I’ve written a number of times here about social collaboration trends inside of the enterprise, and HR’s calling to sell the idea to the CEO. In many places, upper management is convinced of the need for their company to get social with clients and customers, but when the conversation turns to social tools for employees, there is less enthusiasm from the C-suite.
We all know the concerns – time wasting, inappropriate language, company secrets being leaked, and an overwhelming need to control corporate information. Thus, the only way HR moves the needle on the issue is to argue that the benefits outweigh the concerns, or risks. After plausible arguments on both sides, we in HR often resort to the “everyone else is doing it” argument (flash back to convincing our parents that every normal 6th grader has cable TV in their room), and stomp back to our office where we read admonitions from guys like me.
Well, today no scolding. I want to share with you a great interview that was posted on the MIT Sloan Management Review site a few days ago. The title of the piece is “What Sells CEOs on Social Networking,” and it is Andrew McAfee being interviewed by David Kiron, the Executive Editor of MIT Sloan Management Review’s Innovation Hubs.
Six years ago, Andrew McAfee was the guy who coined the term “Enterprise 2.0″ for what collaboration tools such as blogging and wikis (and, today, Facebook and Twitter) would mean for companies.
In this interview, he talks about how CEOs see this world today — and what really sells them on the tools. Looking back on the past six years, McAfee shares what he has learned about what he calls the “triggers” that generate CEO interest in social networking.
This is a must-read article, in my opinion, but let me share a few thoughts…
The first “trigger” McAfee suggests is to approach knowledge management in a different way. He reminds us of the movement throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s that spurred many companies to invest big dollars in knowledge management software, only to shelf most of it. So, if you’re pitching the idea of social tools as “knowledge management,” don’t. It won’t work. McAfee suggests a different way to pique the CEO’s interest…
“One useful trigger is to use a quote that I first heard a while back that is attributed to Lew Platt, who was the old CEO of Hewlett-Packard. He looked around his organization, which is a big, very well-run, hugely respected company in America for decades. This is not a poorly run company. He looked around Hewlett-Packard and said, ‘If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.’ Whenever I say that to a room full of executives, you can see the heads nod.”
This is true of every organization. There is simply no way to codify company knowledge, in my opinion. It is created through failure and triumph, deals won and lost, and resides in the experience of the workforce (often not remembered until someone asks), not a database, not a document. If your company only knew what your people could share with one another…
This is something your CEO can relate to – it is one of those things that keep him or her up at night.
To combat the idea that an enterprise social network would be a complete waste of time, McAfee offers the concept of “weak ties,” which are connection between those that are not close, personal colleagues.
This is an idea that emerged in his book, Enterprise 2.0 (Harvard Business Publishing, 2009), that is built on research in sociology that shows that if you want innovation, or expansion into other areas, your weak ties a better place to go than your strong ties (those that share the same deliverables). As McAfee points out, “Your weak-tie network is an extremely valuable thing for you. The problem is that before the 2.0 era, we had terrible tools for building and maintaining and exploiting a network of weak ties.”
Think about that. The very foundations of many social networking platforms are built on the concept of “weak ties” networking. Do we care what Jim from the Piedmont High Class of 1988 is having for breakfast? Please say we do not. However, if Jim knows someone who knows someone who can solve a problem for us, or has a specialized skill we need, we have an instant connection to a resource we could have never known about in the past… all we have to do is ask.
The article goes on to discuss how to get the CEO involved, improve your chances to get funding for social initiatives, evidence of competitive advantage, and a mini case study where some of these ideas have played out.
Please take some time to read the entire interview – I promise it will “trigger” some great ideas for how you can pitch social collaboration to your CEO. The other thing that I hope it “triggers” is an unwavering belief that business collaboration and business social must be part of each HR technology strategy today. If it is not, you are leaving more than knowledge on the table.
Another infusion of knowledge…