Investing in social business

In my most recent blog posts, I have focused on the topic of goals and social intranet adoption, in general and for managers. Including a social dimension in personal goals is the key to adoption by the bulk of employees, the late adopters.

Why? Because for many, personal goals are the definition of what they are paid to do, Goals = Work. As long as goals have no social dimension, nothing about knowledge sharing, nothing about collaboration, about creation of intellectual capital, why would you do it. It’s not your job!

But, as I have pointed out before, using the social intranet doesn’t produce benefits that are easy to measure and attribute to actions by individuals, that are sure to benefit your own organizational unit or that can be predicted to occur within a specific time frame – the type of goals we have all been trained to set. These types of goals are rather production oriented, don’t you think? But working out loud, developing intellectual capital or sharing it generously are not about production. It is rather an investment. Something that may pay off, some day and maybe not for your unit.

So, the key to including social aspects into goal setting is to supplement the traditional goals:

You are supposed to produce for your unit for this quarter AND to invest in shared knowledge, relations and transparency for the benefit of the entire organization, some day.

Wasting time on the social intranet!

“Where do we draw the line? At what point are we becoming too social and therefore non-productive?”

This question was posted today on my board in our internal social intranet, in a discussion on the level of social presence by people with an ambition to present themselves as social business consultants. I guess you've heard it before, or similar questions implying that social equals non-productive and can only be tolerated in limited doses. “Social media and social intranets are a waste of time”

Last time your talkative friend phoned you and talked with you for a little less than an hour about nothing, did you blame the phone? Or maybe your friend? Or maybe yourself for not being able to cut them short?

Or the last time the neighbour caught you just outside your door and kept you busy listening to their complaints about the other neighbour's pet?

Chatterboxes waste our time if we let them. Whatever the medium and context.

I use our social intranet to communicate:

  • I ask and answer questions openly, to maximize the possibility of additional contributions as well as re-use of answers in the future by others with the same issue
  • I share knowledge and experience so others can build on mine instead of starting from scratch
  • I reuse knowledge and experience from others for the same reason
  • I scan the flow of updates on boards, blogs, wikis, bookmarks, activities to maximize the potential of stumbling over inspiration or discovering knowledge I didn't even know I could benefit from
  • I collaborate in communities and activities (task management) with efficiency and with the time zones, reducing the need for us to work off hours just because the people involved happen to be on another continent

Wasting time? Rather working efficiently and maybe investing some time for the good of both my colleagues and myself.

Did Steve Jobs worry about ROI?

What did the ROI calculation for the iPhone development look like? For the iPad? Or for iPod?

I never met Steve Jobs. I never worked at Apple. Still, based on what I’ve read about him I doubt that there ever was an ROI calculation for the investments made in any of Apple’s and Steve Jobs’ breakthrough innovations. He believed and he dared. His compass knew it was the right thing to do.
Yet he was the most acclaimed business innovator in the past decade.

Next time I’m asked about the ROI of social intranets I will counter with this question: Would Steve Jobs have bothered calculating it?
I hope it will go down better than my current standard question of: when did you last see an ROI calculation for implementing SAP?

Comparing the investment needed to unchain the potential of the company staff with making an investment in production equipment that can produce faster or more efficiently is nothing short of an insult to the people working for you.

Innovations can be classified into two categories: Enabling or Improving. Either they make something possible that was not before – like the automobile once made it possible to travel long distances fast and with a flexible route. Or something currently possible to do easier, more efficient or with better quality – like more fuel efficient cars, safer cars or innovative service programmes. Improvement innovations are suitable for ROI-calculations, enabling are not.

So, if you allow the social intranet-train pass you by and wonder:

  • why all talented people work for the competition
  • why your customers keep telling you that your competition are faster at getting up to speed and at solving problems
  • why people keep working in silos
  • why you keep reinventing the wheel
  • why your competition is more innovative than you are
  • why customers tell you that you’re old fashioned

– then go back to your archive, pull out that ROI-calculation run it through the shredder and realize that inspiration, collaboration and staff commitment is not to be reduced to numbers.

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