Monday, July 9, 2012

Q&A with Jacob Morgan, author of The Collaborative Organization






In his newly released book "The Collaborative Organization", Jacob Morgan shares his insights as well as real-world examples how concepts and technologies for emergent collaboration can be used by organizations to solve concrete business problems and to find new ways to create value together as an organization. It is probably the first book on the subject of Enterprise 2.0 / Social Collaboration that has been written by a digital native. I find it interesting how Jacob goes straight to the business problems that the new technologies can help to solve without paying too much attention to either the hype around social media or the common myths and misconceptions related to their potential use (or misuse) in a business context. 

Jacob gave me the opportunity to make a small contribution to his book, ending chapter 2 "The First Step to Recovery Is Admitting You Have a Problem". To give you an idea of what the book is about, I asked Jacob a few questions related to subjects and issues covered in his book. Enjoy! 


What made you write the book?

It’s interesting, I was asked this question by a few people and it really comes down to two things.

The first is that I believe collaboration can make the world a better place. When organizations invest in collaboration tools and strategies it not only positively impacts the lives of employees at work but also outside of work.  Employees will have more flexible work environment’s, be less stressed out about work, will get into less arguments with their spouses, and will feel more passionate and engaged about the work they do. This is a very powerful thing and is in my opinion the first time where organizations have the opportunity to invest in enterprise software and strategies that have such a profound and widespread positive impact. We spend a lot of time focusing on how we can make our employees more productive at work but this goes beyond that, this extends to positively impacting lives, and that’s far more meaningful.

The notion of collaboration making the world a better place isn’t really enough for executives, so in order to turn that idea into an action it needed to be supported by clear business value and a strategy, that is what the book does.

The second is that business leaders and executives today have a lot of questions around collaboration which aren’t being addressed and there are lots of topics which aren’t being touched. Issues such as how to evaluate and mitigate risk, where to get started with everything (imagine a large company with 200k employees, where do they begin?), how should vendors be evaluated and selected, how should these initiatives be marketed internally, how should teams be structured and governance applied and many others.

I consistently received emails and phone calls from people who were looking for resources around these things and none existed, so I decided to fill a major gap by writing this book and covering many of the issues and questions which leaders and executives need to know about but that nobody is addressing. The book is filled with plenty of examples, models, and data which should prove to be quite valuable.

Which are the most concrete steps an organization can take in order to support emergent collaboration?

I’m never a fan of a prescriptive approach to collaboration since it’s hard to provide the concrete steps across the board.  However, I do think that there are 12 principles of collaboration which can be applied to virtually every organization.

  1. Individual benefit is just as important as the overall corporate benefit (if not more important)
  2. Strategy before technology
  3. Listen to the voice of the employee
  4. Learn to get out of the way
  5. Lead by example
  6. Integrate into the flow of work
  7. Create a supportive environment
  8. Measure what matters
  9. Persistence
  10. Adapt and evolve
  11. Employee collaboration also benefits the customer
  12. Collaboration can make the world a better place

These are expanded upon further in a recent article I wrote called The 12 Principles of Collaboration.

How do you suggest that we should address the ever so common situation where there is no clear ownership of collaboration practices and/or tools, or where there is no enterprise-wide strategy and common governance of collaboration efforts? Do you see any changes coming and if so what kind of changes?

Fortunately I think organizations have gotten much better in this area.  Collaboration practices from many companies I am speaking with are typically being owned by established teams that comprise various employees and existing roles.  These initiatives though are being led by anyone ranging from the CEO to someone in internal communications or HR.  Although the teams are being formed and I am seeing a bit more structure around ownership, the challenge for many of these companies is that they don’t know what questions to ask and are oftentimes unsure of how to move forward.  This is why it was so important to write this book, to be able to guide people on what to do and how to do it.

Although I believe organizations have gotten better in this area I can’t say that this applies to the majority of companies as I still come across plenty of examples where there is no ownership and no team; in these situations the organization knows that something needs to be done to formalize a collaboration initiative but again doesn’t know where to start or how to do it.

I think there are a few key things I’m starting to see more of:

  • More receptiveness among senior managers (but we still need to see more C-level executive involvement)
  • Teams being formed around collaboration to help move things forward
  • A gradual shift in mindset that strategy comes before technology (although this is still far from the majority of companies, but I believe it’s getting a bit better)
  • Involvement of business, technical, and legal/compliance teams who are trying to figure out ways to work together to make collaboration work.

Although organizations still have a lot to figure out I think it’s encouraging that at least some of the crucial questions are being asked and topics being discussed. We need more of this!

What advice would you give to organizations that start looking at emergent collaboration from the wrong end - they have already bought a collaboration platform before they even started to investigate needs and identify use cases?

I really wish this didn’t happen as open as it does but the reality is that many companies tend to go with a technology platform first before doing anything else.  I can’t blame them entirely for doing this either because there aren’t enough resources, guidance, and direction for these companies to follow.  Some of them are so eager to get started that they jump into things immediately but it’s hard to exercise patience.  It’s like putting a giant piece of chocolate in front of someone and saying that they can only have a very tiny sliver every week. It’s a bit ironic because all of these companies have some very smart people working there!  Oftentimes they go with a vendor because they already have a relationship with them for example this is a phrase I hear quite often, “we’re a Microsoft shop so we went with SharePoint.”  Relationships typically mean heavy discounts in the short term which is really a dangerous approach to go down.

You’re not going to buy a car just because it’s cheap and you know the guy selling it. You need to buy a car that makes sense for you whether it’s a sports care or a family car.

For organizations that are already in this boat there are really only two options. Make it work or deploy something else. I can’t say which is better without having a lot more information about the company, for example if a company hasn’t done much to support a collaboration initiative then it might not be the fault of the technology. However, if a technology was deployed that turned out to not meet the needs and the requirements, well then you’re going to have to move on and go with something that does.  The costs in this situation may be high which is why it is so important to figure these things out at the beginning of the process and not in the middle.  I know plenty of massive companies that are now trying to switch vendors or coble together some sort of integration which is costing a lot of time and money.

Many organizations seem to be at an explorer stage with no real committed strategy that is connected with business goals and strategy. Do you agree? If so, why do you think it is so and when do you expect this to change?

I’ve thought about this for a bit and what I find interesting is that I have yet to speak with a large company that hasn’t deployed something. Every single large company that I have spoken with or worked with has always had at least a SharePoint deployment or some sort of other platform/tool deployment.

I think it’s certainly fitting to say that most companies are in one of the first three maturity model phases (Unaware, Exploratory, or Defined) but you are probably correct in that most companies are still exploring and trying to figure what all of this means and what they need to do next. It’s just funny that many of the companies have tools deployed before even having these basic questions addressed!

I believe that a big part of this is because companies don’t know what they don’t know.  We don’t have enough resources and strategy guides to help push the conversation forward.  If you want to learn about virtually anything you find can a book or a tutorial, but there isn’t much out there in terms of emergent collaboration strategy.  Furthermore many of the people leading these initiatives are existing employees that simply transferred roles.  In this case their background, knowledge, and expertise might not be a good fit to lead collaboration, especially if their previous roles are not that relevant (which happens quite a bit actually).  The way to keep moving forward and leaning is by doing and educating.

Many of the vendors out there are doing a good job in terms of promoting the concepts, tools, and ideas so that is certainly helpful as well since these guys have a lot of reach.

I think the next 1-3 years are going to be a very interesting time for the world of collaboration.

About Jacob Morgan

Jacob is the principal of Chess Media Group, a management consulting and strategic advisory firm on collaboration.  Jacob is also the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Collaborative Organization, which is the first comprehensive strategy guide to emergent workplace collaboration.  The book has been endorsed by leaders such as the former CIO of the USA, CIO of ManpowerGroup, CEO of Unisys, CMO of SAP, CMO of Dell, and dozens of others.  He blogs at Social Business Advisor can be found on Twitter @JacobM.

The book is also available for purchase in Sweden via Bokus.com.