business process improvement through collaborationThe concept of employee collaboration has been around for a while. Twelve years ago while working at KPMG, we were trying to figure out how to build a knowledge management system that would allow employees to share knowledge and locate experts within the company. We spent a huge amount of time figuring out taxonomies and content creation and content management processes. After spending one year identifying the right technologies, and then one hundred million dollars building, installing and deploying them, we actually came up with a pretty cool solution, and we called it K-World.

It was launched with much fanfare. We hired a high-end branding company to help us market the product internally. We got an invitation to demonstrate K World at Bill Gate’s annual CEO Summit. It all seemed great… Less than a year later, K World was dead.

What happened? What did we do wrong? Did we choose the wrong technology? The wrong branding company? Did we not train people properly on how to use the system? Maybe we did. But that was not the reason K World failed. The reason is simple. It was a platform and a concept that was ahead of its time. There was no such thing as social networking back then. No Facebook, No Twitter, No YouTube, No LinkedIn. There were also no iPhones or iPads or Android tablets and phones. The concept was a good one, a platform where all 165,000 employees could easily access the knowledge of their colleagues. Unfortunately neither the technology nor the right cultural mindset were in place back then.

Twelve years later, everything has changed! There a millions of people on public social networks. Most of those people are accessing them using their mobile device. Corporations are going away from traditional client-server applications and adopting cloud technologies. Yes, technology has seen tremendous advances this past ten years. Just as importantly our culture has changed. Every day more and more people are willingly sharing their knowledge and expertise online. They write blogs and tweets and participate in online communities. They share photos and videos and provide their advice and opinions on a myriad of things.

Companies are also starting to feel this change. They are beginning to realize that they are no longer in control of their brand, their customers are. As a result they are looking to social media in an effort to try to engage with their customers and to participate in the conversation of their brand. In addition, some of the savviest companies, also understand that it is not only in the marketing realm where social technologies can have a major impact. These companies realize that social technologies are deployed to enhance the overall collaboration and communication amongst their employees, partners, suppliers and even their customers. They are launching Enterprise Social Networks (ESN’s) and seeing a significant return on their investment in these technologies.

Having just finished a consulting engagement at Pernod Ricard, in which I helped them with the strategy and deployment of their ESN, called it PR Chatter, I was very cognizant of all the things I had learned from my experience at KPMG. I knew things had changed. The technology is better now, people are more receptive to the concepts of sharing knowledge and information. Nonetheless, I knew that the most critical thing I needed to do to ensure that PR Chatter would be adopted by Pernod Ricard employees was to teach them now just “how to use the system” but more importantly WHY?

Social collaboration at work is more than a new technology. It’s a new way of working. Change is scary. Especially to people who have been successful using email and the other tools they have grown accustomed. You can’t just deploy a new system and tell people, “ok go ahead! Start using it.” You have to give them a reason. WHY? What is in it for me??? At Pernod, a big part of our focus was exactly this. All of our training and communication strategy focused on showing people why using this new tool would make their daily work more efficient and rewarding. It allows them to more easily access knowledge and information. It would allow them to locate internal experts more easily when they had questions or required assistance. It would allow them to participate in discussions that were of key importance to the future of the company and their brands. It would make them feel ENGAGED! Informed and valuable.

Another big part of our strategy was to make sure that we launched with several different business use cases before the rest of the organization was on-boarded  on to  the system. We identified project (existing and new) that could take advantage of these new social technologies, and launched these use cases several months before the global launch. The result was that by the time the global launch date approached, we already had some well established examples of success stories to share and individual who could acts as guides and champions.

The last part of our strategy was to work with the top executives in the company to help them understand that we needed them. We didn’t only need their support and sponsorship (we had that from the beginning). What we need from them the most is to lead by example. We needed them to participate. To use the system. To encourage all employees and partners to not only log into the ESN but to participate and share their work. In order to do this however, we needed to convince them that the result would be real business value. Substantive results they could see. Reduction in costs, speed in time to market, enhanced innovation, a more engaged and happier work force, new revenues from sales, competitive intelligence, etc…

As I move on to new projects, I can honestly look back on K World and PR Chatter and feel confident in knowing that while the change in technology had a huge impact on success, it was the corporate cultural transformation that proved to be most important. I am very eager to see what the next ten years will bring…(This is part three of seven in a series on the benefits of becoming a social business)

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