Over the years, I’ve worked with organizations that had different variations of the enterprise social technology theme. Some used tools more effectively than others, but none viewed them as a primary means of fostering learning, nor for the affordances they provide such as editability (the ability to update codified information in real time as it changes), persistence (the ability for the knowledge to be forever accessible) and meta-voicing (the ability to cascade a message on a large scale).
When it comes to the strategic design and use of enterprise social technologies for organizational knowledge sharing and learning, I subscribe to the the set of guiding principles below.
- It’s not about the tool. People and technology mutually create an experience — technology itself does not dictate the behavior. It’s most important to identify the problem you’re trying to solve, then design a solution to fit the challenge and the users involved. The technology itself should not drive a solution and it’s quite possible that different platforms will serve different purposes at different times.
- Engage people at all levels … and mix it up. When launching a digital transformation, engage employees at all levels to increase adoption. By identifying and engaging people at both the top and bottom of the organization, you’ll get greater buy-in. Community managers are a great way to connect people and to help ideas spread, but keep in mind these people also have “day jobs.” So, change it up occasionally to avoid burn out.
- Remember the “why.” When designing, always keep the purpose front and center, leveraging technology that provides the affordances to help achieve the goal. Enterprise social networks are platforms for “learning to be: and the technology affords many possibilities to do that in a way that is mutually constituted by its participants. Make sure the affordances provided by the tool are solving the problem at hand.
- Garner leadership buy-in, commitment and engagement. If it’s not supported from the top, it’s highly unlikely an enterprise social platform will reap its full potential. I remember a time when an organization I worked with was rolling out Yubbler and the CEO publicly made fun of the tool on several occasions. It was doomed from the start and eventually faded away. Had there been executive buy-in, in addition to modeling desired behavior at that level, there may have been a different outcome.
- Use human-centered design. Think about the way people will actually engage with the tool with a specific focus on what they’ll be doing, what they’ll be thinking, and how they’ll feel. By adopting a social-practice perspective of organizational learning and knowledge, recognize that learning will be both tacit and explicit. Use tools like experience mapping to keep the user front and center.
- Build networks. Enterprise social technologies don’t just build communities, they build broad networks. Through affordances like association and triggered attending, they technology fosters the development of broad and deep personal learning networks that foster greater organizational learning.
- Don’t design in a vacuum. Aligned with human centered design, engage others along the way and gather feedback at several points along the design journey. Think out loud, narrate your work, prototype, pilot, and see what sticks. Never attempt to do it alone.
- Keep a toolkit for inspiration. Lastly, stay curious, keep asking questions and keep exploring new platforms and possibilities for leveraging tools to foster organizational learning. Don’t become so wedded to a certain technology that you’re afraid to iterate and evolve as needs change. Keep your toolbox updated and stay informed, remembering that nothing lasts forever and things change.