7 elements of an enterprise collaboration strategy

I used to talk more about strategy. I used to think of it as high-level, important work while I saw “tactical” work and “implementation details” as somehow beneath me.

As Bugs Bunny used to say: “What a maroon.

After creating many shelved strategies, I’ve come to understand the genius of execution and appreciate the people who ship and get things done.

So this “strategy” – 7 basic things you should include in your company’s collaboration program – is meant as a simple starting point. With these in place, you’ll be much more likely to succeed in the real work: changing what people do every day.

Commercial value

Generating real, measurable value should be at the heart of your collaboration program. Not just the ROI acronym but a set of specific problems you solve, each with a specific way to measure value.

Sometimes you’ll be able to measure hard dollars. Sometimes you’ll need to do analysis on a few specific cases and extrapolate from there. In all cases, it’s best to use an independent group in your firm to keep score.

The credible accounting of commercial value is what will sustain corporate commitment through the vicissitudes of business. And a firm of 100,000+ should aim to generate 100s of millions of value.

A Center of Excellence

You’ll need a small central team to help divisions across your company effectively use social tools and practices. Without a core group that has deep expertise, you’ll just be unleashing new concepts on people who won’t know how to apply them.

They’ll act more as hands-on management consultants than IT or communications people,  engaging divisions across your firm to implement change.

Individual benefits

Just as you’ll need commercial value to sustain corporate commitment, you’ll need to focus on personal value – a clear answer to “What’s in it for me?” – to sustain individual commitment.

Here are 3 examples of ways to ensure people feel your effort is relevant for them:

  1. Systematic recognition: use all the communications channels at your disposal – from manager emails to internal comms to community sites – to recognize people when they contribute
  2. Better access to opportunities: draw clear links between collaborative behaviors, reputation, and internal mobility.
  3. Convenience: include ways to improve basic employee processes – from searching the group directory to getting approvals to reporting a problem – so they see the collaboration program as making their job easier.

Community managers

Perhaps the biggest problem with collaboration efforts – the reason it’s so difficult to create a successful program or even to copy one – is that they are highly dependent on people.

More than good processes and tools, a few handfuls of passionate, knowledgable, capable, social people are critical to building communities at work and driving change.

While it’s hard to find, train, and retain those people, there are more and more resources to help you do it.

Management engagement

There’s a limit to what grassroots efforts can accomplish (“The Grass Ceiling”). While part of your goal may be to work around the hierarchy, you’ll still need the hierarchy to do certain things like change policies, allocate resources, or sign contracts.

Beyond having a sponsor, an example of a particularly useful management structure is a collaboration board at the divisional level. These groups can set priorities, assign people in the line to work on them, and define measures for work in their division.

This kind of management engagement is what turns good ideas into organizational objectives and measures that cascade through the org chart. That drives adoption from within the line instead of just from the sponsor or the small central team.

A network of advocates

The only way to scale the efforts of the core team while keeping costs low is to build a network of people who are passionate about the effort and willing to contribute. Just as opensource projects have volunteers contributing in all sorts of ways, your program will also need toolsmiths, marketers, connectors, and other help.

Identifying those needs; making it easy for people to contribute; connecting and recognizing them. These are all parts of an advocacy program that will be key to reaching employees of all kinds in every location and every division.

A platform

Yes, collaboration programs are about much more than the technology. But IT matters. If the collaboration platform is too difficult to use, or not well-integrated, then most people won’t bother.

So choose wisely. But know that the other 6 elements of your strategy are all more difficult and important than the platform.

The most important part

The most important part is the doing and the learning. The best way to implement social tools and practices is a simple, low-cost, iterative approach described by Eric Ries in “Lean Startup” and summarized in a recent post:

As we try to change the way we work, vision and strategy are still important. They’re just not enough.

“Only 5 percent of entrepreneurship is the big idea, the business model, the whiteboard strategizing, and the splitting of the spoils. The other 95 percent is the gritty work that is measured by innovation accounting; product prioritization decisions; deciding which customers to target or listen to, and having the courage to subject a grand visions to constant testing and feedback.”

As we try to understand which problems to solve, which customers to work with, which incentives to use, we can embrace the fact that we don’t know what will be effective.

And then we can get to work, using the Lean Startup approach to turn uncertainty into a set of quick, inexpensive experiments that can guide our learning and help us make the difference we know we can make.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
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10 Responses to 7 elements of an enterprise collaboration strategy

  1. Sam G says:

    Really useful list. Thanks. And the last bit is really important as well… success has to be ground (grinded?) out with daily actions.

  2. Pankaj says:

    Great article. I am keenly interested in the strategic aspects of enterprise collaboration. I’ve written on this topic myself – http://www.hyperoffice.com/blog/2012/01/27/1437/ (The strategic potential of collaboration software). I am tweeting this!

  3. Thyda Nhek says:

    Very helpful as alway, John. Do you know the market penetration of social softwares being implemented in companies? What percentage of companies are going (or trying to go) social? Can you share any research that’s being done?

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