Social Business : are we supporting technology or businesses ?

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Support is key to make social business or social collaboration approaches successful. Businesses say it, analysts confirm and vendors themselves admit that no matter how cool their technology is, it’s not self-sustaining and won’t change anything if simply dropped “as is”‘ in the workplace.

The failure of purely tactical initiatives

But what lies behind what we call support programs ? (Interestingly, french often use the word “accompaniment” instead of “support” what, as we’ll see later, is very meaningful). Most of times it’s all about tactical initiatives aiming at attracting people into the social platform and have them having some activities there. They’re made of communication plans, playful digital initiatives etc. The purpose is neither to make an impact nor even to provide any individual benefit to users. Presence and activity, nothing more. Nothing more than trying to grab as much attention and time as possible. Not sure that manager who would like a productive use of employee’s time and employees who have a job to do will do well out of this.

I already hear some saying that tactical initiatives are essential to make a strategy successful. That’s true but provided that :

1°) A strategy exists. Rolling out an enterprise social network to improve collaboration is not a strategy, it’s a tactic. Being on twitter to be closer to customers is the same. A tactical initiative rarely bears fruits alone but jointly with other initiatives.

2°) Parts of the strategy are not evaded because they bother. All the streams of a strategic plan contribute to the success of the strategy and it’s impossible to favor some and overlook others. If a chair has 4 legs and you only keep 2 there are chances it will collapse.

 

tactics-strategy

Technology is a means for support, not its purpose

As I often remind, we too often substitute adoption (the purpose of any support program) for sense and alignment.

In the first case employees adopt, in the other the organization creates the context that makes sense of change, makes it logical and acceptable.

In the first case tactical communication actions are conducting, we’re in a seduction process. In the other, levers like alignment of skills, processes, decision making processes, coordination practices, leadership are used. Not because it favors technology adoption – even if it helps a lot – but because, jointly with technology, it meets a strategic purpose. Moreover the real goal is to transform work and operation modes, to change management practices, the whole being enabled by technology. Not transformation to serve technology and even less tool utilization outside of a transformation process.

Don’t support tools, support businesses in their transformation

Any support or accompaniment program tries to involve HR, managers, lines of business etc. But it’s only to drive adoption (understand : help to spread the word, support the communication plan), not to contribute to a more systemic change by changing themselves. Everybody agrees to bring people to technology but not in the context of questioning the way they do their own work.

The big misunderstanding in support programs is that they’re designed to support technology, not to support the organization in its internal transformation. The challenge is at the HR level, it’s about competences, evaluation, job description, work organization. But this points are always out of the scope of accompaniment programs and businesses except it will happen by itself, that if people use the technology in a wrong context, they’ll manage to change the organization over time without the need of any formal initiative.

A relevant support plan should aim at moving the structure and day to day practices. It would be follow by a technology focused program but not immediately after. Technology is a lever to support the plan, not its purpose.

Accompaniment : a word that shows how vague objectives and tasks are

Moreover the word “accompaniment” is irrelevant (and that’s why I mentioned its use in some countries, but we can say quite the same for support). What does it mean ? That we don’t dare to take full control ? That we don’t dare saying “it’s this way and not another” ? That we are very uncomfortable because we know what should be done but consider it as a bothering truth we should keep hidden ?

As french journalist David Abiker wrote in a provoking post (in french)

Generally, when one accompanies someone, he does not do much. He keeps company and that’s better than nothing.

One day I read the word “in person accompaniment” and I felt like laughing.

In the consulting industry some words replaced others and tell how vague the tasks to accomplish and results to achieve are. The verb accompany means you signed the deal and have no clue about what to do after. “We’ll be there and we’ll see”…

 

Misunderstanding on who/what should be accompanied. Vague statements on the challenges because no one wants to open the pandora’s box. So we walk along together, each expecting the other to show the direction, to suggest a radical pivot. A nice country stroll that, unfortunately, often brings everyone back to the starting point.

It does not matter. At least it makes people have a breath of fresh air.