Best Practices Databases Are Replaced by Social Networks

September 9, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I facilitated a workshop about knowledge sharing within a large multinational. Several middle managers were brought together to define a new way forward to accelerate internal collaboration across regions and departments; what they had until now was a best practices database, more or less successful, and now they wanted to gear the initiative up so people would really start collaborating on important business issues.

I’m sure this problem statement is one that many of you have experienced; I worked myself on a similar project about 5 years ago and was a bit frustrated that eventually only the top-down, pushy part of the program was retained while most of the transversal and collaborative part, that would have been materialized through the rise of communities of practices, was left out officially for cost reasons and I suspect more for political ones. We were still very much in a “knowledge is power” kind of culture.

Since then linkedIn, facebook, twitter and in general Web 2.0 have risen up to the success we know. We use those tools to meet and collaborate; if we have a problem, we google it, we chat or ask a question in the relevant linkedIn group. All of this has tremendously increased our collaboration skills and the younger generations are natural born collaborators. So in this workshop the good old best practices database and the good old reward & recognition system that goes with it, were pretty much put away, and it was decided that the in-house social networking tool (sort of a mix between facebook and linkedin at company level, similar to what many large corporations are currently lauching) would be the platform for the new way forward.

Of course this is still only a tool, although with many possibilities, and people need to figure out what hot business topics they could be working on together. Some of them also need to learn the tools available and be encouraged. But it’s not the fact that you have a knowledge sharing KPI, an award, or even that your boss orders you to collaborate that you will sustainably do so.  These are all artificial motivators that could in the worst case turn counterproductive: like in the case of this company where each plant was expected to submit at least one good practice every month on the database. Coming at the end of the month, the plant managers would just tell somebody to write anything they could come up with, just to tick the box.

“Best practices is a mistake, it doesn’t work”, I heard recently. What has become clear is that complexity is rising and local specificities are very much counterbalancing standardization and globalization, making the copy and paste model obsolete. Instead, people, competencies and experiences need to connect to co-design specific solutions for specific problems in specific contexts. To do that, databases are useless. Platforms where people can connect, get to know each other, discuss issues, work together ,confidentially or not, in their own pace, are very useful and yet it will only work if people feel free enough to contribute.