Image [cc] David Armano

An article on SearchCIO-Midmarket caught my attention yesterday that discussed the problems of simply throwing in a Social Media platform on the Enterprise System, and expecting the employees to simply adapt it as they have in their personal lives. Author Karen Goulart specifically calls out Pollyannish CIO’s who seem to think that implementing social media resources for their employees is twice as successful (CIO’s at 47%) than the employees (27%) actually think it is. Goulart points out that the idea of Enterprise Social Media is a fundamental shift in the way employees work and this creates a Change Management issue. Unfortunately, CIO’s seem to be happy to create the “change” but leave out the “management” part of the process. The lack of management was summed up best by Forrester Research analyst, TJ Keitt:

You assume that your employees deeply want it because you observe some behavior in someone’s personal life and you take the leap of faith saying, ‘Well maybe this will work, maybe it won’t and we’ll go from there.’… Anyone expecting a technology in and of itself to create anything doesn’t really understand technology. People change their culture, executives set the agenda, and middle managers execute and create the incentives to change behavior.

 The tricky part of this quote is that this type of change has to create a shift in everyone’s attitude on how we communicate in the Social Media era. On top of that, the change doesn’t seem to be either a “top-down” or a “bottom-up” scenario. Instead, it is that ever allusive “middle-down-bottom-up with top buy-in” model. In other words, the CIO not only has to buy-in that this type of communication will work, but they have to trust in their middle-management to find ways to motivate and train staff in order to produce the momentum necessary for this type of behavior shift. Different employees have different motivations when it comes to changing the way they communicate, and finding that motivation is key to a successful change management process.

I also wanted to point out an assumption that Goulart made in her first paragraph of the article:

Today, one would be hard-pressed to find a business not providing a social networking platform, be it Yammer, Jive, offerings from Microsoft or IBM, or some type of homespun intranet.

There is a running joke in the law firm technology world that we are usually five years behind corporations when it comes to technology. The same joke seems to apply to most law firms when it comes to social media in the Enterprise. I’m not sure that firms will break this trend on this issue either. In fact, my prediction is that enterprise-style social media will creep into the law firm environment through one of two ways. First, small groups within the firm will just go out and find a way to do it and just do an end-run around IT and the CIO. Or, second, since Microsoft now owns Yammer, it is possible that they will work Yammer into Outlook at some point. This would create what some would consider the best of both worlds (email and social media on the same platform), and others would call the worst of both worlds (email and social media on the same platform.)

My assumption is that, one way or another, employees will start using social media tools to communicate internally and externally whether the CIO and IT want them to or not. The key to this fundamental change process isn’t about how do you create the change, but rather, how do we manage this change in a way that benefits both the employee and the firm as a whole.