Andrew Carusone of Lowe's Home Improvement thinks the focus on adoption is wrong on a couple of levels. "The goal of social business is performance, not adoption," said Carusone, the director of Lowe's integrated workforce experience and community governance.
Technology adoption is part of the strategy, but so is change management and embracing new ways of working. Overlooking the human part of the equation can be a critical mistake. The success metrics to focus on include higher employee engagement, retention, better knowledge exchange, better employee on-boarding, higher levels of employee understanding, and the ability to better solve complex, non-repeatable problems, Carusone said.
Rather than focusing on the adoption of any particular technology, you ought to be looking at whether whatever you are promoting translates into a real difference for your company's business, he said. If the goal is to make employees more efficient and effective, you ought to be looking at what work they can stop doing, now that they're doing social business. If the actual result is that you're making them spend twice as much time on communication and coordination, now that they have twice as many ways to do it, what have you accomplished?
"Before we ask, what's your adoption strategy, I say, first tell me what's your unadoption strategy," Carusone said.
[ Missing any on this list? 5 Social Skills IT Pros Must Have. ]
I'm mixing quotes from Carusone's presentation at June's Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, a follow-up phone conversation I had with him this month, and some subsequent emails. I was intrigued by his notion that unadoption is one of the keys to success, an idea he raised during our BrainYard discussion session at Enterprise 2.0. Lowe's is one of the big reference customers for IBM Connections, one of the leading enterprise social networking platforms.
Carusone was less interested in talking about how his company has used the technology than about what he believes are the elements of success for any such strategy. He believes part of his role is to combat the "technology installation mindset" of believing that software alone can deliver results.
"The companies, the enterprises that tend to do the best see it as being as much about change management strategy. What's fundamental about Enterprise 2.0 is that it's about changing the way employees work," Carusone said.
Unadoption is often framed in terms of reducing the amount of email we exchange, since communicating on an enterprise social network is supposed to be better in every way. Right? Not quite, Carusone said.
Although he sees group email lists as a ripe target for elimination, email itself is not the enemy of collaboration. "We should go back to using email for what it was designed for, which is single point-to-point messaging," he said. The misuse of email, as if it were a collaboration environment, is the real problem, he said.
Enterprise social networking is superior for certain types of communication, where a message can be widely shared and a question can be answered once rather than over and over again. That's perfect for some things, like asking and answering technical support questions, and completely inappropriate for others, like private communication about a medical issue between an employee and the benefits coordinator in human resources. So email still has a place.
Just as it's important for people to understand when it's better to deliver a message over the phone or in person rather than email, they need to learn the types of communications that are best served by social technology. What we'd like to get people to unadopt are unproductive behaviors, like blasting out an email to a distribution list and spawning a mess of reply-to-all messages. We'd like them to unadopt the habit of hoarding information by demonstrating the recognition they can get from sharing.
As for demonstrating the value of social collaboration to company leaders, showing great adoption numbers isn't the way to get that done. What do they care that you've got more people blogging, tagging, and commenting? Finding the right way to impress those people is about as hard as "playing poker with someone who has got the cards facing the other way," he said. "Ask them what's on their quarterly review or on their annual review." In other words, find out what numbers they have to move to impress their boss, or their board, or the shareholders. Find out what you can do to contribute toward that goal.
While you're at it, think about the distractions you can eliminate to make way for progress. What will you unadopt?
Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)