June 24, 2017

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How to Fail At Collaboration (Without Really Trying)

How to Fail At Collaboration (Without Really Trying)

Since the beginning of modern economics, managers introduced new processes. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they failed. If one of the most repeated single points of failure is the introduction of a new process without regard to the culture of the company, then the most repeated single point of epic failure is the expectation that people will use technology to start to share content and magically begin to collaborate.

Much of today’s business infrastructure was designed to imitate one of the most effective forms of structure supporting a goal: the older military. Levels of hierarchy were designed with purpose of maintaining order, discipline and responsibility. Information flowed only within the designated department silos, and the most important information was destined to the ivy towers for strategic decisions. It was an Orwellian “Knowledge is Power” paradigm that reinforced keeping information to yourself to further your worth (and career).

Then comes the Internet and spoils everything (again).

A growing number of companies are starting to rely on experts that rollout “eCommerce 2.0” style solutions where people share their information and empower the enterprise. The case studies executives see spotlight the potential savings, employee engagement, productivity gains, the naturally resulting sales and profit increases and an emersion of bliss and harmony with the Internet only known by Facebook users who haven’t said anything too revealing (yet).

What is missing from this scenario is to address the culture of the company. In some cases, this means addressing years of successful (and greatly rewarded) silo building where information is held by individuals and their departments. We’ve all been in companies that proclaim change to occur, but fail to address what is involved to make the change actually happen.

The successful cases I’ve been involved (and written the case studies on) have several similar threads:

Involvement occurs from the top down and the bottom up – and everywhere in between.

Executives, management, middle management and individual contributors all know what’s coming and have a say in the execution. Focus groups are facilitated not only to talk about the strategy, but what individuals in each group believe is necessary for success. This could mean challenging the strategy, determining its weak points and improving it. Generally more than 80 percent of the work population takes part in these focus groups. That helps individuals connect personally to the goals and the processes.

Next, put your money and recognition with your people to will make the change happen (and that is all of them).

Compensation plans are adjusted to reward the change and are tied to the behaviors that count. For example, take 15-20 percent of a support person’s performance bonus and base it on sharing information and the quality of the information. Recognize the most used documents and the authors that created the documents.

Reward all employees who take part in the program. That may mean developing thresholds of rewards that are different for each function in the company. Fleece jackets, sweatshirts – see what a motivator is for each group.

Management must not only outwardly support these changes, but talk about how they are positively impacting the company in their e-mails and especially quarterly reviews – and call out people who are making a difference.

Understanding why people will change from what is comfortable to what will grow the business is a huge key. They need to know WII-FM (What’s In It For Me). Addressing this in a transparent and honest way prevents failures that will falsely prove—as happened with many knowledge management projects in the 90s—that “collaboration does not work.”

The truth of the matter is that collaboration – the leveraging of everyone’s skills at the time they are needed creates an engaged, focused, and committed workforce able to do much more than the best executive team alone can deliver.

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