An organization revolves around, with a world of its own. Ideas, information and communication connect every dot irrespective of levels, position and designation. As the social phase is emerging, an internal social sphere is evolving at the speed of light. The tacit and implicit knowledge in the firm is best registered, when shared through natural environment. Internal newsletters, idea platforms, forum, and other initiatives can be taken in this direction. However, what would remain missing is the natural circumstance. This calls for a ‘wiki’ or a ‘social sphere’ within the company. Web 4.0 calls for integration which takes the sharing meaningfully a step ahead. A video lecture which was earlier shared as a content on YouTube, might now require video pulping, which shares a PPT format of what is being discussed in the video at that point of time. Here’s a question raised by our member on CiteHR.
“We need to start a forum like CiteHR for our employees, how do we proceed? Please suggest. We are a software firm providing products and services for educational and learning support. We are partners with different industry leaders, in our value chain.”
Here the ‘need’, which stands identified as discussed in the question. The firm needs a platform for every employee to raise a question and reply.The gaps due to such an internal knowledge sharing can be detrimental to the organization. Knowledge transfer takes time when resources are not initiated through such programs. It reminds me of a merger of two large MNCs. I remember how difficult it was for the CIO’s team to connect with every process owner to map the processes. The information may not always be with the leader or a manager. Often certain decisions are taken by the employee delivering the job. It may not have any cost implications but it will create a difference in the process flow. The CIO’s team drilled down to the grass root level to map it. If there was an internal social sphere with communities for discussions and repositories, exchange of information, would have become smoother and effective.
Collaboration sounds magical. However, it often gets hard to drive as an organizational initiative. Especially, when the employees connect and fail to find their benefit in it. A promise of visibility wouldn’t hold good, if this visibility doesn’t bring the employees, the result they were looking for. The challenge, then lies in not just building the communities, but in continuing them. There are several books, articles and blogs dedicated on how to make them work. Here we take a look at the structures mentioned and understand the human reasons as to why they fail. Most importantly, make an effort to find a way out.
Gary P.Pisano and Robert Verganti shared the following model explaining, how to choose the best mode of collaboration?” * They defined the communities as shown below:
Here, for this organization which offers software products for educational support, the community needs to be formed covering all the four areas. The in-house developers would form an elite circle to discuss the product with the experts within the company. When the client, educators and the end-users are allowed to communicate with their feedback and ideas, it would be an innovation mall. If this community is left open for anyone from the industry to contribute, it will become an Innovation community. When this organization would invite other firms in that value chain, such as Microsoft or any other firm from a similar domain, they would form a consortium based community. The allocation of PR and moderators needs to be designated, respectively. An elite group would be hierarchical, hence may have moderators. PR’s involvement would be required, in the Innovation Community. Expert’s replies and scientific responses would be required at Innovation mall. The Elite group and Consortium will require professional bloggers with a higher level of knowledge, to create takeaway for the members. The server space needs to be allocated accordingly. The consortium and elite groups being closed will require lesser space than the innovation community and mall.
Technical: Identify the best solution which can be easily integrated with your existing platform. It’s best to decide on a domain which would suit the evolving structure of the community. Cloud-computing meets the demand, depending on the budget and the requirement for most of the companies. A Linux-based open source platform, will allow adding of applications without making any changes to the existing code. Products such as Qontext, offers a complete solution. Ning and Dolphin are examples of applications that allow the highest degree of customization. SharePoint has a high enterprise-level penetration. It allows a seamless collaboration through document sharing. If required, consult the technology experts from the field to find the right fit.
Financial: Plan the budget with ROI deferred over a much longer period. Communities need time to grow vibrant. Hence a window of 18 months to three years should be aimed to pool in the knowledge. Allocate your costs from designing, building to server maintenance and finally knowledge management. Allocate the budget for upgrading the software and server at a fixed interval.
Legal: Set guidelines as per the legal requirement. Make the rules and regulations applicable to the community, available to every employee. There should be an ambiguity with the limitations. Write rules to evade any IPR and other Copy Right violations. Define the limits that would allow the wider world to have an access to the community. Connecting with ex-employees can be aimed through this, to bring back the intellectual knowledge to the company. However, understand that they are working for other employers, hence would have their professional obligations to the industry. A product which is being designed for market supremacy cannot be discussed in the innovation mall. It may require being limited to the elite circle.
Management: Please consider the following areas to manage the community;
- Chalk out a list of areas that you would wish to address with this. Make it precise such as sharing knowledge about the work flows or customer complaints discussions. This will help you to form divisions and categories.
- If your priorities are broad, such as sharing information and knowledge management. Please ensure you have enough sign posting to support that. Generally a broad vision gets drawn out of proportion. Such as, if you have identified growth of customer as one of the aims to achieve through your community, drill down to specific areas that you would wish to open for discussion. Areas such as identifying the cluster of clients, what is their requirement and what appeals to them.
- The core motivation in hosting an internal community is to create a platform. It answers the incredible urge to reach out. This calls for monitoring. Set guidelines for sharing and rules to abide.
- It would be an in-house community, hence be prepared to see the same silos that exist in the real world, presented virtually.
- Involving the top leaders with an openness to include everyone would be a broad strategy. Divide your employees in groups and allocate responsibilities accordingly. Identify contributors, editors and readers, with their level of engagement and knowledge.
- Find the enthusiasts, among your employees who are the first few to see a value in this. Identify experts and make them accountable for the replies to the queries, but leave a room for others to respond. Appreciate when someone who is not an expert gives a well structured and a professional reply. You would be building up a greater support team through them.
- Watch out for the cost as you begin this project. It’s easy to invest in this, but the ROI would require time. Please plan the growth in phases, so that it can keep a check on the expenses and change directions when required.
- Avoid making this a management initiative. Employees should not see this as another corporate initiative, which is being pushed down their neck. If you are hiring authors or community managers, make sure they are deeply rooted to the employee base. Lest, it would end up being another corporate event.
- This open forum will bring visibility, hence everyone would join in with different aspirations and agenda. In case this community fails to render such demands, the enthusiasm will soon start to wane.
- There will be ebb and crest in the traffic and zest for sharing, be prepared for it.
- Manage the content during ebbs by introducing industry leaders through interviews. A community offers higher probability to interact with such leaders. Invite leaders such as Gautam Ghosh, acknowledged for their blogging and community building through online knowledge management. Invite leaders from the industry to which the organization belongs, even start-up at times. This will give fresh ideas to the forum.
- Implement definite anti-spamming measures. Nothing disinterests the members more than spamming.
- Employees may tend to view this as the company’s gain and offer no benefit to them. Please address precisely how sharing can build their understanding and professional excellency.
- Connect not just to the the existing employees but ex-employees as well. Generally, when people work together, they tend to maintain a professional secrecy. However, when they change their jobs, such tactic no longer exists. Consequently, they wouldn’t mind sharing information.
- If ranking and points are allocated, remember it would generate an interest initially and soon boil down to a hygiene factor. Decide on the judicial distributions of the cookie’s points that can be valued perpetually.
- Define the success metrics, but remain relevant. A meteoric increase in the number of members might be an initial aim, later it should be the vibrancy and increasing value in the takeaways. Analytics and statistics should build on the initial vision. Avoid being limited by the market factors.
- Keep an eye to renew the repositories at a regular interval. Certain articles added might require an upgrade, hence release the latest version.
- Most importantly, please align the organizational environment with the initiative. I know an MNC, which required employees to work in continuous shifts and barely allowed anyone any leaves. This company made a huge investment for internal social sphere. Managers were given targets to blog and ensure participation by the team members. It was odd, as the employees had no time, yet were forced to use the device. This brought in a lot of dissatisfaction. Much to everyone’s dismay, few even blogged about the animosity from their leaders, which they were facing. Guard against such environment and ensure complete alignment with the prevailing conditions. Watch out for the time of organization change. It is evident, employees would vent through every possible means. Detect your best practices to respond to such venting and not react to them.
- Prepare a team that can handle the PR disasters. Opening up a platform will call for a lot of feed back. Involving professionals within the company, who are capable of managing it, is the best way out.
A robust system that can identify the changing requirements for the community will mark its success. There are many benefits to be reaped, hence justify it with a balanced effort.
*Which kind of collaboration is right for you , by Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti, HBR , Dec 2008