You want your employees to be more “social” ? Rely on their selfishness

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Among all the projects that have a “2.0 label”, it’s possible to make a distinction between those that are mainly about social networkings and those that aim at bringing traditional office applications on the cloud. Each kind addresses specific needs and has its own barriers.  In one case it’s about changing the way people work, in the other it’s about making them use their browser instead of their usual desktop application, what makes me say it’s more about Office 2.0 than enterprise 2.0. In both cases, getting over IT depts’ reluctance is everything but trivial, Office 2.0 seems to be less sensible on an adoption side since it does not impact people’s behaviors that much : they will still write docuemtns, fill spreadshits, but in another interface (but I’m not saying that’s easy !) I’ll also add that applications like Google Docs makes it possible to make giant steps in collaboration (or rather co-building…). All the people I’ve that who once worked on both kind of projects told me the same thing : “Office 2.0 is simpler (or less hard) than enterprise 2.0. But collaboration matters in Office 2.0 too, even if less developped than in Enterprise 2.0”. Understanding what that means may be of some importance.

Who would accept to make everything he writes on his word processor public ? No one. In the other hand, starting a work on one’s own and invite people to collaborate as and when needed because some help is needed, because it’s better to ask a specialist to write a specific part, because proof-reading is needed or because the manager needs to know how things are going on without getting a daily report makes a lot of sense. One starts on his own and widens the scope of the human, social and knowledge capital that is used he can’t do more, when he realizes he won’t be able to deliver on time or when he faces his limits. I think that enterprise 2.0 has a lot to learn from that, most of all on the adoption side. What drives collaboration is “me, the goals I’m assigned, my tasks, my issued”, and if we want to bring people to the logic that will make them help their colleagues, they first need to understand how this logic will serve them. Then for the same reasons they bring themselves to “invite” people on their Google Docs, they’ll initiate the famous conversations that are so important in the 2.0 culture.

That’s the evidence that, for 99% workers, things are not social by nature but by need. Everything starts with a (personal) taks, with (personal) limits that are faced and with the need of making all these things “social” in order to get out of the situation. Such a logic can lead to a systematic sharing not because people want to share but because they realize they have to. Conversely, any systematic sharing that would not be the result of this reasonning would be against people’s nature and causes apprehension.

What conclusions can we draw ?

– in practical terms : if we want to “educate” workers,  we must start from their true personal situation, their day to day job, what they have to do, the processes and routine they follow and build the social logic around it. Believing that day to day work will adapt to social is a mistake. In the ongoing arbitration people carry out at work (do or don’t, what to prioritize) the social vs process battle will always be won by the process and the usual routine (what I even find reassuring in some ways). The only way not to set the one againts the other is to articulate, make them become complementary. A link that can be brought by the social routine.

– in technical terms (tools) : the chosen tool(s) must allow users to follow the above mentionned logic. To start from them to end by opening themselves to others. That will help them seeing sharing not as a constraint but as a solution. It implies that the tool must be seen as a personal business and productivity tool even by those who are impervious to the social approach, in order it will be used even by those who share few things, even nothing at all. This is the only way to make everybody put at least one finger in the system what will help leaders to drag the others along.

At this point the BPM discussion and the building of social logics and interactions around lowly ERPs and CRMs. If I can’t see a single tool managing both formal and non formal data, the time is near when businesses will  require that the shift from one to another can be done in one click, that the “social” could start mechanically, spontaneously (so both a human and software mechanism to implement) from the structured (and structuring) processes.

PS : obviously it’s less stylish, less “purist” than organizing social fireworks that would not leave any other alternative. Maybe it’s only an intermediate solution. But it relies on what currently exists and the deep nature of people as a lever rather than fighting it.