For me, it started in 2007. After almost 15 years of working on trading floors, I was close to losing my job and was looking for some other way to add value and stay employed.
That’s when I started thinking about the intranet.
A list of failed experiments
I was using Gmail and Google Apps at the time, and I thought Why can’t we have something like this at work? So I began researching different options, and that led to the first of many pilots.
2008 - Google at work: We were going to use Gmail and iGoogle (do you remember that?) We conducted a pilot but cancelled it due to inability to pass legal & compliance restrictions.
2009 - Yammer: A business division started to use it first and it began to go viral till Compliance blocked access to it.
2009 - Facebook: We investigated secure integration via software from an Israeli start-up, but never made it to a pilot.
2010 - The Wire: We hosted our own micro-blogging service to avoid compliance issues. There was significant early adoption by IT but it was seen as marginal by most people.
2011 - Jive: We managed to get enough money for 12,000 licenses, and we blew through that within 6 months. Forced to either shut it down or buy more licenses, we secured an enterprise license for several years, giving us time to try and drive adoption.
Do you see a pattern? We were so focused on technology, on trying tool after tool, that we missed the parts about helping people and solving problems.
“This will change everything”
We knew that Jive, a fully-functional enterprise social network, could make a dramatic difference in how people worked. But by 2011, our experiments had taught us that “hoping for viral” wasn’t a good strategy. So our small team launched, evangelized, trained, workshopped, ambassadored, communitied, and tried every other good practice we could find or think of.
It still wasn’t enough. Or rather, change came very slowly. Over the next four years, the number of active users inched upwards, eventually topping 90,000 people, but we faced existential challenges each year: sponsors leaving, budget cuts, re-organizations, IT threatening to change platforms.
By the time I left the company, most of what we thought of as “the intranet” had moved to the enterprise social network, and more people used it in ways that were open and collaborative. What we were still looking for was how to accelerate these kinds of changes.
The biggest lesson
In hindsight, the biggest lesson I learned was that while there are many “barriers to adoption” for new technology at work, the biggest one is the set of deeply-ingrained habits people have. Most employees are already busy, distracted, and potentially disengaged. Even if the new intranet is better for them, they won’t pay much attention to it.
In an article titled, “What We Know About Making Enterprise Social Networks Successful Today,” Dion Hinchcliffe (noted author and digital strategist) summed it up nicely:
“ESNs are about people + digital technology: Focus in that order”
He provided a wide range of excellent advice, including how he would help people take advantage of the new tools:
“Of all the digital skills that workers should be developing now, perhaps the one that most naturally is an onramp to most of the others and leads to both positive outcomes and compelling emergent results is the act of working out loud (WOL) in digital channels.
…the push for organizations to create WOL circles to build skills around the technique is probably the best place to start.”
What I would do now
“Onramp” is a good metaphor. People won’t start using new digital tools because of IT training or because someone told them to. But they will use them if, as in a WOL Circle, they feel it’s related to a goal they care about, that it gives them more control over their career and access to opportunities.
Bosch is one of the leading companies spreading Circles, and Katharina Krentz talked about it this week at a Digital Business conference in Germany, In her talk, “Working Out Loud as a Change Method,” she shared some of their survey results:
88 % say: “I use Bosch Connect more efficiently now”
97 % say: “The program increases digital capabilities and supports cultural change”
Those numbers are far better than anything else I tried when I ran the intranet. To scale these kinds of changes even further, I would integrate Circles into every existing process or program where people benefit from building better relationships at work.
- the on-boarding process
- leadership development programs
- mentoring program
- diversity programs
- innovation programs
- digital workplace programs
- culture change programs
In short, I’d try to help people experience a better way of working wherever they happen to be, and for long enough that “the new way” becomes a new habit.