Friday, August 21, 2009

Column: Enabling the Web 2.0 Worker

I am working on a presentation that, among other things, provides managers with strategic advice on how to enable Web 2.0 workers. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you. I would also like you to leave me your comments, given that you are Web 2.0 workers, around what would better enable you to do your job that I didn’t outline below?

Trust your employees with your IT resources

Provide your employees with unfiltered access to the Internet. If you want them to take full advantage of the richness of information available to them on the web, they need to be able to immerse themselves in the content. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to access something for work, only to be blocked by the firewall.

Once you have opened the door though, don’t let them wander the halls aimlessly. Have conversations about how we can make better use of the Internet, and in doing so, build a common understanding of what is appropriate and inappropriate use. Whatever you do, don’t misunderstand “common understanding” to mean “your understanding,” the learning here should flow both ways. Challenge them, and allow yourself to be challenged, because things are changing.

For example, think about the implications of this interesting statistic:

No one would dare tell someone they can’t go for a smoke, but people are told daily not to participate in social networking. Yes the two are different activities, but they can share certain social elements. Now I don’t want to get bogged down into an odd discussion about smoking versus social networking, but in my mind if you are allowing one and banning the other, you need to be able to articulate the differences because the truth of the matter is that social networking is far more popular (not to mention healthier!) than smoking

Make time to learn about social media / web 2.0 (and everything else that gets pulled in) with your employees

Social media offers new ways of working collaboratively, and that will take some getting used to. These types of tools are still new in the government and there is a lot of learning ahead.

You may initially feel that figuring out exactly how to interact with others and manage relationships in a virtual environment is challenging. Be open with one another and discuss issues with your colleagues as they arise. Remember that these tools offer tremendous opportunities to share with each other, break down silos, better engage our colleagues and to change our work culture for the better.

Moreover, unless you work specifically in the area, most of us likely don’t have a thorough understanding of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP), Official Languages (OL), Public Service Values and Ethics, Accessibility, etc. So why are we so quick to point our fingers at new collaborative technologies and declare that they will never work under these frameworks? I think that it is unfair to place the burden for that lack of understanding on the tools themselves because the tools don’t cause the problems; they only bring the problems to the forefront where they become considerably more prevalent. So discuss the implications of all of these frameworks when considering, designing, implementing and using new collaborative technologies, and be open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, if there isn’t a zone of agreement between the two, that perhaps it is the frameworks that need modernizing not the tools that need antiquing (Oh and then don’t be afraid to step up and start working on updating whatever you have found to be in need of an update).

Give them the tools internally where it is safe to experiment

Behind the firewall is a lot safer than outside it. Inside there is coaching, learning and room to wiggle whereas outside there is media, public perception, and little room to maneuver. My advice to you is wherever possible, create conditions which are more likely to foster successful outcomes because if space behind the firewall isn’t provided people will ultimately venture outside it.

So provide the tools internally and encourage colleagues to learn how to use and appropriate the technologies to their work within the work context, and encourage them to be open and innovative in their approaches. Furthermore, don't punish them for failed attempts. There was probably a great deal of learning that lead to that failure, learning that may help you avoid mistakes in the future, and more importantly avoid them outside the firewall.

If someone in your organization proposes to implement a new or complimentary tool, encourage them to articulate their argument, to document it and champion it. This does a couple of things. The first is that it teaches the proponents about the processes involved in seeing something through while also (hopefully) building up their tenacity and resilience. It also provides everything you need when approaching senior managers for support. But in so doing make sure you take care in your approach because you want to be a virtuous schemer not a block in the system.

Finally when implementing, try to find a way to deploy quickly and at low cost, don't make them wait and don't spend millions, the technology changes too fast.

The truth of the matter is that what I am suggesting is by no means a novel approach, but simply taking full advantage of the opportunity that lies in using an established process to try to bring in something new.

If you make this a war, it will be a war of attrition, one where everyone loses

Focus on the attitudes you want to foster within the workplace without getting caught up in generalizations based on generations or you risk alienating people. The last thing the public service needs is more alienation.

Your Thoughts?

Again, please leave me your thoughts; they will ultimately help me provide better advice to others. Thanks in advance.

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