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I Didn’t Fail the Test, I Just Found 100 Ways to Do It Wrong

June 22, 2011

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I like failures. I like hearing about failures and learning from them. I like hearing that other people have made the same mistakes I have and succeeded in spite of (in some cases, because of) those mistakes. I like hearing how one social strategy fails miserably in one organization yet thrives in another. Sure, I enjoy talking with my counterparts in other organizations about their successes, but I almost enjoy hearing about the failures more. At least then we get to talk about some real honest stories instead of an endless of marketing-speak talking about engagement, authenticity, and community.

I’ve written before about the need to start talking about failures at conferences so that others may learn, so that’s why I was excited to attend Kevin Jones‘ presentation, “Enterprise 2.0 Failures – And What We Learn From Them,” yesterday at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference here in Boston. Kevin is a Social Media & Network Strategist/Manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and he gave us several “ways to fail” at Enterprise 2.0 based on his experiences at NASA. Update: Make sure you check out Kevin’s post on his presentation as well as his slides/video that he used.

Here are ten that I particularly liked:

How to Fail at Enterprise 2.0

  1. Work in a Culture of Low Trust – Kevin said he was talking to one manager who said, “I just don’t trust my people. “If they bash another group, I don’t want that group to see it. Their English is really horrible – I don’t want anyone else in the organization to know that my people are idiots.”  You could have the greatest tools in the world, but no blog or wiki is going to work if this is the culture in which it’s implemented.
  2. Rely on Stats – Trotting all of the latest industry stats on Enterprise 2.0 adoption and spending is great, but nothing resonates as well with a senior leader as actually getting them to sit down and use the tools until they have that “ah-ha” moment for themselves.
  3. Underestimate the Political Landscape – Kevin had “a NASA employee assigned to watch over me to keep me out of trouble, but I still got my hand slapped multiple times.”  He was told by the CIO to let him know if he encounters any problems, but then another senior leader told him that he wasn’t allowed to speak to the CIO unless he was accompanied by this other leader. Not understanding the unique office politics at play and how to make them work for you is a recurring theme in Enterprise 2.0 failures.
  4. Ignore people who have done this before – This is the “but I’m unique!” argument. Everyone thinks their organization is unique and different from everyone else that they ignore the lessons learned and best practices of others in their organization and assume that they know best. Unfortunately, they usually don’t.
  5. Treat this as YOUR project – At first, Kevin thought of himself as the Head of All Things Social. He soon realized that he was spinning his wheels as others weren’t buying into his vision. Not until he gave others ownership over certain parts of the strategy did he start to garner support.
  6. Treat this as an IT project – In Enterprise 2.0 implementations, the money often comes from the IT department, and unfortunately, that means that these initiatives are often implemented like an IT project. “Let’s just get the tools up and running – we’ll worry about the people later!” Enterprise 2.0 has to be treated like people project with an IT component, not the other way around.
  7. Go Cheap – You get what you pay for, in terms of hardware, software, and people. Kevin mentioned that he led this huge promotional push to get people to log into the platform and it worked! Unfortunately, it worked much better than the IT people thought it would, and they didn’t have the right server space/bandwidth in place to handle the influx of people. So instead of a good news story about user adoption, it turned into people logging into a new collaboration site, only to receive a 404 error. You can’t commit halfway to Enterprise 2.0 – you can’t say, “well, we can afford the tools, but not the community managers” or vice versa.
  8. Assume this is about collaboration, being social – Enterprise 2.0 isn’t about creating a Facebook behind the firewall or giving people a way to collaborate. It’s about using technology to help employees do their work. The ability to create a blog that your co-workers can read is meaningless to most people. The ability to easily update and share your weekly status report with your entire project team without having to sift through multiple versions in your inbox? Now that’s something they can get on board with.
  9. Make Policy Ugly – Forcing your people to read and agree to a lengthy document filled with do not do this, do not do that legal-ese is akin to putting up a “Beware of Dog! No Trespassing!” sign on your front gate. That doesn’t say come on in and collaborate – that says, we’re protecting our butt because we don’t trust you.
  10. Forget that you’re working with humans – These aren’t “users” or “visitors” you’re dealing with. These are people. These are your colleagues. They want to feel like they’re joining a community of other people who can help them, not using some impersonal tool with strict rules and policies governing their every move.

*The title is a quote from Ben Franklin

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