Monday, July 09, 2007

The Holy Grail of Enterprise 2.0

Pundits, professors and providers of technology are scurrying around trying to predict how Web 2.0 will successfully enter the workplace. There is talk of wikis and blogs and tagging and collaboration and social networking. Everyone recognizes (correctly) that Web 2.0 tools can and will transform the workplace but no one is quite sure how they will work and more importantly what value they will add. Some organizations are trying the "force participation" approach -- which although temporarily effective is a sure sign that they are barking up the wrong tree. The correct strategy will take-off when it gives employees the kinds of tools or systems that they want and need to which they naturally gravitate. The pundits and professors are getting very close to figuring this out but they have not yet found the holy grail of Enterprise 2.0. But I have.

I am not a web 2.0 expert but I am relatively knowledgeable about Human Resources/Talent Development/Organizational Development. Therefore rather than looking at Enterprise 2.0 from a "this is cool technology - what can we do with it" angle, I am more interested in how we can solve some of today's workplace challenges. Past history has shown that for a technology to really take-off, it needs to solve problems not just be nice-to-have. Applying Web 2.0 to the corporation just because you can doesn't mean it will stick. To stick, it must be extraordinarily useful. Being cool or perhaps I should say being hot is not enough. The question the pundits and professors need to be asking is what workplace challenges can web 2.0 tools solve? That is where they will find the answers about Enterprise 2.0 .

The following are three Human Resources and Talent Development workplace challenges that I have identified that can be solved with Web 2.0 tools. (I'm sure there are many more.) All three challenges are related to the new Generation Y Millennial workplace. Specifically the differences in the work behavior of the 75 million people between the ages of 15 to 30 that have begun entering the workplace in the last 5 - 10 years.

1) The Need for Praise & Recognition. This may sound trivial but it's not. Unlike previous generations of employees, the new "raised on praise" generation of workers require an inordinate amount of praise and recognition to stay motivated, productive and happy with their company. (And truth be told we Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like praise too.) Managers, supervisors and HR professionals are not yet sure how to meet this voracious need for recognition. A simple answer is to use social networking systems that encourage both peer-to-peer and supervisor-to-employee recognition as an integral part of daily communication.

2) Knowledge Transfer - Just in time Learning. Challenge #2 is that everything we know about employee training has been thrown out the window in the Generation Y workplace. Classroom training? Ha! E-learning? Maybe if it's a requirement to get a raise. The real learning today takes place on a peer-to-peer basis at the moment the employee has a problem or is asked to take on an assignment that they have not experienced previously. For example, if someone is working on a spreadsheet and can't figure out how to format a cell properly, what do they do? They ask their friends and colleagues. When they need help with the best way to _____________ [you can fill in the blank with any work question] they ask their friends and colleagues. Therefore, one of the great workplace challenges today is how to facilitate this new just-in-time approach to learning. Once again, Web 2.0 social networking can be used solve this need. The more friends and colleagues you can connect with, the more chance you have of getting the best solution to your question.

3) Fifty-Percent Employee Turnover is not sustainable. If the average Generation Y employee plans to stay 1-2 years at a company and if your entire workforce is comprised of Generation Y employees, that equates to an employee turnover rate of 50% per year. The current rate of employee turnover (for voluntary employee turnover called "quits" by the Department of Labor) runs at around 23% per year. If employee turnover jumps from 23% with a mixed generational workplace to 50% with a Generation Y workplace, companies will not be able to sustain the cost of turnover both in hard dollars and soft productivity losses. It is going to be absolutely imperative to prevent this from happening. One proven method is to increase the connections that new (and other) employees have to their co-workers and "embed" them into the fabric (or network) of the company. This "employee engagement" has been shown to reduce employee turnover dramatically. Here too social networking tools can be used to fulfill this need.

The holy grail of enterprise 2.0 is going to be around solving the challenges that the new Generation Y work styles bring to the organization. For an example of how this can be put into practice, take a look at the Talent Networking Edition of Mentor Scout which my team at Nobscot Corporation has developed. It borrows concepts from Web 2.0 and Social Networking but only the parts that serve to solve the challenges listed above. Solving workplace challenges - that is the holy grail for Enterprise 2.0 not the implementation of Web 2.0 for the sake of Web 2.0.

Beth N. Carvin
CEO & President
Nobscot Corporation

3 Comments:

Blogger dal said...

Beth,
There is another whole angle of Enterprise 2.0 that is often overlooked (in your post as well) and that is using consumer web 2.0 tools to access enterprise application data. Many employees are not SAP-savvy, find it hard to use Oracle Financials, and quite frankly, just needs snippets of information from these apps to do their jobs. Web 2.0 tools like RSS, gadgets, widgets, even instant messaging represent vehicles for delivering data from hard to navigate applictions. This is not about "cool" technology - it is about using consumer tools to work better. Of course, overcoming security, scalability, and integration issues are keys to success, but the ability to let employees securely share structured application data has far-reaching implications. We have only started to scratch the surface of what will be possible - for example, it is feasible to bookmark a database record of an unpaid invoice and share it with colleagues, rather than emailing scanned images of the invoice. I think it is time we focus on where the "cool" technology can be used to actually do something better, rather than rehash the old themes of whether wikis are better than email or not.
David Lavenda - VP Mrkt & Prod Strategy - WorkLight

1:53 AM, July 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely with your three challenges. I haven't heard about the need for praise from the young kids, but I do understand the importance of positive feedback for everyone.

Using your peers to help solve problems is imperative now that most tasks, tools and practices are no longer documented. The only place to find the answers is by asking someone.

And anything we can do to cut the huge costs of turnover is going to save money, time, effort and frustration with unfilled or constantly replacing employees. Keep them engaged and productive and they will stick around.

8:19 AM, July 10, 2007  
Blogger B. N. Carvin said...

Interesting point, Dal. I wonder though if employees already have access to the parts of the database or data warehouse that are important to them?

6:44 PM, July 10, 2007  

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