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Employee Collaboration and Its Impact on Productivity [Transcript]

Written by Joshua Paul | on July 30, 2012 at 8:30 AM

In episode #3 of ProCommunity, I spoke with Jacob Morgan, Principle at Chess Media Group. We discussed Jacob's new book, The Collaborative Organization, on the importance of employee, customer, and partners collaboration across an organization.

The conversation also included the the costs of not collaborating, how companies can get employees more comfortable with online tools, and how to overcome the biggest challnges of employee collaboration.

ProCommunity #3 Transcript: Enterprise Collaboration

Josh: Welcome to Episode 3 of ProCommunity, the show where online community meets a business performance. I'm Josh Paul and I'm very pleased to have with me today Jacob Morgan, principle at management and strategic advisory consultancy Chess Media Group and author of a new book, The Collaborative Organization. Welcome Jacob.

Jacob: Thanks for having me.

Josh: Thanks for being here. The basic premise of the book and the Enterprise 2.0 movement is that people have knowledge that can benefit others and can benefit the organization - and companies excel when that information is findable, sharable, and expandable. That information could be old information, historic information, or it could be new information that's being created in real time, new ways of doing things and such. Is that the basic idea? What did I get wrong there?

Jacob: No, not at all, that's exactly right. It's all about connecting people to each other and to information. Find people to create content, to share content. Engage your people. Everything that is required and involved in connecting and engaging and interacting with people and with each other. So collaboration, communication across boundaries, learning you're next door to someone or thousands of miles away. You described it very succinctly, which is great.

Josh: For years, companies and organizations have had e-mail and intranets and instance message clients. Why should organization care about collaboration more than they already do? Why should they look towards the future?

Jacob: Good question. One of the things I always talk about is that collaboration is an idea that's been around for a long, long time - but what is new are these new sets of tools and technologies that we have and we have these new behaviors that we have today. Fueled by what's going on in the consumer world.

The consumer world would be things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs, etc. These have really given us the opportunity to be much more public with a lot of the stuff that we create, with a lot of the things that we do. It's a lot easier to find information and connect with people. And we're taking those behaviors into Enterprise, where we expect similar things to happen. We want it to be just as easy within our company to be able to connect with a coworker as it is on Facebook to connect with a friend. We want it to be just as easy to find something internally, if it's in our file, as it is to find something with Google.

We're taking all these behaviors with us into the enterprise in terms of how we want to engage and interact and create with our employees. And these enterprises are struggling to adapt. Going forward - especially as things become more competitive, as companies continue to spread out its new, younger employees into the workforce - it's increasingly important to be able to make sure that these employees not only can connect and engage with each other and information, but to make sure that employees that are currently leaving the workforce are able to transfer that knowledge and information to those that are entering the workforce.

There's a lot going on with collaboration and communication for a lot of companies today.

Josh: A lot of the costs of having this information locked up in individual employees' heads - a lot of those costs are hidden. Can you walk me through some of the collaboration costs that companies maybe incurring, but that they might not know about?

Jacob: Well, one of the simplest, most common ones is communication of content. How many times has it happened where an employee creates something only to find out that somebody else has already created it? Or they started doing something like that? And they only find out, for example if they're working together on a team they might send you an e-mail saying "Hey, I just put this document together" and you might respond and say "Actually, I already did this last week, why don't we just combine the two documents together and see what makes sense?" Duplication of content is something that you see quite often in a lot of organizations. Time and time again, that's probably one the biggest things.

Searching for information is also a huge cost. I think Gartner or Forrester did a study and found that 25% to 30% of an employee's time is spent just looking for information. So we're talking about a little more than one day a week, all they do is just look for stuff. You don't even work - you just look and try to find stuff that you need to get your job done.

These are some very, very common costs that we see in a lot of enterprises - duplication of content, and just the amount of time it take to find and search for information before you can get your job done.

Josh: That makes a lot of sense so a lot of the cause is similar to online customer communities, where I do a lot of my work. The benefits aren't new benefits, and the problems aren't new problems - it's really just empowering people with the tools to solve those problems more easily, more efficiently, given the emergent collaboration technology. That's actually a term that I use that I had stolen from you many, many months ago.

When you talk about "emergent collaboration technology," what are you referring to? Because this is a term you're hearing more and more.

Jacob: Exactly. Really I'm just talking about these new pieces of software that are getting used in enterprises. I refer to it as, kind of the way Andrew MacAfee refereed to emergent collaboration. This new set of web-based technologies that allow us to solve problems - any web-based technology that has this kind of collaborative and social component behind it that organizations can use, either internally or with customers or with partners. It's just a new way to do things.

Josh: Now, some companies - at Associates we work with companies who approach collaboration from the customer community/customer first perspective - and then they end up bring in partners and employees, and they all collaboration together and collaborate independently. I think there are equally as many companies who start with employees first. Do you have a feeling as to, or any research, as to which is a better approach? Because one of the things in the book that was clear was that there is no one way to do this, it really depends on what your organization is trying to solve.

Jacob: Yeah. That's very true - and I've kind of gone back and forth on that. Part of me has always said that you should collaborate internally before you get your customers, but then part of me realizes that the barrier to entry for customers always is a lot less.

Also, to do something internal we have to go through legal, we have to go through IT group, we have to get permissions - this is assuming we want it to be deployed across your enterprise to have it sanctioned by corporate. Costs are a lot greater in there - you have tools often times to deploy across an enterprise, they aren't free. There are some premium models, if you want all the features and functionality you're going to have to pay for it. So the costs are greater, and it's just much more difficult for the person to want this within the enterprise. Well, not more difficult, there are a lot more hurdles to go over.

Whereas on the customer side, it's very easy to break out on our Facebook page and start connecting with people and start talking. So I think there are pros and cons, but I think that if you do engage internally with employees first, it's always that much easier to do on the customer side. Just because people already understand what the value is, what the benefit is, why you're doing it. However, I do understand that doing it the other way, might be a little bit easier for some companies just because of the low barriers and different cost equation.

I think it really depends on the company. I think every company that I talk to today is doing something on the social side, and something on the internal side. Every company has at least some kind of a SharePoint deployment and every company has at least a Facebook page or a Twitter account. I think both are kind of happening concurrently, but I don't know of many companies that, for example, only do something externally and nothing internally - or only do something internally and nothing externally. I think it really depends on what makes sense for each company.

Josh: Continuing along that theme of "it really depends on each company," in your experience, where in the organization does the drive for more collaboration come from? Who needs to be involved for it to be successful? And where does it originate? Or is it not clear at this point?

Jacob: I've had discussions with people from all sorts of departments. Sometimes it does originate from the CEO, or sometimes it comes from the CIO, sometimes it comes from HR, sometimes it comes from corporate communications. I've seen it come from a variety of roles in enterprises, so I don't think that it's always coming from one consistent spot or one place.

I think it really depends on where the business drivers are coming from. Sometimes this is a corporate communication issue, and they do what they need and are the first ones to initiate. Very often you you hear from IT professionals who say that they are responsible for it as well. At companies like Unisys, the CEO of Unisys really helped put all this forward. At companies like Telus, the senior executive has been very much involved, and so has their senior director of learning, Dan Hunterbrach.

I think it really depends. I don't think that you'll find one consistent place where it's always this particular goal that needs this service, or a person that's always reaching out trying to get this stuff going. And that's kind of what makes it interesting, that it comes from a lot of different places, and from a lot of different goals and responsibilities.

Josh: You have a framework in the book that kind of works no matter where in the organization the driver is stemming from. Can you talk a little bit about that adaptive framework?

Jacob: Sure. The point of the adaptive framework - means basically the companies that we've been working with and the research that we did, we basically identified a series of areas that organizations need to look at and consider when making collaborative investments. These five areas are things like technology, organizational culture, and there are a couple others. In each of these big areas there are a couple of smaller areas that organizations need. For example, under technology there might be things like maintenance and upgrade, or things like what is the technology built on that we want to use.

So you have this big bucket and smaller things that you need to consider within that bucket. The point of this framework is to allow organizations to understand a couple things. First is the five things they need to consider, and the second thing is what sub-areas they need to consider in each of these broader five areas. And the reason it's adaptive is because every company can look at this and say "okay, this is what we have done, this is what we haven't done - this is where we're strong, this is where we're weak." I might look at this framework and say "hey, I need to focus on the culture piece or the technology piece," and you might look at this and say "no, I'm actually great in those areas, I don't need to focus on that."

It doesn't force companies down a step one, step two, step three path - it basically shows them what the whole things looks like and says "okay, figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are, these are all the things that you need to consider at some point." And that's really, that's the point of it.

Josh: I think one of the things that makes a framework like that so powerful is that organizations as a first step, and this is probably what Chess Media Group does, is you can do a strength analysis according to the framework. So you say, you can rate it one through five each piece of the framework. Here's how strong we are in each of these areas.

Jacob: Yep, exactly. We can walk organization through an assessment. In the book, I don't know if you saw, there's this grid that basically looks at each of these five areas and how far along a company is in each of those five areas. So it's a type of a maturity model assessment, so you can go through it and not only look at what these areas are, but how far along you are in each of these areas. You can identify your strengths and weaknesses, whether it's around goals and objectives or governance or organizational culture or process or technology. You can follow this grid and see "okay, on governance, on these five areas, how far ahead are we versus maybe on something like technology." It allows you to have this kind of a self-assessment done and see where your strengths and weaknesses are and where you're going to be spending your private effort.

Josh: I found it very useful.

Jacob: Thank you.

Josh: I could see where it would apply to our customers. Now, one of the biggest questions that I get around Enterprise 2.0 and internally collaboration is, is internally collaboration just for big businesses and big organizations like universities and hospitals, or can a mid-sizes organization or small business capitalize on this trend?

Jacob: I think any company. I mean, Chess Media Group is a very tiny company too, you know we only have small handful of employees. But we use things like Skype, we use that type of stuff ourselves. We're a small company, but we're virtual, so we're spread out. I think any organization that's looking for a more effective, more efficient way to collaborate and communicate with each other - especially one that's spread out, that has a lot of information that it wants to able to keep track of everything - I think any size company can do this.

In the book there's a case study of a company called FSG. When I started writing this thing they only had around 80 employees, so not by any means a mid- or medium sized company, still very much a small company - they were able to use it. The Chess Media Group, again small handful of people, we're able to use it. So, I don't think they size of the company matters, I think it's the problem that you want to solve.

Josh: Now, I think that's a good point. Let's take that a level lower. So if I'm some CEO who'd like to have happier employees, more productive employees, and I think that collaborative technology and collaborative strategies are the way I can do this - how do I get started? What are some small steps I can take to both test this, get employees comfortable, and see some benefit?

Jacob: A good question. That's a very common question, where's a good place to start? I think, as far as where to get started, I think one of the important things that a lot of companies can do - and we started doing this recently as well - are around employee surveys. Trying to find out where employee collaboration might already exist. Or where, maybe it doesn't exist by maybe it's a big need. And the way that you can find that out is by asking employees. "Are you guys currently working using these technologies? Are there problems you need to solve?" First you need to understand what's happening in your company already. And you can use those areas as kind of springboards from where to start.

Broadly speaking, aside from that, one of the first things you want to do is start to develop your use-cases. Again, a lot of this might be done by interviewing employees, trying to find out how they currently work, how might these tools be used, how it could enhance the way that they work. So you develop your set of use-cases that then translate into what you need to be looking for as far as features or platforms. Typically once you have your use-cases you look for a platform, we'll obvious develop some sort of strategy of why you want to do it, how you're going to get funds to use it, what's the future going to look like. Develop use cases, deploy platform, kind of go from there and adapt.

There's a whole 17 or 18 step frame work in the book. Chapter 12, well I won't get into all that. But at a very, very high level that's typically what you do. Identify the use-cases, build a team, evaluate platforms, make strategies happen, deploy, evaluate and adapt as you go forward. But going forward, I think that one of the things that companies need to do but often skip out on and forget is A) [strategy, report and] technology part and B) is developing a use-case to clearly understand how and why employees are going to be using these things. So those are some very, very common areas to overlook.

And again, I also think it's really, really important to ask employees already, what are they currently doing? Where do they see opportunities for collaboration? What issues do they see with the company? Especially if you're a large company with thousands of employees; ask them this question in advance will really help you kind of visualize and understand where opportunities might exist, or where you might have barriers to collaboration.

Josh: I think that's helpful. And, of course, just like with external communities and customer communities, internal communities really start with the problem that you're trying to solve for your target audience, most importantly. What are the biggest, or what are some of the biggest challenges that organizations face when trying to transition to a more collaborative work environment?

Jacob: There are a couple challenges. I think that first is having the supportive culture or work environment. Meaning you're not just deploying the technologies that are necessary but you have a kind of corporate vibe, so to speak, that supports collaboration. Meaning that, if your company is very, very much focused on individual performance and competitiveness, it's going to become very hard all of a sudden to tell employees that they should be collaborating with each other. Because this whole time you've been telling them that they should be competing with each other.

That is definitely a hurdle - how do you overcome that. Education, training, and [here's a] human resource form that [companies looking into learning] about collaboration, something that a lot of companies sometimes forget about. Executive support -Not just in terms of writing a check, but in terms of an executive actually having a presence and participating in and engaging employees on these channels.

Also a big challenge for a lot of companies to overcome - a lot of existing technologies that companies have, a lot of legacy systems that they've used to create a front door for the enterprise. Having put all that stuff together.

Finding the right platform and the right vendor is always a challenge. You see a lot of companies that pick one and then change their mind later and switch. I think one of the biggest issues that we see with a lot of companies is employee adoptions. Employee tools, how do we get employees to use them?

Josh: How do you get employees comfortable with that kind of sharing? It's something that I struggle with. Employees have a personal brand, how do you get them to share more openly? And earlier in their thought process?

Jacob: A lot of these employees are already doing stuff like this on Twitter and Facebook. As far as doing it internally, I think there are a couple things to do. Again, having that supportive corporate culture is very important. Education and training is important. How you position the value - do you position this as "this is how it's going to benefit our company" or you can mention this to the employee and say "this is how it's going to benefit you as an individual, as an employee, this is how it's going to positively impact your life and what you do." I think it's important to position it like that.

I'm not a big fan of forcing, I think that encouraging and monitoring and suggesting and providing feedback to employees and how they use these tools is always very important. And I think one of the most important things is addressing areas of resistance employees have. Things like they say they don't have too much time, "we don't have time to do something like this," or "we're already overwhelmed with existing technology."

We did a big research project last year surveying 204 people to find out a whole series of things about collaboration, and one of the things we found out were what are the areas of resistance for employees, for managers, or IT. That can be as a good starting point to understand what employee resistance, why does it typically happen - and if you know that in advance, you know how to deal with it.

For example, one of the things that organizations can expect to hear is employees saying "we don't have time to use this." If you know that's going to be a resistance, how can you address that up front? One of the things that we've done is to say, "actually this is going to help save you time," and provide examples of how it will save time for employees. Giving examples, giving stories of how it's actually helping employees save time instead of making it sounds like something that's going to take more hours out of the day.

Understanding these types of resistance up front, and how to counter them, is very important.

Josh: Those are actually really helpful tips - that I think our listeners are going to put into practice right away. So, to wrap up, two more questions; is it fair for organizations to expect business-level benefits from internal collaboration? Making more money, saving more money, serving more people?

Jacob: I think so. Although the top drivers that we've seen, again coming from the research project that we put together, the top drivers that we've seen haven't been around making money or saving money - they've been around connecting employees, connecting people, and connecting information together. That was the number one business drive from a user front to put people together. People saying that they want to connect and collaborate and communication across boundaries, they want to connect to people and connect to information.

But you have to think about what happens when you do that. New ideas will always happen. And some of those ideas will be product ideas. They will be cost-cutting ideas. I think that it's expected and it will happen, that you will get some new revenue-generating opportunities and some new ideas for how the company can save money. And this has been pretty continuous across all the companies I've spoken to. It's always one of those things where it's not a primary business driver, it's not something that anybody can predict in advance before they deploy something, but it's typically of benefit and of value and all these companies end up saving.

Josh: I think you're right - the connecting employees and connecting information will eventually lead to business benefits.

Jacob: Yeah, Oce is a good example of a company; they're an outsourcing company. And one the employees had an idea to incentivize truck drivers to pull up at local gas stations instead of at the highways, which was more expensive. That one incentivization idea that they deployed helped save them 800,000 Euros annually. Now, again, you couldn't predict that idea would happen, can't predict and anticipate that something like that would happen. You don't know when it will happen. But, again, it did happen and it saved them quite a lot of money. And there are countless examples [like] that.

Josh: Yeah, your book includes a lot of really great examples. And the more examples that are out there, the more senior management teams are going to get it.

You do a lot of writing, you do a lot of speaking. Last question; if you were talking to a room full of top level executives about the collaborative organization, what is the one thing, the one take-away you'd want them to walk out of the room with?

Jacob: The one thing that I find fascinating that we don't talk about enough, is this whole notion or concept that collaboration makes the world a better place. The reason I wrote the book is because that idea needed to have some sort of strategic value and tactics behind it that could actually help a business leader or executive do something with the idea. To go from the idea to an action, that's why I wrote the book.

But I think that notion of collaboration making the world a better place is extremely powerful. And what I mean by that is if you can empower your employees, if you can make it easier for them to get their jobs done, you can make it easier for them to work in more flexible work environments, you can get them more passionate and engaged with what you're doing - I think that has a lot of interesting impact on employees outside the workplace. Maybe you'll get into less arguments with our spouse when you get home, if you're less stressed about work. You'll have more time to spend with family if you have a flexible work environment. Or it'll be easier for you to get work done because these tools and strategies means that you can get work done more effectively and efficiently, which means that you have time for yourself.

I think a lot of these concepts of collaboration have a pretty positive impact just in general on the lives of employees. And I think for the first time in business today, organization have this opportunity to invest in technology and strategy that not only positively impacts the business, but also positively impacts the lives of the people outside and inside of the workplace. So I think that's one of the things that I would like to start focusing on more, and one of the things that I would like to start seeing more data and researching around. I think that's one of the most powerful things that we can do, right, is positively impact the lives of people.

Josh: That aspirational note is really a great way to end this, and something that probably fuels a lot of what you do. And we hope that you continue to provide us with insight around that. Jacob, I want to thank you again for joining us today on ProCommunity. I hope that we can do this again sometime.

Jacob: Yeah, that'd be great!

Josh: And, before we go, where can people find you on the web?

Jacob: It's very easy to get a hold of me. I'm on Twitter @JacobM - if you forget, just Google Jacob Morgan, you should find the link to the blog and stuff like that. The blog is Social Business Adviser, the company is Chess Media Group, and the book is The Collaborative Organization. You can go to collaborativeorganization.com or just search on that Amazon.

Josh: It's really a great book - I have it right here. Go check it out. Make sure it's right side up. Jacob, I want to thank you again for joining me and have a great day.

Jacob: Thank you very much. Same to you.

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Topics: Collaboration Tools, Online Community

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