Today’s post was written by Andy Jankowski, founder and managing director for Enterprise Strategies, a Microsoft partner.

When I first read Gartner’s prediction that,” Through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts will fail to achieve the intended benefits due to an overemphasis on technology and inadequate leadership involvement*,” I laughed and then, I cried. For the last five years, my company, Enterprise Strategies has helped Fortune 500 organizations roll out enterprise social networks and establish a new, more social way of working. It all started when a group of ex-management consultants recognized the potential of social inside of companies, and thought they could make a dent in the information silos, broken communication chains, and inefficient or non-existent collaboration processes of large corporations. What we didn’t realize is that what seemed so obvious to us, was viewed by many as not important enough to spend time on. Why?

One reason is that although enterprise social networks are based on the same social networks that have transformed the way we communicate in our personal lives, there’s a key difference between how we use them with friends and how we use them at work: We don’t come to work for the relationships.  Relationships are the glue of consumer social media. We connect to people on Facebook because we are or want to be friends. In a work setting, people come together as colleagues working to solve business challenges, and then build relationships to make the work experience more effective and enjoyable.

In the early days of enterprise social, we approached it as a means to improve communication and collaboration, but enterprise social networks require a different kind of glue than consumer social networks, namely, work objects.

While relationships are the glue of social media, work objects are the glue of internal social networks. A work object is a report, sales proposal, project deliverable, executive presentation, or customer question that needs to be addressed. It’s the stuff employees actually work on together. Everything outside of work objects is secondary, and that’s where the focus needs to be.

Nowhere did this scenario play out more clearly than during the Yammer adoption program we ran at Aon, a global professional services firm that provides risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, human resource solutions and outsourcing services. Dressed in suits, accustomed to reading and writing large highly-regulated business documents, and generally pressed for time, our audience was as excited to see us as a red cancellation notice on an airport flight monitor. We knew we had one chance to make an impact, and as such, we went right for the…work object.

Our approach for driving the adoption and business value of enterprise social networks has several components, one of which is what we call business team activation. Business team activation is an artfully crafted combination of business process reengineering and change management.

Here is how it works

The term Enterprise Social Network leads everyone to believe that all activities related to one can and should include the entire enterprise. We, too, believe this to be true, with the exception of how initial business value is presented and attained. It is very hard to quantify the value of “improved enterprise communication” or “better collaboration across business and geographic boundaries.” In fact, it is my personal belief that many of the egregious value claims that were initially made by enterprise social software companies, present company excluded of course, led to people trying to quantify the unquantifiable (e.g., the ROI of improved communication). I do believe in the power of these platforms, but if I were to set my expectations with the connotation of the marketing and sales presentations I have seen my disappointment would be inevitable. So what is a well-meaning employee tasked with proving the business value of an enterprise social network to do?

Start with the small picture

We actually begin our projects by interviewing company executives to confirm and deeply understand each executive’s business objectives. Please note that I did not say their objectives for an enterprise social platform. The objectives we seek and which serve as the basis for our entire enterprise social network adoption program, are the actual—existed before we arrived—business objectives of the company. With this understanding, we are able to back into the business processes that most directly impacts the attainment of these objectives.

Our next set of meetings is with the business process owners themselves (i.e., the people who actually orchestrate and do the work) to better understand the way these processes are currently being executed from a people, process and technology perspective. With this knowledge, we are able to back into what use cases make up each business process. And, finally, which of these use cases an enterprise social network can most impact. To put this in perspective, we may be engaged at a 70,000-person company, but at this point we are working to improve a single business process of one business team. This process may be something like “naming a new product before it goes to market” or “fiscal period end close,” but the key is that it is an existing process that:

  1. Requires input from, and information held by, multiple people.
  2. Is executed on a regular basis.
  3. Is critically important to the organization.
  4. Can be materially impacted (e.g., cycle time and errors reduced, quality of results improved, etc.) by leveraging the inherent benefits of an enterprise social network.

We then show how this business process would work (better) by executing the identified use cases using an enterprise social network. It is a simple story: “Here is the current process, here is the process leveraging an enterprise social network, and here are the results,” but once told in this context, to the right person, enterprise value becomes clearly visible. For example, explain to your CFO how you can reduce the time to close the books each month (and the errors caused by fact checking financials via email) in one division, and she will extrapolate the potential time and cost savings enterprise-wide. Tell a similar story about reducing the time it takes to name a product to your head of product development and he will multiply the savings by your company’s number of product lines, geographies and number of times the process is repeated. This is the real network effect and the real path to enterprise social network business value.

As I stated in the beginning, the above is just one component of our Enterprise Social Network adoption program, but it is an important one, and based on five years of experience rolling out and driving the business value of enterprise social networks across many organizations. The other parts of our process include various forms of communication planning and execution, executive mentoring and employee training, and of course, the business-driven campaigns and gamification activities that make it all stick. All of which is based on our research of Why Enterprise Social Initiatives Fail.

So what happened at Aon?

Well, to be honest, it is still happening. Aon boasts one of the largest Yammer networks, currently over 45,000 members, representing about 60 percent of their workforce worldwide. We have been strategically executing the Business Team Activation process, team by team, for the last six months. The network effect is indeed kicking in and the results speak for themselves, and the work continues on three fronts:

  1. Partnering with the business to identify use cases where collaboration is critical to meet the business goals.
  2. Ensuring the community managers are playing their roles in conversation facilitation.
  3. Activating leaders so that they are walking the talk on collaboration.

“A successful Enterprise Social Network implementation is less about technology and more about the cultural and process transformation that needs to happen for management and colleagues to embrace a new, more social way of working. Andy and the Enterprise Strategies team have been instrumental in developing our training programs and for helping us manage the change management activities needed to ensure that Aon has a thriving community network.” —Neeru Arora, SVP, ASC chief information officer and chief knowledge officer at Aon.

We feel very fortunate to be working with Microsoft and Neeru’s team on their Yammer initiative. And we honestly believe enterprise social network success is attainable by any organization. It is not rocket science, but it is a process and requires focused attention and deliberate actions. Start with business objectives. Start with one business team and one business process. And from there, create one clearly depicted, quantifiable story. Let your executives extrapolate and quantify the full enterprise business value of an enterprise social network. And whatever you do… don’t be the 80 percent.

—Andy Jankowski

*Gartner, Use the Gartner Business Model Framework to Search for Social Business Opportunities, January 2013, refreshed August 2014.

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