Communicating Diagonally: New Value Pathways via Enterprise Social Networking?

Diagonal communication

One of the keystone value claims for implementing an Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) platform like Yammer, Jive or IBM Connect is facilitating horizontal communication paths across the enterprise. Traditional organisational hierarchies have proven to be poorly suited to sharing information and knowledge sideways, as designed communication pathways at the base of the hierarchy would have information move vertically upward before moving across and then downward to its waiting audience. A lot can happen to an intended message as it makes this tortuous path, often resulting in a poor communication result.

But what about “Diagonal Communication”? By this we mean communication paths that connect leaders of business units to non-leaders of other business units and visa versa, as shown by the dashed diagonal pathways below.
Diagonal structure

A natural response would suggest a potential undermining of the leaders’ authority i.e. if I as business leader, were found to be communicating directly with a staff member of another business unit, would this be disrespecting that member’s own business unit leader? Likewise, if as a non-leader, I seek to communicate directly with a leader of another business unit; am I disrespecting my own business unit leader by not involving them in the communication? It is this reticence that no doubt hinders this style of communication in traditional hierarchical organisations; arguably at some cost to the organisation.

Recently we completed an analysis of collaboration patterns with a major financial services company by analysing the usage logs of their ESN (Yammer). The objective was to understand the value being gained to date by applying our social networking analytic measures. Because this was a ‘relationships centred’ analysis, we aimed to go beyond the simple usage traffic measures and only include connections where a true reciprocal interaction had occurred i.e. to be included in our analysis a specific two-way interaction between two individuals had to have occurred to produce a link. As anticipated, the horizontal collaboration paths across internal business units were indeed prominent, but perhaps the bigger surprise was the size of the diagonal communication paths: 

Diag Comms Table

The results indicated that the diagonal linkages were nearly three times the number of the vertical, within business unit, connections. One can only speculate as to why. Perhaps the ESN was seen to give license for this form of informal communication, without the concerns attached to more formal communication. Perhaps it is a response to such  ‘protocol’ constraints by releasing a pent-up demand for communicating diagonally in a more timely fashion; with the knowledge that the formal channels can be enacted should the communication escalate to something significant.

Whatever the reason there is significant value to be gained though opening up diagonal channels of communication. Firstly, the opportunity to accelerate more radical enterprise innovations. Radical innovations typically result from the bringing together of inputs across a diversity of sources, like other business units. Formal channels can kill off an innovation opportunity simply through its bureaucratic nature. Secondly, organisational politics can result in mixed messages as communications move up and down a hierarchy. Diagonal communication can open up a more open and active narrative across the organisation, leading to more informed and responsive decision-making. Last but not least, ESNs, by opening up informal diagonal channels of communication, while potentially not undermining the formal channels; allows organisations to get the best of both worlds: Social + Business.

How Can Yammer Match Facebook Performance?

Ever since the Gen Y’s started marching into the workplace with their mobile devices and Facebook accounts, “Enterprise” leaders became paranoid about time wasting on “non-work” activities, often instituting a plethora of policy attempts to ban the use of social networking applications in the workplace. In recent times however the attitude to social networking at work has softened somewhat. The business use of applications like Linkedin and Twitter have actually been encouraged by some forward looking enterprises, with some even providing training in how to improve your Linkedin profile (cynically, this may have been because this organisation was just doing a round of retrenchments!). We have also seen the rise of “Enterprise Social Networking” (ESN) software, which essentially is Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter packaged for enterprise use. Current market forecasts predict a healthy future for ESNs, with the promise of improved collaboration. Microsoft’s Yammer, Jive and IBM Connect currently lead the charge from a host of fast followers. What enterprise does not want to improve their collaboration? So what is the risk?

Here’s where things get a little interesting. We know from past experiences with knowledge management systems that just sharing information is not enough to reap the full rewards from collaboration. We knew about the importance of social interaction for sharing ‘hard to codify’ tacit knowledge 20 years ago, when Nonaka and Takeuchi first framed their SECI (Socialise/Externalise/Combine/Internalise) framework for knowledge sharing.

Knowledge SharingThis has more recently been reinforced with research from Knoco, who found that “connections” are 14 times more effective at sharing knowledge than “collections”.  So with ESNs focused precisely on “connections” one would think that ESNs would indeed have a healthy future. For the large part however, ESNs are struggling with adoption. Hard working Community Managers are having a difficult time engaging their fellow work colleagues into using these platforms for collaborating. While some would previously have argued about functionality, most of the functions have now been “borrowed” from the public social networking platforms, for which adoption rates are still booming. So what is the problem?

Work/Life Balance

 We don’t have to look much further than the broader tension around what we call “Work/Life balance”. At home we can be relatively relaxed about how we might use Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter to share with our friends and connections. There is no-one dictating to us on how, when and where we should be engaging on these platforms. It’s basically our decision on how, what and where we share. Privacy is an issue for all of us, but on the whole, the majority of use have felt the benefits of being able to connect, engage and share far outweighs the privacy risks that are ever present. When we go to work however, there are other people tasked with “guiding us” on how to share and collaborate. We have policies from above that tell us what we can and can’t do. We have ‘confidential’ information that we need to be sure isn’t inadvertently leaked. We have a whole raft of functions in the organisation that have a vested interest in drawing the line on what can and cannot be shared, as far to the conservative end of the scale as possible. If that’s not enough, the majority of organisations today are still slaves to the formal organisational structure. Sharing across formal organisational boundaries, though no doubt encouraged by the senior management, can often be seen as a negative by business unit KPI driven middle management. So what can be done to change this situation?

Why ESNs Underperform

 Why is it that ESN adoption underperforms when compared to their public social networking brethren, despite comparable feature richness? Invariably ESNs have been implemented like any other piece of enterprise software. The senior executive will make the announcement; there will be an official launch with said executives prominent. Community Managers and change agents will be employed to help with the adoption. The IT department will be central to the effort to ensure the platforms stay ‘secure’. Things will go swimmingly for a period post launch, until the cynicism starts to creep in. What is the ROI here? Why are the forums full of trivia or people just complaining? Why haven’t we seen more evidence of collaboration outcomes?

The core of the problem we believe is that we are applying the same “top down management lens” to an ESN implementation as we might have done when we implemented an Enterprise Resource Planning or Customer Relationship Management or Enterprise Document Management System.  These systems are information-centred, not people-centred. They are designed to reinforce the organisation’s designed business processes, whether it be to track a product through the supply chain, capture a customer contact or ensure a record is kept for compliance reasons. Top down management oversight is required and expected to ensure that uniform compliance to these designed “best practices” are adhered to.

Social Networking software is different. Its strength is not in supporting pre-designed collaboration practices. It’s not even substantially about information, though collaboration may occur around information artifacts. Its strength is in engaging people around constructive conversations. Being people-centred, ESNs are designed to facilitate and sustain profitable connections. Management oversight is for the purpose of facilitation, not direction. People volunteer to join ESNs because they personally benefit from doing so; not for their manager’s or even the CEO’s benefit. If the organisation has not enrolled the individual into the mission of the enterprise to an extent where they can be trusted to collaborate appropriately, without oversight, then no amount of management coercion will substitute.

ESN analytics have also fallen into the “top down” management mantra. They track traffic in the same way as one would track a product through their supply chain. They focus on quantity, rather than quality with “number of posts” being given precedence over “number and depth of engagements”. Individuals are left with reports on their individual activity levels rather than the measures that might help them to enhance their network and progress their careers in the organisation. While the Community Manager requires “top down” analytics to help them do their facilitation job, Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin levels of adoption performance will only be achieved if employee-led, not management-led.

Recommendations

To have your Yammer/Jive/IBM Connect performance up there with Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin levels we suggest:

1.  Think like Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin. What do you need to do to encourage the individual to join in? What features would encourage the individual to log in multiple times every day.

2.   Show trust by letting the individual choose and manage their own privacy levels, rather than applying a top down blanket policy.

 3.  Show trust my moving the ‘enterprise risk’ marker from the far ‘conservative’ end to the ‘managed risk’ end of the scale.

 4.  Make it as easy to get to your ESN, especially on mobile devices, as you can get to your Facebook account.

 5.   Move from activity based metrics to engagement metrics. For example, rather than posts, count responses. Look at the density of conversations, rather than the number of them. Help staff connect to people they are looking to connect with (like Linkedin).

 6.   Reward connectors. Look for those people who are connecting across formal organisation boundaries and look to reinforce and reward such behaviour.

 7.   Encourage the development of more ‘campaign based’ groups that are competency, task or innovation driven. Use relationship analytics to predict performance of these result driven groups, thereby addressing the ROI question.

Relationship Mapping and Monitoring with Yammer

Yammer&MicrosoftYammer is a leading social networking platform for use inside organisations. Its recent acquisition by Microsoft is not only good for Yammer, but for the many Microsoft Enterprise clients who have been struggling to ‘connect’ via Sharepoint. What is most exciting for us is that the combination of Microsoft’s Active Directory with Yammer’s conversational platform now provides a real opportunity to implement the ‘Real-time Social Business Dashboard‘ which will enable enterprises to move beyond their current process monitoring to see how people are really collaborating (or not) to meet organisational objectives. 

So what’s wrong with the analytics that Yammer currently provide? Well nothing really, other than the fact that its only using a proportion of the intelligence available from its tracking data. Like most of its competitors, the analytics are what we would call “ego-centric”. In other words they track the activity patterns of individuals and then aggregate the data at team, department, company level to assess the level of engagement (read usage). The knowledge management community learnt a long time ago that activity doesn’t always map to productivity. Setting performance measures against ‘documents submitted’ resulted in lots of poor quality documents being uploaded just before performance appraisal time. But ego-centric measures will still reward this. In the social media space numerous postings in forums or voluminous tweets provide little indication of effectiveness unless they provoke a response. Social network measures focus on the relationship. Relationships are jointly owned. A direct response to a post creates a relationship. A heavy interchange of messages infers a stronger relationship (not necessarily friendly, but still a more established one than  where no interchange has occurred). A ‘like’ is also a connection. Counting ‘likes’ can be good for the ego, but even better when we know who is doing the ‘liking’. 

The Social Business Dashboard has ‘relationships’ at its core. That is not to say that current ego-centric measures would not be included. For example the volume of posts is clearly a useful indicator of activity. However social business is about collaboration. ‘Connected activity’ is what we are looking for, as we know that this form of activity is what leads to high productivity. The key component for a Social Business Dashboard is the Social Network Map. The map makes visible the network connections exposed through Yammer. By analysing the map one can see the flow of knowledge and information across the organisation. Accompanying analytics can identify who your key talents are, not by their CV, but who actually seeks them out for advice. We can identify the level of reliance on key players, the level of cross department collaboration, the areas where there may be bottlenecks impacting on customer service, order to cash cycles, ideas to innovation cycles and/or prospect to client conversions.

We have written previously about how network analytics can predict higher levels of efficiency, effectiveness and innovation, how social business drives ROI and what we are calling Social Analytics 2.0. We think this new relationship between Microsoft and Yammer will pay dividends by bringing ‘Social’ into mainstream enterprises, flagging a maturity in the market that we have long waited for.

Example Yammer Interactive Social Network Map

Below we provide an example Social Network map derived from a Yammer installation. The context was an “open innovation jam” where participants were drawn from across businesses to explore new energy and sustainability ideas and opportunities. ‘Connections’ are drawn from the Yammer discussion forum data. Fictitious organisation names have been added to provide an illustration as to how Active Directory profiling information would be included in the map.

The Optimice Webmapper utility enables one to interactively explore a social network map. The ‘flyout’ menu (use the orange triangle to control) allow you to select what attributes you want to colour (Organisation or Explore-Exploit) and/or filter the nodes by. You can also choose what relationships (Relationship Strength or Time) you want to explore.



The initial scenario shows the ‘Relationship Strength‘ map. The strength is determined by the number of posts made between pairs of participants. The size of the node relates to the number of posts received; a possible indicator of influence. Move the strength slider from left to right to expose only the strongest connections. The red links identify reciprocated postings. We like to think of these as another indicator of relationship strength. You can use the explore-exploit selectors to show only the explorers, or only the exploiter organisations. Clicking on any individual node will expose the network for just that individual. Select ‘Show All‘ to restore the map. If you like you can use the flyout menu to change the filter to ‘Organisation‘. You have to press ‘Update Map‘ anytime you change something on this menu. You can now turn on and off organisations.

Now try and change the ‘Relationship Strength‘ to ‘Time‘ and the ‘Strength Type‘ to ‘Strength >‘. Press ‘Update Map‘ to expose the new map. The map shown is the final state map but move the strength slider from left to right and the map will show how the connections built over time. You can now imagine how a dashboard might show this map evolve in real-time, while allowing analysts to ‘replay the past’ to diagnose impending issues and/or opportunities.

We are currently looking for organisations that have successfully integrated Yammer into their Microsoft Enterprise environment and are interested in pursuing a ‘Social Business Dashboard’ strategy, as described above.

Contact llocklee@optimice.com.au or cai.kjaer@optimice.com.au.