Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Solving Organizational Challenges with Enterprise 2.0

Interesting post from Enterprise 2.0 thought leader and academic Andrew McAfee on his prescription for restoring the operational and financial health of the big 3 US automakers. Mcafee imagines himself a newly appointed auto industry IT Director and discusses what he would do to heal his ailing company.

His solution is to implement a corporate wide talent networking type program which he calls an "emergent social software platform" or ESSP. He call for a comprehensive suite to include:
  • blogs
  • wikis
  • discussion boards
  • social networking service
  • microblogging
  • prediction markets
  • praise and recognition
Why does he recommend this approach? Mcafee suggests that the answers to the company's challenges reside in the minds of the employees dispersed across the organization. Individuals themselves may not have the best answers but technology can be used to pull together the bits and pieces of employees' knowledge to find the right solutions.

Complicated buzzwords aside, I think it's a great approach. We are already beginning to see this kind of organizational social collaboration at non-troubled companies using talent networking. There is no reason to believe that it wouldn't work equally well with companies that have greater challenges to solve.

There are a few caveats though that Professor Mcafee turned imaginary IT Director should heed:

1) The initiative will not succeed if it's driven by the IT department. Although on the surface it seems like a technology solution, in reality it's a people solution that uses IT. As such, a good strong HR and/or Talent Development department needs to be the one spearheading and nurturing the implementation of the program. I have nothing against IT people but they do not have the appropriate skills and knowledge for this.

2) Because it's a people program, it needs to be nurtured - a lot. Really cool technology with all the requisite components is still just a platform - the "P" in McAfee's ESSP. The more challenging aspect is directing and focusing and shaping the use of the platform to create the end result that the company is seeking, that is actionable solutions. In this case, success is not in the journey, it's in the destination.

3) Beware of information overload. Companies that utilize suggestion and feedback systems often become overwhelmed with the amount of information that they capture. Be prepared to deal with an abundance of both good and bad information.

4) Remember that the Wisdom of Crowds only works when each individual in the group is more likely to be right than wrong. As Cass Sunstein pointed out in When Crowds Aren't Wise, crowd think fails if each individual is more likely to be wrong than right. Therefore, it's important to address the right questions to the right people who have the information to be correct, individually, more often than not. Making decisions based on faulty group think will not help the company succeed.

5) A company like any of the big automakers comes with a lot of baggage. There is a history, a corporate culture, there are long standing policies, long service employees and union contracts. The roll-out of the program will need to be integrated in such a way that does not conflict. The employees need to be enthusiastic about participating. If it's not handled well, they will end up with lots of employee eye-rolling and complaints.

Therefore, I suggest the following:
The organization should prepare in advance the objectives and specific challenges they wish to solve with the system. They should identify a team from HR that will work with divisional managers on tailoring the program to meet the objectives. A senior executive should be found to help champion the program. A methodology should be in place for reviewing the information and separating the wheat from the chaff. An ongoing plan should be made for keeping the program energized. Tools should be available for reporting and analyzing on usage and results.


Blogger Unknown said...

Great post! There's so many people on the web who are writing about Web 2.0, and so few try to explore Enterprise 2.0 in depth. I'm also interested in these technologies and keep looking for blogs on this topic. Here's another blog that I find useful. May be it will be useful to you too.

5:14 AM, December 05, 2008  

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