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Finding Value In Serendipity

By in Tips & Guides on March 5, 2012

Photo credit: Bob Gaffney

Social networks have transformed our lives — personally and professionally. The way we share and learn has changed pretty dramatically; we now find useful information and inspiration in unexpected places. While you will probably know what your team is doing, sometimes it’s more powerful to discover something that you didn’t even know existed, but can help you solve a problem.  How do you articulate the value of such serendipitous discoveries and interactions? It’s tough to quantify their non-linear value with linear measurement applied to traditional business problems, which had clear inputs and outputs. We need to update our thinking to begin to understand the impact and value of serendipity, and that’s exactly what we did during an enlightening webinar with rockstar panelists Brian Cator, Sr. Director of Communications and Store Operations at 7-11, and Daniel Rasmus, analyst, author, strategist and knowledge economy pioneer.

Dan Rasmus has long been tracking the topic of serendipity in the workplace, and started realizing that there were currents taking place in these networks that were not being captured by traditional measures. In his whitepaper, Dan discusses 6 main differences between the traditional economy and serendipity economy:

  1. Process of creation is separate from value realization: In social networks, the value of shared content (a question, a note, a document, etc) cannot be immediately assessed.
  2. Time delay of value: It may be weeks or months since your original post until something happens.
  3. External validation is required: It may be unclear whether or not your content has created value; you will need external validation to gauge its business value.
  4. Dynamic configuration: Social networks are dynamic by definition – you never know who is going to read or respond to your post.
  5. Un-forecastable value: Looking at the network in the present cannot anticipate its value in the future, especially as networks are dynamic.
  6. Undefined potential: In a dynamic network, you can’t take a snapshot of value or define its potential.

To learn more about the serendipity economy, please download the paper here.

Brian Cator shared how 7-11 adopted Yammer. They launched the Yammer network without expectation of ROI, leaving room for opportunity. Deploying Yammer was a part of a restructuring effort, with the end goal of getting field consultants out of the office and into the stores. The goal was to provide a sense of community and teamwork, and although the network allowed exactly for that, the 7-11 team was able to uncover intended and unintended benefits:

Greater cross-pollination and redefinition of a team: The organization was structured around divisional and regional offices. After Yammer was introduced, people in different parts of the world were able to communicate with offices and people they weren’t talking to prior. It effectively helped the redefine the notion of a team – beyond just the number of people you could fit in a conference room.

Barometer for success: Most active groups in the 7-11 network were also the most profitable markets. Unsurprisingly, there was a high correlation between open and transparent management style (which was highlighted via interactions on Yammer) and financial performance of stores. Because success breeds success, best performers shared their best practices, and management was able to develop strategies for underperformers. Yammer conversations also added a qualitative aspect to 7-11’s analysis. “You can pour over data and analytics, but until you have an engaging conversation with your peers, you are not going to get the full benefit of the data and be able to collaboration and understand the data,” advised Brian Cator.

People respond to simple human gestures: The 7-11 team astutely noted that people want to be acknowledged, and an enterprise social network enables this behavior by lowering the barrier to calling out good work publicly. Being able to share their knowledge, to congratulate others, and have their work noticed, has driven more participation and thus more discovery and sharing across the 7-11 network.

One serendipitous event happening on its own is a happy accident. Encouraging serendipity to systematically occur takes strategy and planning — planned serendipity is no accident. Check out some of the strategies to success outlined by Brian and Dan:

  1. Go big or go home: Launching a large network will drive better and bigger results.
  2. Integrate social profiles with performance: By asking people to create profiles and tying performance to them, you help build in and emphasize accountability.
  3. Make the system accessible: Make it easy for people to log in and get involved, and focus on lowering the barriers to communication.
  4. Give people permission to collaborate: “If you are afraid of people saying the wrong thing, don’t be.” advised the panelists. You have to exhibit leadership by focusing on what you want people to do vs. not do.
  5. Track success and learn from failure: Every time that the social network has helped you reach a business objective, tag it with a “success tag”. It will help you quantify success across many dimensions, across use cases and over time.
  6. Look beyond productivity and efficiency: Don’t limit yourself by focusing on certain metrics, or you will miss opportunity. While efficiency is a huge benefit, make sure you allow for further-reaching effects.
  7. Executives should lead by doing: Make sure the executives are involved – it legitimizes the effort and makes it OK for people to post. Furthermore, listening to the “field” can help the “boardroom” make better decisions. Brian says that it’s imperative to get execs over the “everything I say is policy” mentality.
  8. Celebrate value: Want people to do more of what’s working? Praise them, celebrate that value and recognize what the organization gained.
  9. Be patient: Change doesn’t happen overnight, it will take place over a longer period of time than many of us are used to.
  10. Voluntary adoption is key: At 7-11, Yammer adoption was not mandatory; they encouraged everyone to sign up. Although you want to create some structure, you should mostly allow the structure to mold itself.
  11. Mentor “digital dinosaurs”: Although ESN tools like Yammer are fairly easy to implement and adopt, you should lower the learning curve by encouraging people to not overthink it and give them permission to just listen first and follow the lead of others.

In Dan’s own words, it’s “all about letting happy accidents take place, encouraging them and realizing that its something that will take time.” View out the full webinar recording here and check out the slides on Slideshare:

Photo credit: Bob Gaffney

For attendees’ reactions, please check out our Storify Story:
[View the story "Finding Value in Serendipity" on Storify]

3 Responses to Finding Value In Serendipity

  1. [...] can create one ad-hoc. Open spaces – both, in a physical and digital sense – foster greater serendipity, allow for great ideas to emerge and prevent “echo chamber” thinking (we’ve been [...]

  2. [...] we will run webinars on the value of enterprise social. In February, our webinar explored the sources of unexpected, serendipitous value with analyst Daniel Rasmus and Brian Cator, Sr. Director of Communications and Store Operations at [...]

  3. [...] of the organization. This open sharing of information reduces duplication of work and reinforces serendipitous discovery of [...]

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