Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

With collaboration, change must be managed

Collaboration is something that many organizations take for granted. They assume that the practices and policies that worked with e-mail and videoconferencing will work just as well with the new tools and capabilities now emerging, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Yes, the fundamentals of collaboration are the same across the board, but different tools meet different needs. Before deploying new tools, agencies must make sure that they thoroughly understand the needs of their users and develop a strategy that fits. But even that is not enough.

Once that strategy is ready, agencies need to roll it out with an internal marketing campaign so that users understand what is happening. It’s all about change management. If tools are too difficult to use, or if those tools are not tailored for the particular organization, users will resist the change.

“Change management is one of the biggest problems when it comes to collaboration,” said Nick Fisher, product marketing manager for Huddle.

Organizations also need to manage the potential pitfalls of collaboration. In a 2013 report on “Enabling Enterprise Collaboration,” McKinsey and Company noted several ways in which poorly designed and implemented tools could actually decrease productivity:

  • Something is always beeping or flashing, interrupting otherwise productive working sessions.
  • Tools encourage employees to multi-task, which can hurt productivity or quality.
  • Employees feel overwhelmed by information coming at them through so many channels.

Many organizations often don’t pay enough attention to collaboration change management, said Philipp Karcher, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., and the need for such things as training, communication with users and the kind of evangelism that’s needed to promote collaboration through an agency. These are critical to getting people to use collaboration tools, he said.

Many organizations don’t pay enough attention to collaboration change management, agreed Philipp Karcher, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. In part, it is a matter of communications and training. But it’s also a matter of evangelism. You have to show people the value of the various tools, Karcher said, and communicate success stories of how folks in their own or other agencies are getting value from them.

“You need dedicated collaboration analysts who can talk to managers and users about how to drive the use of collaboration tools within their particular businesses,” he said, “and how they can improve the way they work and help them to achieve their goals.”

It’s also important for organizations to look at the motivation that various groups within the agency have for using these tools to collaborate with each other, said Vanessa Thompson, research manager for enterprise social networks and collaborative technologies at market watcher International Data Corp (IDC).

Collaboration depends on users having an incentive to collaborate, she said. If an agency does not provide an incentive—if users do not see collaboration as essential to their job function—then tools will not make a big difference.

A recent research report by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group on collaboration in government found that some agencies are doing better than others at change management. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said the culture at their agency supported collaboration. But the same number said that was only “somewhat” the case at their agencies, while nearly a quarter of the total said there was no support.

Ideally, Karcher said, tools should go viral in an organization, with employees buying into the tools because they see their co-workers using them. That kind of bottom-up acceptance of collaboration tools is usually the most effective way for their use to spread.

But you can’t rely on that, he said. So you have to show people the value of the various tools, and communicate success stories of where folks in their own or other agencies are getting value from them. And you have to have champions for all of this.

“You need dedicated collaboration analysts who can talk to managers and users about how to drive the use of collaboration tools within their particular businesses,” he said, “and how they can improve the way they work and help them to achieve their goals.” Finally, when introducing new collaboration tools and capabilities, agencies must keep in mind that they will have to compete with users’ legacy tools and traditional, ingrained ways of working, said Fisher. Given that, he said, they should understand that change won’t come easily.

“They’ll need to place nice with those legacy solutions,” he said.