E2.0’s Gift to Law Firms

I’m a little startled to report that I begun practicing law nearly 20 years ago.  (Since I don’t feel that old, perhaps the space-time continuum can explain this fact!) In the intervening time, one of the things that lawyers around the world have mourned is what they perceive as the transition of relationship-based interactions with clients to a situation where legal work is a commodity much like any other and the relationship between client and lawyer does not seem to be as highly prized (or reliable) as before.  According to this view, as law has declined from a profession to a business, some lawyers (and clients) have dropped their focus on relationships and hoped that results alone will win the day. However, as we’ve been discovering in law firms and other kinds of organizations, most people crave connection  — even at work. The loss of connection leads to loss of personal investment, loyalty and satisfaction.

Into this sorry mess comes Enterprise 2.0.  As I’ve been experimenting with social media tools inside and outside the workplace, I’ve been struck by how they help forge and build connections.  Further, with this foundation of relationship in place, knowledge sharing become easy, efficient and effective.  We move from working in silos to working together, without much additional effort at all. In fact, the beauty of the tools is that the best of them are extraordinarily easy to use.  While some use cases are undoubtedly more helpful to the enterprise than others, the number of use cases is usually limited only by a lack of imagination.  This presents a wonderful opportunity for the enterprise.

Ross Dawson takes this further by describing the alchemy of combining knowledge + relationships.  He starts by quoting Norman and Ramirez, who said 17 years ago:  “the essence of strategy is to `link together the only resources that matter in today’s economy: knowledge and relationships.'”

They are right.  Linking knowledge and relationships is even more critical today than it was then.  Here’s how Ross Dawson describes the situation within today’s organization:

An organization cannot function with only commoditized supplier relationships or strong partnerships – both are required depending on the function and situation. However the danger is that the shift to commoditized, price-based relationships takes away from the energy put into relationships based on trust and deep mutual knowledge. Today more than ever, those who are better at developing rich knowledge-based relationships have an enormous advantage over their competitors, not least in being able to innovate more effectively.

Enterprise 2.0’s gift to law firms (and other organizations) is that it gives us a way to restore our foundational relationships, both among colleagues within the firm and with our clients.  When law firm knowledge management is focused on building relationships and facilitating communication, knowledge sharing becomes much easier.  And, at the end of the day, making knowledge sharing efficient and effective is one of the key reasons law firms invest in knowledge management.

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Enterprise 2.0 Leadership

For those who grew up in a command-and-control culture at work, it can be a little daunting to tackle the real challenges to their training embodied by Enterprise 2.0 initiatives. When  Enterprise 2.0 advocates say “emergent” and “free-form,” command-and-control purists hear “anarchic” and “chaotic.”  So how do we bridge the gap?

One way to bridge the gap is to rethink our views of leadership and teams.  In this regard, the folks at Zappos have some interesting things to say about what constitutes good leadership and team membership:

The best leaders are those who lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. We believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those who are on the front lines and closest to the issues and/or the customers. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead.

The best team members take initiative when they notice issues so that the team and the company can succeed. The best team members take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members whenever challenges arise.

Zappos’ focus on giving responsibility AND authority to the folks closest to the customer is a radical departure from a command-and-control structure that often gives the responsibility to the folks on the front lines without giving them the necessary authority to do what needs to be done.  If I’m reading the Zappos statement correctly, team members solve problems where they find them.  They don’t merely duck those problems by delegating up.

Now take this approach and apply it to an Enterprise 2.0 deployment:  “We believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those who are on the front lines and closest to the issues and/or the customers.” Suddenly, this does not seem quite so anarchic.  Rather, it is about giving the front line experts the tools and flexibility to get the job done.  Above all, it’s about hiring good people and trusting them to do the right thing — with your customers and with your E2.0 tools.

And what about managers?  “The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed.” Facilitating rather than restraining action is quite a change from command-and-control.  And, this rule for managers applies equally to knowledge management personnel.  Our job is to provide support to the front line staff and help remove obstacles in their path.  In an E2.0 implementation, this means helping the front line staff get started and then stepping out of their way so that they can bend and shape the tool to suit their needs and imaginations.

If you’ve tried to bring this spirit to an Enterprise 2.0 deployment, you most likely can attest to the fact that wonderful things happen when the subject matter experts finally have simple (and fun) tools that allow them to collaborate and interact with each other and their information base.  Equally, if you’ve tried to provide Enterprise 2.0 tools on a command-and-control basis, I’m willing to bet real money that you’ve got a failed implementation or two on your hands.

What’s your experience? Will I win my bet?

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The Kindness of Strangers

We’ve never met. Nonetheless, Samuel Driessen was most generous to me yesterday. What did he do? He very kindly offered me his full pass to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference to be held in June.

This conference provides a prime opportunity to learn first-hand from people who have had success with Enterprise 2.0 tools. For those of us in the E2.0 trenches, it promises guidance and inspiration. Along the way, we also get to meet (and commiserate with) folks who are part of the wider E2.0 community.

Samuel is a well-known proponent of social media tools.  Consequently, it isn’t too surprising that he chose to let the world know via his blog and Twitter that he wouldn’t be able to use his conference pass.  He then invited anyone interested in attending in his stead to leave a comment on his blog.  By using these Web 2.0 tools and spreading the message through various online networks, Samuel made a wonderful opportunity available to someone he had never met before, someone who lives in a different continent and works in a completely different industry.

Blanche DuBois famously said in A Streetcar Named Desire that she had “always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  Samuel’s approach reminded me that the world of social media is populated with generous people who are kind to strangers every day.  Thanks to social media tools, we have the opportunity to expand our networks beyond geographical and industry boundaries, making friends of strangers.

So let me end where I should have begun — with my heartfelt thanks to Samuel Driessen.  As I’ve promised Samuel, I’ll report in this blog the pearls of wisdom I’m sure to find at the conference.  That’s the best way I know to demonstrate my thanks in a practical fashion.

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My Mistake

I made a mistake yesterday. Although I started with the best of intentions, my error was apparent within minutes. In fact, as soon as my first mouthful hit my digestive track, it was obvious that I had eaten food that was on the verge of spoiling. Unfortunately, by the time my brain processed the bad news, I was a few mouthfuls into my gastric disaster.  I’ve been paying for my error ever since.

Usually, nature provides an excellent early warning system to keep us away from spoiled food.  Bad smells and visual signs of spoilage are clear indicators that we should give up on that food and try something else.  In my case, the food looked fine and didn’t smell bad.  Consequently, I didn’t realize that I was on the road to pain and should turn around immediately.

We’re regularly told that fail fast and often are key to successful Enterprise 2.0 deployments.  Those of us who are trying to do it right look earnestly for signs that our current effort may be in danger of riding off the rails.  We check usage, we seek out anecdotal evidence, we read the tea leaves.  But what if we can’t tell if we need to quit?  What if the signs are ambiguous or, in the case of my bad meal, misleading?

Dion Hinchcliffe, Peter Kretzman and Michael Krigsman have been thinking about the role of failure in IT projects generally and Enterprise 2.0 deployments specifically.  I’ve provided links below to some of their writing, as an amuse-bouche.  However, I’d encourage you to dive into their blogs.  You’ll find lots of learning there.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the following observations from Peter Kretzman’s blog post, The IT project failure dilemma:  how to get early warnings:

One of the problems, as I’ve pointed out before, is that it can actually be surprisingly difficult to tell, even from the inside, how well a project is going.  Project management documents can be appearing reliably,  milestones met, etc.  Everything looks smooth. Yet, it may be that the project is at increasingly large risk of failure, because you can’t address problems you haven’t identified.  This is particularly so because the umbrella concept of “failure” includes those situations where the system simply won’t be adopted and used by the target group, due to various cultural or communication factors that have little or nothing to do with technology or with those interim project milestones.

Moreover, every project has dark moments, times when things aren’t going well. People get good at shrugging those off, sometimes too good.  Since people involved in a project generally want to succeed, they unintentionally start ignoring warning signs, writing those signs off as normal, insignificant, or misleading.

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Further Reading:

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Talk Amongst Yourselves

Years ago, Saturday Night Live gave us the secret to effective knowledge sharing within the enterprise. In the famous words of Linda Richman on Coffee Talk: “Talk amongst yourselves!”

I was reminded of this when reading Tweeting your way to closing the skills gap on your plant floor, which cites Benjamin Friedman, the co-author of  Web 2.0: The Inflection Point for Knowledge Management.  Friedman says that while traditional top-down knowledge management methods and systems may still make sense for certain processes and bodies of knowledge that need precise documentation and uniform execution, these KM methods and systems aren’t always nimble enough to deal with many of the day to day issues that arise in manufacturing (and even in law firms).

He argues that when you let employees speak directly with each other (without the mediation or interference of a central knowledge management function) you can achieve faster, cheaper and more effective knowledge sharing. In his words:

…while traditional knowledge management solutions attempted to capture knowledge by corporate edict and with rigid tools, Web 2.0 technologies foster `organic’ knowledge management by giving workers the means to locate, organize and syndicate knowledge themselves.

The key to this is introducing Enterprise 2.0 tools into the mix of KM methods and systems AND implementing those Enterprise 2.0 tools in a manner that respects their emergent nature.  This means allowing employees outside the central KM function to use the tools as they see fit to facilitate the flow of information. Done correctly, this allows for spontaneous communication, in addition to later retrieval and re-use of information at point of need.

This marriage of formal, old-school KM approaches with informal Enterprise 2.0 tools and methods provides a glimpse of a more effective means of improving the flow of information and supporting better decision making.  Assuming we can achieve an appropriate balance between the formal and informal approaches, we may in fact be able to attain some of the goals knowledge management has been seeking to meet.  After years of hearing that KM is dead, the prospect of success is both exciting and a little overwhelming.  Consequently, perhaps we can be excused for feeling “a little verklempt.”

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Drinking Champagne

Drinking your own champagne” was how Jo Hoppe, CIO of Pegasystems, described the process that some with a less elegant turn of phrase have called “eating your own dog food.” It means using your own products and taking your own advice.  It also means moving out of the world of the theoretical into the painfully practical. Jo Hoppe calls this becoming “a living laboratory.” And nowhere is this needed more than in knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 deployments.

Knowledge managers (at least in the legal industry) are accomplished when it comes to identifying the “things lawyers won’t do.”  You don’t even have to buy a law firm knowledge manager a drink before they start complaining about how lawyers don’t attend training sessions, or won’t spend enough time in an application to see its full range of capabilities or won’t take a few minutes to properly profile or file a document.  This conversation can rapidly disintegrate into a pity party unless you have a real life corrective.  So, I suggest that we all drink our own champagne.   But, before we can open that bottle of bubbly, we need to have a few moments of honesty and ask ourselves some questions along the following lines:

  • Do we take measures to “walk a mile in the shoes” of the lawyers we seek to assist?
  • Do we follow processes within the KM group that promote transparency and mutual accountability?
  • Is our natural tendency within the KM group to behave competitively or collaboratively?
  • Are we using Enterprise 2.0 tools to facilitate the information flow within the KM group?
  • Do we have personal experience of the benefits of social media tools before trying to sell it to our colleagues?
  • Do we keep ourselves up to date on the training we need to be productive?

What are your answers?  Are you in the “do what I say, not what I do” camp or do you actually drink your own champagne?  One director of knowledge management I know posts all of her team’s projects on her firm’s intranet, showing goals and achievements (as well as shortcomings) against plan.  In so doing, she embraces the transparency that is a key part of social media use within the firewall, shines a little light on the work of her team and makes herself accountable for the work of her team.  Others use wikis and blogs to manage KM projects, thereby giving their teams invaluable first-hand experience of the benefits and deficits of the software and processes they are using.  They are world-class quaffers of champagne.  What about you?

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More Sharing, Not Less

Rees Morrison reports that clients get unhappy when their lawyers have internal meetings. According to some of the general counsel he works with, these meetings are seen as unnecessary additions to the bill. Meanwhile, their outside counsel know that these meetings have been a traditional means of sharing important matter information and, thereby, promoting efficiency.  For the general counsel who are concerned about this issue, Rees goes on to provide some strategies they might employ to reduce the financial impact of internal meetings.

I would respectfully suggest that there may be a better, less contentious approach. If we can agree that general counsel and their outside lawyers understand that there is great value in knowledge sharing and that we are all invested in promoting this sharing, then we should work to find a more efficient and cost-effective means of knowledge sharing rather than making the sharing financially difficult for the outside lawyers.  Instead of old-fashioned meetings, could we perhaps try … Enterprise 2.0?

The promise of Enterprise 2.0 is that it offers low-cost, light-weight ways of creating information streams so that participants can share their knowledge as and when needed.  This has the added benefit of eliminating some unnecessary meetings and emails – especially those regarding status updates.  Of course, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings and sometimes meeting in person is the best and most efficient thing to do.  But for those other times, we should consider taking advantage of current technology to maximize knowledge sharing while minimizing the financial impact on clients and firms alike.

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Enterprise 2.0 Requires Overalls

If you’re looking for overnight success, forget about social media. Snake oil salesman who tell you it’s easy (or it’s like magic) are NOT telling you the truth. Social media success, like pretty much everything else in life, requires hard work — thoughtfully and consistently done.  A recent Mashable piece, 3 Things You Need to Know About Social Media Strategy, makes this clear with the following advice:

  • Everyone Must Work Together – This definitely is easier said than done.  If your corporate culture is based on competition and bureaucratic infighting rather than cooperation and collaboration, you’ll have an uphill battle.

A company that hasn’t learned to listen to its own employees, and encourage them to collaborate internally, is not likely to succeed in integrating social media tools into its marketing mix, no matter what agency or consultant they hire.

  • Top Management Must Be On Board – Although you hear about social media as a grassroots phenomenon on the internet, it is a different animal when it is grafted onto a corporate culture.  Very little happens within an organization without top level support.  They control the staffing, the communications channels and, above all, the budget.

If the direction doesn’t come from the very top, managers, who have myriad reasons to fear change, will hang on to the status quo.

  • Don’t Expect Overnight Success – There is no such thing as “turnkey social media.”  You can’t just buy a tool and expect a social media revolution within your organization.  The first thing to realize that it’s not about the tools.  In fact, identifying the tool is the last stage of the process.  The first step is to understand what modes of communication and collaboration would best further your corporate strategy. Then, find a social media tool that will facilitate that.  If all you are doing is implementing the latest fad tool, your social media efforts will flounder.  And, even if you deploy the right tool for your needs, you should expect that it will take from 18 months to 3 years to gain significant traction.  That’s not my definition of overnight success. Is it yours?

If you’ve been under the illusion that implementing Enterprise 2.0 tools behind the firewall or launching an external social media campaign is easy, think again.  If you’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish one or the other with little or no pain, please let us know how.  In fact,  if you’re for real, you could probably charge a pretty penny as a social media consultant.  For the rest of us mortals, pull on your overalls and get to work because Thomas Edison could have been talking about social media when he said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

[h/t to David Gurteen for pointing out the Mashable piece]

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How Failure Leads to Epiphany

Jonah Lehrer has written a thought-provoking piece on why we too often miss the great opportunities presented by failure. In Accept Defeat:  The Neuroscience of Screwing Up, he explains how our brains purport to “help” us by screening out information that doesn’t fit with what we believe we know.  Here’s how he describes it:

The reason we’re so resistant to anomalous information — the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake — is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.

Ignoring failure can occasionally be a sanity-preserving, efficiency-enhancing approach to life.  However, when we ignore repeated failure, we may in fact be ignoring the only feasible explanation on the horizon.  Realizing this and acting on it requires strength of mind, openness, and a certain measure of humility.  It requires a true empiricist’s approach to life.

So how do we turn perceived failure around?  How do we find an epiphany amongst the rubble of unwanted test results?  Jonah Lehrer has the the following advice:

Check Your Assumptions: Ask yourself why this result feels like a failure. What theory does it contradict? Maybe the hypothesis failed, not the experiment.

Seek Out the Ignorant: Talk to people who are unfamiliar with your experiment. Explaining your work in simple terms may help you see it in a new light.

Encourage Diversity: If everyone working on a problem speaks the same language, then everyone has the same set of assumptions.

Beware of Failure-Blindness: It’s normal to filter out information that contradicts our preconceptions. The only way to avoid that bias is to be aware of it.

When it comes to implementing Enterprise 2.0 tools, there’s no substitute for constant experimentation.  And, there’s no way to avoid disappointments as you struggle to find what works best in your organization.  That said, don’t be too quick to discard your apparent failures.  When viewed with an open mind, they may point the way to success.  By following Jonah Lehrer’s advice, you may be able to find a breakthrough — an Epiphany.

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Here is some additional reading on Failure:

[Hat tip to Dan Pink for pointing out this article.]

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The Dark Side of Collaboration

Every group has its mantra. “Four legs good, two legs bad”  helped underscore the proper social and political order in Animal Farm.  For proponents of social media behind the firewall, the mantra has been “Collaboration good, silos bad.” Like motherhood and apple pie, collaboration is one of those things it’s hard to criticize  — until you meet the dark side of collaboration.

What’s the dark side of collaboration?  Collaboration done badly.  Here’s what McKinsey has to say on this issue in their article, Using Technology to Improve Workforce Collaboration:

Unfortunately, the productivity measures for collaboration workers are fuzzy at best. For production workers, productivity is readily measured in terms of units of output; for transaction workers, in operations per hour. But for knowledge workers, what might be thought of as collaboration productivity depends on the quality and quantity of interactions occurring. And it’s from these less-than-perfectly-understood interactions that companies and national economies derive important benefits. Consider the collaborative creative work needed to win an advertising campaign or the high levels of service needed to satisfy public citizens. Or, in a similar vein, the interplay between a company and its customers or partners that results in an innovative product.

Raising the quality of these interactions is largely uncharted territory. Taking a systematic view, however, helps bring some of the key issues into focus. Our research suggests that improvements depend upon getting a better fix on who actually is doing the collaborating within companies, as well as understanding the details of how that interactive work is done. Just as important is deciding how to support interactions with technology—in particular, Web 2.0 tools such as social networks, wikis, and video. There is potential for sizeable gains from even modest improvements. Our survey research shows that at least 20 percent and as much as 50 percent of collaborative activity results in wasted effort. And the sources of this waste—including poorly planned meetings, unproductive travel time, and the rising tide of redundant e-mail communications, just to name a few—are many and growing in knowledge-intense industries. [emphasis added]

If you continue to read the McKinsey article, you’ll learn about their recommendations for matching tools with types of collaboration work, thereby reducing wasted collaborative activity.  But even as you think about improving the quality of collaboration, you need to remember the emergent essence of Enterprise 2.0 tools and strategies:

Furthering collaboration excellence demands mind-sets and capabilities that are unfamiliar and sometimes even counterintuitive to many business managers. It requires trusting your collaboration workers to arrive at creative solutions rather than enforcing top-down policies. Business managers should allow time and provide forums for collaboration workers to brainstorm solutions to productivity problems. Corporate technology providers will need to provide tools that are flexible enough to enable experimentation, so that usage and adoption are widespread.  [emphasis added]

As you roll out your new Enterprise 2.0 tools, pay careful attention to their impact on collaboration.  Have you provided the means for knowledge workers to experiment and create more productive collaboration?  Or do your systems lead to activity that is no more than wasted effort?

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