Social collaboration: Collaborating people, not tools

This weekend was full of birthday celebration, so I decided to take a pass on my weekly self-written commentary. In my stead, I offer to you a guest post from my friend and  colleague Julie Hunt. Julie is a Market and Competitive Intelligence professional, and one of the best strategic and analytical minds with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working in the past decade.

Julie Hunt HeadshotThe following post originally appeared on her Highly Competitive blog under the title Social collaboration in the enterprise: The heart – and goal – of Community is “collaborating people”, not collaboration tools. Yes, this was focused on the enterprise, while this blog tends to hone in on SMB and Entrepreneurial topics. Regardless, the message is relevant to business professionals of all types, and it is most applicable for those of you who want to sell to and interact with larger companies.

Without further ado…

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Community and collaboration in business enterprises is about people working together more effectively, quickly, and proactively – to achieve the goals of the business as robustly as possible.  This may sound like a simplistic statement, but it seems to be eluding many companies that are adopting social media tools.

There is a constant stream of information on the internet on how to implementing social collaboration software in enterprises, both for internal and external purposes.  Quite a healthy industry of solutions, consultants and advisors has sprung into being.  Many blog posts and articles are devoted to recommending the best ways to take advantage of social media software.

But for many companies, implementation efforts for social collaboration software will be doomed to failure for one simple reason:  most enterprises have failed to engender a “collaboration culture” based on real human interaction. The executive management of many companies does not even understand what a “collaboration culture” is.

Frankly, executive management of many companies is hard put to authentically value employees – these companies want to de-humanize employees with such terms as “resources” and “human capital”, and think that it is enough if they sling around a few “mission statements” claiming that they “value” employees.

The proliferation and subsequent failure of traditional formal enterprise collaboration tools proves that collaboration is not successful just because there are software tools.  These formal collaboration solutions are usually unwieldy, result in silos of information,  are extremely opaque, and most importantly, fail to engage the humans for whom the collaboration venue is meant.

The newer social collaboration tools are better at ease-of-use, agility, relevance. But it is still essential that companies grow and nurture live collaboration cultures, where collaboration is a natural response for business activities, for any departments in the enterprise.  Planning a healthy collaboration culture also requires a dynamic plan for the role social media tools will play to bring the people in the company together in worthwhile interaction.

Returning to the human side of business won’t happen magically – it will take real work and real commitment, from the executive level through all levels of management and employee departments.

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And, of course, you’re not getting out of here without my two-cents worth. This comes down to the desire to control everything by large companies. Until they can figure out they no longer own the messaging and conversation, this problem will continue. As entrepreneurs and SMBs who can adapt and react quickly, you should view this fear of change as an opportunity for you to get a leg up on the big guys.

Now go forth and prosper!