Are Companies Ready to Finally Kill Email?

Full implementation of internal social media and collaboration tools could raise productivity by 25%. So what’s the hold up?

Many people have said that email is where good ideas go to die. I, too, have made the case that email is selfish. Email locks information away and makes a presumption about who needs what information or who can answer a question.

The goal of internal social media and collaboration tools (such as Jive, Yammer, Chatter, Google Apps) is to streamline communication. The payoffs are significant: A 2012 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that full implementation of social technologies — going beyond email to internal social media and collaboration tools — would raise the productivity of managers and professionals by as much as 25%.

The problem is that too many companies have installed social media and collaboration tools but have not truly implemented them into the fabric of their communication and collaboration. Yammer claims that it’s “loved by 85% of the Fortune 500,” but how many of those companies are getting the most out of it?

The key is “full implementation.” The 2014 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte found that only 17% of respondents see themselves as having mature social business practices. Maturity means that information from social media and collaboration tools is used to drive decisions, is seen as valuable to create powerful and positive change and can play a role in innovation, talent management and operations. The report’s subtitle is “moving beyond marketing,” but many firms have not yet been able to do that.

What I see is that communication and collaboration technologies get installed — that is, purchased and made available to employees and sometimes contractors and customers, with perhaps some training provided — and then the effort stops.

Full implementation means not only that people know how to use the new tools from a technological perspective, but that they adjust their communication to match the features of the tools with the needs of their jobs. For instance:

  • How I answer a question about a specific situation in an email is not how I answer a question that will become part of a broader “how-to” resource for employees or customers.
  • How I present my research results will differ in a one-shot, face-to-face setting than if that face-to-face presentation is also being streamed and saved to YouTube.
  • How my colleagues and I communicate as we build a new report is very different if we have all worked together before and know the tools well.

Companies can plan for these adjustments by thinking of the implementation as a negotiation where the people, tools and practices are the main issues on the table. There are trade-offs to be made as more work is done in public (how do people come to understand what can be shared inside the company and what can be shared with the world?) and as more colleagues have access to conversations (what time zone are you in, and does this problem warrant waking up the whole support team?).

Companies can speed up the implementation process by making a big deal of successes from across the company and learning from the mistakes. Focusing first on the heart of the business has advantages as the value is clearer.

Companies can’t assume that because people use Facebook in their personal lives they understand how to leverage those skills into greater communication and collaboration at work. Facebook gives people a good background and starting point for social collaboration, but how the tools and practices will work best in a company needs to be an on-going negotiation.

1 Comment On: Are Companies Ready to Finally Kill Email?

  • Christopher Garcia | October 27, 2014

    “Email…makes a presumption about who needs what information or who can answer a question.” Or make a decision. Business people are still too dependent on hierarchical stability to share decision-making power with anyone who happens to surf to their information stream. Until that changes, email’s not going away.

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