Under the dubious title of “Companies Are Erecting In-House Social Networks” Verne Kopytoff of The New York Times writes:
“It’s one more instance of how consumer technology trends, like the use of tablet computers, are crossing into office life. Because of Facebook, most people are already comfortable with the idea of “following” their colleagues. But in the business world, the connections are between colleagues, not personal friends or family, and the communications are meant to be about work matters — like team projects, production flaws and other routine business issues.”
The article goes on to explain the challenges of corporate social networks. The usual suspects are drummed up: Security, Compliance, Clients… And of course, who wants to know about the leftover pie in the kitchen. Again.
Unfortunately, in my view, what’s missing is the most important thing that a corporate social network brings to the table: A way to foster, harvest, and manage innovation.
Client after client ask us about ways to do exactly that: How do we encourage innovation? How do we promote conversation. How do new ideas bubble-up through the rigid organizational frameworks? Almost all have a way: From “ideation days” to “innovation rooms” to “revolution committees” etc. Some are more successful than others as so much depends on the culture of the organization, the management’s temperament, and the ability to channel all the new ideas that come up. Which ones are worth it? Which ones to discard? Who evaluates? How do you test? How do you fund? And so on.
Innovation is serious business. As a matter of fact, it’s life-and-death business. It has been studied exhaustively by scholars far wiser than me, and their works are required reading, especially in this environment. Run, do not walk, to the Harvard Business Publishing offerings and stock up. It will be some of the best investments you ever made. That’s my first recommendation.
My second is to install and promote a corporate social network as soon as possible. Issues of governance, security, and access will immediately be suggested as barriers to doing this. Don’t let them be. Where there is a will, there is a way. Now, once installed, promote your social network as the place for idea generation. The place for uncensored, public, dialogue across all fronts. Create threads of topics – from Human Resources to Operations to Innovation. Stay active. Engage with your people. Tell them “I’ll see you on the net!” Then harvest the “likes!” It will be one of the most crucial barometers of your people’s thinking– their contribution and how their peers think of them and their idea. Dozens and dozens “like” Mary’s idea? I’d pay attention! Nobody cares about Tom’s? You’re probably safe to skip.
Innovation is not an exercise for a committee. I like to think of innovation and the ideas behind it as a spark. A spark that can set things ablaze! To do that it needs fuel. People are the fuel. Your people! Your job is to make sure they operate in a fertile ground, with the right tools, and with your total support and commitment.