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Jacob Morgan
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6 Ways To Build Management Support For Collaboration

Winning upper management support for collaboration makes a big difference. If you don't have it, here's how to get it.

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One of the most common questions I get asked at conferences or events is how to get the attention and support of senior managers for collaboration. I should point out that I believe if an executive doesn't support collaboration, then that person shouldn't be an executive. But, back the topic at the hand.

There are certainly situations where no matter how hard midlevel management or employees push collaboration, upper management remains oblivious. All the successful collaboration initiatives that I have either worked on or heard about have had support from senior level management. However, sometimes management needs a wakeup call. This happens more often than it should. In fact, last month I spent a few days at a client's site and this was one of the topics of discussion.

There are a few things organizations can do to get the attention of managers to help move collaboration initiatives forward. Here are some of them.

1. Conduct An Employee-Wide Survey

Conducting surveys which help show issues around collaboration and communication have been effective for getting the attention of management. It's often a reason why clients or prospects reach out to Chess Media Group -- a survey was conducted, management saw it and now wants action taken to correct the issues. It's easy to ignore something or dismiss it until it shows up as direct feedback from your organization.

2. Leverage A Product's Freemium Version

Most vendors today offer a free version of the product, which lacks in a few areas such as administration or security. However, most of the end-user functionality still exists. In order to get the attention of management, I've seen several companies get a large number of employees using the free version to the point where management really starts to pay attention and typically supports the initiative. This is more common with larger organizations, because if thousands of employees start to use something, it becomes a challenge to shut it off suddenly. Essentially, what happens here is employees force management to support the initiative.

[ Understand why use cases matter. Read Collaborative Systems: Easy To Miss The Mark.]

I guarantee that if you show a senior executive at your company an instance of where employees are using a collaboration platform at your company, then he or she will want to find out more. It's a bit like social media, when you show an executive that customers are talking about the company and product online, the typical response from management tends to be something along the lines of "we need to invest in this area." Once management really gets on board, then the discussions start to expand into looking at things such as proper platforms, strategy development and employee training and education.

Jacob Morgan's The Collaboration Organization is a comprehensive strategy guide on how to use emerging collaboration strategies and technologies to solve business problems in the enterprise. It has been endorsed by the former CIO of the USA, CMO of SAP, CMO of Dell, CEO of TELUS, CEO of Unisys and dozens of other business leaders from around the world.

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3. Hold An Executive Workshop

Getting a group of senior level leaders together for a few hours to discuss opportunities and obstacles is another approach that can be quite effective, especially if you allow some time for open discussion and debate. Often, executives don't know what they don't know. Chances are many of them have never even seen a collaboration platform and thus have no idea what it can do or what the value is. Spending even half a day discussing this, looking at some use cases, sharing examples and exploring opportunities, can help get management on your side. If you don't have that much time, then do a lunch & learn.

4. Bring In Leaders From Other Companies To Share Stories

Another effective tactic I have seen is organizations bringing people from other companies to share their stories, experiences, ideas and feedback around collaboration. This makes it even more real for management and they have the opportunity to see and experience what other companies are doing.

5. Show Clear Cases To Management

Management obstacles are often solved with education and training. Being able to put together some solid use cases backed up by research and case studies on other companies also makes for some solid ammunition. As mentioned above, it's always very helpful to show management what a collaboration platform actually looks like and what it does.

6. Purchase Your Own

I've seen this happen several times. Midlevel managers deploy their own collaboration products for their teams, even if nobody at a higher level is going to support them. Anyone can either create a free account or purchase a small license package for their team to get them up and running on pretty much any type of collaboration platform. This has happened at several large organizations where managers of specific departments or units are unable to wait around for the company to make a decision to deploy something; they take matters into their own hands. Typically, senior management does hear about it and may be spurred to start moving more quickly.

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. But these are some of the tactics I have seen organizations successfully use to get the attention of senior level executives.

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User Rank: Apprentice
11/6/2012 | 8:02:36 PM
re: 6 Ways To Build Management Support For Collaboration
The unfortunate and difficult problem is that other programs/topics are doing much of the above to sell themselves as well. Executives remain dubious - and with good reason - as to the actual return on "better collaboration," especially when it's a technology-wrapped, expensive approach (granted, the "freemium" approach as discussed above can help; but in larger enterprises these tend to quickly face scale and feature issues and sudden dead ends occur that can lead to abandonment or isolation/limitation of the free/low cost solution).

I think the issue of "selling collaboration" goes much deeper. One of the best retorts I ever heard regarding "what's the ROI on better collaboration?" is "what's the ROI of a meeting?" But then, that's where this underlying problem arises: many if not most managers have a deep distrust of even meetings, and for the wrong reasons. Yes, meetings are often useless affairs where a few people show off some knowledge, the same one or two people get burdened with work they were eventually going to get burdened with otherwise anyway, and others scamper off happily avoiding "action items" and dreading the "administrivia" accompanying a meeting. But all those excuses that provoke people to say "meetings are bad" are indicative, rather, of a poor ability to collaborate, regardless of technology, which is usually the tip of an iceberg of a conflict-avoidance, engagement-derelict, and/or poltiically challenged environment (along with many, many other behavioral and cultural issues underlying the attitude "meetings are no good").

Without addressing those real issues, "collaboration projects" are, at best, window dressing for some nice sharing tools a few people might use well and most will use at least for essential corporate needs (record-keeping, etc.), and, at worst, utter wastes of time.
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