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Productivity: An Inconvenient Truth

January 18, 2012 - 7 Comments

I said in the first post of this series that I’ll start to share more about my productivity lessons-learned. But first, let’s get one thing out of the way — I believe that online collaboration tools really don’t matter. In contrast, how you apply them for purposeful engagement matters a lot, regarding the anticipated productivity gains.

Moreover, the most substantial gains in online productivity will likely come from fully understanding all the people, process and technology issues that define the environment you’re working within. So, situational context is important.

Besides, if you currently work within a large organization and you believe that a “culture of collaboration” seems more like an aspirational goal, but not the everyday reality — you’re not alone. Truly, your experience is similar to the vast majority.

Collaboration: the Whole Truth…

According to the findings from a recent study by the Corporate Executive Board, “Most companies struggle to achieve cross-company collaboration, even within single locations. In fact, only 1 in 10 senior HR executives and only 39 percent of all employees believe their organizations effectively encourage collaboration.”

Furthermore, they also said “The best companies have found that building a globally distributed innovation capability requires that 1) employees have a deep mutual trust to increase the willingness to share and to be receptive to new ideas and 2) staff have strong connections to facilitate the identification, extraction, and application of lessons across markets.”

Therefore, think of the upside opportunity and imagine the strategic benefits of being ranked a top-tier collaborator. There, hold that image. That’s your incentive to continue down this path.

People, Process and Technology Assessment

In a perfect world, perhaps all that a chief executive need do to make an organization inclined to work together more effectively is to instruct the CIO to deploy a collaboration platform. After all, if we believe that our “people are our greatest asset” then every member of the staff is a potential collaborator — at least, in theory.

If business productivity improvement were merely an academic exercise, then being armed with the best theories and operational processes would be enough to ensure success. In practice, however, old assumptions often need to be tested, and tough decisions about human resource assignments must be made.

One of the key metrics used to measure the results of online collaboration is the level of employee engagement. But if purposeful off-line engagement at work is used as a benchmark, then you should proceed with caution. Assume nothing.

Case in point; findings from a market research study demonstrate that it’s unwise to believe that everyone is actively engaged. Still not convinced that technology selection isn’t the most common roadblock to success? Just consider the results from Gallup’s ongoing survey of employed people in American corporations. Enough said.

Prepare for Mainstream Enterprise Collaboration

Here are some basic tips to consider — regarding how to proceed. Do reach out to your organization’s most engaged and productive stakeholders, and ask them to actively participate in your enterprise collaboration planning process. But don’t fall into the trap of having unreal expectations for collaboration tool ROI.

Encourage the early-adopter use of free or freemium video chat communications tools — such as Skype or Google Talk. Increased user adoption of these consumer-oriented tools will help to pre-position your organization for the eventual application of enterprise TelePresence.

In summary, an overly simplistic review of the benefits derived from collaboration tools could easily lead to a misguided deployment effort. Some platform vendors can offer professional services to help assess your readiness — to fully leverage cloud-based collaboration apps and prescribe a progressive plan of action.

The next post on this series will also conclude with a few practical recommendations, as I describe the other aspects of “My Connected Life in the Cloud.”

Do you want to lead the kind of company that can quickly seize any opportunity and solve any problem? The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential, written by Cisco executives Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese, will help you to unleash the hidden assets trapped inside your company — from talent and experience to the right answer and the next big idea — and reap the benefits of the business opportunity of the decade: Learn More…

>>More… Connected Life Exchange

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  1. My sincere thanks to everyone who has reached out to me to offer links to additonal insights. Here's a commentary gem from Nilofer Merchant - "People Are Not Cogs" She said "We know that life is not just about efficiency. So why do we resist the idea that work can be about greatness?" She also shares some guidance in her more recent commentary entitled "8 Dangers of Collaboration" "Collaborative work is not right for every organization, or in every case. Research shows it works best for organizations that need to solve problems across different parts of the business, where cross-pollination of ideas improves the output, where speed to market is crucial, and where getting people to co-own the solution will create more velocity in the execution of the work."

  2. Dion Hinchcliffe has provided a comprehensive research update that highlights the adoption challenge, among other issues, which sets the stage for my next post (about process and workflow) "However, this does underscore one major issue with tracking enterprise sales for social business: Sales of licenses or seats does not necessarily translate into adoption. In fact, far from it. From my research on social business adoption, I’ve found that workforce collaboration and business processes which supported by social tools, at least the way they’re often deployed, is often perceived as an optional activity and one that’s often not well integrated into how work gets done."

  3. Why do I call them "enterprise talent networking" platforms? Because when you apply selective online collabaration practices, by default, it doesn't include engagement with all organization employees or external stakeholders. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has started to study the current "talent" challenges many organizations encounter. Here's their first report that explains the significance (note, you'll need to Register on their site to read the whole editorial - but it's well worth the extra effort)

  4. Fastcompany magazine has published an insightful editorial about organization culture It doesn't mention the significance of defining "collaborative attributes" of a culture, but it's surely a metric that would be useful in helping to assess an organization’s readiness to adopt collaboration tools.

  5. Forbes has published a related editorial entitled "Hire For Attitude" This research offers more insight into why the people and organizational culture issues are truly at the heart of the productivity advancement challenge. "The attitudes for which organizations should hire are not abstract or based on a theoretical ideal, but rather are just the characteristics that separate high and low performers."

  6. Great and extremely timely post, David! We're seeing an increase in "enterprise social media" platforms, for intra-company collaboration, yet, I'm also seeing the tools are not being used in situations where folks are used to working in silos. I'm going to share this post with others. Thank you again for your (typically-David) paradigm shifting thoughts!

    • @Brad, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective. Organization culture can be the greatest positive attribute or, more often than not, the single most significant impediment to progress. Moreover, it seems that companies with highly dominant silo-mentality are often competing with themselves. Individual executive vested interests take priority over the collective needs of the whole organization. That being said, the folks within the Cisco collaboration product team see the marketplace through a “people-centered” point-of-view. Clearly, the Social Business and Social Enterprise mantra of the established players in this arena requires new entrants to think differently about the market opportunity. Starting with the people issues first -- before process and technology -- is a logical way to approach the collaboration tools adoption challenge. I’ve got more thoughts to share, in context, on this topic in upcoming posts…