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Tackling Internal Constraints When Adopting an ESN

Organizations are adopting Enterprise Social Networks at an escalating rate. The global ESN market is projected to hit $4.8 billion by 2020, and the benefits driving this boom are clear. McKinsey found organizations that adopted an ESN produced 31% faster innovation, 15% greater productivity, and 10% revenue growth. ESNs achieve these benefits by breaking knowledge silos, increasing engagement & collaborative decision-making, and connecting global teams through increased communication and easily-accessible archived knowledge.

However, your organization can only reap these benefits if your people actually use the ESN you adopt. And, unfortunately, Harvard Business Review found that only 20-25% of employees with access to an ESN use it regularly.

What Prevents High ESN Usage?

From our experience, low ESN engagement correlates directly with poor implementation. While ESNs are social by nature, and many of the benefits of an ESN derive from spontaneous, unplanned use by staff, you still need to do a little thoughtful planning upfront to make sure you implement your platform effectively.

The first, and most important, step of any thoughtful implementation planning always revolves around identifying, and disarming, all of those internal constraints that can bottleneck your attempts to effectively deploy your new ESN platform. For most organizations, the biggest sources of internal constraints are:

  1. Lack of Focus
  2. Organizational Concerns
  3. Basic, Boring Logistics

Let’s take a look at each of these constraints in a little more depth.

1. Lack of Focus

We find most organizations who are disappointed with their ESN engagement levels to[Office1] never set concrete goals for their ESN in the first place. They simply licensed the tool, gave it to their people, and hoped their people would figure out how to use it to produce increased innovation, productivity, and collaboration. But because they never set concrete goals for their platform, these leaders had no idea if their ESN was performing as desired or not. (And their people never knew what to use the platform for in the first place.)

Before you implement an ESN, first develop a little focus. Define which of the benefits you most want. Determine how your people can use the tool to achieve those benefits. And set clear, tangible targets for use and performance that give you an accurate picture of how your ESN is performing. You may find this process less than meaningful, but your people are more likely to use your ESN, and give you your desired benefits, if they know why you want them to engage with it in the first place.

2. Organizational Concerns

Even if you only plan to use your ESN within your group, you still have to take your organization’s other functions into account before you implement your platform.

IT needs to know that your desired ESN meets their security requirements, and that it integrates well with your organization’s other technology platforms. HR needs to see how your ESN integrates into your organization-wide communication plans and policies, and that your planned usage doesn’t open up potential breaches in employee policy. And Legal needs to know your planned ESN usage won’t violate any regulatory or compliance issues.

Any one of these functions can grind your implementation to a halt, or at least tangibly limit your planned usage. It’s better to meet with each of these functions upfront, discuss your planned platform and usage, and incorporate their concerns into your usage policy. For example, when the Mayo Clinic implemented their ESN, they realized they could not use it to share patient information or they would violate HIPPA (a strict regulatory structure that tightly governs data privacy and security for medical information in the United States) . Instead, they focused their ESN usage around general internal organizational communication.

3. Basic, Boring Logistics

Sometimes, an ESN implementation fails for very fundamental reasons.

Often, it’s due to a lack of change management and onboarding. An ESN may appear simple, but staff members still require training to ensure everyone knows how to use it. The ESN has to be officially woven into existing (and new) business processes. Your organization’s leaders have to model the ESN usage they want to see from their staff members. And though spontaneous usage is one big goal of any ESN, it still helps to produce official, top-down communications, channels, and publications through the ESN to demonstrate to your staff members the platform is still alive, and still important.

On an even more fundamental level, ESN implementations can fail due to a very simple lack of logistical planning. Sometimes organizations fail to pick an ESN with all the features their staff want. Other times, they fail to select an ESN with an appropriate level of developer support. And sometimes, organizations simply fail to budget for increasing costs as ESN usage grows.

The Key to Making Your ESN Implementation a Success

None of these are particularly exciting reasons for failure, but they are very common for one simple reason— most organizations attempt to implement their ESN too quickly, and attempt to get too much out of their ESN from the start. They skip the small amount of upfront planning that would uncover these constraints and pitfalls, and that would define a realistic scope for their initial ESN implementation.

While an ESN can provide benefits across multiple dimensions throughout your entire organization, when you consider the above constraints it becomes clear you may not be able to realize all of these benefits on day one. It can be hard to receive the budget you need for a full implementation until you’ve proven benefit in your specific context. IT, Legal, and HR all will want to see the ESN perform in a controlled environment before they will allow you to let it loose throughout the entire organization. And if you are really disciplined with yourself, you will realize you’re only looking for a few critical ESN outcomes today.

In short: to make your ESN implementation a success, you have to start small, and then slowly expand your scope as you prove benefit, safety, and organizational alignment. From our experience, it’s best to first “test” an ESN in just one department before you slowly expand your implementation throughout the rest of your organization. If you are interested in learning what your best first step towards a full ESN implementation may be, please let us know, and we will schedule a free consultation.

Craig Staufenberg

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