Expert Interview with Jacob Morgan on Social Collaboration

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About Jacob Morgan

Principal at Chess Media Group

Jacob is the principal of Chess Media Group, a management consulting and strategic advisory firm on employee, customer, and partner collaboration. He’s the author of Twittfaced, a social media 101 book for business and is working on a book for McGraw Hill due out June 2012 called The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Emerging Social and Collaborative Tools. Jacob is frequently asked to contribute to publications such as the WSJ, USA Today, INC Magazine, Zdnet, and others. He’s also a world traveler, racquetball player, and chess lover.

On Twitter: @jacobm and visit the jacob's blog


How would you define social collaboration? What are the benefits?

I’m actually not sure how I would define “social” collaboration as all collaboration is inherently social. Can you have non-social collaboration? If what we are referring to is the use of new tools to collaborate, something I prefer to call “emergent collaboration” (but is becoming quite synonymous with just “workplace collaboration”) then I would define it as, “the use of new collaborative tools (typically software) and strategies to solve internal business problems” (assuming we are just referring to employee collaboration).

The benefits to using these new types of tools are vast and some of them include:

  • Talent retention and acquisition since employees want to work at innovative and relevant companies.
  • Alignment across the organization as employees are able to work on a central platform which keeps every one on the same page and provides context around work.
  • Improved productivity as employees are able to spend more time actually working instead of finding and searching for information they need to get work done.
  • Ability to share and transfer knowledge
  • Ability to engage employees and help them feel more connected to the company and the work that they do
  • And many others

Can you give a few examples of effective social collaboration initiatives?

Oce has used emergent collaborative tools to help decrease costs and spur employee innovation. They were able to save over 300k Euros annually by cutting their intranet spend and shifting it to low cost collaborative tools. An idea that an employee submitted to incentivise truck drivers to fill up gas at local rest stops instead of on highways was implemented and saves the company 800k euros annually.

Penn State Outreach deployed a collaborative solution to help with communication and collaboration. Executives now have more insight as to what is going on at their organization as they have a window into the ground level of work.

Intuit deployed an ideation platform which they developed which allows employees to submit, manage, and vote on ideas which are then implemented. Their new product levels have sky rocketed which also means more new products released to customers.

Vistaprint was able to decrease their onboarding time of new engineers by around 50% by deploying an internal wiki which allowed new employees to see the most current and relevant training information during onboarding.

Anyone can download our free series of case studies and resources

You refer to the rise of social collaboration as a culture change. Is this simply a new way of communicating or is it more profound than that?

Over the past few years we have become more comfortable using social technologies to engage with each other online. We share more about ourselves online than ever before and we are more comfortable with living a public life. It has also become easy for us to communicate and share with each other. We are now taking these behaviours into the enterprise and organizations are trying to adapt based on these changes around how we communicate and behave. It’s no longer acceptable in my opinion for employees to feel disconnected at work.

What are the main opportunities and threats that social collaboration presents to businesses today?

Every organization has its own opportunities and threats that they need to evaluate, they can use this framework as a starting point. The opportunities depend on the business problems. Some of the common ones we see today are being able to connect teams and colleagues across geographies and boundaries, being able to improve productivity, or being able to engage and inspire employees. The threats include things such as employees not using the tools, wasting time at work, selecting the wrong technology solution, and not having a clearly defined strategy before selecting a technology.

Framework for evaluating risk

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Based on FMEA. Values are for illustration purpose only.© 2011 CHESS MEDIA GROUP

What kind of technologies are enabling the move to Enterprise 2.0 or social collaboration?

We started seeing vendors offer specific niche offerings such as internal forums, microblogs, blogs, and collaborative document management. Now many of the niche players are evolving to offer full feature platforms that include everything from rich profiles to document management to legacy system integration.

If you had to pick one metric to measure the success of emergent collaboration efforts, what would it be?

Employee engagement or employee morale. By engagement I mean how connected, satisfied, and fulfilled employees feel at work. How likely are they to recommend working at their company to friends, family members, and peers?

Your ‘State of Enterprise 2.0 Collaboration’ report points out that many companies start their social collaboration efforts with a technology rather than a strategy. Why is it important to start with a social collaboration strategy and what does a good one look like?

A strategy is what guides and identifies everything from use cases to technology deployment to team development. Without a strategy in place you’re most likely going to fail. You wouldn’t build a house without blueprints and you shouldn’t deploy a collaboration technology without a strategy.

Every organization has its own strategy but some of the key things you want to make sure you address are:

  • A feature adoption roadmap (what features are rolled out when?)
  • A map of use cases and what feature is required for each use case
  • An evaluation of risks
  • The development of a team that will help oversee and drive these initiatives
  • Senior leader support
  • A clear set of key performance indicators that are going to be used to measure success (either qualitative or quantitative)
  • Internal marketing strategy
  • Employee adoption strategy

Again, your strategy might be a bit different but these are some of the key things you want to make sure you cover. When my book comes out it will have a full strategy mapped out.

You’ve worked with some huge companies but also with smaller businesses. How does the approach to social collaboration differ for smaller companies? Can small businesses do the same things as the big boys or is there a different approach?

The approaches are not that different but the tactics are. Both small and large organizations need to think of the same strategic components but there are some differences. For example a larger company is going to have much more work required on the governance and IT support side of things whereas smaller organizations may be a bit less stringent in these areas. A large organization might have a very clear and defined role and ownership around collaboration whereas a smaller organization might not.

Yes, small companies can do the same things that larger ones can. Chess is small company and we leverage many of the collaborative tools that we recommend to clients. The business value for us has been great. We see many of the same benefits that our larger clients see. Smaller companies also have the benefit of being more agile and quick to move.

Do you have any examples of a growing business getting big, quick wins from social collaboration – or is it a long-term play?

It’s absolutely a long term play but quick wins typically depend on the organization and how quickly they can deploy and adopt new tools and strategies. Not sure what constitutes a “quick win” but most of the organizations I have worked with or have researched have been deploying these tools and strategies for at least a year.

You seem to recommend a combination of both a structured and unstructured approach to social collaboration. Can you explain what that means and why it’s a good idea?

A structured approach is focused on rigid specific rules and guidelines for collaboration. I once spoke with an executive at a pharmaceutical company who told me that employees are not even allowed to mention the names of brand or products internally. An unstructured approach is much more lax in nature and may provide some general guidelines but nothing which is really strictly enforced. A combination of both is enforcing certain things but also allowing employees to have freedom to collaborate. For example you might have a structured approach around naming conventions for a collaborative document management system but you might have an unstructured approach towards internal microblogging.

Is social collaboration just an internal tool or can it integrate with customer-facing engagement strategies?

For the purposes of my book I’m specifically focusing on collaboration in the workplace. But, absolutely, collaboration extends to three types of communities.

Three types of communities

Employees, partners, and customers. Every organization has three types of communities, internal (employee), external (customers), and hybrid (partners/suppliers). Here, we are focusing specifically on the internal or employee communities.

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© 2011 CHESS MEDIA GROUP

You talk about the ‘Value Paradox” in social collaboration. What does it mean and how do businesses crack it?

The “value paradox” is the concept of organizations wanting and expecting to see business value from emergent collaboration but not doing what is required to see it. For example, we found that 60% of organizations are not defining any type of KPIs and for the small percentage that are (25%, the rest said they don’t know), less than half are actually following up on those KPIs and measuring regularly. So in this scenario of course organizations aren’t going to see business value because they don’t define KPIs and those that don’t define them never actually continuously measure them. Many companies are flying blind and then they wonder why they aren’t seeing business value!

Social collaboration can seem like a big challenge for smaller companies. Where should a smaller business start? What are the first steps?

Regardless of company size an organization always needs to start with identifying what the business problems are or what the opportunities are. From there organizations need to begin mapping use cases and scenarios that a collaboration platform should meet. Beyond that organizations should focus on team development and evaluating and mitigating risks. This framework is designed to let organizations look at and understand the key components that make up a successful "Collaborative Organization." Each one of these components or spheres has several variables in it. Your organization might be great at one of the five areas, whereas another organization might be solid at three of the five.

Adaptive Emergent Collaboration Framework

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Organizations can maneuver through this framework to improve on areas where they are weak or perhaps not as strong as they would like to be. It’s adaptive because it doesn’t force organizations down a single path yet addresses the key areas for social business. Every organization can decide on which areas need to be worked on and which ones are solid. This is also followed by a comprehensive maturity model which will be debuted in the near future which allows organizations to walk through each of these variables.

Where can people go to get more information on collaboration from Chess Media Group?

Readers can check out our free resources on collaboration and can sign up for our newsletter on collaboration news and views (click the checkbox in the form field).

Executives and decision makers also get a free 45 min intake/discovery call to help get them on the right track, they can email me directly for this at: Jacob@ChessMediaGroup.com

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