Selling #e20 to executives – reflection on an @MITsloan interview w @amcafee #socbiz #enterprise20 #socialbusiness

In MIT's Sloan Management Review David Kiron recently conducted an interview with the author of 'Enterprise 2.0 – The Dawn on Emergent Collaboration' Andrew McAfee [see, accessed March 10 2012]. Even though McAfee probably counts as one of THE thought leaders in the field and I agree with most of his thinking I dare to challenge some of his statements 🙂

Enterprise 2.0 aka Social Business?

In the interview McAfee says: 'I have always tried hard not to use the term “social, ” not because it's inaccurate, but because it has primarily negative connotations, especially for a really hard-headed, pragmatic manager in a business, decision maker in a business, who just wants to get more stuff done. When that person hears “social,” he thinks of happy hours after work and the corporate softball league. I thought the word “social” would be not just neutral, but actually a bad way to do that.' [MIT Sloan Management Review, 2012]

Approaching the subject that way is actually like denying an essential factor of the concept. Enterprise 2.0 and all its techniques of connecting, sharing and enriching information requires a different mindset in an organization. Maintaining strictly hierarchical thinking and acting as well as old fashioned processes will more or less suffocate the approach straight from the start. 

In order to really adopt the philosophy of enterprise 2.0 companies have to accept that the social/2.0 web is driven by people and so will be the respective corporate version of 2.0. People's actions, contribution and even more importantly add value are in the center of the concept. Facebook and Twitter were only able to grow their user base because people found an answer to 'what's in for me?' in the services these dull IT platforms offer – never forget: in the beginning they were (and to some extend they still are) solely functional IT services without any substantial content provided to the users.

From my point of view 'social business' puts the people/users in the center of all thinking. It's essential that they are a) enabled and motivated to take responsibility beyond their specified job role and individual targets and b) able to find their personal value in making use of 2.0 services and functionality and the workplace. It incorporates the fact that parallel to rolling out the tools an organization has to undergo a change in leadership style and attitude towards employee and talent management. One might even argue that they have to become more 'social' to really unleash the power of enterprise 2.0.

At the end of the day it is the foundation to achieve what McAfee is asking for in a later statement: '[…] the basic point of the 2.0 era is that we can get out of the business of predefining and controlling those information flows. We get out of the business of de-fining who is entitled to generate information, who's entitled to share it with whom, who is entitled to talk on different subjects.' [MIT Sloan Management Review, 2012]

Are the Digital Natives a key driver to change the digital workplace?

'[…] the other one that's big is that all the executives that I talk to are aware that their kids are working very differently than they are. Their kids are part of the Facebook generation. They're tweeting, they're texting, they're using these tools. And when these kids turn into the brand-new hires entering the workforce, there is a demographic change taking place. The millennials have some very different ideas about how they want to do their work, what tools will be helpful to them, what kind of constraints or limitations are and aren't acceptable.' [McAfee, Andrew in MIT Sloan Management Review, 2012]

Just recently I had a conversation with a representative of the Millenials or Digital Natives (@derjonathan, co-founder of the initiative) who's frequently invited to speak about the subject at conferences and panels. As per him the DN's expectations towards employers go much more in the direction of how they are led and how much flexibility they are offered at work. It's less about technology – of course they don't expect ancient DOS based services – than it is about being led by results and performance rather than by presence and amount of time spent on the way to the final outcome.

The real challenge however, lies within building the bridge between the upcoming generations and the current talent at work. Looking at the generation after the Digital Natives it's pretty likely that 'post-email-generation' will be an accurate description for them. Enabling that generation to collaborate (rather than just cooperate) with the Outlook-trained workers is more than just to launch a corporate Facebook. It's about creating a common denominator across multiple generations to enable communication, collaboration and information exchange.


I agree with Andrew McAfee that the new generations and their expectations towards a more social and consumerized experience towards business IT are a driver for change. But I would refrain from using them as the key motivator and benchmark for services that are created for the digital workspace if we don't want to suddenly disconnect the current workforce from productivity and joy at work.

Enterprise 2.0 has to be the glue between everything and everyone.

In my conversations with employees and executives I've stumbled across an interesting finding. Whenever 2.0 style tools where introduced only a certain share of employees actually did what McAfee describes in the article:'[…] But these people were manifesting not only an ability, but a willingness to share their knowledge and be helpful to colleagues. Some combination of the peer recognition and being on top of the leader board, that kind of status, was so valuable to them that they were doing stuff that was exactly outside their job description. […]' [MIT Sloan Management Review, 2012]

At some point I realized that the key to broad adoption and substantial value creation actually lies within the use of social media inspired techniques for information enrichment, distribution and communication as part of the actual work. The majority of employees still focusses on their personal goals, which are still mainly based more on individual than on collaborative performance. The real effects of
– utilizing existing knowledge
– seeking for help in a larger network (aka crowd sourcing)
– actively contributing to the corporate DNA and thereby future effectiveness
– etc.
will only be visible (and measurable) if services at the digital workplace will make this part of the usual work. It shouldn't be something that they have to do on top of their work. It should be side effects and pro-active support that employees get from their digital environment. Like is recommending books that probably fit the user's profile based on past purchases and a comparison to similar users a digital workplace could for example present relevant information and people profiles to new employees in order to speed up on-boarding processes and save time.

More detail on this approach in one of my previous posts:

Enterprise 2.0 is about fundamental change in business and business IT. 

I truly believe that the introduction of technology and techniques that are inspired by commercial and social media will be a revolution to information and knowledge work. Not just from a digital workplace perspective but even more from a leadership and work culture point of view. Hierarchies will become less dominant – without totally fading away. Information work will become less dependent on time and place as long as the individual role (as in presence being key to the results) allows mobility and remote contribution to teams and results. Rather sooner than later companies will become more social with their digital workplace services and the soft factors that create the environment people work in.

And I am looking forward to that change…and I will strengthen all efforts to be a driver of it.

Published by Philipp

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