6 reasons to encourage enterprise conversations with collaborative platforms

(version française)

Bertrand Duperrin explains in a quite remarkable post the risk of backslash when using standard web 2.0 key words while presenting social networks to a new audience. The reason is : there could be some misunderstanding from the audience.

Among these key words : Conversation. Bertrand exposes the issue  :

Try to tell a manager, who’s been fighting againtst chattings that are synonymous with wasted time and bad productivity for years, that his staff now need to have conversations, and, even worse, that his role is to stimulate these conversations….and look at the manager’s face

6 reasons to bring management and the enterprise conversation back together. And to use collaborative platforms to foster the latter.

1 – Conversation = units of knowledge

I have been working in the IT industry for about 20 years. Whatever the country, the industry or the size of the organization, I have always found myself facing this problem : how to capture these priceless bits of information floating around and share them in an efficient way ?

How to foster these coffee machines or telephone discussions where experts talk about the best way to solve a particular problem and help a customer within a specific context ?

Management always has proposed the same solution : bloated Knowledge Management systems and well structured Word documents with corporate templates. Even though this tends to reassure management, nobody uses this system or write those documents because it’s frustrating.

It’s frustrating to write a 10+ pages document for one unit of knowledge.  Not to mention the actual Knowledge Management system that is so complicated that most people are terrorized with the idea of logging onto it.

Reason #1: Within conversations lie many units of knowledge that the company need to capture. It is easier, more direct and far less intimidating to capture these on collaborative platform tools such as Wikis or Forums. And it’s then easier for other people to find them afterwards.

2- Knowledge Management  !=  Documents Management

I was giving a training to some U.S call-center colleagues back then. One of them, Billy-Bob, told me this : When the client calls for a problem, depending on the area where the problem occurs, I forward them to the right document and give the polite RTFM Directive (Read That F***ing Manual). Because, hey, all documents are available online.

Except that, as part of the training, they have to configure a database. Billy-Bob encountered a problem and although the document describing the database configuration was open right before his very eyes on his PC desktop, he directly googled the symptoms (I.e error code) to see what it was. I asked him what he was doing and gave him some RTFM. Which had everybody laughing. Everybody but him, of course.

Reason #2 : When a knowledge worker looks for some information in the 21st century, he uses a web browser to search various types of network documents. Collaborative platforms offer single entry point and search engine on company knowledge (Wikis, Forums, Blogs, documents …).

3 – Conversational communication is more efficient

In one of her many unmissable posts at Creating Passionate Users, Kathy Sierra tells it all : Conversational writing kicks formal writing’s ass.

Kathy has been interested in cognitive science as she suffers epilepsy. So she knows what she talks about : you can see the result of her study on the topic in the amazing Head Firt Series IT industry self-teaching books.

In the blog post, she mentions a study published in the  Journal of Educational Psychology, in which researchers found out that  :

Students who learned with personalized text performed better on subsequent transfer tests than students who learned with formal text. Overall, participants in the personalized group produced between 20 to 46 percent more solutions to transfer problems than the formal group.

According to Sierra, when pieces of information are communicated using a conversational tone (using You and I) the brain thinks it is in a conversation and become much more responsive and involved in the communication. 

Reason #3 : Communicating in a conversational style results in a much better quality of message transmission. Collaborative platforms have a native informal style and therefore nurture better quality communications.

4 – Conversational communication is key for leadership

We have already mentioned it here. Michel Crozier is a sociologist, expert in the study of the enterprise. His analysis (according to a french university lecture) of the tight relationship between the simplicity of the speech and the subsequent team support is rather interesting :

The more sophisticated and complex the communication, the more it sounds simplistic. While simple message appears as a source of wealth, because it allows individuals to make it their own and discuss freely. The involvement of experienced manager, the fact that everyone is convinced of his conviction helps to give considerable strength to a simple message.

I once had a great American CEO. He had a straight forward speech style, both bewildering and stimulating. During the open questions in General Meetings, he would encourage people to ask questions on and on, until the very last drop. He would then willingly answer, using this typically American laid back tone using We/You/I. This always resulted in giving a great feeling of proximity and stimulated employees engagement.

During my long career, I’ve hardly ever been so motivated and convinced by the company strategy than when I left his meetings. A feeling that was shared by my colleagues.

This is something that large companies are looking into. At Intel, for instance, most company executives have an internal blog, Paul Otellini – CEO – included. Thanks to this medium, they benefit from the disintermediation offered by the collaborative platforms and engage in conversations with potentially all employees, regardless of their role and position.

Reason #4 : Excutives speech with conversational tone help to establish leadership and contributes a great deal in engaging employees. Blogs is the perfect media for executives to engage into these company wide conversations.

5 – Fostering weak links

Thanks to collaborative platforms, coffee machine chats became global. In other words, the global conversation has started.

Rather than chatting with always the same colleagues, people we professionally hang out with, people we share the same knowledge with, we have broaden the conversation scope thanks to collaborative platforms on the internet. We now reach different people and roles. The exchange has become much more fruitful, for everybody’s benefit.

Mark Granoveter wrote a theory about this : the Strength of weak ties. The great benefit is innovation. While one confront ideas with always the same people, with the same knowledge and new innovative ideas seldom appear. On the other hand, these new ideas are much more likely to pop up when different people in the company, working in different areas, with different responsibilities engage and chat.

Reason #5 : The global conversation is encouraged by collaborative platforms. It leverages weak links and allows new ideas and new business opportunities to emerge.

6 – Make sense out of knowledge workers contribution

One of the great frustation and source of insecurity at work for knowledge workers is how difficult it is for them to see the actual result of their contribution in large projects.

We have this excellent developper in our team who has been working his ass off for 6 months building a fully integrated Installer for our PLM solution. PLM is an enterprise complex system involving many servers, different components etc … It is was a nightmare to install and configure. Johnny Boy made a great work automating our solution installation, hiding all the gory details of the configuration behind a smooth user interface.

A couple of weeks after the release of this installer, we had Peggy Sue, our lovely Marketing Events Manager storming into the office asking  Who the hell this Johnny Boy is ?

He rose his hand and she ran to him giving him the biggest hug in his professional career. She said : “Oh thank you so much. You made our life soooo easier with your great installer. You don’t have any idea how much this tool has changed our daily work in such a lovely way”.

No matter how much we, in the department, praised his remarkable work, nothing gave more sense to his contribution than this hug from someone he never heard of before, a person and a role he hardly knew they existed. The reason is : all of a sudden, with Peggy Sue hug and gratitude, he touched the reality of his contribution, his piece of software became a life changer. From that hug on, Johnny Boy dedication and commitment (which already were of higher standards) became unbelievable.

The global conversation on collaborative platforms facilitates this type of real life feedback from someone at the completely opposite end of the enterprise organization.

Reason #6 : The enterprise global conversation with collaborative platforms provides employees with a company wide perspective to their actual contribution, together with a real-life feedback. To paraphrase the stone cutter story, it helps turning knowledge stone worker into knowledge cathedral workers. This is a key factor (arguably the most important) to employee well-being and commitment.

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks, you’re right. There is a cultural language gap associated with the use of Web 2.0 terminology, including “conversations.” I really like your emphasis on conversations as means for discovering and transmitting knowledge throughout the enterprise and between the enterprise and its external stakeholders. Reminds of the old CODIAK acronym (don’t tell me, the source will come back to me soon–has to do with bootstrapping): COncurrent Development, Integration and Application of Knowledge.

  2. Hi Bertrand. Thanks for your comment and for being the inspiratio behind this post. I’ll check the video and let you know.

    Hi Ken. Yeah there is a huge gap and Bertand really pointed the language aspect of it in the original blog post I refer to.

    Actually, I am really passionate about knowledge management in the enterprise. Or rather, more generally, in organizations. And internet has proved on an amazing scale with indisputable results that social networks were fantastic facilitators.

  3. Cool post! I think another fundamental thing to point out would be the overall enhancement of transparency and openness via these conversations. There aren’t no more (unnecessary) secrets. Instead, there’s organization-wide camaraderie and improved clarity of the big picture.

  4. Very good blog. I am sure most people I know will relate and agree to the reasons posted. One challenge I have encountered working in a huge global company is the fact that many people are not supporting open communication either because they do not want to admit publicly they need help or they believe knowledge is power. The more information you “own” the better positioned you are. These are things we need to get rid of.

  5. We’re finding that enabling conversational interactivity is becoming a key driver to any enterprise app engagement. We’re also finding that conversational interfaces reduce barriers, and drive attention to, the value of the new world of work’s value propostion: sharing = power.

  6. Hi JB,

    Thanks for your comment. It’s pretty cool to get real life feedback on this type of blog post that would remain dry otherwise.

    Many thanks ! c.

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