On March 28th, 2012 Ultimate Software announced an enterprise social networking deal with Yammer. The idea behind the deal comes from Ultimate’s realization that transaction systems are limited to their data model and to their process model. If you only use a formal system to capture and document people’s performance on a yearly basis, much “management by walking around” or perhaps more accurately these days, “management by reading around” is lost.
Each year, people frantically accumulate personal evidence to make the case for that they met their personal and organizational goals and objectives. They are so busy most of the year that they may miss the opportunity to include a nice e-mail or other kudo in their file. Ultimate saw Yammer as a way to build off the “natural” behavior of people interacting through the social network to augment that reporting and to create new capabilities when it comes to managing to goals.
I think this is a worthy investment, and one that is likely to evolve in positive ways as individuals, managers and organizations figure out how to best integrate enterprise social networking with their organizational policies and practices, but it isn’t going to reflect Ultimate’s intent without some work on behalf of the adopting organizations.
Here what you need to watch for:
Gaming the system. The “natural” behavior that Ultimate is attempting to integrate can quickly become “unnatural” as people find their conversations being used for something other than conversing. Once social networks become data, the behavior of people may change. Yammer and other enterprise social media suppliers may argue that the transparency of the system will help “self-police” poor behavior, like over-liking someone, but some people will find subtle ways to game the system. In knowledge management, and this is a variant on that theme, false metrics traditionally abound. As people discover what the organization says it values, and even more so if it acts on that articulated value, people will find a way to align their metrics to the value measurement. A good example of this in knowledge management is the number of posting in a community of practice. If organizations measure activity rather than the quality of application, then people will post content just to post it. They will “get their numbers up.” If you look at the discussion on statistics in Moneyball, you see that the way people modeled the team determined they kinds of players and skills for which they advocated. The innovation introduced by Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane was not so much the use of statistics, as it was the replacement of the underlying model, which was then supported by statistics. Beane’s model was complex in many ways, because it was non-predictive at the ultimate goal. He didn’t build a team around accumulating runs, but around creating activity on one hand (hitting), and limiting activity on the other (pitching). It would be hard for the team to game Beane because they weren’t sure what he was doing. The use of social media in a Serendipity Economy is very much the same kind of thing. Oversimplify and you run the very real risk of people gaming the system. Look for individuals who do outstanding things, and then bring them together to form teams that execute or innovate, and you may have something really unique on your hands.
Transitioning to more emergent performance platforms. Most organizations are dysfunctional. Even the ones receiving awards for being great organizations are dysfunctional. If they aren’t, think of them like you would rain in Seattle. Give them a minute and they will become dysfunctional. Organizations need to let policy emerge from practice when it comes to enterprise social networking and individual performance. No one knows how or if enterprise social networking will work when focused on performance. Beware of prescriptive guidance that locks your organization into a practice that may contribute to dysfunction rather than thwart it. Play, experiment and create feedback loops. Most importantly, listen and talk to managers. Good managers before the implementation of enterprise social media are still going to be good managers. Poor managers aren’t going to improve just because software was installed. Good managers and executives need to recognize the spectrum of their management performers and listen to those who find innovative uses of the new technology, and actively coach or replace those who misuse and abuse it.
Mind your peripheral vision. During any software implementation people will focus on a few things, and ignore other things, even important things. Don’t get so into enterprise social networking that you forget to execute on other things. Enterprise social networking is just another communications channel with a new set of characteristics. Use it in a way that serves your organization well, without letting it be a distraction. And certainly don’t let its integration into HR become such a focal point that people spend all day analyzing feeds rather than engaging with people. Communicate that the new bright shinny object is just one of many tools for helping get a picture of organizational health and performance. Don’t loose site of all of the other ways people behave just because you are asking them to add a new behavior.