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Enterprise 2.0 experience: 5 misconceptions

March 28, 2011

This article was originally published on the Boostzone Institute’s blog on March 2010.

Sometimes when participating in the launch of a brand new initiative, a disruptive one, you may feel a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice and not too sure how to make things happen. Donning your wizards robe and hat, you go ahead with what seems to be the right things to do, while eager to see how others are doing, and learning from the early experiments. In the past week’s meetings I had with several companies moving into Enterprise 2.0, lessons learned were at the centre of the discussion: what, in the transformation effort, is different from originally expected?  Here are 5 misconceptions that came up in the discussions, all valid considerations.

Misconception 1. Enterprise 2.0 mimics Web 2.0
Because both the term and the concept ‘Enterprise 2.0’ was coined from ‘Web 2.0’, and because the technology behind both have the same roots (‘cloud roots’ if I may), because the web outside inspired the enterprise inside, one can think it is just a transposition. Then comes the vision of a plethora of technical features, employees becoming geeks, or staying behind and dragging down the organization, anarchical deployment and use. It did happen to start-ups in early growth phases, but it doesn’t happen to enterprises, because we’re on a different paradigm: we’re  improving an ecosystem. From what I see from corporations who are running the transformation, it gets careful thinking and backing. Moving to Enterprise 2.0 does not change the enterprise’s culture, values and unique specificities, but helps reinforce them. Here are 3 examples on how each organization may get different results from deploying E2.0 within its own patterns: Accenture uses it to invigorate its practices, focus on sharing and exchanging information (and especially the ones they do create), the central pattern is a knowledge network; IBM fosters  innovation and collaboration, getting the employees around the world to unleash their creative thinking and leverage each other’s ideas, the central pattern is collaborative innovation; and Sogeti concentrates on teaming, on sharing and leveraging expertise and experience, the central pattern here is rather corporate efficiency.

Misconception 2. Enterprise 2.0 is a technology issue
As you may already imagine from the above argument, E2.0 is far more than just a technology issue, or the choice of the right technical solution. Technology is the engine: how you will use it is what gives it value – like for a car or a computer. E2.0 is in fact a broad corporate change issue, with dependencies on the corporate culture, a need to be consistent with the corporate strategy (or to update the corporate strategy to make the most of this new paradigm), and organizational impacts, since both hierarchical and transverse work streams will be impacted. It cannot be worked as a normal legacy systems transformation project: while most of the time the CIO is in charge, he must work with the rest of the organization and especially the executive team and HR to make the transformation successful.

Misconception 3. Employees need to be trained before being able to participate
While a minimal training is mandatory (technical: what is a forum, a blog, vs. email, a wiki, etc.; and non-technical: what is collaboration, what are communities, etc.), one can hardly learn and understand the new paradigm without diving into it. The momentum will not come from training at first, though it is indispensable during the transformation. It will come from a common expectation for the organization’s transformation. Remember Enterprise 2.0 is about network and collaboration, and apply the virtuous circle of situated learning: the more people participate, the more they learn, and the more they identify with the wider group, becoming more motivated to participate further.

Misconception 4. Let’s offer it ‘inside’, to prevent employees  joining it ‘outside’
You probably know this argument: what ever happen, people will join the Web 2.0 movement and go on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other Ning things, so let’s offer similar tools internally, so that employees are not tempted any more by the siren’s song. Capture energy, prevent leaks. This argument is still a main one for some solution vendors, while experience has shown that it somehow misleading. First, see Misconception 1, people won’t find ‘inside’ – the empowered enterprise’s ecosystem – what they look for when they go ‘outside’ – extra-curricular activities, communities of practice, etc.-. Both environments are complementary, rather than rivals. Second, having employees ‘fluent’ in 2.0 environments may be a plus – the more they practice, the more they become skilful, adept and efficient – see Misconception 3 – so it is good that they are also present on Web 2.0 platforms. Of course, the corporate policy might help them understand how to represent their company, what to do, what to avoid. And third, last but not least, no company even the biggest can survive isolated: customers, competitors, ideas, insights, research, inspiration… all these are ‘outside’. Being able to go and grub around in the world and fetch intelligence back is an asset.

Misconception 5. Participation should be encouraged by objectives (or rewards)
Because the modern corporation has sustained good results with the management by objectives mantra, one can be tempted to use that process to facilitate Enterprise 2.0 adoption.   This commonly shows as a false-good-idea, a potential ‘faux-pas’ that may turn the effort into a big flop. When deploying Enterprise 2.0 into the corporation, what we seek is adoption, which will result in new work behaviours, strengthen the ties, allow  pooling of  skills and expertise, bring new ideas to light, etc…; and indeed adoption is very sensible to any attempt of control. Short story: an internal community is opened around the subject of Customer Satisfaction. The management is truly interested in getting results, hence it wants its employees to participate, and thus, actively encourages employees’ involvement. Employees get this as a mandatory task that will be checked during year-end appraisal, and they step in the community to ‘please’ the management, rather than because they are interested in the subject or may bring insights to the discussion. At the end of the day, the volume of participants is important, but most contributions are limited to “I agree”, “That may be right” or “Good idea”, i.e. no value add, a waste of time for other members, plus a spiral of disinterest for the few people really engaged with this subject. Lesson learned: one must definitely seek other means to foster adoption, such as viral adoption, value added animation, situated learning, or collective immersion events.  Also, remember that between 1% and 20% of people usually actively participate in Enterprise 2.0 initiatives, depending on the ‘centrality’ of the corporate culture and other factors, and forcing the participation may only get a negative result.

Thanks Didier C., Pierre M., Willem G. And Christian S. for sharing with me their corporate stories.

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