7 elements of an enterprise collaboration strategy

I used to talk more about strategy. I used to think of it as high-level, important work while I saw “tactical” work and “implementation details” as somehow beneath me.

As Bugs Bunny used to say: “What a maroon.

After creating many shelved strategies, I’ve come to understand the genius of execution and appreciate the people who ship and get things done.

So this “strategy” – 7 basic things you should include in your company’s collaboration program – is meant as a simple starting point. With these in place, you’ll be much more likely to succeed in the real work: changing what people do every day.

Commercial value

Generating real, measurable value should be at the heart of your collaboration program. Not just the ROI acronym but a set of specific problems you solve, each with a specific way to measure value.

Sometimes you’ll be able to measure hard dollars. Sometimes you’ll need to do analysis on a few specific cases and extrapolate from there. In all cases, it’s best to use an independent group in your firm to keep score.

The credible accounting of commercial value is what will sustain corporate commitment through the vicissitudes of business. And a firm of 100,000+ should aim to generate 100s of millions of value.

A Center of Excellence

You’ll need a small central team to help divisions across your company effectively use social tools and practices. Without a core group that has deep expertise, you’ll just be unleashing new concepts on people who won’t know how to apply them.

They’ll act more as hands-on management consultants than IT or communications people,  engaging divisions across your firm to implement change.

Individual benefits

Just as you’ll need commercial value to sustain corporate commitment, you’ll need to focus on personal value – a clear answer to “What’s in it for me?” – to sustain individual commitment.

Here are 3 examples of ways to ensure people feel your effort is relevant for them:

  1. Systematic recognition: use all the communications channels at your disposal – from manager emails to internal comms to community sites – to recognize people when they contribute
  2. Better access to opportunities: draw clear links between collaborative behaviors, reputation, and internal mobility.
  3. Convenience: include ways to improve basic employee processes – from searching the group directory to getting approvals to reporting a problem – so they see the collaboration program as making their job easier.

Community managers

Perhaps the biggest problem with collaboration efforts – the reason it’s so difficult to create a successful program or even to copy one – is that they are highly dependent on people.

More than good processes and tools, a few handfuls of passionate, knowledgable, capable, social people are critical to building communities at work and driving change.

While it’s hard to find, train, and retain those people, there are more and more resources to help you do it.

Management engagement

There’s a limit to what grassroots efforts can accomplish (“The Grass Ceiling”). While part of your goal may be to work around the hierarchy, you’ll still need the hierarchy to do certain things like change policies, allocate resources, or sign contracts.

Beyond having a sponsor, an example of a particularly useful management structure is a collaboration board at the divisional level. These groups can set priorities, assign people in the line to work on them, and define measures for work in their division.

This kind of management engagement is what turns good ideas into organizational objectives and measures that cascade through the org chart. That drives adoption from within the line instead of just from the sponsor or the small central team.

A network of advocates

The only way to scale the efforts of the core team while keeping costs low is to build a network of people who are passionate about the effort and willing to contribute. Just as opensource projects have volunteers contributing in all sorts of ways, your program will also need toolsmiths, marketers, connectors, and other help.

Identifying those needs; making it easy for people to contribute; connecting and recognizing them. These are all parts of an advocacy program that will be key to reaching employees of all kinds in every location and every division.

A platform

Yes, collaboration programs are about much more than the technology. But IT matters. If the collaboration platform is too difficult to use, or not well-integrated, then most people won’t bother.

So choose wisely. But know that the other 6 elements of your strategy are all more difficult and important than the platform.

The most important part

The most important part is the doing and the learning. The best way to implement social tools and practices is a simple, low-cost, iterative approach described by Eric Ries in “Lean Startup” and summarized in a recent post:

As we try to change the way we work, vision and strategy are still important. They’re just not enough.

“Only 5 percent of entrepreneurship is the big idea, the business model, the whiteboard strategizing, and the splitting of the spoils. The other 95 percent is the gritty work that is measured by innovation accounting; product prioritization decisions; deciding which customers to target or listen to, and having the courage to subject a grand visions to constant testing and feedback.”

As we try to understand which problems to solve, which customers to work with, which incentives to use, we can embrace the fact that we don’t know what will be effective.

And then we can get to work, using the Lean Startup approach to turn uncertainty into a set of quick, inexpensive experiments that can guide our learning and help us make the difference we know we can make.

“How’s work?”

Whenever I’m asked about how work is going these days, I usually reply “It’s great.” Maybe I’ll follow it up with “I really love my job.”

Then I get the look. A mixture of surprise, bemusement, and a little dislike.

“Really?” they’ll ask.

I never used to love my job. But some important things changed.

Most of my career

For the most part, I’ve worked in large corporations, including 15 years at my current firm. I’ve had some good bosses and very bad ones. Some great teams and mediocre ones. And feelings ranging from anxiety to exhilaration to depression.

But it always felt like, well, work. Something I did to make money instead of something I genuinely wanted to do.

So, every Sunday night, I’d start dreading the week ahead. I’d hit the snooze button in the mornings. I’d buy lottery tickets.

The big difference

Changing all of that didn’t involve joining the Peace Corps or changing firms. I didn’t even change my desk.

I just stopped being afraid. Afraid of trying to accomplish something I cared about. Afraid of the consequences if it didn’t work out.

A year ago, in my first blog post, I listed 10 things I believed about work, including what motivates people at work:

“I believe that autonomy, mastery, purpose, and community are fundamental human motivators. (Daniel Pink writes of the first three in “Drive”.) We are hardwired to want control over the work we do and to get better at it. To do it for a good reason and with people we connect with.”

By learning to overcome the lizard brain (as Seth Godin would refer to it), I was able to see opportunities within my firm and go after them. That gave me a purpose – one that was self-directed so I felt in control. A purpose that inspired me to learn and build new relationships because I cared so much about it.

Tapping into the basic human motivators made all the difference in how I felt about work.

What about you?

It’s possible anywhere. The psychiatrist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched people who find “flow” in all sorts of work environments and are both happier and more productive. Viktor Frankl wrote about finding meaning in a concentration camp.

For 45+ years, I ceded control of my happiness and my career to other people. That was my fault. And I’m determined not to make that mistake again.

What about you? “How’s work?”

If you don’t like the answer, what are you going to do about it?

You don’t need to wait for permission or a crisis. Start learning how to work out loud, take control of your reputation, and build relationships. Invest in yourself now.

Why smart managers do stupid things

Large firms hire some of the smartest, most capable people. Yet, when those people become managers, they do stupid things.

For example, they cling to concepts like “pay for performance” and “talent management” without any critical thinking – without questioning whether the systems and processes in place actually work.

When it comes to management, there’s a clear absence of intellectual rigor. And I always wondered: “Why?”

Thinking Fast and Slow

Recently, I came across an answer that’s both encouraging and dispiriting. It’s because of the way our brains work.

In the brilliant book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes the brain as having two systems:

“System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

System 2 allocates attentions to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.”

If you see two objects, for example, you’ll use System 1 to detect which one is further away. But to calculate the distance, you’ll use System 2. While System 1 is easier for us – largely automatic – System 2 can come up with a better answer.

But using System 2 requires effort and attention. And attention is a scarce resource. So we systematically take shortcuts so we can make sense of the world around us.

Kahneman’s book is full of incredible insights. Chapter after chapter, you’ll face uncomfortable truths about how you think, all grounded in excellent research and careful studies, yet written so all of it is accessible and engaging.

Of the many fascinating stories in the book, two struck me as particularly relevant to management practices at most firms.

The Illusion of Validity: Evaluating Leaders

Throughout the book, Kahneman refers to the WYSIATI principle – What You See Is All There Is. Over and over, he demonstrates how people systematically disregard basic probability and other facts in order to (quickly and easily) make up a story that fits with the things they see.

“The sense-making machinery of System 1 makes us see the world as more tidy, simple, predictable, and coherent than it really is.”

Kahneman describes a story from the Israeli Army, where he participated in a formal review to determine soldiers’ leadership abilities, complete with a numerical rating, detailed observations, and a recommendation per soldier.

Months later, they were able to learn how well the candidates actually performed in officer-training school and, repeatedly, the correlation between the leadership evaluation and actual performance was negligible.

But that didn’t change anything.

“The dismal truth about the quality of our predictions had no effect whatsoever on how we evaluated candidates and very little effect on the confidence we felt in our judgments and predictions about individuals.

We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each of our specific predictions was valid…Because our impressions of how well each soldier had performed were generally coherent and clear, our formal predictions were just as definite.”

It was a case of WYSIATI. The evidence in front of them (impressions of the soldiers) outweighed their knowledge about their flawed process, and gave them an illusion of validity.

Every firm with a “talent management” process, rigorously evaluating employees’  potential, is subject to that same illusion.

The Illusion of Validity: Rewarding Results

Decades after his experience in the Israeli Army, Kahneman was invited to speak to a group of investment advisers.

Before the talk, he analyzed the investment outcomes of the advisers over eight consecutive years. Then he computed correlations to see if there were differences in skill. The results “resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest.”

“Our message to the executives was that, at least when it came to building portfolios, the firm was rewarding luck as if it were skill…But their own experience of exercising careful judgment on complex problems was far more compelling to them than an obscure statistical fact.”

Unfortunately, every performance review and every distribution of performance rankings suffers from these same biases. And yet we persist.

After his talk, Kahneman spoke with one of the investment advisers:

“He told me, with a trace of defensiveness: ‘I have done very well for the firm and no one can take that away from me.'”

What successful manager would want to admit that their success is largely due to chance? That the system that promoted them was fundamentally flawed?

The Red Beads

But we’ve known all this for decades – even without the additional proof in Kahneman’s work.

Deming talked about the inherent errors in most evaluations of performance, and he wrote about it in the early 1980s in “Out of the Crisis”:

“A common fallacy is the supposition that it is possible to rate people; to put them in rank order or performance…The performance of anybody is the result of many forces – the person himself, the people that he works with, the job…his customer, his management…

These forces will produce unbelievably large differences between people. In fact, as we shall see, apparent differences between people arise almost entirely from action of the system that they work in, not from the people themselves. A man not promoted is unable to understand why his performance is lower than someone else’s. No wonder; his rating was the result of a lottery.”

Deming then introduced the Red Bead experiment to prove his point. In that experiment, workers with the same skills, instructions, and tools are put in front of a bin of red and white beads and asked to select only white beads (not red ones) with a special paddle. And they produce wildly different results.

The process is “in control” and the variations are to be expected.

“It would obviously be a waste of time to try to find out why Terry made 15 red beads, or why Jack made only 4. What is worse, anybody that would seek a cause would come up with an answer, action on which could only make things worse henceforth.”

“Anybody that would see a cause would come up with an answer.” Make up a story to fit the facts. Kahneman couldn’t agree more.

What to do?

So, our brains’ ability to make sense of the world involves some devastating trade-offs in terms of biases and systematic errors. But if we’re wired to make substitutions, to overlook simple statistics, to make up causes and coherent stories where there’s only luck, then is there anything we can do?


We can recognize that “the laziness of System 2 is an important fact of life.” And that “System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions.”

Knowing our natural tendencies and biases, we can ask more questions. We can insist on more evidence.

“The way to block error that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2.”

We can think more. We can refuse to accept management practices that don’t work just because that’s the way things are.

We can do better.

What social business is. And isn’t.

A newsstand in Milan (next to the Duomo)Sometimes you have to make a choice.

Mild or spicy. Grande or venti. Revolution or practical, commercial change.

When it comes to your applying social tools and practices to your firm, what’s it going to be?

Missing in Milan

This week, I had the pleasure of attending the Social Business Forum in Milan where over 1600 people signed up to “learn about Social Business opportunities, success stories, best practices and more.”

It’s the 5th year in a row they’ve had this conference. And I was struck as much by the notable people who spoke there as I was by what was missing.

There were several experts there. Authors John Hagel (“The Power of Pull”) and Frank Eliason (“@ Your Service”) gave keynote talks. Practitioners with deep experience – Luis Suarez, Peter Reiser, Megan Murray among others – were there presenting and contributing.

Several of them had come from a prior conference in London and several others would be heading to Boston later this month for Enterprise 2.0.

But while the experts keep getting better and better, the audiences don’t seem to be.

The haves & have nots

The conference is in its 5th year, and the term “Enterprise 2.0” was coined in 2006, but there are still too few stories about people generating commercial value by using social tools and practices. After 5 years, I’m disappointed that audiences come to hear that “traditional management isn’t working,” applaud the revolutionary speaker, and leave without a clue about what to do next.

(In a panel on community management, for example, Luis pointed out that companies like IBM have had community forums for 50 years. But when the moderator asked an audience of 100 how many actually had communities at their firm, only about 10 hands went up.)

As Megan Murray tweeted after one of the presentations:

2 fundamental questions

“We’ve got work to do.” What is the work Megan refers to? I think it starts with answering 2 basic questions:

“What’s it worth?” and “What’s in it for me?”

It’s much easier – and, initially, more exciting – to talk about overthrowing management than about eliminating waste in your company. It’s easier to talk about the success of Amazon and Apple than to figure out how to incentivize thousands of individuals at your own firm to change their behavior.

If you can’t or won’t answer these questions, you shouldn’t pitch social business to your senior management. And you shouldn’t buy a platform.

You should start someplace else.

If you care, contribute.

Social business isn't a baby any more. It's time for some successes.Conferences like the Social Business Forum are great. Not for fomenting revolution, but for making connections with people who’ve done something. For learning from them how you can make constructive contributions at your own firm.

If you want to bootstrap a social business movement, find someone who’s done something at a firm like your’s, build a community, and start learning how to connect people to drive change.

Overhauling how big companies work won’t happen via Powerpoint and evangelism. We’ll need to get to work. And we’ll need the combination of commercial value and personal benefit to sustain such an ambitious effort.

The social movement is past its infancy. It’s time for more meaningful successes.

The best approach to building relationships

I used to think of networking as a set of transactions or, worse, manipulations.

As a result, I viewed relationships too narrowly. At work, my relationships were defined by the hierarchy and my position in it. At home, they were just about socializing – separate and distinct from work or trying to achieve anything.

This narrow view limited what I could do and with whom I could do it. Until I was taught a better way.

5 mindsets of networking

I was in the middle of a career change when I enrolled in a year-long course called the “Relationship Masters Academy” with Keith Ferrazzi (now an online offering).

Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back?”, demonstrated how you could be generous, vulnerable, and authentic while still being purposeful.

Now, in a course called “Building a purposeful social network” we encourage internal staff to adopt these 5 mindsets as they develop relationships:

Generosity: thinking first of what you have to offer instead of what you need

Empathy: thinking of how the other person will think and react to what you say or do

Authenticity: being your true self

Intimacy: getting beyond small talk to things that matter

Vulnerability: offering up your own imperfections and need for help

Before the Ferrazzi course, I’d have never associated any of these words with networking. But the more I researched and applied these ideas, the more obvious it became that these mindsets enabled a more fulfilling, more effective approach to relationships.

Leading with generosity and empathy

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and authentic makes you more approachable. And getting beyond small talk to more intimate, personal topics leads to stronger connections more quickly.

But, as Ferrazzi said, “The currency of real networking is…generosity.” Generosity and empathy – thinking about the other person’s needs, feelings, and perceptions before your own – are the most fundamental mindsets.

Dale Carnegie, in “How to win friends and influence people”, wrote at length about empathy. Early in the book, he quotes Henry Ford:

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

And then, because it’s so important, he repeats the quote “so the reader won’t miss it.”

What do you have to offer?

You don’t have to have an extraordinary talent or something of commercial value to lead with generosity and empathy. Much of what Ferrazzi and Carnegie talk about are things everyone can do, gifts everyone can give.

Here are some of Carnegie’s principles (which Ferrazzi also cited):

“Give honest and sincere appreciation.”

“Become genuinely interested in other people.”

“Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.”

“Be a good listener. Encourage other people to talk about themselves.”

“Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

These basic truths about relationships are as applicable now as they were in 1936 when Carnegie wrote them. Even more so.

Give, give, give

The many social platforms and communications channels make it easier than ever to apply the 5 mindsets. But it’s so easy and quick to send  a message that not enough thought typically goes into it. And people waste the many opportunities.

  • When you need something, do you start with “I’d like to…” or do you start with what’s in it for the reader?
  • When you ask someone to connect do you use the generic request or do you take the extra minute to craft a personal note?
  • When you find something you like, do you share it with specific individuals for whom you think it would be interesting or useful? Do you personalize the note? Do you give the creator public credit?
  • When you need help do you start with “I need your help” or do you start with why you thought so highly of the person that their help was particularly valuable?

Every email, every tweet, every LinkedIn request, every meeting is an opportunity to lead with generosity and empathy. It’s just that most people don’t think of it that way.

You’ll distinguish yourself when you do.