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Bridging the Participation Gap – Networks, Learning, and “Play”

As much as the industry talks about social business and the need for organizations to become more “people-centric”, our conversations too often focus on the merits of social applications and platforms. While technology plays a critical role in enabling new ways of working, those new practices should also be complimented by management and community-building strategies that encourage employee participation. Fostering a more participatory culture and work experience that motivates people to contribute beyond the minimum required of the job requires leadership teams to re-think the ways we engage and recognize employees.

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, I moderated the “Organization Next” workshop that explored different tactics strategists can employ to close the participation gap that occurs when employees disengage from their jobs. Instructors and panelists explored a variety of topics, touching on issues related to motivation, behavior, culture, and the role of technology. The centerpiece of the discussion revolved around the pro’s and con’s of potential solutions such as “gamification”, social networking, and “in-flow of work” learning. Attendees left the workshop with recommendations on how/where to get started, common pitfalls to expect/avoid, and best practices to consider (based on the real-world experiences of instructors and guest panelists). Highlights from two sessions conducted by our instructors included:

Josh Greenbaum, Principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting (Instructor)

  • Employee engagement often acts as an entry-point to a discussion on talent. We often try to solve the talent discovery challenge through the application of new tools but we also need to consider the impact of design practices and user experience. “Gamification” initiatives attempt to address this dynamic however many of today’s approaches remain superficial.
  • We need to think beyond badges and leader boards and tackle the complex aspects of influencing behavior change. An enterprise environment is not the same as a consumer environment. Technology-centric gaming approaches can do more damage than not having any game-like experience at all.
  • We also need to be wary of too much monitoring of employee interaction. The capture and use of social analytics by management can be perceived as being overly intrusive and a form of employee surveillance.

Julie LeMoine, CEO, 3D ICC (Instructor)

  • There’s a “psychology of engagement” that’s necessary when you’re introducing a new social environment to an existing culture. We need to think about “smart harnessing” – ways to bootstrap interaction by creating social and collaborative scaffolding for others to more easily participate in discussions and activities that you’ve partially constructed. Strategists should think about staging incomplete conversations and seeding people to respond to that dialog. An environment that is already in motion can make it easier for people to jump in.
  • Gamification, when designed and implemented well, can trigger new thought processes on issues. Finding the right triggers for people to learn while they work requires a fair amount of pre-work but the payoff can be enormous and supplement the other learning practices available to people. Game design issues strategists should consider include: address real problems, require no specialty training, avoid overlap with the real task, limit the effort needed to interact, and elicit participation through good citizenship.
  • When people enjoy their culture and work experience, learning is not viewed as something separate, as a chore that takes them away from getting their job done. Immersive collaborative experiences can help make people “blissfully productive”.
  • Taking the concept of “smart harnessing” to a higher level, organizations need to avoid limiting themselves to broad knowledge sharing goals. Instead, leadership teams should focus on complex business issues where the impact of payoff of these tools can transform the way work is done, as well as the desired outcome of those activities. The bottom-line? Strategists should be aggressive and apply these practices and tools to transform the way serious work is done.

What’s next?

The workshop identified that even when done well, the current state of gamification and learning remains centered on the individual. IT organizations are experienced at designing and delivering systems that support well-known, structured business activities. Emergence of Enterprise 2.0 and social business is forcing us to expand that design focus from work that is driven by process and projects to work that is influenced by relationships and communities. Leveraging people’s relationships to bring about collective action to address business issues requires people to know how to cultivate and mobilize their social networks. In a future post (scheduled for early August), I’ll examine design considerations for enterprise social networking.

For a more detailed description of the workshop, Bill Ives posted a great summary here on his Portals and KM blog. For more information on the workshop, instructors, and panelists, you can check out the description here on the Enterprise 2.0 Boston conference site.

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1 Comments.


  1. I would agree with the opinion of Julie LeMoine that “Immersive collaborative experiences can help make people “blissfully productive”. I agree to enhance productivity of employess we must be more innovative in our approach.

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