McAfee: Business Leadership Roundtable [#e2conf]

Andy McAfee hosts this discussion with Paul Greenberg (The 56 Group), Marcia Conner (Altimeter) and Ted Schadler (Forrester).

[These are my notes from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2011 in Boston.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • What’s New?. The term “social” is going away. Collaboration is fading as a buzz phrase too. Meanwhile, senior HR leaders in large corporations are thinking about using social software to get things done in their organizations. So, HR is about to become a big focus for social software. Some of this is because there has been a gap in companies in terms of who or what improves productivity. This allows HR to help free the potential of 90% of their employees rather than devoting all their time on the 10% of employees who present compliance or risk challenges. Another important innovation is that companies are deploying command centers that track customer feedback. Radian6 is one of the companies that makes is possible.
  • When will things actually change? Within three years Marcia Conner believes that most employees will be taking action for themselves to obtain the social software they need to get their work done. This should force organizations to start deploying these tools on an enterprise wide basis. Ted Schadler says that 50% of employees now say that their technology at home is better than what they have at work. Two-thirds of Gen Y employees say their personal technology is better. Similarly, 35% of employees say they purchase their own work devices. Employees are moving ahead of their employers when it comes to technology. Meanwhile, as long as senior management remains entrenched and unaware of these shifts, the organizations will not formally change. Paul Greenberg says, however, that the communications revolution is leading some companies to allow some experiments under the radar. The manager may not completely understand social software, but they are willing to let their people try.

Do You Really Know?

Do you really know how your colleagues work? Do you really know what they need? Are you sure? If you don’t truly understand them, how can you provide the right knowledge management and technology support to help them?

Every time I hear someone in law firm knowledge management or IT say “Our lawyers would never…,” I’m tempted to ask them to produce the evidence for their assertion.  All too often the person declaiming about the “lawyers” has never actually worked beside them for any meaningful period of time. However, this doesn’t stop them from making overly broad statements about “those lawyers” based on incomplete or misconstrued information.

How do they get themselves in this mess?  There are any number of ways:  collecting anecdotal information in an unsystematic way, failing to grasp the context for what they are being told, not understanding the business processes in which the lawyers are engaged, not discerning what motivates those lawyers, refusing to consider evidence that contradicts their preconceptions, etc. Regardless of how they found themselves in this mess, the consequences are not trivial.  Their approach can prevent these knowledge management or IT personnel from offering services and resources that could materially improve the work life and work product of their lawyer colleagues.  Further, it can be an enormous barrier to innovation when a service provide in KM or IT hides behind misguided impressions, rather than relying on facts.

So what’s the solution?  At the recent ILTA 2010 Conference, we heard of several more fruitful approaches to understanding better how your internal clients work.  Connie Hoffman (CIO at Bryan Cave) recommended engaging in active listening, as well as creating a close development partnership with the lawyers.  Sandy Owen (Operations Director, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation) and Jessica Shawl (Operations Program Manager, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation) told us how Intel used flip cameras to document in video exactly how their in-house lawyers worked and ways in which technology made their lives easier or more challenging.  They also conducted “web jams” to gather information on user needs from their internal clients.

Moving beyond the world of lawyers, Ted Schadler at Forrester recently recounted how Peter Hambling (CIO of Lloyd’s of London) set about to change the way the IT department interacted with the end-users at Lloyd’s:

They’ve … embedded IT staff directly into the cubicle farms of business employees; they’ve built innovative solutions with teams comprised of business and IT employees; they’ve created applications that empower employees to understand global risk through a familiar interactive map. They created a new contract with business managers and employees that gives IT professionals a place in the business.

So now you’ve seen some examples of ways to get closer to your internal clients and understand better how you can improve their work lives. If you’re tempted to try video, take a look at Life in a Day: the story of a single day on earth.  It’s a rather extreme example of documenting how people work and live. Perhaps it will inspire you.

[Photo Credit: dsb nola]