A contrarian view to adoption of collaboration-tools-in-the-global-workplace
POINT OF VIEW
A contrarian view to adoption
of collaboration tools in the
Social Business & Digital Marketing
More than eighty-thousand enterprises worldwide have operations in ten or more
countries, and this number only continues to rise. How do these enterprises effectively
harness the collective knowledge of their global workforces, which are increasingly
scattered? Although building a collaborative eco-system is the most obvious answer,
it’s no easy task, and besides investment in new technologies, it requires training, and
the adapting of processes and organizational matrixes. Those that get this right have
a competitive edge—incorporating real-time intelligence not just for market strategy
but also for resource allocation, talent sourcing and investment decisions. A study of
enterprises with successful collaboration eco-systems reveals that the factors that
steer them toward success are often counterintuitive to what is believed to be the best
Has the time come?
A 2012 study by McKinsey & Company of just four industry
sectors suggests that social platforms can unlock
$900 billion to $1.3 trillion in value in those four
sectors alone.1 In a recent whitepaper, we
discussed how new technologies, process
advances, and imbalances in talent
are changing the way people work
together.2 Over the last five years,
social technologies have reached
mainstream adoption and a variety
of synchronous and asynchronous
platforms available have accelerated
this adoption. For example, more
and more companies have adopted
IM and VoIP (Voice over Internet
Protocol) tools as ways of promoting
interaction between employees.
Despite the obvious benefits and the
theoretical feasibility, building these
collaborative capabilities is challenging, given
geographical distribution and cultural differences
in global companies. For instance, a 2011 study by a
researcher from IBM and the University of Michigan found that
while the workforces in China and India are comfortable with
using instant messaging (IM) as a communication tool, their
counterparts in Japan view IM as an “improper interruption in a
Moreover, while many multinationals have
invested heavily in social platforms, the
returns on these investments can be
slow to materialize. A 2013 survey by
Towers Watson found that while 56
percent of the employers surveyed
deployed various social-media tools
in their organizations, only 30
percent to 40 percent of respondents
rated the tools as highly effective.
What’s more, only 40 percent of the
employers rated the use of social
media technology as cost effective.4
This failure carries a high cost.
Failure to achieve significant productivity
gains could be attributed, in part, to the
fact that when deploying social technologies,
organizations often make the mistake of applying
the same principles as those used to adopt other
McKinsey & Company, “The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies,” 2012.
Genpact, “The Future of Global Business Operations,” 2013.
Yang & Wen, et al., “Collaborating Globally: Culture and Organizational Computer-mediated Communication,” 32nd International Conference on Information Systems,
Towers Watson, “2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey,” 2013.
The four questions that matter
our experience and success leads us to believe that the best
practices are often the ones that are, in fact, counterintuitive.
To ensure its social collaboration strategy is executed with
success, any organization that embarks on the journey must
consider the following:
Conventional wisdom #1: Executive
sponsorship is critical to adoption
• How do you ensure that socialcollaboration tools help identify
and then generalize, tag, and
distribute the right content?
Much like icebergs, often 90
percent of the knowledge
in any organization is buried
below the surface. The
question is, does your social
collaboration strategy help
make this knowledge readily
available in such a way as
to significantly improve the
supply chain of information?
• As resources and operations
become more distributed,
how can companies use
the principles of social
collaboration to design
effective processes, particularly
those that touch multiple internal
and external stakeholders?
• How can social graphs and social-network analysis be
leveraged to detect influencers within the network and to
identify collaboration issues and bottlenecks?
• How does an organization’s corporate culture affect
collaboration? In addition, how does this change between
Having these answers will help enterprises overcome the
most significant challenges, such as how to create a unified
operational view and how to ensure adoption and use of these
platforms by employees.
A counterintuitive approach to
At Genpact, we started using social intranets and SharePointbased internal and external communities in 2006 to effectively
connect a large workforce distributed across more than ten
countries at the time. And what we have discovered from
our experience is that companies need to modify commonly
accepted practices and conventional wisdom when building
Much of the existing literature regarding the further adoption
of enterprise collaboration platforms places undue emphasis
on so-called “best practices,” as well as on other guidelines
for deploying knowledge-management platforms. However,
social technologies are inherently different. For one, the needs
and expectation of users have evolved dramatically, thanks to
the massive growth of Web 2.0 communities and social media
outside the work environment. More importantly, collaboration
platforms need to support real work. A collaborative approach
that incorporates social tools promotes two-way dialogue
between work groups and can also include the growing
number of outside contractors that organizations rely upon
Here are six examples of “best practices” that have become
part of the conventional wisdom. In each of these instances,
Social-tools adoption doesn’t work like other IT
applications. When it comes to social tools,
grassroots adoption is the most critical
success factor. Relying exclusively on
executive sponsorship can often
delay growth and adoption. Rather,
employees will naturally gravitate
towards and stick to social tools if it
makes their job easier.
Getting employees to adopt
social tools is an effort that
shouldn’t begin with the C-Suite
but with juniors still in their 20s.
Organizations that first recognize
and recruit advocates with which
entry-level employees can identify
have a much higher chance of
sustained adoption. At Genpact,
this approach resulted in 22,000
users joining the community within
the first twelve months of rolling out and
a 36-percent adoption rate that was tenpercent higher than the industry benchmark.
Conventional wisdom #2: Technology is
not important; any platform will do
While everyone agrees that technology is only part of the
equation, it is important to choose the right technology based
on business priorities. The key role of technology is to make
it easier for individuals to connect based on areas of common
interest. Beyond the general questions regarding security, it is
also important to consider the user experience. How easy and
intuitive is it for people to use? Does it integrate with other
commonly used systems, and does it easily address their most
important work requirements? Is it available on mobile devices?
Does it support multiple languages for global organizations?
The choice of platform is a critical decision: platforms
that enhance the user’s experience will aid adoption and
Conventional wisdom #3: Because this
involves software, IT should be the
Because enterprise collaboration is powered by software
applications, the IT department becomes the natural owner
in most large organizations. While its role is significant
for deployment, the real owner should be a community
manager whose singular goal is to drive adoption across the
organization. The community manager must be involved
with IT experts throughout the process of selecting the right
technology and platform.
The community manager will drive engagement and adoption
and, more importantly, gather feedback In a successful
community, contribution and engagement tend to start out as
transactional and then move to the supportive, the critical, and,
finally, the collaborative stages. How long this process takes
depends on how quickly the community managers mobilize
users to become connected.
Conventional Wisdom #4: Build it and
they will come
work better to drive early adoption within one or more
sub-communities first (based on region or a function) - a group
more willing to use collaboration in their daily workflow.
When organizations roll out a new social-media tool, the
announcement creates a buzz, which, in turn, generates high
levels of adoption—at least for the first few months. However,
over time, usage typically drops when the novelty wears off and
stakeholders don’t see tangible benefits. As a result, the socialmedia tool starts to gather dust.
Most organizations today operate in a matrix structure.
Managed properly, the combination of horizontal and vertical
alignment can enable successful collaboration. The vertical
alignment helps ensure relevance with business strategy, while
the horizontal alignment enables collaboration across functional
The truth is that unless the tool becomes integral to users’ work
habits, it quickly develops a reputation as just one more thing
that has to be done. As a result, it is critical to entrench online
collaboration services into the existing workflows. For example,
users need a clear roadmap of how the collaboration platform
can be synchronized with e-mail, calendar, or documentmanagement solutions.
Collaborative platforms such as SharePoint have been used by
many companies, but how it’s leveraged varies vastly. For most
companies, building a collaborative culture is an evolutionary
process that requires balancing users’ needs with the latest
technology. To ensure that social tools become integral to
daily tasks, companies need to pre-populate the platform
with customized content and then build a framework around
key themes of interest within the organization. Running an
extended pilot may yield a lot of seed content, which can
eventually be migrated to the final platform. For example, at
Genpact, some of the most prolific user groups were active long
before the platform was actually rolled out, and the feedback
from subject-matter and functional experts was crucial towards
eventually engaging a wider base of members.
Conventional wisdom #6: Reward and
recognition drives usage and behavior
Let’s face it: most reward and recognition (R&R) programs do
not generate the kind of excitement that their sponsors expect.
Organizations create campaigns to reward adoption and assign
“knowledge champions,” but often with little success.
What these organizations don’t recognize is that the true value
of enterprise collaboration comes from bringing data, content,
and people together in the context of business activities. The
reality is that most people will adopt a platform only if it makes
them more efficient and effective. If it doesn’t, usage will be
short term and driven by incentives.
Conventional wisdom #5: Play the
culture card right
What most global organizations have to account for is that
there is no single universal culture. While there are values and
behaviors that all organizations promote, cultures can vary
greatly based on demographics, geography, and the nature of
In some restrictive cultures, a lack of access to social tools at
the workplace leads to a reluctance to adopt social tools. Very
often, the concern for employees is how their peers judge
them. Following a merger, organizations usually discover
that the new entity brings its own unique culture. Similarly,
companies that expand into new countries find the regional
office operates quite differently from the headquarters.
To accommodate these differences, it’s important to recognize
that a collaboration community is an aggregation of
sub-communities, representing different geographies, with
different needs and communication dynamics. It may actually
Think global, act social
Across the world, social tools are supporting a rapid shift from
transaction to engagement. Most companies have understood
that a social community is the only collaboration mechanism
that they can scale up easily. And like any network, as more and
more members participate, the value of the community grows
exponentially. Our experience shows that if organizations are
willing to rethink the conventional wisdom, they can drive the
kind of adoption rates that generate increased value from these
About the author:
Genpact Limited (NYSE: G) is a global leader in transforming and running business processes
and operations, including those that are complex and industry-specific. Our mission is to
help clients become more competitive by making their enterprises more intelligent, meaning
more adaptive, innovative, globally effective and connected to their own clients. Genpact
stands for Generating Impact – visible in better management of risk, regulations, costs and
growth for hundreds of long-term clients including more than 100 of the Fortune Global
500. We offer an unbiased, agile combination of smarter processes, analytics and technology,
which limits upfront investments and enhances future adaptability. We have 60,000+
employees in 24 countries with key management and corporate offices in New York City.
Behind our single-minded passion for process and operational excellence is the Lean and Six
Sigma heritage of a former General Electric division that has served GE businesses for more
than 15 years.
Subroto Gupta leads social business
strategy and digital marketing at Genpact.
For more information, visit www.genpact.com.
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