Over the last few weeks, there has been growing debate and discussion about why social business/social collaboration/Enterprise 2.0 – pick your term – has as yet failed to gain mainstream adoption in the business workplace. Various blogs and comment streams express frustration that five years on from Andrew McAfee’s MIT Sloan Management Review paper, in which he coined the term “Enterprise 2.0″ to describe the application of Web 2.0 principles in a business context, and despite a rapid rate of innovation and new technology development, there is still such a relatively low success rate for the concept across the board.
In Laurie Buczek’s post The Big Failure of Enterprise 2.0 Social Business, she writes that “The big failure of social business is a lack of integration of social tools into the collaborative workflow.” I agree wholeheartedly on this point; even in environments where people are keen to embrace these new social technologies, unless they are fully embedded into people’s daily work, they will quickly fall by the wayside as daily pressures to focus on primary activities limit people’s bandwidth to persevere with the new tools. Not that I am suggesting that collaboration is not a primary activity – it’s just that people, by their nature, will choose the path of least resistance: if that means using the phone or sending an email rather than switching to an alternative application, then often that is the reality. This should not be a surprise to anyone who has been in business long enough to remember the fate of many knowledge management initiatives in the late 90′s; many of the underlying goals for this trend were spookily similar to social collaboration – it’s just the technology and the approach that is different today.
My concern with the current debate is that many people’s frustration seems to be that these new social technologies are failing to inspire people into working differently. Why should they? I acknowledge that many of these tools provide better ways to help organisations surface skills, information and ideas within an organisation, or provide new electronic ways for distributed teams to work together. The trouble is that, in many cases, they depend upon the whole organisational culture changing to achieve this in real terms. If an organisation is not already particularly collaborative, just providing them with the tools to collaborate is not going to change that – at least, not in a timeframe that you can measure in months. Many people argue that because people use these social tools in their personal lives, they are increasingly demanding similar tools in their working world – but even then, it takes time for individuals to work out how to get real benefit out of them in this way, and much longer for the organisation as a whole to adapt or evolve. Others talk about the influx of “Generation Y” bringing their expectations of social tools – this is fine, but again, these people make up a small proportion of the overall workforce, and they are not encumbered by existing patterns of working, or long-established habits or accepted behaviours.
Cultural change does not happen overnight, and can take many years to permeate through a large organisation, so we should not be surprised that it is taking this long for Enterprise 2.0 to become a reality. However, I think we still have to remember that this is about changing not just technology habits, but people’s working habits in general, and their understanding of the benefits – both personally and at an enterprise level – of better collaboration. We need to *think* about cultural change first, and technology second. That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to wait for cultural change before implementing technology, but it absolutely must be core to the organisation’s strategy, and to the change management activities that help it succeed.
What do you think? I’d welcome your thoughts!