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Why change management is critical to Web 2.0 success

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16th May 2008
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Rolling out social software in an organisation isn’t akin to buying another version of Oracle. There is a degree of organisational readiness that needs to be achieved in order to successfully deploy and absorb the changes associated with Web 2.0. And this change management has caught many businesses unaware.

By Neil Davey, editor

Since Web 2.0 poked its way into the corporate province, firms have been gearing up to implement social software in internets, intranets and extranets. And whether it’s being used to communicate with customers or enable collaboration between employees, this year will see more businesses than ever embrace the possibilities of Web 2.0.

A survey of 1,800 executives worldwide by McKinsey last year, for instance, revealed that a fifth of them were already using blogs to improve customer service or solicit customer feedback. It’s a sure bet that 2008 will see firms not only exploring blogs, but also peer to peer networking, social networks and podcasts.

"Democratising decision making (crowd sourcing), creating openness and transparency is a big step for large organisations in particular. For most of them, this is still a step too far."

Leon Benjamin

But rolling out social software in an organisation isn’t akin to buying another version of Oracle. There is a certain degree of organisational readiness that needs to be achieved in order to successfully deploy and absorb the changes associated with implementing social software. And the change management necessary to precede such a Web 2.0 strategy has caught many businesses unaware.

Statistics bear this out. When executives who had implemented Web 2.0 technologies were asked by the McKinsey survey what they wished they had done better, 42% said they would have strengthened their internal capabilities.

The corporate culture hurdle

Similarly, a study by the enterprise content management association AIIM earlier this year served to emphasise that the biggest hurdle to Web 2.0 for businesses isn’t the technology itself. AIIM’s Market IQ study revealed that 59% of respondents said 'lack of understanding/appreciation' was a barrier to adoption, with 49% suggesting that corporate culture was a hurdle.

Web 2.0 practitioner and author of 'Winning by Sharing' Leon Benjamin is in agreement with the findings. "To participate in a network, a company must itself be network-centric," he explains. "Unfortunately this means taking a conscious decision to dismantle hierarchical organisation. Democratising decision making (crowd sourcing), creating openness and transparency is a big step for large organisations in particular. For most of them, this is still a step too far. That is where you get the major resistance. People suddenly worry about being more transparent, anybody can talk to anybody. And that is a really big problem for some people high up in some organisations."

Indeed, the challenges associated with integrating Web 2.0 with the staff, culture and business represent a significant step, and the change management process is absolutely key. "The thing that is going to define their success is the acceptance of the user, and that is hard to gauge early on," adds Guy Westlake, senior marketing manager at Vignette. "Everything has got to be done to manage the change as best as possible."

"It is important that you don’t make them rules. You put enough structure there so that the people who need guidance can very easily take a step forward, but the people who are the innovators don’t have to do it that way."

Patti Anklam

So how can firms achieve this? Patti Anklam is an independent consultant and author of 'Net Work: A Practical Guide to Creating and Sustaining Networks at Work and in the World'. She believes that firms must first examine their current environment to establish how collaborative it is, before enabling adoption through a blend of motivation and incentives, pulling success stories from early adopters and pilot programmes, and using templates and governance models to provide 'training wheels'.

"Companies need to provide a structure for employees to be able to approach these efforts comfortably," she explains. "People may be shy about using these things, so you give them some models and some examples to follow and let them get comfortable with it. Somebody who is asked to blog about their project every day, for example, may not be natural born writer or extrovert, but you can help by drawing up a template."

But she adds: "It is important that you don’t make them rules. You put enough structure there so that the people who need guidance can very easily take a step forward, but the people who are the innovators don’t have to do it that way."

Where there is a need for rules, however, is in the quality of the output, according to Benjamin. "If you don’t have rules you just get 10,000 people in an organisation generating content that slowly deteriorates over time," he warns. "For example, when Microsoft allowed its developers to start blogging externally it was a fantastic experience for all of the partners and Microsoft geeks around the world. But when thousands and thousands of them were permitted to write blogs, they ended up writing a load of drivel. The signal to noise ratio became too high because there was no editorial control – they didn’t have specific individuals ensuring that the aggregated output by employees was of a sufficiently high quality."

The need for specific skill sets

And it is identifying the need for the likes of these individuals that also represents another critical element of the change management programme. A move towards Web 2.0 will demand some very specific skill sets in an organisation that didn’t exist before.

Such roles could include community managers; community liaison teams to walk employees through the process of, for example, setting up a SharePoint site for a project or a community; and what Leon Benjamin refers to as a 'chief connectivity officer' to oversee the social networking efforts (and perhaps even sit on the board in future).

But with many firms still feeling their way in the world of Web 2.0, the need for some of these roles is falling through the cracks. "You need a team that is responsible for monitoring content being generated about the company on a daily basis – particularly for large corporates where so much is generated about them," says Benjamin. "And you need to ensure that this gets to the right people within the organisation so that they can make the adjustments either to their PR story or products or services – people who can say 'this has been said about us today and it is blatantly wrong and we need to get our PR company involved' for instance. And none of that actually exists when companies deploy social software or when they interact with other communities outside their organisation as far as I can see."

"If you bring new people in, they don’t know the organisation they are working in, whereas if you retrain staff they already have the knowledge and the contacts within that organisation which can take many years to acquire,."

Leon Benjamin

Filling these roles also throws up the question of whether new employees should be recruited or existing ones trained. Even blogging, for example, which seems like one of the least demanding roles in the new social networking structure, requires certain skills.

"Blogging is very dependent on being good at writing and there are a lot of blogs out there that aren’t very well written and therefore not very easy to read," says Kieran Potts, managing director of internet marketing and web development consultancy NeverMind. "That is an overhead for many companies. They either have to employ a journalist to write their blogs on their behalf or at least have someone educated in blogging before they go live."

And even if existing staff do possess – or acquire - the necessary skills, there is still the issue of whether they have other qualities that will also be demanded of them for the role. John Cass, author of 'Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging' recommends: "Look at the capabilities of the company and understand the culture – is blogging right for them? Do they want to be open and transparent? Do they understand that sometimes they are going to be criticised – maybe on their own blog or maybe on other blogs – just because they are blogging and they are now viewed as open to criticism? What will their reaction be? If it is always going to be negative then maybe blogging isn’t for them. But if they are willing to be open in these areas then good, they could do it."

Nevertheless, on the issue of whether to hire in new staff or develop skills from within, Benjamin believes that because of the emphasis on networking, it is more in the spirit of things to train existing employees. "If you bring new people in, they don’t know the organisation they are working in, whereas if you retrain staff they already have the knowledge and the contacts within that organisation which can take many years to acquire," he suggests. "So my preference would always be to take people who show a propensity or skill."

To identify these people, Benjamin suggests that firms can conduct social networking analysis, drawing a map of all the conversations that take place within the organisation through email and PABX. "I would use that to easily identify the best networkers in the organisation and find the people I would want in my project," he says. "And they aren’t always senior – in fact, they are quite often junior people."

Change at the top

Indeed, some of the most significant change management processes – certainly in terms of culture – actually need to occur at the most senior levels. Whilst there is enthusiasm (and to a certain degree, understanding) at the grass roots of organisations, at the top levels there can be confusion and a lack of appreciation for Web 2.0. The end result of this can even be to push nascent social networking practices outside of the organisation.

"The technology development phase we’re in currently is so fast that it is undoubtedly a hard thing to manage. But it is not impossible."

Guy Westlake, Vignette

"Because staff within big companies don’t have a system internally, they are actually creating groups externally," adds Benjamin. "Employees need to have conversations and need to exchange knowledge and it is not easy to do via the large organisation. So big firms needs to realise right now that the social capital which is so valuable within the organisation is leaking outside it."

The McKinsey survey indicates that grass-roots level social networking initiatives should be encouraged, as they can prove as effective as formal pilot programmes. After they demonstrate value, the projects can then be taken up by their 'natural' owners within the organisation who can invest and develop them.

Some respondents to the survey even went so far as to suggest that top-down management of social networking initiatives was counterproductive; one arguing that senior management cannot mandate successful adoption of Web 2.0 and that their role should simply be to "supply permission and resources and set the boundaries and then let intelligent and motivated teams run with this."

Anklan believes there is certainly some stock in this. "You have to work on the business case and the success stories, but at the same time honour the way that people are choosing to work," she says.

Ultimately, for firms to achieve the organisational readiness that is necessary to successfully deploy social software, the change management process must encompass every level of the business. In particular, experts recommend a thorough appraisal of the company culture, examining how collaborative it is and where resistance needs to be addressed.

At the same time, skill set gaps can also be identified, kick-starting discussions on whether a campaign of internal training or a recruitment drive will be demanded to meet these needs. Elsewhere, whilst success stories and templates can aid the change management process, measures must never stifle the organic development that social networking demands.

With Web 2.0 on the agenda of a growing number of firms, it’s a tough process, but one that firms will have to go through if they are to realise social networking success. "These are problems that haven’t posed themselves previously between acceptance of technology and actual employee productivity and satisfaction," concludes Westlake. "The technology development phase we’re in currently is so fast that it is undoubtedly a hard thing to manage. But it is not impossible. It just has to be done incredibly carefully with huge attention to detail – and shouldn’t be underestimated."

Replies (3)

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By AnonymousUser
22nd May 2008 11:21

Many thanks for your comments Rick - I'm delighted that you found the article to be of interest.

Neil Davey
Editor
MyCustomer.com

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By doubledigital
16th May 2008 10:55

Well researched article. Our experience of implementing social systems within our organisation resonates greatest with Vignettes Guy Westlakes key step in the chain

"The thing that is going to define their success is the acceptance of the user, and that is hard to gauge early on"

User acceptance first, then adoption of the new business processes through closely monitored change management.

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By rick maurer
21st May 2008 21:16

I rarely see such a thoughtful article about how change should be managed. Bravo. Too often, articles and blog posts focus on the technical aspects of change and miss the human elements. I appreciated the thought with which you approached the subject of Web 2.0 in large organizations.

Rick Maurer
www.changemanagementnews.com (blog)
www.beyondresistance.com

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