#TipTuesday – Commit to it.

|   Sep 15, 2015

In my previous post in this series, I shared the first of 12 pieces of advice for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) – have a full-time community manager from the start. In this post I’ll discuss my second tip:

Commit to it.

Tip2

Every few decades some new form of communication comes along that substantially changes how communication happens. It gets embedded into our culture and impacts our personal and business lives forever. Earlier in the last century, that was the telephone. Later in the last century, it was email. In this century so far, it’s online social communication.

Enterprise social networks (ESN) are the internal form of this 21st Century social communications advance and are intended for employees of a business to use in communicating better among themselves and occasionally with business partners outside the company. ESNs aren’t new anymore. At this point, an ESN is an expected form of communication in business. The time for wondering about its effectiveness was in the previous decade – not now. There are too many case studies and success stories available to remain stubbornly unconvinced of the value of an ESN. The time for being cutting edge or bleeding edge in the use of ESNs was also last decade. If you aren’t yet doing it, you’re woefully late to the party. And don’t give me the excuse of being in a highly regulated industry or too small or too large a company to buy in to the idea. I’ve led our ESN at Humana for over five years. We’re a healthcare company – large and highly regulated – yet we’re still seeing tremendous growth in the quantity, quality and business value of ESN use at all levels of the company.

Nobody is debating whether or not they ought to have telephones in their businesses. Why? Because it’s an expected form of communication. The same goes for email in the enterprise. As expected forms of communication, we don’t pilot those technologies. No one is reserving judgment on the value of telephones and email until they can prove ROI to someone up the corporate hierarchy. You just know in a business setting that you’re going to have email and telephones as ways of communicating just as surely as you’ll have face-to-face meetings.

I believe that’s where we are with ESNs today. Take the time to talk with young adults entering the workforce about the tools and technology they expect to have available if they come to work for your company. Some studies I’ve read and heard about point to the frequency of Millennials in job interviews asking companies about their tools and technologies, and who walk away from the possibility of working at places entrenched in last century’s ways of communicating and working. If you want to attract this new, up-to-date and technologically savvy crowd in your business (regardless of their age – think Generation C), then you’d better have the tool set they expect to spend their days using.

What about piloting an ESN? Isn’t that OK? Isn’t it reasonable to dip your toe in the water before diving in with a no-turning-back commitment?

I used to be a fan of pilots in the workplace. In fact, I loved piloting things because it’s amazing to me what you can sometimes get away with for a while when you call it a pilot. But there is a reason why you can get away with short-term pilots of random things – nobody has to take them seriously!

If you want to use an ESN to change people’s ways of working and communicating for the better, calling something a pilot is the worst thing you can do to kick it off. The word “pilot” suggests it may not be around long. It suggests that there will be a point in time when people evaluate the experience and then make a go/no-go decision on moving forward with it.

Why should people change their way of working and communicating to use a technology that may not be there in a few months? Why should someone invest in adding good content to an ESN if it’s just going to go away in a short while? Why should someone who is already overworked take the time to learn a new platform that the business hasn’t fully committed to keeping? The average worker is going to think “I already have enough to do. I can’t waste my time on something today that may not be here tomorrow.” And they’re right.

That’s the scenario you create when you attempt to implement an ESN with a fuzzy commitment using the word “pilot.” Don’t do it.

What can you do instead? Well, commit to it. If you choose to roll it out in a phased approach (which is fine and, in fact, preferred), then just use the term “phase” instead. Calling something “Phase 1″ implies that there will be a “Phase 2.” It implies commitment and a planned approach to expanded use. That is infinitely better than calling it a pilot, and it communicates a very different message to the potential users about its longevity.

In an ESNchat on Twitter I hosted a while back, someone suggested using the terminology of a play and describing an ESN rollout in terms of Acts (Act 1, Act 2, etc.) where actors are defined and a story line is in view of how it all plays out. That’s an intriguing approach that may work in some businesses.

In a nutshell, my contention is this: Enterprise social networking is here to stay. It’s an expected form of communication, so treat it as such. Don’t pilot it.

Commit to it.

[This post has been modified from the original version first published at jeffrossblog.com.]

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