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Should trust be a prerequisite for a social intranet?

03.19.2014
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Collaboration has the potential to massively enhance productivity and retention in your organisation. However this potential is often trapped by executives who fear what employees will use a social intranet for. Leading to the belief that employees need to earn trust to deserve having social tools.

The biggest flaw in this logic is actually discovering which activities can earn this trust, I’d venture there are very few if any. Surely to earn trust we’d need to presume it first to see how employees use it and what we can learn from it?

Whilst reading LinkedIn’s intriguing My First Job series, a quote from John Donahoe, CEO at eBay, in “What Unloading Beer Taught Me About Leadership” shows why presumed trust is critical to eBay:

People think you have to earn trust, but that mindset reduces team effectiveness. Instead, why not presume trust until someone does something untrustworthy? In doing so, you approach colleagues with the understanding that we are all on the same team.

Presuming trust communicates support, motivates everyone and ultimately makes everyone more successful. This practice can be scaled. It works one on one, with a team, and across an organization.

I believe this is how you build a strong team

John Donahoe, CEO at eBay

Have you ever worked in a stifling culture which crushes your motivation and productivity?

In the early stages of my career, I had a boss who was a control freak. Actually not only were they a control freak but bizarrely never actually seemed to do any work…yet played a lot of golf. Work was regimented, morale was rotten in a hire and fire culture and my team often worked under the radar to offer beyond our responsibilities to improve what we did to deliver value to our stakeholders, despite our boss rather than for them, and therefore not as effectively.  We did it begrudgingly.

Comparing that to today, I’m working on a project I wasn’t asked to do. The project is a response to a challenge I noticed lots of Intranet Managers and those responsible for intranets were struggling with. I can do this because Interact has a presumed trust culture or what you might call an adult working environment.

A presumed trust culture motivates me to make a difference, safe in the knowledge that every so often one of my projects may fail or not deliver as expected. It’s a risk of any project, but we learn and share the lessons from it to develop our knowledge and approach.

Many people I speak to and companies I consult for, seem to face the same culture challenge I had years ago. They see the benefits of collaboration but to put it brutally, employees aren’t trusted enough to risk time wasting / non-work related conversations or posting  something deemed inappropriate. Meanwhile a lot of the traditional time drains such as too many meetings and office politics remain untouched in middle management.

How do you turn an earn trust culture into a presumed trust culture?

We need to embrace the idea that sometimes failure has to occur to achieve success but getting senior management to embrace this can be far harder, Dr Tomas Chamorro has written excellently about this on behalf of Melcrum.

In regards to collaboration, we need to educate our senior executives to an idea prevalent throughout my history degree, “what if?”

  • In a worst case scenario, what if this outcome happened?
  • What if the collaborative tool wasn’t there to do it with?
  • In other words presumed trust versus earned / no trust (they’re the same thing).

Let’s try a few potentially negative scenarios:

1.      Somebody writes something inappropriate on the intranet in a blog, page or comment

Presumed Trust

Assuming you have an Acceptable Use Policy for your social intranet (in some companies this as simple as “anything you write is a professional representation of you. Please use these tools in a considered manner”) you may need to amend your Acceptable Use policy.

Most often the user’s peers will report an inappropriate comment which instantly hides it until the author of the content decides if it is acceptable or not. There may in extreme cases be a need to raise this to their manager or HR depending on the severity of the offence. However it could only  be published in their own name, is an employee really going to do something this stupid? If they are, then they’re likely to be doing other activities equally stupid and damaging to your business.

It’s worth acknowledging experience shows that the likelihood of this happening is rare to non-existent.

What if the collaborative tool wasn’t there?

The user wouldn’t have been able to post the content…on the intranet. Instead it would have just as likely ended up on a host of public facing platforms if that user was determined enough. In this case you’ve lost your right to reply and most likely there will be some damage to the public perception of your organisation.

2.      A board member publishes a communication and an employee challenges something within it

Presumed Trust

There are countless studies indicating why tell communications are flawed, disengaging and impact your retention. Take a case where a board member has posted that there is going to be a pay freeze this year on your social intranet . An employee questions why this is happening when the executive team have just been delivered a new fleet of cars.

It opens up the opportunity to answer this question openly, no matter how difficult it will be to do so.

What if the collaborative tool wasn’t there?

It’s an awkward question but one which undoubtedly is also being asked across kitchens, desks and water coolers throughout your offices. If you’re unionised, you’ll know the risk of the union spin on this one, much like scenario 1. It will have the same dangers.

3.      A process is published which doesn’t represent the way a group works

This happens more than you’d expect, I’ve worked with various companies whose front line workers have said of a process “we haven’t used that equipment or methodology for over a year!”

Presumed Trust

Employees come back and comment to say there are flaws or issues with this process. Positively an employee may translate that process to be relevant for a group of workers who initially treat it as irrelevant. Better still this counts towards your ISO:9001 requirements, clarification and communication.

What if the collaborative tool wasn’t there?

The process either is ineffective and reduces impact or is ignored, wasting the time of the team or process writer and failing your compliance audits.

Plus two positive scenarios:

1.      A last minute tender comes in at 5PM with a critical response time of 8AM the next morning, there’s nobody in the office to help you with difficult criteria

Presumed Trust

Interact’s Presence tool allows you to not only search for experts who could help you with your tender, but also highlights those who are available and therefore you can expect a response from. You can prompt these users to your problem as well as search whose profile skills match your need.

Often this highlights people you weren’t aware of  that have the experience you need.

What if the collaborative tool wasn’t there?

Obviously there’s a risk that the people you message or mail won’t reply. You won’t know if they’ve gone home or are busy. You also will have to rely on people you know and the most relevant job titles. This doesn’t always guarantee the best answer.

Without a social intranet you are likely to be hoping for a response, more so if there isn’t a supportive culture or benefit to knowledge sharing.

2.      You want ideas to improve how you work. External consultancy has been the traditional route but is costly.

Collaboration tools such as ideation, questions and discussions allow you to easily reach your employees.Working on the assumption that 100 people are being paid an average of £25,000 you have a pool of £2.5 million worth of ideas you may not be taking advantage of. Using existing tools on your intranet, you could be tapping into this knowledge and benefiting from collective problem solving. A host of Interact customers have used this to internationally recognised effect, often reducing or removing the need for third party advice.

What if the collaborative tool wasn’t there?

Needless money is spent on outside resources asking your employees the questions you could be asking yourself. Furthermore this will lead to a greater disengaged workforce who will feel their ideas and knowledge remain unrecognised.

What next?

To convince your board to follow the assumed trust method and make your social intranet a success, you will need:

  • An Acceptable Use Policy
  • A good idea of your ‘What Ifs’
  • An easy to use social intranet
  • An eye on the culture of your organisation to encourage people to knowledge share.
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Interact Intranet Bloggers.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)