Hand-holding. Great for campfires. Not for changing business.

This isn’t Kumbaya

When implementing social business changes into a company or organization there is a lot of talk about “changing culture,” and “digital immigrants,” and other random buzz words or phrases someone read in a “game-changing” book. Yet if you have ever tried to implement “knowledge management” or “social business,” you know that you are going to meet three different kinds of people. Those that hate change and won’t change. Those that are indifferent to change as long as they don’t have to do too much, and those that love change and are evangelists for your cause. The thought process usually goes like this, “We need to change the culture. Tom may be set in his ways, but we can change Tom to think in a new way.”

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the Crusades didn’t go that well (this is of course debatable, but for the purpose of my analogy I am going with the naysayers on this one), so why are you trying to convert people like Tom? Tom does not want to change. If this were a political (or religious) campaign we would say Tom is an extremist who falls into the smallest part of the bell curve. Ever try to convert an extremist from a position? Doesn’t usually go very well. Tom has friends too. They don’t want to change either. Do we give up? Do we throw up our arms and quit? No. We just don’t care that much about Tom and his friends (sorry Tom I know you are probably a swell guy). They are mostly irrelevant, and just like Homo erectus they will be forgotten and replaced over time. That is what you need to understand when implementing social business changes.  You are about to set the foundation of how people work not today, but how they will work tomorrow, and that will be done through the general processes of the indifferent. Just like the campaign the middle is who matters. They are your voting block and they want their lives to be unaltered if they can help it, and you are going to find out how to do that.

Identifying Pain Points

When assessing an organization or company you need to understand where the pain points are, and who feels them the most. Pain points are everywhere. They are in the super market as you stumble around looking for raisins (why can’t they be located with the cereal like they should be). They can be found in doing homework, renewing a license,  or going to the dentist, and in business they are always found in existing processes. A process is just something that needs to get done, because some person twenty years ago in some meeting decided to make a process to do something. At the time I am sure it was revolutionary, but as inevitable as pain points are so is the aging and irrelevancy of existing processes. It isn’t normally that they are bad, but they are just outdated and based on older technologies and thinking.

So how do we find them? We talk to people who work at the bottom, and then we work our way up. The people at the top rarely see the pain points (just as you don’t see what goes on in the kitchens of restaurants when you are eating their food, and trust me you don’t want to know sometimes). Senior leaders or executives have their own pain points of course, but the ones that can make the biggest difference are those being performed by everyone underneath leadership. Yet if the emperor is naked and they don’t know it then your life will be harder. You will also need the support of those at the top. If they are an evangelist even better, but if they aren’t they will know if their employees or subordinates are unhappy, and normally they will support changes that make them happy.

Why So Serious?

For some reason someone decided one day that anything business related must be serious, boring and stuffy, and anything that isn’t those things belongs outside of the office (most likely the same people who took old black and white photographs since no one ever smiled in them either). Well if we are going to change the way people do business we will need to start changing that old fashioned way of thinking, and injecting some life and interest into the workplace.

The idea that work must be dry and tedious is silly. Yes work can be annoying, and yes we have to do things we don’t always want to do, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so serious all the time. A simple way to change the way people work is to allow some social aspects into their everyday work week, and then use your new tools in those processes. Remember we are trying to affect the majority. The majority of people that are working around you aren’t thrilled to death they are there. I don’t know many people when given the option of laying on a beach or writing white papers that have a hard decision ahead of them.

OK so you’ve implemented some social business technologies, and the first thing you do is make an online poll asking your employees to vote on their favorite strategic initiative. Wrong! No one cares and people will feel forced to answer, because leadership wants them to, and that isn’t going to empower them to make their own polls one day. However, voting on a location for the next happy hour or blogging about the cafeteria food will have people participate, and once people start participating you have them! It isn’t a huge mental leap for them to see the applications in their own tasks, and the more they are used to chatting on their company messaging system to organize a lunch, the more they will be open to chatting about the next big meeting, or that task that is due. The trick is balance and a solid rules of conduct that is enforced when it is crossed. Let the employees write the rules of conduct themselves. Start a discussion or a virtual document, and let the entire company or organization comment or even edit it. The point is being transparent and being light, heck even silly, will make people feel comfortable using the technologies that will change your business.

Start Making Changes!

You have them using these new “social” technologies, but you still haven’t made their lives that much better. Your next step is to identify some ridiculous paper driven process (even if it is automated I have seen some horrible ones), and then use these new technologies to do it in a different way. A typical example is maybe your organization asks for weekly status reports from all division leads. The way those reports are generated probably involve people emailing  or attaching a file to someone, who then aggregates them all into one report (probably the same file copied 20 times), and then that final report gets emailed to some higher up, who then has an assistant read it to them (ok not sure if this happens, definitely prints it, but I don’t doubt that it still goes on)!

Instead of working in 2004 let’s imagine we have some social business software. Well one way to do this typical project is to have all the division leads post a status update and tag the update (hashtag, @, whatever the mechanism), i.e. #weeklystatusreport. Now the boss can check their phone and click on the tag to see the latest status reports, either when they come in, or at the end of the day (who cares really). What is the point in all of this anyway? It is to keep leadership abreast of what is going on, not to perform some mundane boring time wasting task for the heck of it. Just like you keep abreast of your friends activities, or your baseball team’s wins, your leadership can stay abreast of what is going in the company without boring archaic processes involving some word processor and email (think mobile).

I could provide many examples of using newer social technologies to simplify archaic processes, but then I couldn’t call this a blog (it is barely a blog I know, who am I kidding). Hopefully I have shared some insights that will help you implement business changes (or frankly help them along by being a proponent). Remember! Don’t waste time on the negatives, find out what stinks about people’s daily tasks, keep it light and maybe silly, and get rid of crazy processes involving email and files!

Good luck and don’t worry. If you aren’t successful just know that at some point your ideas will be the normal. Being a pioneer stinks, but the gold at the end of the journey is worth it, and if not go find some place that gets it (dinosaurs don’t have a great track record).

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