Organizations have not waited for the arrival of enterprise social networks (ESN) to involve their employees in innovation or knowledge sharing (= knowledge management). But social technologies have completely renewed the game, providing these same approaches with the means to unleash their full potential in terms of collective intelligence.
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The individual at the heart of knowledge management
Managing knowledge can appear puzzling. To be convinced of this, one only has to look at the wealth of tools that have appeared to collect, structure or distribute it: expert systems, document management systems, knowledge bases, specialized knowledge management solutions, forums, wikis…
Enterprise social networks could just be another of these technologies. But above all, it brings a change of perspective: the point of access to knowledge becomes each individual. Thanks to the social functions of networking and conversation, the identification of expertise is made easier. At Devoteam, for example, thematic communities are the means for consultants to discover colleagues working on the same subjects as them. They can thus share their experience, or even redirect them to resources they hadn’t known existed. The ability to respond quickly to client issues is thus strengthened, and the company can identify new experts as they emerge in discussions.
Sharing what’s “non-capitalizable”
Engie Énergie Services takes this dynamic of informal sharing to the extreme. In a classic knowledge-management approach, recognized experts capitalize on the company’s fundamentals. In this context, the social network is the designated field for sharing knowledge that would be difficult to capitalize because it is too specific. Through the conversational spaces, operational staff thus obtain rapid answers to specific and urgent business issues.
The emergence of increased capitalization
On the flip side, when questions arise about carrying out a structured capitalization process, the enterprise social network relies on functions borrowed from preexisting solutions such as document management. But now, documents are no longer disconnected. They remain connected to the discussions they’re shared in or those that propelled their creation, giving access to contextual elements or additional information. And of course, the documents remain connected to the collaborators who shared them—and with whom direct action remains an option.
A gas pedal for promoting best practices
At Eiffage, the social network is connected to a documentary knowledge portal powered by design engineers. The Knowledge Management team relies on this connection to promote any new shared knowledge via theme-based and field-based communities. This encourages both dissemination and the possibility of enriching it with reactions and discussions it might generate.
Also read: Structuring Your First Groups/Communities
New structuring and research capacities
In order to finely structure knowledge, enterprise social networks offer systems of content categorization by keyword. At Capgemini Consulting, these keywords apply both to documents shared by employees and to their profiles. By searching by keyword, access to documents and experts is thus facilitated. It was notably for these categorization and search engine functionalities that Lafarge decided to abandon a document management solution for an enterprise social network. Its Knowledge Management approach made it possible to capitalize on some 3,000 best practices and 12,000 documents—but consulting them had become a real puzzle.
Transparency and interaction for better innovation
Social technologies have helped to better equip participatory innovation approaches. First of all, they’ve brought transparency, allowing them to get rid of the “idea box” syndrome (a black box for the collaborator who does not know what happens to his contribution, which logically hinders his participation).
With participatory innovation solutions, employees can follow the evolution of ideas they’ve proposed, but also see those of their colleagues. They can discuss, enrich, and vote for them, and in the course of the ideation process, community spaces can be set up to explore ideas. Finally, at the end of the process, it will be possible to find out why one idea was selected and another was not, or simply submit the final decision to a vote by the collaborators.
The renewal of participatory innovation
Despite this functional richness—which is conducive to a truly participatory approach to innovation—these innovation management systems nevertheless have one major drawback: they are platforms which remain separate from the day-to-day tools used by employees. This is an inhibiting factor that limits the participation of the greatest number of people.
This is what prompted Axa, for example, to extend its participatory innovation approach to its enterprise social network, opening it up to the group’s 130,000 employees around the world. By abandoning its participatory innovation solution, the insurer acknowledges that it has lost reporting capabilities, but this loss has been largely offset by the gain brought to the approach in terms of participation and interactions. To manage the progress of ideas, a workflow was easily implemented thanks to the labeling system offered by the social network.
An ideation accelerator
At EDF, we chose the social intranet to launch a participative innovation process at the group level. Until then, with each department managing its own strategies, diverse and varied solutions were deployed, from the simple suggestion box to specialized software through the document database. Yet these solutions were disconnected from each other.
Hence forth, each field can open an innovation process up to all the company’s 150,000 employees through the intranet community. However, this audience contribution is not the only benefit. The simple fact of being able to access the process directly from the intranet has facilitated the ideation phase and boosted participation, even for initiatives taking place within a single entity.
Tools that promote a culture of participatory innovation
Launching a group participatory innovation process isn’t necessary to take advantage of all the capabilities your enterprise social network offers.
In one of RATP’s engineering departments, the platform deployed at entity level was used to encourage employees’ desire to innovate. The context was unique. Born out of the consolidation of several units, this department first needed to bring together different cultures and ensure that each employee understood the diversity of technical skills available. The creation of thematic communities for engineers and technicians to share knowledge facilitated this discovery, and at the same time led them to initial collaboration. This was a necessary step, which in turn helped to better involve employees in the community designed to challenge ideas to innovate in a cross-disciplinary and cross-functional way.
In fact, by providing all the tools for innovation, the enterprise social network contributes bringing innovation in the organization’s daily life. It makes it possible to easily equip an ideation process at the company level—as well as the interdepartmental group or even simple team level—in order to solve an immediate operational problem.
Key figure: 56% of companies believe that accelerating innovation is the second major benefit of their enterprise social network (Source: ESN Observatory, 2016).
- Encouraging top managers to react to the information shared by employees helps spread it. At Cap Gemini Consulting, the view rate of a publication is 30% to 40% higher when a manager is involved.
- Broadening the audience for a participative approach by integrating it into the enterprise social network does not exclude its promotion. At Axa France, a network of 25 innovation correspondents and 200 “innovactors”(volunteer employees) relays the approach in the field and facilitates participation.
- In order to appropriate knowledge and help disseminate it, you sometimes need to confirm its reliability. At Lafarge, any good practice shared by an employee must be validated by a business expert
- As part of a group innovation process, each business unit must be able to determine the terms and conditions of participation in its innovation processes. At EDF, this flexibility has made it possible to adapt to the needs and cultural and organizational specificities of the different entities.
- In a participative innovation system, ideas must be processed quickly, otherwise participants will be demotivated. To go fast, EDF involves managers in the process.
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This article is an excerpt from our White Paper “Enterprise Social Networks at The Heart of Collaboration.” It addresses all the issues related to internal communication, knowledge sharing, and collaborative practices and gives concrete ways to better collaborate through corporate social networks. Read it in full (FREE):