I say what I mean, did I mean what I said?

By Hanns Kohler-Kruner posted 05-07-2010 14:47


On Tuesday evening I had the privilege to speak in front of a group Information Management students, professors and guests at the Humboldt University in Berlin. The opportunity went back to a previous speaking engagement about Records Management and Enterprise 2.0 here in Germany.

The basic tenor of the talk was based around some observations in the German market. Enterprise 2.0 is a term that is used a lot, but the reality is that use is not as widespread as it should be. Now this currently is only an impression based on discussions with various people in the market. The interest however is that events are well visited that have E 2.0 in the title. So what is hindering the implementation in organizations in this market?

My statement to the listeners was that although we cannot stop knowledge workers from producing more and more content through the use of these tools, there are 2 areas that have special interest:

Quality/Usefulness/understandability of the content – We felt that there was going to be some hesitancy from the knowledge holders to give up their knowledge. One of the participants pointed out that, in their experience, with many jobs on the line, specialists often hold on to what they know to make themselves indispensible inside the organisations. Putting everything into say a Wiki for Subject matter Expert Establishment could be seen as detrimental to their own job-security. It was mentioned that incentives could play a role in getting these people to share what they know and also give them the kind of peer recognition they might desire. Again, during the discussion we came to the conclusion that this also holds a certain amount of danger, since not everybody shares because they have something to share, but some of them just want part of the spoils. One of the participants, working in a professional organization and no longer a student, pointed out that when they tried it, it was the loudmouths that were most likely to start filling these tools with content, but not necessarily with quality. This could potentially lead to a lot of noise before any real content was added to the product. The second challenge was semantics or meaning. Just because someone writes something, once you allow them the freedom to write however they want, who ensures that anyone understands a word the Expert wrote?

The second area considered was that of time wasting. Of course it has been pointed out in a hundred places already that many may see this Social media as increasing the “coffee corner”-time of the employees instead of making them more productive. Giving them another tool to communicate will just increases the number of places that need to be checked every morning before productive work can be done. The discussion went to and fro for a while because the last ingredient was missing : Business goals !  

Once we added that to the mix in the discussion, it moved to a different level. Based on the underlying requirements of the organization we could suddenly identify a dozen different reasons why E 2.0 and Social media in the “extended Enterprise” makes sense. For the SMEs it was not about recognition, but education and sharing for better support from their own communities, availability and the fact that by sharing their information rather than hogging it, they could concentrate on the more challenging projects rather than all the basics… because they were in a wiki where people could get to for the basic stuff…. And it was no longer held in a dozen different email conversations either.

And the coffee corner discussions, time wasting? Apart from being a great way to exchange information inside an organization, these little adhoc conversations are great for both productivity and community building. There has been plenty of research to suggest that coffee-corners are good for the people in an organisation. Abolishing coffee corners is not really a good idea for that reason alone. Moving some of these exchanges into a Social Media Suite also had another side effect: moving some of these non-work related conversations out of Email !

Although this discussion continued for some time, the main takeaways from the day were:

  • Nothing should start without a clear goal in mind
  • Hands-on Governance is critical – Wisdom of the masses doesn’t work if there are no masses to work with.
  • Guidelines about language, content and acceptable use should be well documented…

Which takes me back to the point I was originally making during my talk: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog, Wikis, each one of these, representing a delivery channel of information has created their own language and their own vocabulary. On the Web the audience is self-selecting and therefore willing to learn the necessary lingo to follow. Moving these tools over into the Enterprise without taking this into consideration is not a good idea as the chance for misunderstandings is that much greater. Prepare accordingly, make sure understanding is there before starting.

Do any of you have any additional experience to add about this challenge of language? Please comment here or let's take it over to the discussion part of the website.

#sharing #Collaboration #culture #knowledehoarding #Germany