The Responsible Collaborator

On Wednesday, I’m heading to Impact99 to share the collaboration journey we started at TELUS over three years ago. Without question, the need for social tools in the workforce is huge (did you know that most Gen Y employees value access to social tools more than salary?), but the road map for successful collaboration is more complex than giving people access to a tool and getting them to create an account.

If you are following me on Twitter or reading this blog, you are either already using social tools and value collaboration or you are related to me. The point is, you get it already. You don’t need convincing. Our mission at TELUS was to convert the social atheists. Try to win over the people that didn’t believe in our ideals. We needed to help employees see the value of the tools, not simply cram a new technology down their throat. What I didn’t realize is that trying to tell someone I knew their job better than they did, well, that was a bigger issue than whether or not micro-blogging made sense for a business unit.

We realized that simply providing access to tools was only the first step in a very long journey, and we actively tried to work WITH the business to find a blended approach to collaboration. Convincing a field technician (that climbs poles every day and rarely has time to log into a laptop or smartphone) or a call centre agent (who is measured on quality AND quantity) to abandon their routine in an effort to embrace a new HR initiative is at best, bold, and often simply inconsiderate or naïve.

We spun our wheels, but when we started to talk to techs, one on one, and asked them about what needs to change, we started to see potential areas for improvement. They didn’t care about having a video channel at their fingertips. It was too big in scope and potential, but when we asked them how they described complex installations to help get support from his team and they admitted he simply called people and tried to talk them through the situation, we started to see how our solutions might help.

“What about taking a picture on your smartphone, or recording a quick video to make sure you are all talking about the same issues? What about having a way to send a quick request to all available techs from your phone instead of having to call the people in your network?”

We could see the light bulb turning on and the excitement. More importantly, we started to see techs thinking about other ways to use the tools to make life easier. We gave a solution for a problem, but we also helped people become their own leader.

The thing is, in some cases, it didn’t make sense for team members to change. The tools we offered, well, they couldn’t solve the problem and we had to start realizing we were only causing a distraction.

It’s hard to realize that something you are so passionate about isn’t going to work, but we found more and more cases where the answer of “what’s in it for me?” seemed to be “nothing.” The thing is, that’s ok. If we talk to a team and they hear us say, “you’re right. This ISN’T better”, we build up trust. We get access to their process and they can see we are actually here to help.

In all honesty, if you are proposing a solution you need to ask yourself a few simple questions:

Is this process or tool actually going to make their lives easier or more efficient?
Is our suggestion the best solution?
Did we find a solution for their problem, or just provide another path for them to explore?

I know we are on the right path at TELUS; the improvement in engagement shows employees are excited about the fact we value sharing at our organization, but we have a long way to go in terms of finding answers and constantly have to decide if we are helping or simply adding more content to the overwhelming tide of information we are forced to sift through on a daily basis.

But what does this mean, in terms of actually supporting the people we are trying to help? Well, to me it’s similar to the approach environmentalist – and personal hero – Yvon Chouinard outlines for business in the remarkable book, The Responsible Company. We are here to make things better, easier, not to leave an impact that can’t be reversed.

For me, collaboration isn’t about the numbers (followers, posts), it’s about providing the information and support to the people that need it, when they need it. We already get too many emails, IMs, tweets, friend requests and honestly, 90% of the social collateral we are asked to digest is simply a distraction. People no longer read or debate; they “like” or retweet. We no longer take the time to process and think. We simply consume, consume, consume.

Are we helping, or simply causing irreversible damage for our own enjoyment and pride. Social tools give us the mic, and a platform to stand on, but is what we’re saying really of value?

So what does this mean? Well, the first step is a shift in focus for this blog and basically how I approach collaboration. Instead of cutting edge social exploration, I will be writing about concrete solutions and ideas. If in certain cases, social tools aren’t the answer, we need to be ok with that and realize that newer isn’t always better. At the end of the day, I want to help but need to know my social footprint isn’t going to leave a mark.

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