Web 2.0 Carrots

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

Back in the dark ages of the early Internet, some colleagues and I got hooked on instant messaging. We loved its immediacy, and IM quickly replaced e-mail as the preferred way to communicate among our far-flung staff. This frustrated our IT organization, which didn’t even know about our activities for over a year. IT briefly tried to restrict IM use but ultimately gave up and just shrugged its shoulders.

The group didn’t have time to wrestle with the problem. It was too busy trying to shove a corporate mandated group collaboration package down our throats. This expensive and over-engineered solution had been selected by someone at the corporate level without any input from the people who would have to use it. For two years, our IT organization tried to teach users how to tap the software’s powerful but Byzantine capabilities with little success. By the time I left the company, the collaboration suite was basically a bloated e-mail client. Meanwhile, IM flourished.

Mandates From Above
Top-down implementation comes naturally to IT organizations. Much of what they’ve been tasked to do over the years has involved driving technology into their organizations to achieve executive mandates for efficiency. But the new breed of Web 2.0 tools presents a new challenge.

New research by McKinsey reveals that Web 2.0 tools are turning in decidedly mixed results in organizations that are experimenting with them. Half of the 50 respondents to a detailed set of interviews indicated that they are dissatisfied with the performance of these collaborative tools so far.

Successful innovators are learning that a “high degree of participation” is required to make the tools pay off. This involves not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.”

That’s a cultural disconnect for the traditional command-and-control approach to IT management. Big hairy systems projects like enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and customer relationship management have always been mandated from the top in the name of efficiency and cost reduction. The technology didn’t work unless everyone used it, so employees had no choice.

But knowledge capture tools like wikis and social networks don’t succeed unless users embrace them, researchers found. “Efforts go awry when organizations try to dictate their preferred uses of the technologies…rather than observing what works and then scaling it up.”

In fact, Web 2.0 initiatives often yield results where least expected. McKinsey researchers cite the example of one company that put software in place to quickly train new hires. The package failed in that context, but the company’s human resources people discovered that the same application was effective in sharing information about job candidates. They turned out to be the ultimate end users.

Culture of Sharing

Web 2.0 technologies excel at helping people capture and share information, but that process works best when the motivation comes from within. The “give to get” culture of the new interactive web has tapped this human compulsion in a powerful way. It turns out that the desire to help one’s peers is more powerful than the motivation to fulfill a management mandate.

Not surprisingly, McKinsey found that incentives work better than commands in making organization successful with Web 2.0. Steel producer ArcelorMittal, for example, “found that when prizes for contributions were handed out at prominent company meetings, employees submitted many more ideas for business improvements than they did when the awards were given in less-public forums,” the report says. Celebrating the generosity of individual employees was also effective in stimulating activity by their peers.

Which means that when it comes to Web 2.0 technology adoption, the carrot proves far more effective than the stick.

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