Talk, don’t just do it

Online conversation within companies can help identify the real causes of a problem. It’s time consuming, but it can improve the end result.

A couple of months ago I joined a wonderful online network for people engaged in corporate intranets in Norway. It’s organised by NetLifeResearch, a web usability consultancy. The other day Ove Dalen, a member of the network shared a comment on the crossing interests of employees and companies when it comes to intranets. I believe the comment goes to the heart of implementing intranets in many companies: employees want to solve the problems they face at work. An ideal intranet allows people to interact with colleagues independently of space and time. However, problem solving is like a quality dialogue. It takes time to identify the causes of a problem. Drilling down to the root causes and involving other people can take time. Managers don’t necessarily like that, because it doesn’t look like any real work is done, only conversation.

Here’s the comment written by jeblad in an online discussion about corporate intranets:

Knowledge is boring stuff and not the real reason why people use an intranet. People want to get in touch with other people and talk about their problems and solve them. Companies do not want their employees to talk about the problems. They only want the problems solved. Dialogue in itself expands the phase of defining the problem. However, when problems are defined, that process in itself creates knowledge about how problems can be solved. Still, recycling that information can be hard. (…) Mailing lists normally have immense amounts of information about how problems can be solved. [I miss] the same possibility to [go back in time] and look for knowledge in an intranet. Normally it doesn’t solve my problems that the intranet lets me know that it is the birthday of our boss. (The comment was originally in Norwegian and I’ve translated parts of it. Please see bottom of post for original version.)
Let go of control
I think there are a few challenges with corporate intranets that jeblad’s comment illustrate quite well. First, spending time on looking for the reason behind problems are not that popular. It looks better from the outside to provide a quick answer to a problem, rather than solve the underlying aspects. Second, the people in charge of many intranets still tend to believe in editor controlled news rather than user generated anarchy. This puzzles me. I thought Wikipedia had long ago proved that user generated content is king. Thus, anyone in charge of an intranet must let go of control. Let people go crazy, experiment and do whatever they like for a while. Even though there isn’t policing from the top, any group will apply a certain degree of internal, social control and common set of rules.
So why don’t we learn from Wikipedia? Why don’t we open up and let go of control? How come companies stick to the old fashioned, editor-in-control mode? Someone please tell me.

Original statement in Norwegian, copied from the jeblad’s comment on the NRK blog post, December 2009:

Kunnskap er ofte en nokså kjedelig greie og ikke den reelle grunnen til at folk bruker et intranett. Folk vil komme i kontakt med andre og snakke om problemene og løse dem. Bedriften vil ikke at de ansatte skal snakke om problemene, de vil bare ha de løst, dialog forlenger selve problemdefinisjonsfasen. Når problemene omtales og defineres så skaper imidlertid det kunnskap om hvordan problemene løses, men å gjenbruke den informasjonen er vanskelig. Noen som har løst og nøstet i gamle diskusjoner på epost? Mailinglister har enorme mengder informasjon om hvordan ting kan løses. Den samme muligheten for å nøste i kunnskap savner jeg på intranett, det løser sjelden mine problemer å få vite på forsiden at sjefen har bursdag.

Talk, don’t just do it

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