Collaboration Platforms: Users Don't Just Show Up

By Guest Author
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Collaboration Platforms: Users Don't Just Show Up

By Ajay Deshpande

What distinguishes forward-looking organizations is how they go about adopting collaboration platforms. There are many organizations that have adopted collaboration platforms, but they’re still waiting for users to appear. This article addresses the barriers to user adoption, behavioural and organizational hurtles to avoid, and strategies that help get collaboration successfully adopted in the enterprise.

A recent report by Gartner includes a staggering fact: 80 percent of enterprise social network (ESN) deployments will not achieve their objectives by 2015. This data is also supported by empirical evidence in the field. CIOs entrusted with deploying an ESN in their organization are more often than not asking the question, "Why don’t users just show up?"

Three Barriers to the Widespread Adoption of Collaborative Platforms

Principally, there are three barriers to the extensive use of enterprise social networks, which include employees who are indifferent to social media, multiple deployment challenges, and institutional disincentives to collaboration.  

Barrier 1: Your employees who don’t use social media.

One of the drivers of enterprise collaboration is the explosion of social media in our personal lives. A common belief among organizations is "If they’re already on Facebook or Twitter, they should be on our ESN." While Facebook has more than a billion users and Twitter has more than half a billion, many organizations still have employees who aren’t connected to social media at all. Driving user adoption among these employees can be particularly challenging as it includes having to help users learn new tools and change their often-negative views about those tools.

Barrier 2: Deploying collaboration tools isn't just an IT task.

Because collaboration involves technology tools, it’s common for employees to think the IT team just needs to get the technology deployed—and that’s it. Like when an enterprise moves from an open source email system to Microsoft Exchange, employees think "IT just needs to take my old inbox and transfer it to my new inbox, and give me a user manual on how to use it."

Transitioning to Microsoft Exchange is an IT task as far as deployment goes, but promoting user adoption, governing how the application is used and enabling a new style of collaboration among employees are organizational concerns. This problem multiplies when the old and new systems are drastically different. And nearly all enterprise social networks are drastically different.

Deploying these behavior-changing tools involves multiple concerns over which IT has little control, and if these issues are not addressed, they could derail the initiative. Planning for and executing a collaboration initiative starts long before IT gets involved. It also extends well beyond deployment.

Barrier 3: Disincentives to collaboration exist in organizations.

While most organizations promote collaboration in theory, in practice there are often powerful disincentives due to the organization’s structure or culture. Imagine, for example, a sales lead comes into your group and you want to learn who else in the organization has sold to that company. You could use the internal collaboration tool to search for the employees who worked with that company in the past, and leverage their help to close the sale. However, there’s little organizational incentive for a salesperson in another location to help you close the deal. (I've addressed this issue in a previous CIO Insight article, "Making Social and Collaboration Systems Work.") Employees are often rewarded only for how well they do their jobs, which deters them from helping their coworkers.

There are also cultural disincentives. One cultural aspect is how managers view sharing. In hierarchical organizations, employees fear sharing information that their manager won’t like to be shared. Rather than guess whether a manager will approve, it’s safer for employees to not share at all.

Collaboration Platforms: Users Don't Just Show Up

Overcoming Behavioral and Organizational Barriers

These barriers can be conquered if an organization has the drive, commitment and dedicated executive champions to make sure their new collaboration project prevails. Also, using change management tools can help overcome these barriers.

Technique 1: Empower an executive champion.

In organizations where the culture is already well-aligned toward collaboration, an organic, grassroots, "build it and they will come" approach can work. But in many organizations, especially those that rely on top-down leadership, it is critical to have an executive champion as a role model for the adoption of the collaboration platform to succeed. The executive must be a master of the tools, able to evangelize about their benefits and set an example for others to follow.

Technique 2: Build on early successes.

While support from top management is often a critical element of success, having a group of early adopters across the organization achieve early success and actively evangelize this is also a highly effective strategy.

In particular, when fear is one of the barriers to user adoption, then grassroots evangelists can be real catalysts to inspiring others to try the new collaboration system.

Technique 3: Revisit the incentives.

Because barriers to user adoption include organizational disincentives to collaboration ("That’s not my job") and cultural ones ("My manager might not like it"), changing incentives are critical to driving employee adoption. An organization can look at the typical appraisal process and move the metrics from being employee-centric to being team-centric. The success of a team will automatically mean better collaboration. 

Another important aspect to look for is how to incentivize managers to encourage their subordinates to share. Many times these changes to the incentives strategy can actually precede the deployment of the ESN where it then becomes the platform to bring about the sharing already being encouraged by the overall ecosystem.

Encourage Sharing, Support Your Executive Champion and Early Adopters

The ease or difficulty associated with enterprise social network adoption depends heavily on both institutionalized incentives and a culture of collaboration. In enterprises where sharing is discouraged, adoption of collaboration tools can be extremely difficult because it involves changing the organization’s culture.

From assigning an executive champion and picking a set of early adopters to evangelize success, to changing organizational incentives and even mandating adoption, there are a number of change management techniques that can be used to overcome barriers to user adoption. But always remember: user adoption is the critical determinant of success in ESN deployments. 

About the Author

Ajay Deshpande is chief architect, collaboration solutions, at Persistent Systems, a global software product development and technology services company.

This article was originally published on 12-02-2013