Tools connect people. But with what ?

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summary :tomorrow’s enterprise will be connected. And employees too. If they don’t they’ll become obsolete and useless : success, performance and competitiveness relies on connectivity. That’s why businesses have been trying to connect their employees for years. But connect them to what ? To their colleagues ? To information ? Of course. But the most important point has been overlooked : reconnect them to their work. By forgetting people’s challenges, the very reason they were part of the organization and neglecting execution for communities and conversations, businesses lead their social business and enterprise 2.0 projects in dead ends they have to get out of now !

In a very near future, connectivity will be a key factor of competitiveness. That’s obvious because it was ties businesses to a complex environment to feel its changes, its moves to react relevantly. Another point is that, since no one can know everything, everyone need to be able to get in touch with someone who knows to do a better work, solve problems, make decisions.

So the future of the connected organization is discussed a lot but that hides another reality : the connected employee. Of course, there won’t be connected organizations without connected employees. That’s obvious but help us to consider what’s been undertaken by lots of organizations with new eyes. Some tried to be highly connected with their external environment while disconnecting their employees. Others tried to improve their internal connectivityfirst. That was the starting point of many enterprise 2.0 or social business projects : employees need to be connected.

Yes but…connected to what ? If you’re trying to understand why many projects of this kind are still struggling at delivering tangible results, a part of the answers lies there.

– connecting employees with information : yes. It’s been done at two levels : social bookmarking (what is still a minor usage of internal social platforms) and exchanges within communities that is main objective of many projects.

– connecting employees with employees : that’s the role of social networks. But, to work, it needs that people can be identified through their contributions and up to date rich profiles.

That’s working but, in most cases, not very well. Of course there are exceptions but not enough to think that a new era has strated. After the novelty and euphoria phase that can make 80% of employees or more register on the social platforms that hosts these new usages, numbers can quickly decrease and, in the end, only a few percent will be active users and contributors. Not that high regarding to the investment. One of the reasons is obvious : considering the social platform as a bubble disconnected from the rest of the intranet is a first step to failure. The second reason is that even if people are socially addicted (what is not proven at all), even if they are willing to exchange and connect with their peers, employees are not internauts nor the ones they are at home.

The reason why employees are part of the organization seems to have been forgotten by everyone : contract of employment. Behind this piece of paper hides something that matters : people have a mission to accomplish, objectives to reach and the whole will impact the money they will earn and how and how fast they’ll progress in the organization. Even keeping their job or being fired. Maybe, for some, being social is something bigger than these little materialistic considerations. No matter the bottle since we have the social ecstasy… Really ?

As a matter of fact the conclusion is simple : organizations tried to connect employees to everything but never to their work. That what explains how reluctant employees were to jump on the social bandwagon and how hard it is to make social behaviors more systematic.

– even if, today, sharing and finding knowledge is a part of nearly everyone’s job, from a conceptual standpoint, when usages and implicit rules does not tolerate it, when the management sees it as a waste of time, people quickly step back to the centre of gravity of their work : produce, deliver, execute. Hence the fact they quickly give up tools that allow things that, despite very useful, have few room in their day to day work.

– even if organizations try to make social a natural, common, accepted and even required behavior, the fact social and business tools are poorly (if not) integrated makes things quite difficult.

– applying social to anything except production and delivery activities locked social into an unproductive silo.

So, what to do to find a kind of new balance ? Make both approaches make sense and ensure that one contributes to the other and is not a bubble isolated from reality.

– first by reconnecting people to their work…in their mindset and in the real world. We can hear here and there that social networks strengthen connections, reinforce membership feeling and that it’s good for engagement. Maybe. But if, on the other hand, nothing is done to make management more human and, sometimes, less violent, I’m not sure anything will improve.

– bringing social behaviors in the flow of work. Networking and having conversations to learn is a good thing. But implementing flexibility, agility, to produce, organize, coordinate is even better and few social projects address this need. That’s true that one takes less risk at optimizing what is not about work…

– bringing social content back to business information flows, in context, to it will help people to find solutions, and deliver a real added value without polluting their information flow.

As for the first point, we’re very far from the goal. But we can keep on dreaming. We’ll have to deal with the second, as soon as possible, if we don”t want to state once for all that what matters the least in social business is work. And we see more and more solutions that will help to deal with the third. Of course, that’s only software and it can’t change everything on its own but they may help organizations becoming more aware than social is also a way to deliver and produce.

Each solution has its own approach, deals with a large or small part of the issue but that’s a good start. Let’s mention (non exhaustive list…)

• Tibbr that was one of the first that offered to aggregate business and social information to make business contents become social objects people can act and collaborate on. Same idea at Jamespot with their Social Ready approach and more recently at  Salesforce

– the global collaboration hub as seen by IBM. Vulcan allow collaboration and interaction in context without having to switch from one tool to another nor flow disruption, whatever the origin and the nature of the information.

– a more task management driven approach for Asana and Azendoo.