The main Enterprise Social Network challenges? Value, Culture and Adoption

Are you trying to deploy Enterprise Social Network software; like Asana, Basecamp, Connections, Facebook Workplace, Google+ for Work, Jive, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Slack, Yammer, etc. The list seems endless…

This type of technology has quickly been embraced by up to 70% of all enterprise organizations. Logical, as the potential productivity gain of Enterprise Social Networking is a staggering 20% to 25%.

The business value that can be obtained is however entirely based on how much this technology is being used, but as most organizations follow a worst practice approach of “provide and pray”, it shouldn’t be a surprise that only 10% of the implementations truly succeed.

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It’s a simple fact that social collaboration doesn’t just happen, it’s earned! This article aims to highlight some of the fundamental challenges that are causing Enterprise Social initiatives to fail.

In recent years, many people have raised the question why the adoption of this “simple” technology is so challenging. There are actual multiple factors that come into play, this article highlights 3 important challenges.

The “Value” challenge…

The first challenge is finding answers to two simple questions: “what’s in it for the organization?” and “what’s in it for the employees?” If there is no compelling purpose for an Enterprise Social Network, how do you expect to get everyone on board?

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At the organizational level, it seems that some initiatives never get past the business case. It’s clear that an Enterprise Social Network can create value for an organization, but in all honesty there is no way to actually capture this value upfront and in a true numerical sense. One can create value without capturing any of it, but you can’t capture value without first creating it. We must therefore separate the concept of value creation and value capture when envisioning the ROI of Enterprise Social. This financial exercise should therefore focus on determining how you are going to measure success, after the solution is available (and some investment has already been made).

In addition to the financial debate, it seems that organizations either forget, or are finding it very difficult, to assess the situation and define an Enterprise Social vision. There are many use cases, but some classical scenarios truly apply to this era, for example: improving employee engagement, building more productive teams or creating a connected organization.

At the employee level, the most outspoken “what’s in it for me” is a possible solution to the current information overload. It’s important to highlight that social is not a direct substitute for e-mail; instead, it’s intended to provide capabilities that e-mail can’t provide (for example breaking through organizational silos)! By the way, did you know that information workers spend on average 25% of their time dealing with e-mail?

There is however specific user education required, because e-mail has defined the habit of reading everything that we receive. On an Enterprise Social network, you catch-up to information when you have the time (or search when you need specific material) while the other people on the platform alert you when they need your attention. By the way, are you also trying to read everything on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter?

On top of the communication chaos, the social consumer trend has given employees a desire to be more directly involved. The personnel wants to feel that they have a voice, that their work is recognized and that they fundamentally contribute to the company’s success. It’s important to realize that this is the first technology platform that can flatten hierarchies, dissolve organizational silos, offer public recognition, and delivering greater organizational awareness and visibility.

The “Culture” challenge…

The second challenge is to realize that Enterprise Social is a mix of 20% technology and 80% culture; or rather the challenge to craft the required culture. In order to ensure that social collaboration has a lasting impact, organizations need to cultivate an environment of sharing, trust and transparency. The Human Resources (HR) buzzword “Engagement” takes a prominent position in this adoption challenge. By the way, did you know that engaging employees in an organization can lead to an 18% productivity increase, a 12% profitability increase and an astounding 51% lower turnover?

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If you look into the employee engagement programs, you will find that the plot thickens. Organizations don’t realize that this problem can’t be fixed by launching sessions that try and tattoo the required values into the employees’ skin. Your managers are responsible if your employees are disengaged, not your employees! It’s a bit of short-sighted advice, but a humorous way to stimulate Enterprise Social adoption is to do exactly the opposite of the “Command and Control” management style!

The “Adoption” challenge…

The third challenge is all about realizing that a substantial amount of effort is required to drive the adoption. There is a simple question that seems to puzzle a lot of people: why is the adoption of – for example – a company Portal easier than that of an Enterprise Social Network? The answer is actually more straightforward then you might think.

The Portal contains information that forces employees to use it, for example: holiday request forms, expense sheets, etc. Even if you don’t provide any assistance, the users are motivated to figure it out for themselves. An Enterprise Social Network requires a meaningful conversation, otherwise there is no compelling reason for the employees to use it. By the way, this actually brought us back to the first challenge: “what’s in it for the employee?”

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The required motivation to drive adoption is clear, but how much effort is enough? You first need to understand that the employees in your organization can be categorized in different adoption groups:

  • Innovators. The people that are very active on Social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). These employees are probably already experimenting with Enterprise Social in your organization.
  • Early Adopters. The employees that only need a little nudge before they start using Social collaboration. A conversation with passionate Innovator is normally enough to get them quickly on board.
  • Early Majority. The staff members that need a little more convincing. Their adoption time is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. You need to share the early successes of the Network to get them truly on board. This group typically requires some basic Enterprise Social training (including best practices).
  • Late Majority (Skeptics or Bystanders). The coworkers that approach Enterprise Social with a high degree of skepticism. They will only join the network over a considerable amount of time; typically after about half of the workforce have adopted the new technology. The fact that they are missing out on the successes, will ultimately drive them to change their opinion.
  • Laggards (Naysayers). These individuals are the last – if ever– to adopt the new platform, and typically have a very strong aversion to this change.

The effort to drive adoption is determined by the amount of innovators, early adopters and early majority in your organization. It should be your main challenge to identify them!

There are other factors that have an impact on the adoption effort, for example: the structure (“hierarchical” vs. “flat”), the dynamics (“rigid” vs. “flexible”) or the culture (“silos” vs. “open”) of an organization. In an organization with for example a lot of young staff members, the adoption of Enterprise Social will require less effort.

The Conclusion…

The lack of Value, Culture and Adoption challenges are causing many Enterprise Social Network implementations to fail.

In a follow-up article, I’ll share the strategy to address these important challenges:



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