There have been a lot of great summaries of what was discussed at last week’s Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston. But for me, the most interesting topic was one that was not discussed: Culture.
That’s a big change.
Right up until a few months ago, Enterprise 2.0 discourse was dominated by a movement which I like to call the “Culture Crusade.” A collection of practitioners, analysts, consultants, and vendors alike have been saying that changing organizational culture is the key to successful deployment of enterprise social software. “If you don’t have a collaborative culture,” says the crusader, “all the tools in the world won’t help you.” The crusaders cited culture as the reason for failed implementations that led to the familiar phrase, “The tools were great, but we just don’t have the culture.” Consultants exhorted companies to make sure that their social software projects included a cultural change component.
Last week, the Enterprise 2.0 world turned a corner. Nobody pounded the table for cultural change. Nobody talked about incentives or change management. Nobody talked about transparency or modeling collaborative behavior.
Instead, people talked about process.
Eugene Lee focused his keynote on process. Mike Gotta and Marcia O’Conner talked about it in a breakout on microblogging. Rachel Happe, Dennis Howlett, Sameer Patel, and Ted Schaedler talked about it in our sidebar conversations and on blogs. The growing consensus: Social software delivers business value when it integrates with business process.
Process, rather than culture, is increasingly seen as the key enabler of social software in the enterprise. Rather than wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth about how to change organizational culture, we’re looking at how to insert social tools into the existing business process. Conversely, we’re also starting to look at how business processes can be redesigned and optimized now that these social tools are available.
This is the most pragmatic shift in focus since the inception of Enterprise 2.0. It will have huge effects on the pervasiveness of social software in the enterprise, because it shows a clear path to the business value companies can realize from their implementations.
I’ve been arguing for some time that social software achieves widespread adoption only when workers use it in the flow of work. Asking your colleagues to step outside their daily processes and tools to share what they know or network with others won’t get you very far. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) Bringing your colleagues collaborative tools and practices that make their daily processes better, faster, cheaper, and more interesting does work. It’s all about process. Improve the process, you win. Don’t improve the process, you lose.
We are far better at managing process than at managing organizational culture. We know how to study process, how to assess its breakdowns, how to re-engineer it, how to build tools that enable it. The shift to process means that, as they so rarely say in New England, you can get there from here. There’s a way to get to the types of processes and organizations to which we all aspire.
We also now have a workable approach to quantifying social software ROI. Business process, almost by definition, are measurable. Well-run companies know what metrics matter for each business process. They know how to measure those metrics. They understand the downstream effect that changes in their metrics have on the effectiveness of the process, and ultimately on company’s overall business performance. When we integrate social software into business processes, we automatically inherit the tools, frameworks, and benchmarks that have been developed in support of those processes.
For the first time, we can get there from here.