Enterprise 2.0: seeding the conversation

A few weeks ago,  I wrote about the particularities of social media in Japan. During the early eighties,  Japanese companies were taken as a management model and a lot of best practices were imported into our Western world to seed what are considered today as the roots of modern management.

We are now facing quite a similar necessary cultural change, as the need to implement conversational and collaborative practices into the enterprise raises and will soon become unavoidable. But life behind the firewall is far more structured and harder to move than the consumer market, and many social media initiatives fail or cannot be applied company-wide, due to lack of management involvement or cultural inertia. It may be time to have a deeper look at Japan – again.

Like in the Japanese social space, relationships inside a company are heavily structured, and can similarly be shematized into 3 concentric circles. At the inner level take place all informal conversations, while the middle circle represent all hierarchy and task-based relationships, the outer circle including all those nods and hellos exchanged with people you barely know. Given that model, what could we learn to help the conversation grow?

Inner circle: Put the water-cooler online

That was already told, but seeding the conversation often only means letting it flow between colleagues who already talk and work together. Allowing for informal, even quite irrelevant, exchanges online, is the best way to encourage collaboration. Let them set up blogs, wikis and forums on whichever topic they want. By encouraging employees to use social media in their day-to-day tasks, and chatting by the water-cooler definitely IS a day-to-day task, you”ll be rewarded.

Middle circle: Preserve intimacy

On both sides of the firewall, everything you write is quite indelible,  and in the enterprise’s world,  this means walking naked in front of your hierarchy, an absolute brake on social media acceptance. Please, allow your employees to use nickname, uncovering their true identities only to the ones they trust and value.

What is the risk? Bare none. Anyone is already authenticated and tracked in their online life. In case of suspicious activities, just ask the IT service to flag login or IP adresses. On the other side, people will feel much more free to share their thoughts and knowledge.

Middle circle: Break silos

Please forget about community-based platforms. These would only recreate online the information silos inherent to structured companies. Open any gates to everyone, or you may never know who has the knowledge you are desesperately looking for. Allow people to engage with others without any restriction, and make anything visible from everybody. Communities which will emerge from such an attitude might not be the one you think they would. Apart from better seeding the conversation, this will help you listen and monitor what is happening online.

Middle circle: Get middle management engaged

Well… I guess there is no need to develop this crucial point any further.

Outer circle: Encourage synchronism

Most of the communication taking place between people is synchronous: meetings, conference calls, team work,… The only asynchronous tool your employees are really used to is email. Sadly enough, most of social media tools are asynchronous per nature, which means you will need to induce new working habits as soon as you want to leverage your collaborative toolkit.

Setting up synchronous sessions, while people are online at the same time with the same tools for a few hours, will really help building a community feeling and will definitely ease the use of these tools.

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