Achieving Business Alignment Without An “Easy” Button

What does it mean to achieve “business alignment?” Ask 10 people, get 10 answers. In my experience in working with various social and collaboration technologies, business alignment is achieved when outcomes have been defined and articulated, and a plan has been put in place. Whether you deploy simple chat-based social features or a feature-rich, AI-driven intranet platform, there are strategies you should consider as you develop your own plan to align the the technologies that employees love with the needs of your business:

Collect the right data.

It’s not simply a matter of gathering all data related to social interactions within your platform of choice. In the case of SharePoint, that could be a massive amount of data across numerous content databases. Understand the core metrics you want to measure, and the data you believe is needed, to accurately report on those metrics.

Identify the metrics that matter.

Identifying “the right metrics” can be a complex task in itself. Your metrics may be limited by the data that you have access to within your tools. But at the very least you can create assumptions and baselines for each metric, and refine them as you go.

An important aspect of tracking any metric is understanding how to take action on the data. A poor quality metric is one that includes no path forward, no way to make an improvement. Understand how to take action on what you learn (positive or negative), and refine your metrics as you learn more about how people are using the tools.

Review the data, and test your assumptions.

You’ve captured the data. You’ve created your baseline collaboration metrics. And now it’s time to share what you’ve learned — or, I should say, what you believe you have learned — with your management team and with your end users. Make the metrics transparent, share what you think the data means, and fold their feedback back into the testing and analysis process.

It could be that you need to “tweak” the data and your metrics because the results may not show you enough of what you want to know about your end users’ behavior. Iteration is always a positive thing, because it means you’re getting closer to the truth.

Give it some time, and watch the trends.

No metric at a single point in time is as valuable as the same metric shown over time. The value of the information is rarely in a snapshot, but rather in the upward or downward trends over time. When people know they’re being measured, they tend to adjust their activities toward those metrics to make themselves look good — which is perfectly normal. So as people adjust to the metrics, you’ll want to refine your analysis, and once again review your data sources and your metrics to ensure you’re making the right assessments.

Fold what you learn into your strategy.

With data and metrics in hand, you’re ready to develop an overall strategy for improving social collaboration within your organization. And by improving social collaboration, you enable your employees to be more productive, accomplish more work activity, and collaborate with purpose.

A sound strategy must first establish a set of proper expectations. Be open with your team and employees about what you are trying to achieve, and work closely with them to develop the right solutions that will motivate the right behaviors. Your strategy must focus on your end-user objectives — the desired behavior — and align with business processes.

Balance everything against your company culture.

And it is also critical to align incentives and rewards with team and corporate culture, ensuring they will truly motivate your team. For example, many sales reps are driven by leaderboards (another gamification technique) with highly competitive rewards by day, week, month, quarter and year. But that strategy may not span other parts of the company (marketing, operations, engineering) if your goal is to create programs across the entire company.

As I’m sure you realize, there is no “easy button” when it comes to aligning your technology with your business objectives. It takes time, thought, and iteration. My advice is to keep one question in mind as you deploy your various social collaboration tools on your quest for improved end user adoption and improved engagement: ask yourself “How can this help us improve our business?” Focus on that goal, and you’ll figure out the right path forward every time.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.