Road to enterprise 2.0 : changing behaviors (only) is neither enough nor perennial


Summary : the switch from a traditional organizational model to enterprise 2.0 or social business needs a change in behaviors. This evolution often needs specific actions toward individuals to convince them to change the way they work. But is it sufficient and perennial ? It seems that the answer is “no”. Behaviors are determined by outside elements that impose themselves to employees in the context of work. Any action aiming only at changing behaviors will fail one day or the other. Solutions that work on the social web where systemic constraints that weight on people are lighter than in the enterprise are not viable in the workplace.

We endlessly repeat that a successful enterprise 2.0 (or social business…) project needs to convince users. That’s a fact but skeptics or dishonest people have arguments against this assumption. According to the number of things people do in the workplace and behaviors they adopt without being convinced, even being conscious that what they do is not what they should do, we could question a lots of things. Anyway, we all acknowledge thatorganizational change needs behavioral change and that the latter needs conviction. Evangelize, show, demonstrate, encourage…day after day.

If this approach is unavoidable, I don’t think it is either enough or perennial. As a matter of fact, even if the majority is preaching adoption through conviction, I’m more likely to believe in the trio : simplification, sense, alignment.

Sense and alignment because not only it makes things more obvious but also doesn’t force employees to fight against the system. Simplification because I’ve never seen anyone refusing somethings that makes his job easier…provided the two previous conditions are met. As a matter of fact if “easier” means swimming against the current and facing colleagues’ and even superiors’ disapproval, employees often switch back to less risky things.

The above statement shows one thing : when one manages to convince people to change their behaviors, the center of gravity of the organization makes them step back one day or the other. Why ? Because the behaviors they leave behind are the result of their adaptation to a system. A system that defines their objectives, the way they’re evaluated, their progression in the hierarchy, even imposes behaviors that are the consequence of old habits and corporate culture. And, of course, the management model.

Remember what I wrote here on people that can, alone, without being conscious, wipe-out all the benefits generated by others. That’s quite a similar situation : the person in question, because located at a strategic point of the flow of work (most of time because of his position or expertise) is slowing down the flow of work and even blocking it because of his behaviors. And what tells him to behave this way ? The system and the organizational structure.

That’s why, in the mentioned post, I suggested targeted actions to fix this. Targeted on a given person because it’s ability to change is the center of the problem but not by using the person as a lever (convincing him, urging him to do something) but by using levers that will impact the system around the person.

How many people did we saw embracing change with joy and happiness before giving up, disenchanted ? They made the effort of changing but while their environment was not changing they got exhausted. We often hear that, step by step, anyone change under the influence of his colleagues and that makes change sustainable. It’s a half-truth. It’s, in fact, the case when the mass managed to make the system change by impacting those who were driving the system. But if the latter don’t react we all know what happens on a long term perspective.

Actions aiming at making a person or a group change by convincing them of the usefulness of new behaviors are catalysts. But outside of a systemic approach their effect is seldom sustainable. Any approach relying on evangelization and conviction only has its limit even it looks like an easier way to make things change.  Unlike what happens on social platforms on the web : constraints are lighter so it’s easy for users to get out of their system by themselves.