This is part 8 of a 12-part series on tips for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) at your business. Links to the previous 7 tips are at the bottom of this post.
Tip #8 is an extremely important one if your ESN is to really make a difference in how your company gets work done. Here’s the tip:
Integrate your ESN where people do their work.
There are two aspects of this integration to consider – (1) integration into the software and tools people use daily in their work, and (2) integration into the processes by which that work occurs. First, let’s consider integration into other software and tools.
It’s likely that most workers in businesses prior to the launch of an ESN have established places online where work happens – software applications, email inboxes, intranet resources and more that they switch between during the course of the day to perform their various tasks. If an ESN is introduced as a completely separate destination which they must go to outside the workflow to which they are accustomed, then there is likely little motivation – much less need – to go there. If I can still accomplish everything that is expected of me at a level of proficiency acceptable to my manager and myself without using the ESN, then why should I bother unless there are other non-work advantages to going to that destination?
If an ESN is being sold, for example, on its merits of improving communication or simplifying processes, then it needs to be readily available where I’m doing my work and not something that takes me away from my primary applications in order to use it effectively. That is why it’s vital to integrate the ESN into places like the intranet landing page that users see multiple times daily, or into those internal sites where teams store documents and manage lists throughout the day (such as SharePoint), or embedded into other specific applications where ESN communication can serve a purpose like user assistance or approval processes, or even integrated into the long list of email inbox folders for those still holding on to the inbox and the way of managing their work.
At my company, we currently have over 200 integrations of our ESN into other sites and tools where people do their work. It is deeply embedded into our intranet landing page – a giant leap forward in ESN exposure which doubled the rate of growth that existed prior to that integration. Every article on the intranet has a corresponding discussion thread in the ESN along with icons to like or comment on the article from the intranet home page. A recent question by our CEO in one of those articles resulted in over 100 comments in the corresponding ESN discussion within a day. The link to the ESN main application is the very first work-related site link on the Intranet home menu. In addition, we have over 200 SharePoint sites that have embedded discussion streams from the ESN, mostly tied to particular interest groups created on the ESN, although sometimes based on hashtags used or the posts of specific people. We have two other major web-based internal applications used by thousands that embed the relevant user group ESN stream into those products so that users can ask their questions and get live assistance directly from within those applications. Anyone who wishes to have their ESN groups and streams embedded into their email inbox folders can also open a help desk ticket and get that added (although I don’t push that since I think we’re too email dominated in our environment as it is).
The point is that you don’t want use of the ESN to be available only as another destination, although many companies (mine included) will still see the bulk of their activity from those separate ESN web apps. So the first and a very important aspect of integration which must be planned and continuously executed and improved upon is embedding those discussions into where people are already doing their work daily.
The second aspect of integration has to do with processes. This is where we change our ways of working to intentionally use the ESN in processes in place of previous ways of doing things. For example, instead of those ungodly reply-all email chains that clog up inboxes, are hard to find when you need them, and waste the time of so many who don’t need to be on the recipient list, why not post the question or discussion topic on the ESN? That way you can share the discussion link with stakeholders so they can participate in the discussion if they wish, and then you have at most one email that goes out – none if you do the notification solely via the ESN. Those who want to participate in the discussion can do so without clogging up the inbox of others not interested.
For another example, consider the various approval processes that occur with different work tasks. How complicated do those tend to be? How many tools are involved? How many emails are involved? Why not have a simple discussion in an ESN – private if it must be – where stakeholders can easily discuss and document their approval without unnecessarily complex, time-consuming sequences taking place elsewhere?
Of course, ESNs are a natural for leaders who are progressive, open, transparent, and who want to lead their people to be aligned around a common purpose, values and strategy, engaging in two-way conversation regularly with employees at all levels of the organization. You can’t do that reasonably via email or top-down, controlled communications. You can only accomplish that in live, in-person settings or the online equivalent of those via ESNs, virtual town halls, etc. Leaders who make good use of an ESN to change the tone and process of communication will have a strong, lasting impact on the satisfaction of employees and their consequent success together as a team.
If you have not yet invested in an ESN solution with a vendor, then make sure any solution you consider provides flexible ways of being integrated into many other kinds of applications where people do their work. It will be critical for adoption and for making the ESN pervasive throughout the organization. Always keep working to find more places, more business areas, more tools and applications where the ESN can be embedded so that its use becomes an expected, normal part of daily work life.
In terms of processes, keep your eye out for opportunities to improve the way work happens by changing archaic, complex, confusing, time-consuming processes into simpler discussions that happen in one easily accessed place via the ESN. Don’t just tack on the ESN to existing ways of working. Take advantage of its functionality to replace and improve the way work happens.
Unlike some of the other tips in this series, tip #8 is one you will continuously need to have in mind and work toward. You will never completely arrive and be done with this process. There will always be room for improvement, but being the advocate and change agent around this effort at integration will leave a significant mark on the organization as work is accomplished by people throughout the company more efficiently and effectively.
Tip #8 is Integrate your ESN where people do their work.
See the following posts for previous tips in this series:
- Intro and Tip #1 – Hire a full-time community manager from the start.
- Tip #2 – Commit to it.
- Tip #3 – Get executive buy-in and participation.
- Tip #4 – Have rules, but don’t overdo it.
- Tip #5 – Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.
- Tip #6 – Avoid Big Launch Syndrome.
- Tip #7 – Encourage business and non-business content.