Sunday, September 13, 2009

the people challenge

During a recent business analysis assignment (elicit, analyse and document user requirements for an internal information sharing service) i was struck yet again by the vast gap between technology offerings and the readiness, willingness, ability of people to take advantage of them.
The tools required to embark on an information sharing and management initiative are out there, freely available and easy to use
  • commenting and rating services can be embedded in your content to facilitate feedback (example JS-Kit)
  • there are survey and voting services aplenty (SurveyGizmo, UserVoice, your favourite here).
  • wikis ditto, take your pick
  • set up a blog in 2 minutes
  • tiddlywiki - our business requirement was originally developed using this, in addition to the content (the business requirement) the format demonstrates full text search, non-linear presentation, commenting and feedback, all of which the user community had very little, if any, experience
  • pbworks - used as a demo implementation of how the requirement could be realized
  • tangler - a discussion forum embedded in pbworks as part of the demonstration
It's a mashup paradise!

These examples are not meant as endorsements or final recommendations for adoption. They make the point that useful tools are easy to find, that the technology is by far the lesser challenge that faces us.

The people that shall use these tools however, whether just as information consumers, or as content developers and administrators, are another matter entirely. And we are all pretty much in agreement on this. Resorting to the hoariest cliches, everyone knows that "it's the people that make or break it" and that "without the people's buy-in" our efforts are doomed to failure.

Beyond that general agreement however we had little of substance to help us address the real challenge:

How do we bring about that crucial shift in attitude towards collaboration, towards sharing information? How do we begin to address the deeply entrenched behaviours that stand in the way?

We are slaves to the many behaviours that define corporate social culture. Example: the reluctance to share knowledge, because knowledge is power and sharing it somehow weakens me. The idea of sharing and collaboration goes against the competitive urges that motivate us in the workplace. On the other hand, people are often reluctant to participate because they fear it will expose their ignorance, their vulnerabilities.
Security policies in many corporate environments also keep their workers in the dark, isolated from relevant communities. Example Websense. It's as though people are not allowed to have telephones on their desk lest they use them to make private calls.

What to do?

Although these observations come from my experience working in two large corporates, i suspect they apply quite broadly across the corporate workplace. I am putting this topic up here in the hope of starting a useful debate that addresses this "people challenge"

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