relational flow between businesses and their ecosystem to make the most of opportunties, organize according to markets and needs, trigger the right interactions and combine the right talents. An approach that’s more about emergence than planning. Those who are interested in the idea should read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motionby John Hagel.

 “Pull” : a darwinian survival process

After having been successful in manufacturing resource planing, pull is becoming a way to embrace adaptation and organizational transformation. Almost a darwinian survival principle. And the reason why it works for external facing change is exactly the one why it struggles to work internally.

If external facing initiatives sometimes lead to internal transformation (new departments, processes, responsibilities, tools…) that’s only in their own scope without rubbing off on the rest of the organisation. How is it possible that pull that drives change in a part of the company struggles to do the same in the other parts, making businesses – and sometimes CHROs – schizophrenic : a part of the company is customer driven with specific practices, way of working, management models and tools and the other part….

Pull drives change through sense and alignment.

Sense because one can immediately and clearly see why doing things in a new way would be beneficial. And the closer one is from the customer the more things look like vital and imperative. That’s why so many businesses tried – sometimes awkwardly – to move into consumer social networks while spending lot of time in opportunity studies, risk management and being blocked by the fear of changing anything when it comes to apply similar approaches internally.

Sense also fluctuates depending on how far one is from customers. When people face customers they are more likely to change the rules and hack the system to make the most of opportunities. Those who are far from the customer are more impacted by the weight of the system than by opportunities, what leads to a lack of personal initiatives. The same personal initiatives that allowed to start external initiatives “under the radar” and officialized them once they were successful.

What leads to alignment. Processes are changed, job description adapted etc to make the expected behavior and actions make sense in the context of work (measurement, mission etc). Sometimes it happens after a successful pilot, sometimes it happens over time but alignment always happen for external facing initiatives. The closer one is from the customer, the more sense drives work context alignment.

Social Collaboration and double gravity

So employees are caught in the crossfire. Sense and opportunity for change one the one side and the weight of the system that favors status quo on the other side. Two poles whose force of gravity vary depending on how close one is from the zone of impact, from the customer. The closer from the customer, the more pull will work, the further the more the inertia of the system will favor status quo.

That’s the paradox of social collaboration and the technologies it uses. It’s the logical consequence of a pull approach at the enterprise scale. But depending on where one is in the organization, he won’t be “pulled” by the same force. Some will be pulled by market opportunities, others by the wight of the system. For the latter, the system and the context of work have to make sense, be aligned with the desired change to drive change. It’s a paradox because most of times, social collaboration is driven by push, by pushing it into a context in which it does not fit.

As obvious as it may seem, it’s impossible make people adopt practices and technologies that support a logic by using the opposite logic.

What will make people adopt social collaboration is sense and an appropriate context. That’s what  creates the room for social collaboration, not a transplant attempt with two bodies having incompatible DNAs.

If pull is a darwinian survival principle, businesses have built a set of rules and systems to protect their structure from external change. When changes becomes a vital opportunity, these systems becomes a burden.

That’s why change and innovation often happen at the edges, when businesses meet their ecosystem and seldom in a managed way from the center. But it’s the consequence of things that can be fixed, not a fate.

Another solution could be to start considering colleagues as internal customers…