Enterprise Social Networks: a solution for management, not a problem

No matter the advanced maturing views over the benefits of enterprise social networks in most organisations these days, I still come across people making assertions that they divert employees from work.

My point today is that what they see as a problem is a solution.

A reason why people make such an assertion is that they lack concrete experience of social networks in a professional setting.
They think they know because the media are saturated with info about social media and because they may use them with family and friends. What they don’t quite realise is that social networks at work is a total different ballgame. Enterprise social networks are not technology, they are digital (yet) social environments. The technology is only supporting something that involves communication, processes and culture.
As long as they don’t dare to experiment, i.e. put themselves into a learning mode, i.e. accept they might “fail” because that’s a way of learning, then they can only have an (ungrounded) opinion. This is very true in countries like France where the education system does not seriously encourage the learning by doing.

A more general reason why people may make such an assertion is that it’s grounded in everyday reality: it is pretty common to find people purposely operating well below their capacity, what FW Taylor labels as “soldiering”.
Social networks / social media are today a great way to keep busy while operating below capacity (so was the newspaper!). However, social networks are not the cause for soldiering, but rather the consequence. In fact social networks at work are like water-coolers : social places that one can take advantage of to either get things done informally or laze formally. It’s a personal choice.
This situation creates massive opportunities for productivity and improved profitability, especially in organisations that have already streamlined their major sources of expenses (processes, suppliers, …).

Leaders know that some people purposely operate below their capacity.
They try to curb it by appealing to:

  • Emotions by sharing a vision
  • Ego by publicly forming judgements (from congratulations to admonitions) that shape a reputation
  • Fear by having the possibility to terminate a contract
  • Greed by creating individual incentives

They invented management to objectify the usage of such triggers and delegate their authority as a way to have a firmer impact in large organisations.
They welcomed FW Taylor’s “Scientific Management” as it provided an avenue to objectify the triggers through measurement.

But “Scientific Management” is arduous and costly: it takes expertise (the ability to measure), tools (reporting systems and ratios) and time (processing data).
Scientific Management has a pitfall: one can measure only what’s explicit and in an economy that shifts to knowledge as the currency for wealth creation, explicit becomes scarce and tacit mainstream.
This lead to a situation whereby:

  • Some organisations have used “Scientific Management” not as a method but as a recipe: they copy-pasted the best practices and performance indexes of others (overlooking their very contextual nature).
  • Some people have delivered through reporting systems what management was expecting, not what the reality was.
  • Most people have taken reporting as an information delivery mechanism or a communication event, not as an opportunity to improve via an informed conversation.

The deeper we entered a knowledge-based economy, the smaller the portion of business effectively managed, the more deviant behaviours became the rule, generating social discontent among employees and inefficient organisations.

A downward spiral of efficiecny

“What you can’t measure, you can’t manage”. The very nature of management is broken … and so far there has been no solution to this issue.
That’s where enterprise social networks come to the picture. Social networks fix management.

Yes, social networks empower employees in a way that can frighten management: they can voice organisation-wide, they can build a reputation based on contributions and not status, they can bypass usual channels of communication. But social networks primarily provide transparency by socialising information change: networking, contributing, commenting, updating. By doing so, they make someone’s activity visible. They consequently explicit (re-materialise) someone’s activity. They reduce the need/cost for coordination but most importantly they help monitor activity.
Social networks are the basis. The technology has massively evolved: their features are now stable, they have a full ecosystem emerging around them. Notably two elements require particular attention:

  • They have APIs to integrate with business applications such as ERPs so that they can socialise / explicit larger chunks of employee activity.
  • A whole range of business intelligence applications help monitor firmly and make better sense of individual activity thanks to data analysis (big data).

Information Architecture

 

Altogether, what we see emerging since last year is a full stack of tools than help management objectify the knowledge-based activity of their employees and possibly anyone who contributes to the organisation’s value chain.

Wirearchy

This enables the rebirth of management as a mechanism to 1) objectively evaluate the individual contribution to the collective wealth creation as well as 2) profit sharing with and among employees. The principles stated by FW Taylor remain the bed rock : Management needs both measurement and ethics to fight soldiering.
However, we need to be careful and be sure we have learnt from our past mistakes: a method not a recipe, reporting is to fuel an informed conversation for commonly agreed action.

I am at the junction of management, technology & culture, to maximize knowledge work & make organizations more competitive. I'm passionate about knowledge management, communities of practice, enterprise social computing (aka enterprise 2.0) and corporate governance in a knowledge economy. I fancy designing collaboration and knowledge sharing related digital tools. I am currently the Director, Collaborative Development at the Ops Division of L'Oreal and based in Paris. I was previously in Singapore and Hyderabad as Director Asia at Revevol, an international cloud computing broker specialised in Google Enterprise products and related services, Associate Director of the Digital Division of the National Library Board of Singapore and before a consultant at Headshift, a social business design consultancy now part of the Dachis Group. I have been working on international network and community management, designing and implementing CRM, reporting and community tools. I have given some lectures around KM at EM Lyon, a European leading Management School, and talks at both KM Singapore and KM Asia. I participated in the we are smarter than me initiative as chapter moderator. I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the Information & Knowledge Management Society of Singapore (IKMS) for two years. I graduated a PhD in Management, while working in a full-time position and with the kind support of Claude Roche (France Telecom, previously at ENST), Jean-Claude Moisdon (CGS Mines) and Philippe Lorino (ESSEC). When not working, I can be found back-packing mostly in Latin America and Asia. The shift from muscle sweat to brain juice as the main factor of performance creates some fundamental changes in the way management is to be taught and practised. Topics like knowledge management (KM), communities of practice (CoP), enterprise social computing (Enterprise 2.0) are the ones that participate in crafting the new required management practices. But they only are one part of the solution. Topics like measurement and metrics, behaviours and authority, representation and organisation of the group also have to be questioned and rejuvenated. This blog is about all this and we can summarise this as 'managing in a knowledge economy'. It displays ideas of my own and not the ones of my employers, past and present.

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