Social Business: We will be more productive if they let us

Fernando Polo

3 March 2014

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In the first part of this post, I mentioned an article in the New Yorker that showed that the macroeconomic data from the last 7 years does not reflect a significant increase in worker productivity, resulting from the use of digital technologies. And as one of the promises of the Social Business is precisely “internal and external collaboration,” co-creation, and productivity of the knowledge worker, they attempted to address the aforementioned data with studies seeking to demonstrate the correlation between Social Business and productivity. Many of the comments on the first post referred to the difficulty in measuring productivity of knowledge with tools such as GDP or output per worker. Others pointed out what I’ll go on to explain here – i.e. not making proper use of digital tools in the corporate environment.

It’s NOT the software, stupid

While it is true that during the Dot-com era and beyond (1995-2005), worker productivity in the US doubled, compared to previous periods, I am almost certain that the cause lies in numerous factors. For example, through the use of ERPs (and sharing key information for decision-making), and other software tools or production technologies, which could have converged to bring about this improvement. I’d honestly be surprised if this improvement was due to the Internet.

The promise of productivity underlying social software does not lie in the software itself, but rather, in the use that people make of it. And unlike an ERP adopted “by law enforcement,” the use of internal 2.0 tools (wikis, blogs, social networks, etc.) depends largely on the will of the individual. And if he does not see an enabling and favorable environment, or the commitment of his leaders, the use of these tools simply becomes superficial. Our experience in Spain (and I do not think that the US was more than a couple of years ahead) has indicated that there are only a few implementations of internal 2.0 tools, and quite a few are not used correctly. And, of those that have been used best, in general, they have adopted a bottom-up approach (not by legal obligations). Though the most widespread social tool is still e-mail, it is barely useful for promoting or generating serendipitous conversation (“just passing by, and as I read this, I just had a good idea, and who to carry it out with”).

What is clear is, when we talk about Enterprise 2.0 or social business, we do not refer to the tools themselves. We refer to culture and organizational dynamics that encourage the use of these tools to produce innovation, efficiency, and pride in belonging to the company.

Vision, Development, and Autonomy

In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink establishes the axes of personal motivation, according to academic studies of the past 50 years, and hints at how to apply these axes in the corporate environment. At Territorio creativo, we invested a lot of effort in establishing a management system that works on the motivation of everyone that makes up the company. As I explained in a Pecha Kucha presentation organized by ING, the key to addressing the necessary innovation in the 21st century it is to answer one question: how can one work to motivate the people that make up a project?

3 work axes to create a company focused on people (“employees first”):

  • Setting a Vision: Something that allows us to work to make the world a better place; that which is larger than the project itself, and that helps us to overcome the hardships of everyday life. In our case, for example, the mission of Territorio creativo is to assist other companies in putting people at the center, and to develop sustainable relationships with people (clients, suppliers, employees).
  • Allowing for personal development: Creating a collaborative business environment that encourages training; that enables you to learn, shape yourself, and be excited about getting better at the tasks that we develop; intellectual challenges, training, meritocracy.
  • Developing self-management: Possibly the most complex and difficult work axis. We do not like to be leaders, nor have leaders. We must give people the autonomy to do their jobs. We don’t like being told what we need to do (there is nothing more demotivating than a motivated boss), but within a framework of accountability and self-demand.

I recently spoke at a Territorio creativo event – TcInnovation – about the work we do internally within these three areas.

Digital Culture?

We like to refer to the 2.0 culture (Article in Spanish) or digital culture as those traditions and customs necessary to push organizations to be more “social.” Digital culture has its roots in the hacker culture, the culture of online communities, the network concept, and the open and free access to information and its sources. It is a culture that understands the power the online conversation to build knowledge, which fosters formal and informal relationships between individuals, with ties that, in turn, support knowledge management, collaboration and co-creation.

Image Source: Gallup Employee Engagement Brochure

Evidently, if we want for our workforce to be more productive, we need to create bonds of belonging between employees and companies. “Employee engagement” (Article in Spanish) is set as a key tool for facing up to the 21st century, which is full of twists and turns, of technological innovations, and of shrinking product and service cycles. However, that bond and pride in belonging works from a cultural perspective. And the holy grail of Social Business (Article in Spanish) will be drunk from only by those who understand these technologies as catalysts of change, and not merely as additional channels in which to plug in bulk content, or to routinely address – at lower costs – contacts, complaints and suggestions.

In conclusion: culture, methodology and processes

Nothing will change if the corporate culture doesn’t. When you begin to change beliefs, we develop methodologies and processes that encourage employee autonomy in decision-making, and to co-create effectively. This therefore allows them to grow, develop professionally, and share a vision for a better world. At this breeding ground, 2.0 tools provide their potential and their promise. Until then, the tools will only serve as catalysts for progressively enabling small changes that work towards “the great change” i.e. cultural change.

I am optimistic. The more 2.0 tools are deployed in corporate environments, the more people will get accustomed to their use (like my wife, who now shares photos of our daughters online, when only four years ago, she was skeptical about uploading on the Internet). If we can get a group (not separate individuals) to adopt Yammer, Discourse (Article in Spanish) or Socialcast, etc., we would have the germ of transformation (Article in Spanish). And these new winds will accelerate towards gaining the involvement of senior management.

In short, it is not the time to analyze whether strange figures give reason to digital evangelists or skeptics. It’s time to make a firm commitment to creating more social organizations that sets people as transformation protagonists, removing old and bureaucratic structures, to fully enjoy our professional activity and to commit ourselves to our companies.

How do we start? How do we keep at it?