Human beings, by our nature, are social. We are wired to connect with one another whether it be for survival, friendship, or learning. Within our organizations, our ability to share knowledge with each other is a social activity, and social media has revolutionized our ability to share knowledge and connect. If the information age made the ability to share knowledge easy and across geographic boundaries, the social media age has made knowledge sharing a viral activity that can create immediate far-reaching and lasting impact. To remain relevant, organizations have little choice but to incorporate social tools into the everyday work lives of our employees. However, to effectively use social tools for the exchange of knowledge between individuals and teams requires that we effectively manage the change and learn to give up control.
Though social media has dominated our personal lives, its uptake in our companies is a work in progress. We cannot underestimate the change that must occur to incorporate social tools, sustain their usage, and yield business value. Now, some of you are thinking: “I know this already!” But I ask that you stop and think about not only what you know about change, but more importantly, what you practice. Change management is a discipline. It’s not a project. It doesn’t have a deadline or a due date. It needs to become ingrained in the culture of work and not simply applied to specific special initiatives. This couldn’t be more applicable to the introduction and use of social tools to support knowledge sharing.
In our multi-generational workforces, integrating social networking tools can be a significant challenge. For those who have learned to live by their email inboxes, moving to an activity feed or mobile app doesn’t compute in the world of work. For those that have grown up using social media in their personal lives, it’s hard to conceive of following one’s boss on a work website. Change management is essential for adoption and consistent usage of social tools. As leaders in our organizations, we must not only be champions of change management, but model it. Ensure your project and product managers are versed in change management techniques and require them to be embedded in their work. Set the example by embarking, not on technology projects, but change management initiatives with clear strategic goals and success measures. Partner with, and if necessary educate, your business and department owners on managing change. And most importantly, don’t stop at the first sign of success or failure. Change takes time and must be sustained to be successful. This could not be truer of knowledge management initiatives where the initial roll out of a social tool could fail because adoption was not properly managed, or an initial flurry of activity shortly dissolves into viral silence. During this process, we not only must manage change for our users, but ourselves as well. Often the hardest part of leading change is giving up control.
We no longer live in the era where we’ve always “done it that way” and established thinking and power structures bring business value. If we allow knowledge to be shared, it can yield numerous and quantifiable business benefits. Staff can use social tools to share how they’ve made a day-to-day process more efficient or alert each other to duplicative work efforts. The ability to easily connect with colleagues across teams can bring diversity of talent, skills, and experiences together to solve business challenges and create innovation. But this only happens if we give learn to socialize control. Let the voices of our employees be heard. Through the change management activities, staff will be clear about the strategic vision, value, and goals. Social tools will not be seen as your organization’s ill-executed attempt to engage Millennials or keep up with competitors. Employees will learn what behaviors are and are not acceptable and, in many cases, keep each other in check. But this only happens if we learn to give up control and let conversations happen and grow. We also need to be accept mistakes and be prepared with a mitigation strategy that does not punish staff and stifle knowledge sharing, but guides staff back onto the right path.
Knowledge is social. Humans have been navigating knowledge sharing for centuries from oral stories to books to blogs to tweets. We don’t have to be afraid of social tools. They are simply the latest device in our evolutionary toolkit for sharing our personal and professional lives. To realize the potential of social tools, we need to employ change techniques to adapt them to our strategic business goals and organizational cultures while being willing to distribute power and give up control.