There has been a lot of hype around social media, social networks and social business, much of it unhelpful in getting real understanding what this is all about. For some people, “social” will always mean frivolity and time wasting. For others, social media just means marketing and communications. Predating all of this hype, social learning networks and communities of practice have long existed as ecologies that would encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Off-line knowledge sharing communities have been around since the Middle Ages, where crafts and skills were honed, and perhaps best exemplified by the many Worshipful Companies – from bakers to candle-stick makers!
What has happened over the past several years is that social technology has made it easier than ever before to find, connect and engage with “experts” and people with similar interests. This trend was encouraged by Andrew McAfee in 2006 who coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” to describe how the strategic integration of social technologies into an enterprise’s intranet, extranet and business processes could improve decision making. This has given new life to learning, sharing and personal development. Enlightened organisations have recognised that investment in social technology and (most importantly) the organisational development that must accompany it in order to nurture and embed a collaborative culture, can overcome the limitations of silo’d structures that inhibit information flows and opportunities for innovation. However, it’s still unfortunate that in many cases social media platforms are seen as technology projects and not as part of a wider and more embracing strategic organisational development project. It’s only when poor adoption rates become apparent that organisations begin to focus on behaviours, education and training
Put simply, we’re all still on the learning curve on how to build and sustain a truly collaborative culture, and must be continually reminded that technology is an enabler and not the solution. The paradox is that most collaboration projects are still IT-led and any involvement from HR or knowledge/information professionals is at best incidental.
In a broader context, the pervasive and ubiquitous availability of social media in almost all aspects of daily life, from the way we communicate, get information, buy and sell, travel, live and learn is adding to the pressure on organisations to provide a more porous interface between internal (behind the firewall) and external services. Knowledge workers are increasingly making their own decisions on what tools, products and services that they need to work more effectively and will become increasingly disaffected if these are not available within the work environment. We’re already at the point where mobile platforms (smartphones, laptops, tablets) are outstripping sales of traditional desktops, and workers who can’t access social networks such as Twitter or Facebook on their office PC are just as likely to use their Smartphone to get access. Some organisations are adapting to this challenge and embracing more mobile and agile working strategies by implementing ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) projects, with all of the security implications this entails.
What I’m hoping for in 2013:
- Organisations start to think about what problems they are trying to solve before implementing a technology “solution”.
- Collaboration and knowledge sharing are recognised as skills to be learnt and behaviours to be encouraged as part of a wider organisation development plan, rather than as a nebulous outcome on the back of an IT project.
- Organisations listen more to what tools their staff need to do their jobs, rather than assume that one-size-fits-all.
- Organisations embrace the benefits of more agile working and accept that not everyone needs to be in the office all of the time.
Well….I can hope!