Enterprise 2.0 – why employees shy away from it

While cross-reading ‘Naked Conversations‘ and ‘The Corporate Blogging Book‘, I came across this post, The Pursuit of Busyness, by Associate Professor Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School, and can emphathise with it. He writes about how employees are often shy to embrace Enterprise 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis etc) as well as the new mindset.

Based on what employees have experienced at work, such as observing who gets to move up the ladder faster than the rest, they are understandably concerned with improving the bottomline rather than posting on the corporate blog. This is especially so in profit-driven organisations.

In general, this could also be due to the culture in the workplace. Employees are afraid of being seen as having too little ‘real’ work to do. To quote,

In environments that value ‘busyness’ enterprise 2.0 enthusiasts can be seen as laggards, goof-offs, and people who don’t have either enough to do or enough initiative to find more real work to do.

I think companies that value this appearance of ‘busyness’, and nothing else, are missing out on something. In today’s knowledge economy, knowledge sharing has become increasingly important. It opens up more opportunities for collaborations which will benefit a wider net of customers – who then may also become fans of your products and services.
Moreover, when an employee blogs on a topic that he is knowledgeable on, it shows his authority and enthusiasm on a subject that no press release or advertisement can replicate. (Unless of course, your organisation lacks people who can do this, in which case you should be worried for other reasons!)
However, McAfee notes that even if the leaders of these corporations see the value of Enterprise 2.0, the mindset will take a while to trickle down to employees. It will take some time, especially in large organisations with established cultures, to change things. Having said that, it’s not just the size of the organisation but also the mindset of individuals. You can be in a small firm where everyone has a fixed mindset and is afraid of trying new things.
Yet, the professor points out that Google (incidentally the world’s best place to work in) allocates 20% of engineers’ time to work on projects they’re passionate about. This has resulted in Google News, Google Suggest, AdSense for Content, and Orkut. Not too bad work. Do you think they were goofing off?
The word ‘passion’ caught me. It’s really key here, in Enterprise 2.0. How many of us are really passionate about what we do? If you give time off to employees who aren’t interested in anything the company stands for, then this may just allow them to goof off more, or invent dud projects just to pass the time.
So it does matter that you choose intelligent, enthusiastic employees who are in sync with the company’s mission and vision, before letting them embark on such projects.
From what I know, organisations do value enthusiasm and innovation in employees – but surely this goes beyond giving them awards? If these employees are still the minority in an organisation, they are certainly fighting an uphill battle. A lot of factors may be involved.
For instance, one person could be the only innovative employee in a department of people who’ve been working there for ages and don’t want to change things. Then, it would be difficult to expand his innovative project, unless the employee has the authority to recruit like-minded colleagues from other departments.
If the organisation is very rigid in its hierarchy (hence my earlier reference to corporate culture issues), a low-ranking innovative employee may find it difficult to get more help. Conversely, a powerful employee may pick other people to work with, but they themselves may be uninterested and only put in a token amount of effort because they’re busy with ‘Busyness’ – real work.
Another example: the organisation could highly value a group of enterprising employees, and pile them with even more new projects but without increasing their access to resources. Quality goes down, and their main work gets affected. People start to wonder if it’s worth doing extra work when their appraisal still depends mainly on mainstream projects. They then point their fingers back at Enterprise 2.0 tools and say it isn’t worth it – it’s just extra work for everyone and we don’t make money immediately from it.
To them, opening up a blog or wiki simply means having to reply to more comments and do more editing. It may have improved relationships with a handful of customers – but surely we’d focus our efforts on big numbers – quantity, not quality? That’s how we’ve always done it. Tried and tested.
Even today, despite seeing more CEOs and other high profile corporate executives joining the Enterprise 2.0 platform, we have still a long way to go. The US is certainly leading the way, with Asia (as usual) trailing behind.
In Singapore, a country with many anonymous critics (and some brave ones who do write to the press), you may wonder if anything our top execs or politicians do is right. If a high-profiled person starts to blog, some may be pleased but others may say, “He’s being paid so much… still dare to waste time blogging?” That is exactly the type of ‘Busyness’ that many of us still value. Either way, these top dogs can’t please anyone. But surely it would be nice to hear the thoughts of someone you’d never expect to know intimately, in person?
In fact, it makes me less worried when I read thoughtful blog posts from someone in power. I would never expect someone like George W Bush to write like that. And if he did, I would wonder who wrote it for him. A blog tells me a lot about the way a person thinks, and how he expresses his thoughts. It gives me more insight than a chance meeting or dinner conversation, which is usually full of small talk and niceties. Even 100 years from now, I doubt if historical texts can bring out someone’s personality and thought processes like a blog can. Unless they also use blogs and other social media tools which have collected all experiences with him.
While we work out our own ‘Busyness’ issues, I think that a top Exec can still blog if he wants to, but limit it to once a week at most, so that those shareholders clamouring to see him do more ‘real work’ will not complain so much. Meanwhile, those who like reading the Exec’s blog may know roughly how long to wait for his next post. During this period, the Exec will continue building up more respect within the industry and with his customers.
In the meantime, other employees who are experts in different fields can post more frequently to keep the corporate blog alive. That is a model which may be more feasible and ‘politically correct’.
[You may wonder if this works, but it has for me. I was an avid Dell-hater until their headquarters started responding to my blog and showing me that they listened and offered solutions. Of course, meeting the blog team in person actually made me feel bad for venting all my frustrations on them, because they were such nice, humble guys.]
On the opposite end, some organisations may actually feel obliged to blog when they’re culturally not ready yet. My advice is not to jump onto the bandwagon, because if your blog stinks of propaganda or really boring posts, or starts running out of content, it may actually show your team isn’t ready and you don’t understand your market or the nature of blogging. Hang on until you feel the climate is right. Having a really bad blog is worse than having no blog at all.
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  1. Ryan Lin

    Two groups of people locally. One thinks blogging is a waste of time, and don’t really see the true value and concept behind this whole blogging things.
    Another thinks, blogging is a must (without realizing core value of it), and even force on people to start compulsory blogging – for example local university and schools which pose compulsory blogging on students where all the students treat blogging as a school duty or daily routine that they have to follow to get the points.

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