It takes a network to serve a network.

I recently attended the DISRUPT.SYDNEY conference, an event hosting a collection of speakers on the topic of digital disruption. One of them – the head of a major retail business – caught my attention.

After logging in to his company’s internal social network, he saw an employee had posted about a problem.Within just seven minutes, the question was answered by an employee in a totally different and unrelated part of the organisation.

It’s a typical situation on any social network – the great benefit of crowdsourcing. But it’s one that demonstrates why enterprise networks are so powerful, and why businesses should start experimenting with them. There are methods you can use to make sure your own internal social network is being used, and being used properly.

1. From hierarchies to networks, from efficient to responsive

According to Adam Pisoni, Yammer co-founder and CTO, the reason businesses experience some form of digital disruption is that customers have access to faster information than within a business. They can ask a question on Facebook and get an answer in minutes. That doesn’t happen within a company.

Pisoni’s key hypothesis is this: The pace of change is directly correlated to humanity’s ability to connect to each other and have information flow freely.

Today’s businesses are built for efficiency, and not responsiveness. This dates way back to the manufacturing lines of the industrial revolution. Disruption is driven by communication. As we share our thoughts faster, easier and more richly, we change others’ opinions, expectations and perhaps, even behaviours.

2. User adoption and engagement is a measure of success

At the end of the day, the value of the enterprise social network is dependent on the number of people using it. It’s how business leaders naturally measure success. Katey Stevens, also of Yammer, has previously said how important it is for employees to be part of the journey in embedding enterprise social networks. For her, the mindset of appropriating the technology to everyday life is critical – not just implementing the tool.

3. Using networks to delight users

During his time as the Vice President of Talent at LinkedIn, Steve Cadigan noticed Google was using the site to recruit the very talent he was looking for. To compete, he started a new practice – the company would send each job candidate a traffic report on the morning of their interview. By providing the candidate (likely already anxious about the interview) with a little more information, showed the company cared about their wellbeing. This is the type of empowerment that can come with an internal social network.

4. Tell stories, build trust and accept conflict

Enterprise social networking helps organise focus on important tasks in an employee’s daily routine. Simon Terry – a change manager from Change Agents Worldwide LLC – identifies three important benefits of a platform:

  1. Efficiently and in a scalable-manner, telling powerful stories of work
  2. Facilitating interaction between users and build context quickly
  3. Clearly and transparently solving conflict and embracing it as a critical part of the process

5. Understanding what motivates the knowledge worker

In a knowledge economy, enterprise social networks help knowledge-workers do their jobs more efficiently. In today’s workforce, we are performing more and more non-routine and creative work, yet the business understanding of motivation hasn’t dramatically changed. Most of today’s companies are built on the same hypothesises that has driven companies since the industrial revolution.

Best selling management author Dan Pink suggests that to create workplaces which yield the best outcomes in today’s knowledge and creative economy, organisations must motivate employees through autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy is to allow people self-direction over their tasks (what), time (when), team (who) and technique (how). Our ‘default setting’ is to be autonomous, but the notions of ‘management’ often turn our attention to extrinsic motivations rather than intrinsic motivations.
  • Mastery recognises that people want to be better at their tasks. It’s the role of individual businesses to allow people to enter into ‘flow’ through providing day-to-day tasks which aren’t too easy nor too hard, which require employees to recognise their abilities as infinitely improvable. To improve will simply demand effort, grit and deliberate practice.
  • Purpose maximisation is increasingly becoming an important guiding principle alongside profit maximisation. There is recognition that the ‘purpose motive’ is a powerful source of energy and one that is often ignored.

The successful companies of the future will have a very different operating model than the one in yesteryear. Those who can respond to changing trends by establishing solid, useful networks in their businesses will survive the creative destruction.

Rob Chan is a former senior consultant in PwC Australia’s Experience Centre.


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Rob Chan