In a recent Harvard Business Review article with an eye-catching title of “Why No One Uses the Corporate Social Network”, Charlene Li says corporations must wake up to “a landscape littered with failed technology deployments.” She explains:
“Altimeter’s research shows that less than half of the enterprise collaboration tools installed have many employees using them regularly (see figure below). I recently spoke with the leadership team of a top Silicon Valley technology firm that had installed an internal enterprise collaboration platform for its employee engagement and collaboration efforts. After an initial spike in adoption, usage slowly dwindled. It was a disappointing outcome and they wanted to know how to fix it, or if they should maybe just toss it out and invest in a new platform.
“As I stood in front of the executive team I posed an opening question: ‘How many of you have been on the platform in the past week?’”
“Only a single hand went up – the administrator of the platform.”
“The problem was simple and obvious – because the top executives didn’t see collaboration and engagement as a good use of their time, employees quickly learned that they shouldn’t either.”
In my own experience, both before I came to Edvance360 and while training numerous corporations and organizations on Edvance360’s learning management system and secure social network (LMS-SN) or Networked Learning Environment, I have found the same to be true in many cases. Leadership know there’s a challenge to strengthen the corporate culture, train employees, coach and develop behaviors, build collaboration, streamline processes, remove silos, decrease “brain drain”, enhance communication, and generate team spirit. So, they purchase a silver-bullet-software system (or several) to solve the problem. But time and time again the employees see that their leaders don’t buy in, so they do not. The software fails to solve the problem and a new software is purchased.
At Edvance360, our trainers and support staff (and even the sales people) are trained to sniff out the real issues of a corporation, hearing both the stated mission and the ethos (hidden mission).
Often, at the very onset, we discover the leadership has simply handed down a decision on the software without getting the rest of the teams on board. This creates tension between those who have to “implement” the “strategy” and gain the actual buy-in. These team members look to our team members to help them 1) get to know their processes, 2) develop workflows in Edvance360 LMS-SN to enhance or manage those processes, and 3) to train people to use the software all while convincing them that they ought to use the tools to make their lives easier.
While it is very much true that the tools, if used correctly, will indeed make employee’s lives easier, eliminate redundant silos, and create a more efficient layer of communication, it can’t reach down to the leadership problem.
To better embed it within the culture of the corporation, we recommend making the corporate social network (and it’s little-used cousin the intranet) a part of the learning management eco-system. Using a social-LMS or LMS-SN (such as Edvance360 LMS-SN) can create value by combining social networking, intranet functionality, SSO, collaborative tools, file sharing, wikis, CRM integration, HRIS integration, video-conferencing, etc. Making it the all-around-go-to-place for anything the employees need raises it’s value immediately. Adding gamification functionality such as badges for completion of learning or tasks accomplished raises it even further. This is why Edvance360 is actually a further evolution of a learning management system – it’s a Networked Learning Environment.
Additionally, in the words of Peter Boag of Boagworld.com, we recommend:
“The [software] will only be adopted if it makes the lives of individual employees easier. The best way to discover how to do that is to spend time looking at how people organize themselves and look for improvements. Look for the paths they create rather than imposing your own pathways upon them.”1
We track the usage rate and after an initial burst of usage, it can start to dwindle – if we let it (but that’s for another day). The implementing employee “turns over” and a new administrator comes in, doesn’t know what the system is capable of, convinces the leadership to purchase another silver-bullet and the ride begins again. Only to be repeated. Each time the employees buy in less and less. So what is the real problem?
Charlene Li has more to say on this:
“Our research shows that leadership participation is crucial for collaboration. Leaders know they should engage with employees, especially via digital and social channels. But they don’t, and they offer a string of common excuses such as “I don’t have enough time” or “Nobody cares what I had for lunch.” More than anything else, they fear that engaging will close the power distance between them and their employees, thereby lessening their ability to command and control.”
She has three suggestions for becoming an “engaged leader – a person who is confident extending their leadership through and deeply into digital channels”:
- Listen at scale. The simple act of listening—and letting colleagues know that they are being heard—is the first crucial step to meaningful collaboration. Determine who you want to listen to based on where collaboration would be most useful to your organization: who are they, what are their biggest pain points, what information do you need to make key decisions? In this case, the collaboration tool could be any sort of feedback mechanism—a bulletin board or even an email inbox is better than no feedback loop. The key is that you, as a leader, need to be on the other end, eager and open to learn and listen.
- Share to shape. To get started with sharing, identify the platform your employees are already using. Then think of a story you can tell there that will inspire someone to take action toward achieving a key objective. You could share the highlights of a customer conversation or a news article that reinforces a strategic decision. As a leader, the key is to start collecting and sharing in order to shape specific outcomes. While it’s true that no one really cares what you had for lunch, they are keenly interested in what you discussed over lunch. Rather than expecting employees to guess what’s important to you, now you can tell them, easily, with stories and pictures on the digital channels they already use.
- Engage to transform. Employees are smart—they won’t waste their time on stunts that are purely for show. Think about the types of engagements you want to have in digital channels—with whom, about what, and when. Engaging to transform is the capstone step in the journey to becoming an engaged leader. It involves listening and sharing (both are integral parts of engagement) and interacting with followers in a thoughtful way, either at scale or one-to-one. This is part of what makes engagement precious—it has tremendous meaning for the people with whom a leader chooses to engage. It is a tool, therefore, that should be used wisely and intentionally. If it becomes commonplace, it may lose its value.
To summarize, Charlene Li says “Collaboration depends on trust, and it’s crucial for leaders to learn how to do this in the digital era. The tools themselves matter less than the ability of leaders to describe the intent and purpose of the tools. Simply putting a technology platform in place won’t suffice—you must think through how the organization will change and how you will lead it into and through that change. Unless you have a magic wand, the fairy tale world of collaboration won’t happen simply because you plug in a technology. But you have something better—a leadership vision, strategic objectives, and the passion to guide your organization through the changes ahead. Rely on these foundational leadership skills and learn to extend them into the digital world. If you can do that, then collaboration will find its place in your organization.”
To find out more information about our collaborative tools found in our latest version, Edvance360 Version 8.1, contact us at [email protected]. For more information on how to make your online program successful, download our free guide, talk with our experts at no cost, and access our other online resources.