99 Percent Culture, 1 Percent Technology

By Elizabeth Bennett  |  Posted 2008-02-21 Print this article Print

Procter & Gamble and other mainstream companies aim to overcome their hierarchical, individualistic ways to make room for flexible, open and unstructured technologies.

99 percent culture, 1 percent technology

Schueller likes to say that his job is to try to get P&G to move from operating like 1,000 companies of 100 workers to one company that realizes the full potential of its 100,000-strong workforce. It’s a compelling proposition: create a small, highly connected community in a huge, dispersed organization. That’s what knowledge management applications—and, later, intranets and portals—were supposed to accomplish. But as collaboration tools, those platforms haven’t lived up to their promise, according to Andrew McAfee, a Harvard Business School professor who studies how enterprises are using collaborative software and other social software tools.

Roughly 600 employees author all of P&G’s 300 blogs, which offer personal perspectives on topics of professional interest, such as design, marketing and emerging technology. Many of P&G’s bloggers were engaged in blog-like activities prior to blogging, such as composing and sending regular newsletters or e-mails to employee groups. However, making the case to trade in e-mail for a blog, even these days, is a call for a culture clash.

When Schueller approaches an employee and suggests that blogging may be a natural extension of the person’s work, the employee typically rejects the idea, claiming that blogging would be an additional task rather than an outgrowth of current work. By contrast, those workers who want to start a blog are the most active authors and early adopters of new technologies. “You could give them the worst [blog] tools in the world and they’d run with it,” Schueller says. “But if you ask someone to blog, they’ll show you every foible in the software.”

The degree to which workers adopt voluntary collaboration tools, he adds, is “99 percent culture, 1 percent technology.” At P&G, some are simply stuck in the culture of e-mail. The human resources division, for example, is still very “1.0” with its communications, according to Schueller, who has been trying to persuade HR staffers to post information that affects large groups of people in the taggable, searchable blog environment, rather than in e-mail.

Getting a huge workforce to open up publicly is a tricky proposition. Web 2.0 naysayers at P&G tend to skew older and be protective of their information: “Their default is to lock everything down,” Schueller says. “You have to show them the value of opening up.”

Younger workers, on the other hand, are more likely to make information available unless something is truly private. Gartner’s Drakos says there are early adopters and experimenters in every age bracket, but adds that workers under 30 are not only more likely to adopt social-computing platforms, but generally expect to use them in the workplace—a factor that businesses must address.

While younger workers are accustomed to freer information exchange than their more senior colleagues, they may also have a looser sense of privacy, raising the risk of exposing confidential or competitive information. The openness of these so-called “millennials”—those born between 1980 and 1995—could lead to inappropriate data sharing, says Drakos. But as with e-mail, instant messaging and other communication technologies, it is up to mentors, managers and company guidelines to establish proper information security.

Social software adoption in the enterprise raises new hurdles—not just for business managers and users, but for the IT workers who deploy the applications. IT departments must focus on how people use or don’t use the technology, something they haven’t historically done, says Mike Gotta, an analyst at the Burton Group. In the old days, it was “plan, build, run,” Gotta says, referring to the habits of software developers. With social media, he says, it’s critical for the IT group to stay involved after deployment, to help users adapt and to observe how they use the tools, so they can respond to immediate needs and anticipate future requirements.

The notion of sticking around to observe what needs emerge while workers use technology is critical to a successful Enterprise 2.0 deployment, according to Harvard’s McAfee, who adds that IT must now behave opposite the way it was trained. In the past, McAffe says it’s been de rigueur for developers to impose a workflow and privilege structure on enterprise applications prior to deployment. With Web 2.0 applications, the key to success is to release applications with limited structures, a practice technology departments often find surprisingly difficult.

Senior Writer
Elizabeth has been writing and reporting at Baselinesince its inaugural issue. Most recently, Liz helped Fortune 500 companies with their online strategies as a customer experience analyst at Creative Good. Prior to that, she worked in the organization practice at McKinsey & Co. She holds a B.A. from Vassar College.

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