Global CIO: How Gen Y Can Kill Collaboration Projects

Are you justifying new collaboration tools just because you think your young, emerging workforce expects it? Geoffrey Moore (of 'Crossing the Chasm' fame) calls that the 'worst possible reason'
We've all heard this rationale for implementing new collaboration tools-- tools such as instant messaging, mobile e-mail, Facebook-for-the-enterprise type tools like SharePoint or Jive, or Twitter-for-the-enterprise tools like Yammer. It's that this is how young people interact in their personal lives, they've grown up with texting and Facebook. So, they'll expect it when they come to work, and so CIOs have to deliver it.

Beware, says Geoffrey Moore, the consultant and author of "Crossing The Chasm" fame. Moore calls this approach a "sop to the millennials." Moore and I talked recently about a new paper he has out, and I thought this a particularly great insight. Understand, Moore's not giving CIOs a flyer to put off implementing new collaboration tools. Rather, it's warning not to do it for the wrong reasons, and in a way doomed to fail.

Here's Moore, on why adding collaboration tools just because millennials expect it is a mistake:

"It's a point of passive aggressive acceptance, which is people say 'I don't like this stuff, but it's coming, so I'm going do it.' And I actually think it's the worst possible reason to do it. A: you're not going to do it very well. And B: you're not going to do it in any focused way, and so you're going to turn it into a sop to the millennials. As a result you're not going to do it very well, so it's just going to be a waste of money. Oh, and by the way, since you do it badly, the millennials will just laugh behind your back. So I think it's a horrible idea to do it just because young people expect it."

Instead, IT needs to forget about placating younger employees, and focus on the most critical moments of engagement in companies. If you're a services company, it's when a person talks with a customer. If you're focused on product development company, maybe it's when an engineer or chemist or designer is stuck, and needs a colleague's help. If you're focused on operations, it might be a key moment along the supply chain.

Companies need to hone collaboration systems to fit those moments. ""You have to design backward from that, rather forward from "Well, if we just gave everyone Facebook, wouldn't they be happier?'" Moore says.

The reason we got to talking about this is Moore's latest big idea is that we're coming up on a huge, second wave of IT investment, this time around collaboration technologies. Companies in the first wave spent a fortune on "systems of record"--ERP, supply chain systems, inventory management, etc. Then, for the last 10 years, they didn't investment a lot in enterprise IT, as companies took a "do more with less attitude" of milking the efficiency from those systems, as well as weathering two doozy recessions.

Now, in this second wave, Moore predicts companies will invest in "systems of engagement." Global competition leads to more specialization, which puts emphasis on expertise and collaboration among those experts along the supply chain. Tools like Microsoft Office Communicator, Cisco telepresence, Salesorce's Chatter point this direction.

I told Moore that it seems like this is already upon us, that I hear lots of CIOs talking about the importance of collaboration, and our data points says they’re spending on it, and putting a high priority on it. Moore says everyone's talking about it, but mostly to make sure they don't have to make a really big collaboration bet yet. "You're not doing this yet, either? No? Good, neither are we," he says. He sees a lot of individual companies doing initiatives, but this idea that we need broadly to upgrade the collaboration fabric, the way companies upgraded core transaction systems in the 1990s, hasn't "crossed the chasm" to widespread acceptance, Moore says.

And that’s how we got to talking about the problem of just trying to mollify Gen Y with new technology.

Moore doesn't say to ignore consumer IT. He absolutely thinks companies need to embrace the best of it, and to apply those communication tools we use so well in private life to make our work lives better. He just says to embrace it for the right reasons--not because the kids made you do it.

You can give younger employees instant messaging on the job, but if IM doesn't make it easier to do their work, if it doesn't fit into the culture of how things get done, they will, as Moore says, laugh at it. Or, maybe make fun of it on Facebook.

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