Enterprise 2.0 : individuals first, communities second

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Summary : it’s more than difficult to make people participate into social or participative activities that are trying to emerge all around the organization, despite of the obvious benefits for both them and the collective. Two reasons to that. First is the benefit of participation car be immediate for someone in the community while it may take time for the giver to get anything in return. Second is people are entangled in day-to-day execution and coordination issues that give them few time, energy and attention to focus on anything else. A solution is to start applying the 2.0 or social approaches on a smaller scale, around a given activity, to deliver the immediate proof of the value added by the new approach and, most of all, relieve people from their day-to-day concerns to make them able to pay attention to other things.

One of the first things that are usually done when starting an enterprise 2.0 program is to identify the first key communities to start with. A quite restrictive vision since we can see that adding communities to the existing organization is only a partial answer to people’s need and that communities, if they meet a real need and make sense in a given managerial and cultural context does not need so many efforts, only a place to gather and crystallize (provided this space is usable).

In short, stimulating participation in these spaces is everything but simple even if the benefits for both participants and the organization are so obvious that it’s hard to understand why people are so reluctant.

In fact many things are thoughts at the macro level with the demonstration of benefits at this level, either for the enterprise or the community. Hence the reasoning according to which, at an individual level, if one gives he’ll end up being given. What is not obvious at all.

What is sure is that a community approach is like a picnic : one will only what has been brought by someone else. But that’s not because someone brought somethings that this is the meal a given person wants or needs, or not the time he needs it.

If one finds things he wants (interesting) but he does need right know (information wanted to face a given situation right here, right now), he’ll show a little interested but not a real engagement. In this case the whole approach is seen as a nice-to-have.

On the other and, if one finds what he needs, there’s an immediate benefits that incent people to participate more to sustain the dynamic. At least…in theory. Practically speaking some love to take but will never gave anything. That’s not a problem as long as there’s a critical mass of participants. That’s the rule of the game.

So the last point left is the “when needed”. In fact there’s no simultaneity between giving and receiving. One may give nothing and receive something as he join the community but he may also spend months sharing things that will help others before getting anything useful in return. The more time there is between giving and receiving the less participation looks worth regardless to its huge intrinsic  value.

Obvious conclusion : the best way towards a collective benefit goes through a personal benefit that is as immediate as possible. That means shifting from serendipity to probability.

It’s sometimes surprising to see that despite of the many possibilities offered by the most advanced tools, one small thing is sometimes enough to sustainably onboard a user. While we can’t stop praising for conversations, sometimes it’s a file simple but effective file sharing function (drag & drop from windows explorer, sharing from the mail client instead of sending a document that’s too big regarding to IT limitations) that will make the difference. Then and only once the new tool relieved people from a pain they’ve had for years (an not always in a very social way), they’ll pay more attention to the tool. Two reasons to that : first is they have a reason to use it, second is it saves a little of their time, removes a little pain on mandatory and unpleasant actions so they can allocate time, energy and attention to do something new.

Generally speaking, there’s a rule that works in nearly every case : if the usage/tool duet does not makes it possible to do what one used to do and still we have to do in a better way, there are few chances it’s going to be used to do anything new. First improve the existing, then only onboard people towards new destinations.

Hence a very noticeable tend that consists in addressing what’s painful, tiresome, complicated and essential. I’m not talking about networking or having conversations but executing one’s mission and the tasks one has been hired for, according to which one work is measured. That’s the one and only way to deliver a tangible and direct added value to users and convince them to allocate the saved time to constructing a collective benefit. After having addressed conversations that happen out of the flow of work, social is coming back through very operational and practical activities, even if a little bit more down-to-earth.

So, of course, the benefit is a little bit more limited in terms of impact : it’s about one person, a team, but we’re far from the open and transverse conversations that will be beneficial to the whole organizations. But this side of social is essential for most employees that will discover new approaches through things that make sense to them, so they’ll be more likely to “slide” to community approaches. Making them more efficient, removing painful activities from their core activities will also save save time and attention for other things.

Two comparisons to end.

1°) Do you remember of safety demonstrations in planes ? If we’re being asked to first put our own oxygen mask and then only help others, there’s a reason to that. And that reason is that if we can’t breathe ourselves, we won’t be able to help others breath.

2°) The second is a conversation I had once ago with my economy professor :

– A 4% unemployment rate…not that bad, isn’t it ?

– of course

– but even with such a rate, some will still complain. Why ?

– [At this time my first idea was to say “insincerity” but I thought there was something more clever he wanted me to understand]. Hmm… I don’t know

– The rate may be 4%, even 1%… but for those left unemployed, even if they are very few, the rate won’t be either 1 or 4%…it will be 100% !!! We look at the global numbers while, for each person taken individually, these numbers don’t reflect the reality.

What means, in our case : we can do everything we can to bring collective benefits but as long as people are stuck in their flow we must first help them to get rid of their day to day problems before thinking of involving them in anything.