iLeadership:
Using Web 2.0 concepts to lead your organization

By Kim Marcille

In the Information Age, every organization must have command of its flow of information in order to be effective and flourish in today’s economy. Web 2.0 technologies have emerged to allow richer, more meaningful collaboration between users by making information handling practices more transparent and accessible. These same technological ideas can be used to accomplish similar results in your organization.

Many people find the SLATES acronym created by Andrew McAfee in his paper, “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration,” to be helpful when defining the characteristics of Web 2.0 technologies: Search, Links, Authoring, Tags, Extensions and Signals. Focusing on the first three of these concepts and combining them with the following tips will help you lead your organization to treat information as the asset it really is.

Search. Information is only valuable when it is accessible and can be found. Search is improved when multiple users participate in building the informational index.

In organizations large and small, information critical to the operation is tucked away in file drawers, individual hard drives and people’s heads. Passwords, processes, equipment settings, critical contacts, customer preferences, system limitations and project statuses are examples of important data that may be difficult to access. In fact, some employees may hoard this kind of information in order to ensure their own importance to the organization.

As a leader, it’s important to communicate not only the value of sharing information transparently and lifting it out of obscurity for the common good, but also the intrinsic value of information itself. You can do this by providing a platform where information can be shared and stored, and asking members of the organization to contribute and index the content.

In this process you may discover that multiple platforms are needed. For example, a team working on a new product can share their development process and ideas via a blog anyone in the organization can read and comment on.   The sales team may need a customer relationship management system to track all the relevant information about their customers. The marketing department might need a contact management system to determine which efforts are working better than others. The intelligence that can be gathered from the reports the latter two platforms generate can be quite significant and improve business practices dramatically.

Many of these platforms are available as online applications, meaning you subscribe to a hosted service versus purchasing software outright, which is often less expensive. Some of today’s platforms are even free, such as Google’s Blogger (www.blogger.com), or Zoho’s collection of business solutions (www.zoho.com).

By freeing the flow of information and making it easily accessible to a wider audience, that audience can help spot trends, identify problems and gaps, and connect disparate sources of information to build more in-depth pictures of the company’s performance.

Links. Some information is more important than other information. The way you can discern that online is by how many links to the information have been established. Again, the larger the group deciding importance, the more valuable the links will be.

What’s the most important information in your organization? What information keeps the competition at bay, the corporate machine functioning, or the revenue coming in the door? Who gets to decide that?

When a small group of executives, managers or departmental employees make decisions about what to publish to the rest of the organization, you can be sure that some of the most important information will be left out. That’s because despite the best intentions, the small group will view the project from an inside perspective. Even if the formal process of building the information source includes testing by others for quality and completeness, gaps will still exist. To close those gaps, you would need the opinion of every person involved. Luckily, there’s a way to get that.

First, view your information sources as works in progress versus finished goods. A living, breathing, constantly updated network of information will best serve the dynamic and as-yet-unknown needs of the organization. Secondly, give every person possible in the organization the opportunity to participate at inception. The interaction between the largest possible group of users and the content will make evident which are the most critical pieces of information across the company, as the group chooses what to link to and use, and what not. (This is true for outward-facing information sources as well, as users choose which links to click on. The audience in this case is comprised of your customers, vendors and other interested parties.)

Authoring.   Authoring is the ability to create constantly updated content that is shared with other users in a way that allows them to update, comment on or correct what has been captured.

In your organization, there are voices dying to be heard. You might have heard these voices in the form of employees asking you for personal audiences, or the technician with the great ideas servicing your computer, or your top salesperson sharing the secret of her success. How can you capture and capitalize on the valuable knowledge of all of your company’s employees?

By using Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs, the collective consciousness of the organization can be laid bare for all to see. This is particularly true if executive leadership does not censor the content, but rather establishes rules around the use of the tools. For example, it’s OK to express your negative opinion about one of the company’s existing products, but it’s not OK to use foul language or verbally abuse fellow workers. The establishment of policies that will encourage constructive information sharing will have to come from a thought leader on the topic—you?

You might also check out information sharing tools such as WebEx WebOffice (webex.com/smb/weboffice.html), Microsoft’s Sharepoint (www.microsoft.com/sharepoint), or Google Docs and Google Sites (www.google.com/apps/). Whether the information is in the form of documents, slide presentations, spreadsheets or databases, you can use these applications to make it available to everyone, and everyone can contribute.

The more authors you engage in the process of building up the informational foundation of your company, the richer and more meaningful that foundation will become. On that foundation, you can build a new, more collaborative environment that encourages and rewards the sharing of ideas – the kind of environment that may well yield the answers to today’s challenges and tomorrow’s strategy.

Read other articles and learn more about Kim Marcille.

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