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Digital Collaboration Leadership

For a long time, collaborative working was all about the tool. It was thought that a new technology tool would naturally inspire employees to start collaborating. This assumption led Gartner to estimate that more than 80% of social network projects conducted by information technology (IT) departments would fail, as these departments are used to providing technological solutions, not solutions focused on the value to businesses or customers.

Digital Collaboration Transitions Backed by the Executive Committee

Nowadays, executives know the transition to digital collaboration goes far beyond the tool – to organisational structures, attitudes and governance. Accordingly, 74% of executives have a digital strategy aimed at changing the way they work and meeting these new challenges. Escalating collaborative technology decisions to management, which is increasingly frequent, is good news, as we are actually talking about overall change in organisational structure. Let’s be honest, though. Many people still focus on the “tool” instead of the “transition.” Digital collaboration tools may have spurred the transition, but they are not the central issue by any means.

Management must commit

Sponsorship at the highest levels has been one of the keys to successful digital collaboration implementation. Therefore, companies must adopt a collaborative enterprise view, which goes beyond merely implementing a technology tool. The desire to change is increasingly important, since 88% of companies surveyed by Altimeter Group are introducing a system to transition to digital technology.

Companies must “stand on both feet” and adopt an approach that addresses short- and long-term issues. It will show employees the company is not focused just on cost-cutting, but on a long-term view where all employees have a role. This strong signal opens up new prospects and enables organisations to move forward. The goal is not to add complexity, but to overcome stumbling blocks to change. Top management must focus on providing direction and measuring results, and less on micromanaging teams. They should help speed decisions, review and act on feedback, break down silos and encourage transparency as a result of information circulating more easily.

Action steps toward change

If your executive committee is removed from digital collaboration issues, an inverse mentoring approach to raise their awareness is one possible solution. Caution: even if the executive committee backs the project, it must not give rise to a top-down approach.

Although the transition to digital collaboration is not merely a matter of tools, top management must understand the challenges and opportunities associated with these technologies.

Creating a digital culture does not happen overnight. It involves establishing a robust governance process, which can prevent the silo-based and hierarchical environment that exists in many companies. Processes must be flexible enough to adjust to what exists, as well as support practices that will evolve. As important as governance is, only 16% of respondents to a 2014 survey believed governance systems are well understood and rolled out in organisations.

Digital Collaboration - unbalanced breakdown of budget

Governance to Support the Vision

A governance process that serves corporate needs

To be legitimate, the governance process must genuinely support what the digital enterprise will be and its impact on employees’ and customers’ day-to-day lives. In a nutshell, it must have meaning and bring your employees on board to respond to new customer challenges.

Digital collaboration must enable companies to meet business requirements and simplify existing processes before going further to develop new practices and meet other requirements. When raised to the highest level, this helps you avoid reproducing existing silos within your information systems via separate collaborative solutions, while covering most end-users’ requirements and practices.

In addition to enabling employees to interact differently, governance also helps employees understand the new culture and want to commit to it, entering into a win-win for themselves and the company. This is one of the main keys to digital collaboration success. Bringing employees onboard ensures they apply new practices to existing processes initially and develop new processes later.

Action steps toward change

There is no perfect governance process, and the process must be suited to your company. It should address project governance (which can be more or less centralised), information systems governance and an overall operating process that enables everyone to share their experiences.

Yes, the tool matters

While the tool may take a backseat and blend into the background, it can become a genuine hindrance if it’s not ergonomic or does not meet user requirements. To avoid this situation, you must start with business requirements that can be turned into collaborative practices. Don’t restrict yourself to a short-term view; as your employees become more experienced, their collaborative practices will change over time. Although collaborative working did not wait for the 2.0 version, its expansion within companies is linked to the ramp-up of collaborative tools such as corporate social networks. These technologies make collaborative practices more tangible, just like e-mail in its day, which significantly simplified companies’ communications, even though they had done just fine without them until that point.

The tool can hide a forest of other problems

Infrastructure is important, but it is only the vehicle for new collaborative practises. Results depend first and foremost on you. Your investment and engagement will make the difference, so don’t neglect preparation before launching the platform.

People often blame the tool when a technology project fails. The tool is rarely the problem. The reason for failure is more often the lack of getting employees to buy into the tool and use it in their day-to-day lives.

Action steps toward change

There is no miracle technology solution that will meet all your requirements. Instead, look at your business and end user requirements, then find a solution that meets those requirements and works with existing constraints such as knowledge management, social customer relationship management (CRM), co-creation and open innovation. Likewise, think about your targets, your requirements and your strategy from an external standpoint.

Digital Collaboration - 8 stages of change

Communications director at the helm

As long as digital collaboration is seen as tool-based project, the IT department is responsible for it. Today, IT departments are responsible for 29% of digital transition projects.14

Now that these kinds of projects have been escalated to executive committee level, companies should assign them to a cross-divisional function that serves business lines internally and externally. Organisations often turn to the communications department and to human resources (HR) when the CEO does not back the project directly.

HR, which remains somewhat in the background, rarely spearheads these initiatives and may be completely removed. Communications is typically more proactive on this issue and takes over to back it at the company level.

Internal communications leads the charge

The internal communications department, which is used to social networks, is usually more aware of the digital culture and issues. In addition, communication processes are the first ones affected by the introduction of a corporate social network tool and collaborative environment. The tip of the iceberg is the infamous intranet – a symbol of top-down communications.

Change management, which will lead users to adopt the new tool initially and new practises later, is often driven by the internal communications department. This doesn’t mean they should be the only department backing it, but they should facilitate others who are involved, including IT, business lines and HR.

Do you need a chief digital officer?

Chief digital officer (CDO) and director of digital technology titles are appearing more frequently16 at large companies. These professionals often find themselves in difficult positions. Sometimes they are attached to the board, which gives them a kind of moral authority, but they have no troops and find it hard to act. In other cases, they are attached to a division such as Communications, Marketing or IT, and end up engaged in trench warfare. They’re often either internally or externally focused, depending on their personal career paths, but they must manage both dimensions, as one cannot exist without the other in social business.

An effective CDO has a wide range of skills in technology, communications and change management. In addition, he/she must be able to:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create a coalition of change sponsors
  3. Articulate clear goals
  4. Communicate the philosophy
  5. Give people independence and authority to implement programs
  6. Celebrate short-term victories
  7. Build on the gains achieved
  8. Institutionalise change

Action steps toward change

Should you start by rethinking the internal operating process? Putting a corporate social network in place? Reviewing the organisation’s operating process? Reviewing the business model? Reviewing your customer relations?

The issue of digital collaboration did not appear at your company for no reason. There have been trials, at the very least, and people have experience on the issue. Put your key people around the table to see what you have, your strong points, your weak points, expectations, support and potential obstacles.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s Optimising Digital Collaboration from the Inside Out, for more information contact Anthony Poncier T +33 14482 4648 M +33 62334 0881 or Sébastian Faure T +33 14482 4565.

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