Friday, April 06, 2012

Introducting social media in organisations to improve the learning function is more difficult than you may think..

For some time now, I have an evaluation report of an organization that has experience with the introduction of social media (like wikis and blog) in the organization since 2009. The report is very interesting, because it shows that the actual practice of changing habits in organisations is very hard!
They allowed me to blog about it and I think it has some valuable lessons like shape such a process as a real change trajectory (I'm personally convinced about this). 


The design of the project 
The initiative for the project came from the Research and Development department. The aim of the project was that increased use of social media within the organization would support the development of a global network: information would be better available in one central place (through wikis) and transparency about what is going on within the organisation would be enhanced. The chosen toolset fits into the broader strategy of becoming a learning organization, breaking through organisational silos. Top management supports this vision and has made it possible that sufficient time and money is allocated to this project. There is someone working on this project full time and receive the support of an external agency. The organization chose a toolset with thematic wikis as a basis, supplemented with other social media such as social bookmarking, blogs and discussion forums. "We chose to use existing social media services in the cloud instead of buying a company package, because this creates flexibility and is cheaper. You are not dependent on one company/vendor and can benefit from the further development of social media in the cloud." 

The start
The project started with training voluntary groups, people were invited but not forced to be trained. More and more groups and teams came to register for the training. Working with teams worked well because you create ownership to use the tools together with the whole team. An example: a team had to develop a new program and proposed to use a wiki, as the place for the exchange of all documents, presentations and photos. Another example is a wiki about the work in a country that has helped to get an overview of all activities in this country.  

New ways of working 
The project was framed as 'a new way of working' instead of 'learning new tools'. However, the new way of working is not still not very clear for the majority of people in the organization. It has even led to unproductive polarities in organizations: the fans versus the enemies of the new way of working. After 2 years there is no critical mass of employees formed who have embraced the new way. What was probably missing is a clear argument: a rationale of why this is a better way of working. Even though there was management support, the project became isolated from other developments in the organisation. There were too few exchanges and talks about why this way of working was needed and what exactly was understood as new. As a result, it has not yet become effective. One of the lessons may be that management support is not enough, there needs to be space  in the organisation to give priority to this way of working. If a restructuring or resizing is more important it may not be the right time. In this case, some champions were identified, but some of the champions lost their jobs, which was a set back for the project. 

Wiki as a core tool 
Although the project has introduced a broader toolset, wikis were seen as the central tool. It has proven difficult to get everyone 'into wikis' because it appeared to be a tool that works great for some, but not for others. It depends on individual preferences. Furthermore a set-back of using wikis as the central tool is that wikis are very suitable for information storage but ignores exchange and interpretation and meaning processes.  

Some lesson
I think at least three important lessons can be learned from this project (note: these are partly my lessons and interpretations based on my observations and reading the evaluation). 

  • Introducing a new way of working with social media is a change process, not an ICT project and should therefore be managed as such. It therefore requires sufficient knowledge and experiences within the team about managing change in organizations. In this case using lessons from change management would probably have led the team to pay more attention to 'sense-making and understanding of the new way of working.  
  • Ensure that the vision, the purpose of the new way of working is sufficiently clear. Provide a clear focus, otherwise it quickly becomes vague to people what they are required to do. They may interpret it as 'I have to use a wiki instead of a word document'.
  • Be flexible in the choice of tools. If very early in the process a uniform toolset is chosen there is the chance that you create advocates and opponents, in an unproductive battle. Allow flexibility in use of tools while keeping the vision and purpose of the new way of working as your focus. Evaluatie regularly whether the vision is still relevant. 

1 comment:

David Chiles said...

Social Media for orgainizations is good netiquette, because it helps brand it and engage constituents. I agree that implementing social media in any organization is difficult. There are many facets of the genre and intended and unintended consequences of use.