Enterprise Social Networks talk a big game. They claim to revolutionise communications, radically improve information-sharing, and provide an effective mechanism for engaging employees. The promise of these new technology tools is essentially to enable a new type of organisational culture, fit for the 21st century. Employees can be more transparent and open, as they start to use the ESN to work out loud and share updates on progress with the wider company. Teams become more connected as any employee on the network can be reached by the touch of a button, and relevant skills, knowledge and interests searched for and found –  breaking the traditional siloed organisation. The open access to these tools, through apps and cloud-based infrastructure facilitates a new speed of responsiveness combating the slow-moving bureaucratic processes of old. And through visible @mentions, and transparency on progress of tasks and projects, accountable behaviours are encouraged and rewarded – hiding from responsibilities and sub-par work becomes much harder, leading to an increase in performance and motivation to improve. Sounds great, I’ll take your finest specimen, and don’t skimp on the app plug-ins either.

Or does it? I think most of us know the bait-and-switch punchline to the picture painted above by now. It’s not new news that it doesn’t matter how many features, how beautiful the UX design, how intuitive the technology is – simply implementing it and making it available is not enough to transform a business and how it behaves. Many have pointed out for a while now that the success of your enterprise social network in unlocking the behaviours and capabilities described above depends mostly on your corporate culture and not on the technology used. Gartner published a few years ago that 80% of social business efforts still fail in strong part due to an overemphasis on simply deploying the technology, rather than how it could be used to improve the day-to-day tasks and working lives of employees. Others, more recently, have highlighted that the reason these internal tools aren’t taking off is because it is a new form of working for organisations that are very much stuck in the old ways of working. This, coupled with leadership that either don’t see the value of, or are secretly frightened of this new way of working (because – whisper it – they may not be very good at it) throws up real barriers to unlocking the benefits of these new technologies. In short, what practitioners are saying is you need to work on changing your culture in order to achieve sustainable traction on your internal social technology efforts.

As part of the work we do at PostShift helping organisations develop for the 21st century, we offer support in understanding where organisations are struggling in their ESN deployment efforts, and develop activities targeted at growing these new behaviours – and in doing this work we have noticed an interesting use for these early implementations of social technology efforts. What early, struggling ESN’s become is actually a mirror of your current culture and one of the indicators you can use to assess your organisations current dominant behaviours, and crucially, with the possibility some qualitative analysis, some pointers as to the root causes of these behaviours. Aligned with our thinking on the Quantified Org, leveraging the insights that can be produced from data within your ESN can, coupled with other data sources, combine to give you a powerful view of your current behavioural strengths and weaknesses. Some examples of this could be:

  • How much sharing of information is taking place? If this is low, it could point to a belief in your organisation that knowledge is power, leading to a reluctance to share meaningful or deep information on the ESN
  • Who is sharing with who? Are meaningful, value-add conversations taking place within teams, or across departments? If there is a reluctance to share what is being worked on across teams, this can be an indicator of siloed mindset and low levels of trust outside of departments
  • How often are queries being answered, how quickly and by whom? This can give an indicator of how collaborative your organisation is
  • Do people respond in a timely manner when they have been directly @mentioned or tagged into a conversation? Again, a measure of collaborative behaviour and/or responsiveness of employees
  • How are employees using the tool? What features are they using or not using? Are the features being used effectively? Are there many cries for assistance or help on how to use the technology? Looking at an overall picture of the use of the ESN can also be a strong indicator of the level of digital literacy in your organisation

Of course, these are just some applications of the data that can be derived from an ESN and they definitely should not be taken in isolation and insights derived solely from these indicators. A mirror is a useful quick view, but it’s not the only thing to rely on. And so, when you use this data in conjunction with other metrics and insights gathered within the organisation (e.g. employee surveys), they can combine to provide areas of focus for your culture change efforts, building the fuller picture you need to understand what to tackle.

Where this becomes really useful is when it is overlaid against your strategic objectives and the behaviours and capabilities that are needed to deliver that strategy. Don’t forget, some of the behaviours ESNs can enable may not be right for your organisation, and they may even be in direct opposition to current behaviours, for good reason. For example, it probably doesn’t make strategic sense to have a completely open and transparent business if you work in an organisation that needs to have stringent client confidentiality. Additionally, it’s likely that in this case, the behaviour of keeping things behind closed doors is extremely deep-rooted and so trying to tackle that is not something that would be worth your time prioritising in any change efforts. But once you are clear on why you want to change the culture of your organisation, and therefore what behaviours you want to change – that’s where knowing what your organisation is really doing is invaluable. After all, the outcome we should be aiming for is not a successful ESN implementation, but rather a wider shift in ways of working for businesses, and culture holds the greatest power over the success or failure of such deep-rooted organisational change.  Using a mirror, in form of your ESN, to help surface that culture, means we have a further layer of insight to understand culture better and we think it is through this type of data-driven understanding that you have the best chance of success.