Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 - A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing?



Some people seem put their hopes on new technologies to bring about “real” change (by that I mean changed practices and behaviors, and even values) in their organizations. Once the technologies are there, change will happen more or less automatically, in a viral way. Just give people a platform, and this great new technology will make magic. By using the technology, people will become more open, more transparent, more willing to share, more trusting, more willing to let "outsiders" participate in their work and discussions. The change will be deep and broad, not just isolated to subcultures within the organization. The change is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Under the nice clean palette colored surface of the new and shiny software lures a much greater change than the eye can see, one that will impact and fundamentally change the thinking and acting of the entire organization.

Yeah right…Get real!

With such a “technarian” approach many Enterprise 2.0 initiatives will turn out to be nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing. They will lack sharp enough teeth to make the change go deep and really stick into the body and mind of the organizations. The initiatives that will succeed - despite the technarian approach - are the ones which are happening in organizations where the existing culture is based on principles such as openness, transparency, trust and participation. These organizations have probably already embraced social technologies and practices.

Here is my two cents.

If change is not sparked and embraced by a critical mass of grassroots and informal leaders in the workforce, then change will not come. If management does not allow the sparks to turn into fire and bring some fuel to keep it burning, then change will not spread and stick.  Social tools and platforms will just end up in the pile of old collaborative technologies which never "worked" because they didn't deliver to their promises (because they didn't make people change the way intended to).

Update: as Martin King wrote in a comment to this post it "can be even worse - without behavioural changes the technology is used to exert and reinforce existing practice e.g. command and control."