For Web 2.0 What’s in the Workflow is What Gets Used

These early days of implementing web 2.0 for learning (or working, or both) is turning out to be a hit and miss affair.  While social media has been embraced in the public sphere, attempts to implement in organizations have been met with mixed success.  A recent survey by Mckinsey and Company showed as many survey respondents were dissatisfied with their use of Web 2.0 technologies as were satisfied.  Many of the dissenters cite impediments such as organizational structure, the inability of managers to understand the new levers of change, and a lack of understanding about how value is created using Web 2.0 tools.

Tony Karrer in his e-learning technology blog recently wondered about social networking participation –“it’s different when it’s a natural part of how we work”.  Some insight is provided in a popular article from the McKinsey Quarterly Report.  In Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work, company analysts suggest some tactics that are instructive for encouraging participation in social media for e-learning or in communities of practice.  One of their “six ways” that resonated with my own experience they labeled “What’s in the workflow is what gets used”.  From the report:

What’s in the workflow is what gets used

Perhaps because of the novelty of Web 2.0 initiatives, they’re often considered separate from mainstream work. Earlier generations of technologies, by contrast, often explicitly replaced the tools employees used to accomplish tasks. Thus, using Web 2.0 and participating in online work communities often becomes just another “to do” on an already crowded list of tasks.

Participatory technologies have the highest chance of success when incorporated into a user’s daily workflow. The importance of this principle is sometimes masked by short-term success when technologies are unveiled with great fanfare; with the excitement of the launch, contributions seem to flourish. As normal daily workloads pile up, however, the energy and attention surrounding the rollout decline, as does participation. One professional-services firm introduced a wiki-based knowledge-management system, to which employees were expected to contribute, in addition to their daily tasks. Immediately following the launch, a group of enthusiasts used the wikis vigorously, but as time passed they gave the effort less personal time-outside their daily workflow-and participation levels fell.

As enthusiastic as early adopters are with new technologies,  each new wave teaches us that unless they add value to how work get accomplished,  the novelty can wear off quickly.   I think the lesson here for organizational learning and e-learning practitioners is to be careful not to simply roll out social media (for learning or otherwise) and expect widespread adoption similar to what we have seen in the public arena.

Also, management will be making a mistake if they feel they are best suited to make the decision regarding how to best use web 2.0 tools. That decision should be a participatory exercise with end users and it should be grounded in workflow or knowledge flow improvement efforts.  Chances for successful adoption will be much greater when employees analyze and improve their business processes building in web 2.0 tools as integral elements to that workflow.  There will also be lots of trail and error involved.  One of the other interesting findings of the McKinsey report was was intended uses sometimes failed but were replaced by unintended successes that emerged from grass roots use of the tools in pilot projects.

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