7 questions you’ll face as you modernize your company

The 7 Questions

“Yes”, I was thinking to myself, “I’ve been there.”

I was talking with two more large firms this week about modernizing work and they were sharing the challenges they’re facing. One firm is considering buying a social business platform and the other wants to make even better use of the platform they already have. And for all of the many differences between the companies I see, it turns out we tend to face the same questions, in roughly the same sequence, time after time.

As a company evolves, the questions shift from fear of the unknown to a desire for utility to excitement about innovative possibilities. And the answers tend to be - or can be - the same across companies.

Knowing the questions and answers in advance might help you modernize your firm more quickly. Or at least provide some comfort that others are sharing in the same challenges and struggles.

“Can we do that?”

If you suggest using a social platform at work, you’ll quickly face a range of concerns from different departments - compliance, legal, HR, data privacy, data security, IT - and it can be overwhelming.

It’s work to sort through the rules. To do the research and benchmarking so you know what others have done. To meet with each department and have the same meeting multiple times until they’re comfortable. To write the policies and guidelines. But the short answer is “Yes, you can do that.” Hundreds of large firms have shown that, if you do the work, you will absolutely be able to get past this initial question.

“What if people say something they shouldn’t?”

People are messy. If there are enough people using your platform, someone somewhere will indeed post something that’s offensive, wrong, in violation of your terms & conditions, or just stupid.

The good news is that this rarely happens. By not allowing anonymous posts, you greatly limit the most egregious behavior. In addition, platforms support a “report abuse” feature which allows posts to be hidden (and subject to moderation) with a single click if you like. In addition, all posts can be retained and monitored.

After 16 months, we’ve had less than two dozen questionable posts and all were resolved without invoking the moderation process. Not all firms are so lucky, but none that I’ve met have found objectionable behavior to be a major problem.

“What’s it worth?”

You’ll face this question when you first consider using a platform and you’ll continue to face it for almost the entire life of your project. I avoided answering it at first - “It’s too hard to calculate the ROI!” - and that was a mistake.

It turns out there’s an entire class of collective efficiency ideas that will pay for your collaboration program many times over. Even before you work with businesses to generate more revenue, you can gain credibility and trust by using social tools and practices to identify and eliminate waste. (Some may even change your culture and save lives.)

“Will anyone use it?”

Before we started, we really didn’t know how many people would use our platform. Our own team’s estimates turned out to be woefully low compared to what actually happened.

But that’s not a guarantee. Too many firms treat collaboration as an IT project and wind up surprised when they hit a plateau, having exhausted the supply of eager early adopters.

Still, almost all firms wind up getting a critical mass using their platform within the first year or two. People seem to naturally like the ease of publishing and the interaction. But your firm will want more than that, and the questions get harder from here on.

“Is it official?”

You’ll face this question after you have significant activity on the platform but before the institution itself - namely Comms and senior managers - have embraced it.

For Comms, it’s often a question of control and of sunk costs. If a group has invested in a web site and is the only one who can publish on it, they're more likely to resist the tide of self-publishing that comes with modern platforms. For executives, they're simply waiting for Comms - or for other executives - to show them that it’s worth their time and that it's safe.

This is one of those questions that fades over time. More and more groups will opt for the ease, the interaction, and the social features of a modern platform. Those groups will influence other groups to do the same, and the old intranet controlled by Comms will, slowly, fade away.

For an increasing number of firms, their social platform is the intranet. What’s “official” will be more a question of who is doing the publishing than which content management system you use. And that’s how it should be.

“Will businesses use it?”

Some divisions will be more likely to make use of the social platform than others. IT, for example, is typically more comfortable with the tools and might place more value on social recognition than, say, salespeople.

The key to engaging people beyond the early adopters is to focus on specific use cases that help specific sets of people become more effective. Social isn’t the headline, value is.

For businesses, that typically means relying more heavily on curated content (e.g., information about clients) and on ready-made networks to provide support or answer questions (e.g., client teams and product teams). It also means a relentless drive for greater convenience, adapting your platform for a businessperson’s everyday workflow instead of trying to adapt businesspeople to your platform.

This is hard. And the only times I’ve seen firms come close to making progress is if they have a small center of excellence that can spend dedicated time in the field working on business-specific use cases and flows.

“What else can we do with it?”

If you get this question, take a moment and savor it. It means you’ve come a long way and put most of the other questions behind you. It means people in your company have moved beyond the basics and the barriers and are open to new possibilities.

Very few firms are at this stage. (We hear this question only occasionally.) But as you grow your portfolio of value stories, as more people use your platform for everyday work, as your culture shifts to one of greater openness and genuine collaboration, you’ll hear this question more and more. And you’ll be bounded only by your creativity and inspiration.

Getting to the 7th question

It seems more and more companies are tired of being 10-15 years behind what we see on the Internet. Frustrated with the overwhelming amount of email and meetings used to share information. And genuinely worried about the lack of engagement and the lack of appeal for younger generations.

But it took decades to create the deeply-rutted habits of how we work today.  And it will take a comprehensive strategy, a wide range of tactics, and dogged persistence to modernize how work gets done in big companies.

We’re only in the second year of that shift and it may take 3-4 more years, maybe longer. Meeting with other companies and writing this post reminds me of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.

How about you? Are their other questions you face? Would you like to meet and compare progress and challenges? By sharing what works and what doesn’t, we can all make work more effective and more fulfilling, more quickly.