ImageIn my last post, on how social is important to digital transformation, I wrote about how social technologies are critical for companies to embrace across three areas --

1) Connect your employees - invite them to start working together to understand the connected enterprise future

2) Connect to your partners - they also have a critical role to play in supporting the future of the connect enterprise

3) Connect to your customers - listening and talking with (and not to) your customers is the key to knowing whether you are really understanding their needs and expectations, and are forming a realistic Outside In perspective.

In this post and in the next few I will outline an incremental approach to digital transformation, tackling each of these areas in order.

I often recommend to clients that they start their social journey focused on their own employees. For larger companies it can be much easier to win approval from legal and from company leadership for something that seems new and perhaps scary when it is going to be applied internally. While readers of this website are likely quite comfortable with what I call step 3 (connecting to your customers) it is important to remember that our colleagues who are new to social ideas will see customer communications as the highest risk area. Also, I have found that companies are substantially more successful in engaging with customers on social platforms once their employees have been educated on how these tools work. 

There is a huge area of risk however if social technology is not deployed in a thoughful way. This is the "build it and they will come" fallacy -- an incorrect lesson learned from consumer social platforms.  This is the most common error I see when companies deploy any technology -- inadequate thought being put into the business processes that need to be re-designed for social, and inadequate change management to support a shift to the new model.

You know you are one of these companies in trouble with employee social tools when users complain that the social technology is "just another thing I have to do" and "I don't have time for this." Employees need to have clear use cases defined and the right support to make social tools beneficial for those use cases.

Companies that have gone a little further than simply deploying a technology, but have still not done the hard work necessary to support employee adoption often focus on two use cases perceived as being the "low hanging fruit" of an employee social platform -- expertise discovery and knowledge sharing. This is the second most common error I see in enterprise social networking deployments.

On the surface these two activities seem obvious -- we have a great company with lots of smart people doing great work. But we don't know each other, don't know what we collectively know. This results in duplication of effort or missed opportunities. So if we just create a shared workspace we can find each other more easily and share all of the great work currently locked up on our individual hard drives or group servers.

The problem with this logic is that it fails in one of the essential tests of any social system, whether employee, partner, or customer facing. All social systems must be designed to create value for every type of participant needed to make the social system a success.  In the use cases of expertise discovery and knowledge sharing you need at least two types of participants -- givers and takers. People who publish their expertise so that they can be discovered or post their knowledge so that it can be shared, and the people who are seeking the expertise or knowledge.

Eventually in a smoothly operating connected enterprise everyone will at one time or another be a giver and a taker. But at the outset there is a problem -- the takers clearly benefit from expertise and knowledge in a system, but what is the motivation of the givers to post this information? In fact at the early stages of development a small number of givers will likely be overwhelmed with interest from the much larger population of takers, making it a clear disadvantage to be the giver involved with such a system.

Avoid these two mistakes -- build it and they will come and the incorrectly perceived low hanging fruit of expertise discovery and knowledge sharing. Instead closely look at how your organization operates today and identify areas of process improvement that would benefit from social technology. The best processes will be ones that are complex in that they (a) require a lot of participants to engage in discussion or decision making and (b) have a big impact on the organization if improved.  These are "pain points" and you should catalog them across the organization, analyzing them and mapping them onto an x-y grid with the two axis being "feasability" and "business impact."

Feasability is a measure of how easy it will be to design and implement a new process using social technology. There are many reasons why it can be difficult in a specific company to implement a social process -- complexity, regulatory issues, and entrenched existing people and process to name a few.  

Business impact should always ultimately be measured in the financial impact but can be modeled around cost savings, quality improvement, revenue growth, etc. Often the greater the business impact, the lower the feasability as big impact opportunities often touch a lot of the core business people and processes. 

In evaluating feasability and business impact, carefully look at each of the types of participants needed to make the new social business process work and identify the ways in which each type would benefit in the new model being proposed.

What should emerge is a set of initiatives in the "upper right" quadrant of your graph that have a high feasability and a high business impact -- these are the ones to start with as you design your employee social platform. Each business will have a different set of initiatives emerge depending on the unique circumstances of their industry and company. Some common areas where I see companies succeeding with social are in organizations with complex sales or service processes and in employee learning and development.

Successfully deploying employee social technology is complex and requires the right up front work to define and design socially enabled business processes and provide the change management support to move the organization from old ways of working to new ways. This is more about people and process than about technology. Chosing the right places to focus can substantially accelerate adoptionw -- both by having individual users recognize the value of these new tools and by demonstrating the financial impact that social can have on a company.

In my next post I will explore how these initial steps can be expanded from employees to partners.