Paradise Lost?

Never, ever, think outside the box
Never, ever, think outside the box (Photo credit: Mrs eNil)

From its not-so-humble beginnings, introducing social concepts to the enterprise has been met simultaneously with disdain and excitement.  Vendors have led the charge in creating market awareness for the consumption of social software platforms and their related consulting and technical services.  And even though some still doubt whether a real market exists for social software, and I sometimes agree, social collaboration is no longer a radical, revolutionary idea.  It may be time to redirect the conversation away from vendors under pressure and give it back to the people who will benefit most from the change: the rank and file who slog to work every day.

The pace of real adoption and engagement has been slow.  Case studies that held so much early promise have become mired in the latent bureaucratic morass that is corporate life.  Justification for social collaboration initiatives today revolves around the same incentives that have served enterprise software well for decades – higher productivity, faster profits, reduced expenses.  In the maturation of the sector, we’ve lost the early human capital fervor that fueled this category (circa 2006).  The spirit of deep and profound change and the opportunity to significantly rewrite the rules of modern work has dissipated with the increased pressure to tie social adoption to concrete, short-term business outcomes.  But this emphasis on Excel-based decision-making misses the point on social inside the enterprise.  After all, it is about something larger, something transformational.

I think it’s time for the “mass of men leading quiet lives of desperation” (Thoreau) inside the corporate labyrinth, shackled to the economic incentives and rewards that rule them, to take back up the mantle for change.  The key will be the same challenge as it’s always been to change ingrained behaviors: why bother?

Here’s why: if the philosophy of social with its associated new social behaviors are adopted within an enterprise, the propensity for a richer (better quality employee experience), more loyal, more engaged workforce will make work endlessly more interesting and immensely enjoyable.  This emotional bond to work where rewards come in the form of a variety of intrinsic motivators (including but not exclusive to financial rewards) will deliver innovation, improved business processes, and fresh ideas.  This “stickiness” to the job will ultimately benefit shareholders (too).  The problem with enterprise social is the Catch-22 associated with instigating this change.

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