Actual improvements are not only perceived but measurable

Résumé : we are far from being done with the enterprise 2.0 ROI debate. On the one hand, applying traditional and predictable is nearly impossoble, on the other hand contenting oneself with saying “people use it so that’s great” is not easy since businesses need to know what’s been done with the money that’s been invested. In the midde of this “all or nothing” land, a third way exists. Albeit all is not about financial benefits, albeit a qualitative dimension exists for sure, there are ways to domonstrate things concretely improved without useless complex calculations. To go further on existing projects and keep on convincing those who haven’t started, “we can see” and “we feel” must be replaced with “we can demonstrate and prove”. More than possible but too rarely done.

There’s always a time when one should be accountable for what’s been done and, most of all, when it’s been done with things one doesn’t own and have only been entrusted. Like other people’s and company’s time and money for instance. Imagine a 2.0 project manager facing his superiors, the company’s board.

– So…how is our projet doing ?

– Fine M. director, very fine.

– Great ! Tell me more. Everybody’s talking about it in the workplace and I’m looking forward to know more. According to everything I heard, I’m glad these 750 000 dollars were not thrown by the window.  (These numbers are not random…they are consistent with the report about the State of Enterprise 2.0 issued by the Adoption Council. 60% of surveyed companies admit they allocated more than $500 000 in their project,)

– We already have 40 000 members, one hundred blogs and communities and most of them are very active. I don’t even mention the hundreds of micro-blogging messages sent every day. A great success !

– Great ! But, what about factual results ?

– Just look : they share information, ask questions, find the answers. They learn from each other, solve problems ! We’re on the highway to success !

– Humm

– That strenghtens the feeling of belonging within the company. People connect, discover other people. More, they are proud of being parts of a compant that provides them with modern and state of the art tools. New hires feel they joined a modern business !

– I understand. But…you know…$750 000 dollars is not nothing. What has been improved, what is being done better ? At then end, the purpose of all that is to make people more efficient…and the company too.

– People are happier, we innovate, we solve problems…

– And what does it change ?

– I just told you…

– I mean…what proves what you say ? I have to be accountable too you know !

– Je veux dire…qu’est ce qui vient prouver ce que vous me dites ? Moi aussi je dois rendre des comptes vous savez…


– I understand what you say and I’m aware of that. I’m glad you dit it and you deserve congratulations. But please, give me some tangible, “solid” things, something clear with simple and undisptutable indicators,.

Does this scene looks funny ? There are chances it will happen more and more. The matter is not to discuss the benefits of enterprise 2.0 as in many cases, as the project manager says, “we can see it”. But a moment comes when people need numbers, facts. Should it only be to manage the project, measure the change, improve the change management, do it even more.

The list of benefits is known and long. But we have to admit one thing : we can  read as many case studies as we want, attend conferences, there are only two explainations

– the indicators that are used and the results they got are too confidential to be shared.

– nothing is measured except the vitality of the platform. The rest is observed and that’s ok.

Let’s go back to our project manager…

-But, M. director, you yourself admited at the beginning of the project that ROI was not a relevant approach.

– I’m not talking about ROI ! I only want to know what has changed, what has been improved with these $750 000. Not things “we see” or measured with a finger in the wind.

– Humm

– Let me tell you one things : either these $750 000 have changed anything in this company and some evidence must be available, or nothing can be found and that means nothing happend. Tell me that’s still a little bit weak because we need time to align everything, to learn how to make the most of it, I’m conscious of that and I can understand that. But find me at least a little something !

– People are happy…

– How can you tell it ?

– They say so…

– Did you make a survey ? Interviews ?

– …

– We innovate…

– how many ideas did we took from our good old idea bow last year ?And this year ? And maybe solutions to problems are found faster than before ?

– Certainly sir…

– so why don’t you try to measure that ? And what about turnover…? And what about exchanges of practices ? Have some trainings become useless ? Do our new employees need less time to become autonomous ? That’s concrete ! That’s not so hard to measure !

– Ok…I’ll start figuring it out rigth now !

– Be fast. Maybe you found a gold mine and we’ll have to shut it down just becaue you were not able to bend and grab a nugget to show it to me ! Unable to show what $750 000 have changed ! Incredible !

I already wrote about that some time ago and IBM recently issued a great white paper on this issue [link to the pdf]. I agree there are three levels of indicators :

– activity : is the tool being used ?

– alignment : is it used to serve actual business goals ?

– business : is there any impact of the way we work and our performance ? That’s not about ROI but about simple indicators that may be balanced scorecard ones (see example in the framework at the end of the IBM white paper).

That said we must recognize that very few businesses use business value indicators, or, at least, don’t share them if they do. I had many discssions with some “experts” about that these last weeks and here’s what I got from our conversationss.

– “business value indicators are  like parachutes in planes : people want to be sure they are there before they board but don’t want to have to use them”.

– “businesses don’t like to put the hands in their old plumbing”

– “it would need to measure the current situations…what wouldn’t please some people”

– “since enterprise 2.0 runs away when it comes to deal with the structured side of work (processes, worklows, methodologies) and since businesses mainly relies on it, there’s no surprise nothing measurable can be found. There are few chances business indicators will improve if you turn your back on these things (even if they have to be challenged). Wait for them to improve some processes and challenge some others to replace them with more relevant ways of getting things done and you’ll get something measurable”.

– “many cases come from businesses that intuitively perceive the value and that’s ok for them. But there are no chance to convince other kind of businesses without tangible evidences”.

– “They’re pleasing themselves…even if there are tangible performance improvements, the only fact people play with social media is enough to satisfy them”.

Once again, I’m not talking about traditional ROI  : people and exceptions can be turned into equations and, in the best case, results, albeit positive, won’t be the reflect of reality. It does not mean that money has to be spent without caring of the result. No traditional ROI does not mean that there’s no objective and quantifiable way to show some things improved.

For instance I know a company who deployed a social networks for its support team a few years ago. At first sight the only fact people were actually using it to share problems, be more responsive in front of customers etc… would have been enough to say that the project had a positive impact on business. But the usual quality surveys that are conducted toward customers showed that the Net Promoter Score has dramatically improved. But maybe it had other reasons. Fortunately they decided to start their project with only half the support teams, so they could compare and the result was that customers that were served by employees using the social network were much more satisfied than those who used the usual information systems (the delta was over 20%).

Now I’ve a question for all those who are involved in such projets, try to make things change etc… :

– did you implement business value indicators ?

– if not, why ?

– do you think any enterprise 2.0 thing without such indicators is sustainable ?

– any thoughts…

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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