When I joined Lawson Software in 2006, it was merging with another software company, Intentia. Both companies had roughly 2,000 employees. Lawson was headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota and 95% of its revenues came from the United States. Intentia was based in Stockholm and 95% of its revenues came from Europe. We were merging two regional companies to create one global company.
I was responsible for merging the two marketing departments. I found employees scattered all over the globe and no shortage of ideas on how we should integrate and communicate the “new Lawson”. I met people as quickly as I could and asked for suggestions on how to build an internal infrastructure, integrate marketing operations, share the best ideas from around world, and re-brand the combined company.
One idea I heard frequently was, “Let’s launch a wiki.” So we did. Marketing staff could share ideas and get acquainted through a global marketing wiki. We found some free software, organized it minimally, and launched it. I sent out an e-mail endorsing the idea and inviting everyone to participate.
Then I stood aside. I was familiar with the traditional wisdom that, “The surest way to stifle innovation is to let the boss speak first.” So, instead of participating actively, I let others take the lead. I assumed that was the best way to bring out creative ideas that we could mash up into effective innovations.
The wiki launched with a surge of enthusiasm. But it didn’t last long. Some people dominated the conversations; other people shied away. Conversational threads spun off into infinity. I thought the wiki would be an excellent place to share ideas and processes. As it evolved, mostly it was a place to share opinions – sometimes heatedly. Ultimately, it sank into irrelevance.
I could have saved a lot of time and effort, if only I had had McKinsey’s new report on social media as an internal integrator. McKinsey notes that many companies have invested in social media for external use but that, “…internal applications have barely begun to tap their full potential.” McKinsey also notes that companies could unlock up to $1.3 trillion in annual value through “products and services that enable social interactions in the digital realm.”
How to unlock that value? McKinsey suggests we follow four basic principles:
Add value, not complexity – the best social technologies “… become central to the organization and complement (or, ideally, substitute for) existing processes.” Our little wiki at Lawson was one more thing to do, not one less.
Provide essential organizational support – identify your objectives, select a technology, and then figure out what support and encouragement is needed to make it work. One of McKinsey’s clients used “Connections Geniuses” to encourage people to use the social technology. At Lawson, I thought the wiki was simple enough for everyone to use. Actually, it probably was but I forgot the need for ongoing encouragement.
Experiment and learn – as Tom Kelley points out in another context, treat everything as an experiment. Experiments only fail if you don’t learn anything from them. As our wiki sank into obscurity, we just let it go rather than learning from it and trying again.
Track impact and evolve metrics – when you’re experimenting, you’re not always sure what the best metrics are. Don’t jump the gun and commit prematurely – you may be measuring the wrong thing. Rather, let the experiment proceed and then decide how best to measure its impact.