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9/29/2005
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You Can Lead a Colleague to Water

Imagine a perfect summer day on a placid, clear blue lake surrounded by tall evergreens and banked by even taller mountains reaching to the clouds. From your vantage, you spy someone standing on the smooth wood of the dock, just peering into the water, deciding whether to jump in or walk back toward the cabin.

What would make that person decide to jump in? What would drive him or her to stay in the cabin? These are the kinds of questions I try to answer when introducing new collaborative technologies to colleagues and others.

While I can reasonably predict some of the jumpers a portion of the time based on past experience with them, there is a measure of unknowns who behave unpredictably. The predictable ones usually fall into these categories:

  • The toe-dippers, who will log in, but not participate.
  • The divers who explore every section of the collaborative platform, posting good, useful content along the way.
  • The cabin keepers who never log in, who miss out on the collaborative portion of the project and demand to be kept abreast via email.

In many meetings as well as instant messages, elder colleagues have warned that it may take a generational change before collaborative technologies are adopted en masse at the organization. As the technology evangelist, I want to trim that timeframe as much as possible. But when you compare how long it takes the average user to adopt any new technology, we may be looking at Moore’s Law as it applies to the idea of a generation.

My current challenge with this type of organizational change can be seen in my latest pilot project -- introducing online collaboration environments to the organization’s staff after a three-year pilot program aimed at volunteer and other external constituents. So far, the adoption by the volunteers has been steady, and there has been an increasing trend of selected staff groups using the technology for various projects.

Therefore, it felt like the right time to see how a staff-wide community would fare. I designed the pilot community so that it would not compete with the already existing staff intranet (a push medium that provides resources for staff including important dates for service interruptions, pertinent news for all locations, new classes offered by HR, and the cafeteria menu among many other items).

Next, I populated it with content that I thought would generate a response. The topics included “collaborating across the organization,” “pats on the back” (a kudos area for fellow employees), a “suggestion box” with an entry for a formal mentorship program, and “temperature at your workspace.” So far, only one of the topics has generated a response among the 16 members who have joined (34 were invited in the initial group) – temperature at your workspace.

When in doubt, talk about the weather.

As a result of working with technical professionals who use the communities on a regular basis, I have learned that calls to action generally work. I put that into practice in the staff pilot community by generating a database called “What Do You Do” with form fields for staff to fill out. I had more luck with the database, with 9 staff members participating. Here is my entry:

whatdoyoudo.gif

 

In the coming week, I plan to add fields for personal web sites and/or blogs, in addition to favorite web sites.

While it seems we have mostly toe-dippers in the initial round of the pilot program, I am hopeful that there will be more divers in the next round that starts with another 30 or so invites to other users at the beginning of November.

In the meantime, I will be swimming in the lake of possibilities, inspired by the tall trees and even taller mountains reaching up to the clouds.

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