Why a social intranet needs to be both voluntary and mandatory

September 10, 2014 by
Why a social intranet needs to be both voluntary and mandatory HEADER

Far from being totally “opt-in” platforms, successful social intranets will integrate both voluntary and mandatory ways of working. Understanding the difference between these two types of behaviour will help intranet managers identify which metrics they should be using, as well as effective interventions to encourage usage.

I would like to hear a joke. Tell me a joke. Right now. Well go on, what are you waiting for?! Make me laugh!

If you’re anything like me, when someone puts you on the spot and asks you to tell them a joke, or a story, or anything spontaneous, your mind will become blissfully void of any creativity. However, if the moment and the environment and the company are right, I can crack delightful witticisms with the best of them. Or, at least I’d like to think so.

How is this relevant to social intranets? Because many organizations will deploy social technology without understanding two very different types of user cases: one that is embedded in process and mandatory ways of working, and another that is triggered by spontaneous, voluntary bursts of inspiration.

I’m going to present two very different user cases that a social intranet can support. They both use the same technology. They’re both from the same fictional organization (let’s call it “Hamadani & Janes Inc.”) and deployed within the same social intranet (let’s call it “Dots”). And yet, they each require very different motivations and types of behaviour from the participants.

User case one: Mandatory use of a project group

The need

Hamadani & Janes Inc. is a highly successful, global corporation (one can but dream). However, its current project management process is inefficient and heavily reliant on email. Globally dispersed teams have difficulty finding the relevant project documents. Creating documentation is an awkward process involving multiple files and emails. Project managers and team members struggle to communicate with each other. And the project management office finds it impossible to see and track all the various projects that are underway.

The solution: Technology

  • The digital workplace team and the project management office work together to implement a new process.
  • They decide that their social intranet, Dots, can support a new, more efficient way of working.
  • A new group will be created for each project team, through which they’ll have access to a blog (for communication and discussion), a wiki (for collaborating on documentation) and file upload (for sharing of and access to project documents).

The solution: Behavioural changes

  • Each project must now use a group on Dots to support its communication and management.
  • Project managers are all given coaching on how to use the technology and how to ensure usage amongst their teams.
  • Project kick-off meetings now include training on how to use the groups as a team.
  • The project management office monitors the groups to ensure they’re being used. If they see a project team is not using their group correctly, they intervene to find out why and address the issue.
  • The project management office also tracks how long certain tasks now take compared to their previous way of working. This helps them determine whether the new solution is effective and where improvements need to be made to the process.

The outcome

  • The whole process of managing and implementing a project becomes more efficient (aside from the joys of stakeholder management, scope creep, budget, etc).
  • Project teams find it easier to have a single place they can go to to see all relevant communications and project documents.
  • As they now also “work out loud” via a wiki, they find they have cut down the amount of time it takes to create and finalize documentation.
  • The project management office also finds it easier to track what’s happening in each project, as there’s a consistent and visible process that is mandatory for all teams to adopt.

User case two: Voluntary use of a strategic agenda group

The need

The CEO of Hamadani & Janes Inc. is working with her team to develop a new strategic agenda for the company. One of the priorities is to increase levels of trust and loyalty amongst her employees. As a way of starting as you mean to go on, she decides she wants to invite the whole organization to take part in the development of the company’s strategy.

The solution: Technology

  • Senior management and the digital workplace team work together to create a solution.
  • They decide that Dots can be used to support a transparent, collaborative discussion across the organization.
  • A new group is set up. Using the same technology as the project groups, there will be a blog (allowing the CEO to share insights, ask questions and give updates), a wiki (for the strategic agenda to be worked on “out loud”) and file upload (for relevant supporting documents).

The solution: Behavioural changes

  • Working with the internal communications department, a campaign is launched letting people know about the new group, its purpose and how they can take part if they so wish.
  • The CEO selects a Community Manager to help her facilitate discussions and to… well, manage the community.
  • The Community Manager works with the digital workplace team to identify a number of advocates across the organization. These will help spread the word about the initiative, as well as actively take part in discussions.

The outcome

  • Over time, a new strategic agenda is created, with the support of a very active community drawn from across the organization.
  • The Community Manager tracks metrics such as number of group members, number and sentiment of comments made, edits to the wiki, and so on.
  • Over the course of the year – and the following years – he also works with HR to track scores of trust in the company’s employee engagement survey, as well as employee retention rates.
  • Although it’s hard to show a direct causal relationship, metrics related to both trust and loyalty appear to be up. In particular, results from surveys show a greater understanding of the company’s strategic agenda and its relevance to people’s jobs. This is an improvement on previous years’ results.
  • The exercise is deemed a success and the group is kept open to share insights and obtain feedback on how well Hamadani & Janes Inc. is sticking to its strategic agenda.

Drawing a distinction between mandatory and voluntary

Why is it important to draw a distinction between mandatory and voluntary usage of a social intranet?

As you can see from the two user cases for Hamadani & Janes Inc., the technology deployed in both solutions was exactly the same. However, the behavioural approaches adopted were very different:

  • For the project management solution, a new process was implemented in order to increase efficiency. This had to be followed by everyone working on a project; there wasn’t a choice. There were clearly defined ways of working and – when someone deviated from the process – there was someone else around to step in and intervene. Consequently, the way in which the desired behaviours were encouraged was very hands-on and deliberate. It was also relatively simple to track whether or not the new process was actually more efficient.
  • Compare this to the strategic agenda group. The ultimate aim was to increase trust and loyalty among employees. Arguably, it is difficult to force people to take part in a discussion that doesn’t fall within the boundaries of their job, without running the risk of creating some resentment. The exercise was therefore based on the concept of “opt-in”, where the participants were self-selecting. In order to encourage the desired behaviours, the digital workplace team aimed to increase the probability of people volunteering to take part in the discussion. When it came to measuring the effectiveness of this approach, it was more difficult to draw a direct relationship between the solution and the outcome, but there did seem to be a correlation.

And this is why it’s important to see how a social intranet can support both mandatory and voluntary behaviour, and work out to what extent your user cases fall into either of these categories. Ultimately, the answers to these question will impact on the ways in which you encourage adoption of the different kinds of behaviour and how you track whether or not your solutions are effective.

Are you seeking mandatory or voluntary behaviour?

  • Make sure your user cases are rooted in firm business requirements.
  • Select the most appropriate social technologies to support the user case.
  • Identify whether the user case means people must adopt a new process as part of their job, or whether the choice is up to them whether or not they participate.
  • Consider adopting a direct “carrot or stick” approach to encourage uptake of mandatory processes, once training has been delivered.
  • To encourage voluntary behaviour, work to create an environment in which people are more likely to participate, through focusing on areas such as senior leadership, advocates, training and communication campaigns.

Related research

Successful social intranets

Creating business value through strategic alignment and adoption planning

Successful Social Intranets - Executive SummaryLack of strategy, spotty adoption, and the absence of a strong business case have been identified as key barriers to successfully deploying social intranets.

This report seeks to provide some clear guidance on both building a social intranet business case and addressing the challenges of adoption.

Download a free executive summary »

See Also

Categorised in: Collaboration

Shimrit Janes

Shimrit is Director of Knowledge for DWG, focused on curating knowledge on the digital workplace for its members and clients such as Adobe, The Coca-Cola Company, and Ubisoft. Shimrit has worked with Paul and DWG colleagues on various initiatives, such as Digital Nations Group, as well as co-hosting the 24-hour global digital experience DWG24. She has had a number of research papers published with DWG on topics such as organizational readiness and collaboration. Shimrit lives in London, where she crochets, enjoys video games and keeps more books than the space allows.

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