Collaboration and social tools offer radically better ways of working. They can bring together groups of staff who are scattered across the globe, as well as helping teams accelerate the delivery of their projects. New tools can break down silos, and share knowledge at every level of the business.
To get the most out of these new capabilities, staff must work differently. But: if new working practices are required, why do organisations simply launch new tools and expect staff to suddenly work differently?
The changes needed to working practices are both barriers to and opportunities for success with collaboration and social tools. This puts change management at the heart of any new collaboration capabilities.
New ways of working
The enterprise collaboration and social marketplace is going through a new wave of innovation. Office365 is launching new capabilities every month, providing multiple ways for staff to work better together.
Facebook now has an enterprise offering, which promises an easier path to adoption because of the near-universal use of its consumer offering. Other vendors, including Google, are enriching their platforms.
Some of the most compelling offerings, however, are also the ones that require the greatest change in working behaviour.
Take ‘document co-creation’, where staff work — often simultaneously — on the one document. This eliminates the horrible process of coordinating emailed documents and track changes. By working together online, the complexity and time involved in creating long documents is slashed.
This is a big change, however, for the staff involved. There’s the practical matter of getting everyone in the group working in the same way, and ensuring that they know how to use the new tools effectively. Beyond those challenges, staff may be hesitant to expose their early drafts to the whole team, and to make completely visible their writing pace and practices.
This brings us to the heart of the challenge: if collaboration and social tools are intended to change the way staff work, then that’s by definition different from current practices. Which means it’s unfamiliar to staff, and in some cases, transformationally different. So staff aren’t just going to ‘get’ collaboration tools once they’re launched, not without careful change management.
The fundamentals of change management
While there are many different change management models and methodologies, there are common fundamentals across them all.
When change management is boiled down to its simplest form, there are three core elements to address:
- A compelling future vision. What the new — and improved — solution or working practices will be, and how these will deliver substantial benefits.
- Why the current state isn’t viable. The pain points that staff and the business are currently experiencing, and why it’s absolutely necessary to move to new practices.
- How to make the change. The practical — and achievable — steps that will deliver the desired state.
These three elements are mapped to collaboration and social projects in the coming sections.
1. Compelling future vision
The future vision can be described at many levels. The long-term ‘big picture’ vision is best described by a day-in-the-life narrative, such as A week in the digital workplace. This paints a picture of how the organisation as a whole will operate, once a whole range of transformational steps are taken.
In the more immediate future, it’s critical to describe the ‘why’ for staff. As outlined in Tackle collaboration purposefully, there are both ‘big’ and ‘small’ purposes. Larger purposes relate to organisational benefits, such as sharing knowledge or driving innovation.
Smaller purposes are targeted at day-to-day needs of staff, such as helping sales people win more work, or assisting in the delivery of projects.
It goes without saying that the future vision should address both organisational goals (which are easy to define), and a compelling ‘what’s in it for me’ end state.
2. Why the current state isn’t viable
This is by far the hardest aspect of change management to address for collaboration and social projects.
In most cases, current working practices, well … work. Organisations are generally able to deliver their products or services in a fairly sustainable way, and major crises relating to staff productivity are rare.
This makes it tempting to force change by decommissioning existing platforms and tools. This could include turning off shared drives, or blocking access to unsanctioned cloud-based products.
This is a big hammer to wield however, and taking away platforms that staff are currently using will have an immediate, and potentially large, impact on staff productivity. It can also drive up levels of dissatisfaction, as well as accelerating the shift to other unauthorised cloud-based tools.
A less stressful approach would instead focus on making the case for change, rather than forcing it. Wherever possible, the deployment of collaboration and social tools should be driven by staff who recognise a need for change, as this bottom-up approach reduces the need to drive change from above.
3. How to make the change
It’s now clear that simply launching a tool with some supporting documentation isn’t enough to help staff change their working practices. Change management needs to go beyond the basic uptake of tools, to ensure that the new platform is productively incorporated into standard behaviours.
Some form of high-touch engagement is often needed, that puts people ahead of technology when targeting collaboration efforts. This often means targeting specific groups of staff with tailored support, rather than a broad ‘all staff’ approach.
Depending on the size and nature of the change, the approaches will vary. For example, establishing document co-creation could look like this, when planned using the Pathway to social cards:
This is still a relatively small project, but effort will increase as the ambitions of the collaboration projects grow.
It’s all about change
There are many benefits to switching to modern collaboration and social tools, with the supporting change in working practices. The change in staff behaviour won’t happen automatically, and this puts change management at the heart of every collaboration and social project.
Regardless of whether you use the simple change management model outlined in this article, or a richer methodology, set aside both time and resources to guarantee that social tools become part of the ‘new normal’ within your organisation.