Are you are promoting social computing in your organization and being questioned about the low "participation levels" or "adoption rates"? Well, here are 5 points that should help you explain that it's not just about the percentage of people that actively participate.
1. Thanks for Asking
Sometimes it's just being asked that matters! Even if people choose not to participate, it's still a choice. Have you noticed the term "employee engagement" showing up everywhere these days? The term happens to be the most common search phrase leading people to my blog.
To engage employees means that you actually need to start by asking for their input. Even if they don't have specific input right now, that's fine. What you don't want to do is incent the wrong behaviours such as "gaming" a system to meet an objective. Providing opportunity is an implicit benefit of social computing. It demonstrates respect for the employees input and leads to a more engaged and committed organization.
2. La crème de la crème
A favourite book of mine is, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. In the book, Jim explains that the role of leadership is NOT to motivate. If you have to motivate and convince people to do something, you're already starting in a bad position. Instead, if you have the right people and the right opportunity they will be "self-motivated". The role of leadership then becomes making sure you don't let people become "de-motivated". Jim goes on to explain the importance of making sure you find the right people. But how do you do this?
One way is to leverage the power of self-organization. For example, we run on-line "jam" sessions and invite 1000's of people to participate. Not everyone will, but those that do tend to be "passionate" and willing to take on accountability. And those concepts that rise to the top tend to be well thought through. The point... Even if you only have 10% participation. It's likely that the 10% you want!
3. Needle in a Haystack
Mass collaboration isn't about simple consensus. It also provides greater opportunity to find a few gems by casting a much bigger net. 60 Minutes had a great story on John Kanzius , a retired Radio and TV engineer who's invention may ultimately cure cancer. He has zero medical training and his unorthodox method involves the use of radio waves and nano-particles! He likely would never have been invited to any discussions on the topic. And it is only that his own very unfortunate situation has inspired him to look for an answer. Is there a way to purposefully stimulate more creative ideas?
I often hear people ask for "out of the box thinking" and if they truly want that, we apply different techniques. One of the techniques is simply to bring in experts in different fields than the topic we're actually working on. Why? To drive a completely different perspective on a given situation. Hopefully leading to a breakthrough. Social computing allows us to invite many many people each with different views and perspectives. Even if you don't have high participation, if you get that one breakthrough idea, it's all worth it!
4. One for All
A well designed social computing environment encourages interactive participation of the right people. For all of you "executives" that believe this is something you let "employees" do but aren't actually engaged in yourself, you are missing a huge opportunity. The opportunity to drive "trust" and "confidence" throughout the organization.
When I see an executive who "gets it", the effect can be amazing. You can read a conversation that is authentic, public an non-hierarchical. The participants in the conversation see a "real" side of an executive whom they otherwise may never have even met. But what if it's only a handful of people engaged in the discussion? That's fine. Because even if the participation level is low, the folks that read and view the conversation also benefit. The readers will also see an genuine conversation which aids in building trust and confidence in your organization.
5. Back to The Future
By the time I write this blog, I hope many people will read it and benefit from it. I also hope many people will discuss it. But realistically, I know that it's value may really be in the future. Unless you need this information now, it may be just an interesting (which I also hope) article. In the future, when someone really needs help in this area, it will be available to them, and perhaps will help them articulate the additional benefits in leveraging social computing.
This pertains to your organization as well. Even if you don't have immediate participation, the conversation is not time bound, and employees can still join the conversation even into the future. They can understand the context (how we came to decisions we did) in addition to the ultimate decisions. This depth of understanding helps ensure smarter, better, more complete decisions can be made moving forward.
So the next time someone challenges you, that your social computing endeavours just aren't "engaging enough people", you can explain that the full value of social computing and enterprise 2.0 is more than the number of people fully interacting. These 5 real benefits just can't be determined by some magic "participation rate".