Launching any IT/Communications initiative within an enterprise can be complex enough, but launching one in a highly decentralized environment adds a whole new dimension. Without centralized culture, information or process an implementation can seem daunting.

As a self-proclaimed organizational change geek, I love to apply the theories I studied in grad school to what I do every day. In ordinary business situations, I see management theory happening around me. The psychology of how people work….how they interact and share….and how technology has an impact has been so substantial over the past decade. Tony Zingale does a great job speaking about the lost decade – and how the social world has evolved so much over the past 10 years from how people interact and share, yet the enterprise has literally only seen email and blackberries introduced. I think that there’s been such a divide for so long with what is used in our personal lives vs. what is used at work…that the adjustment to using social tools at work can feel somewhat unnatural at first for many. This is where so much of the change management has come in lately in the industry – putting a new way to work into play. Internally we find a lot of curious people who come into our site to consume and passively participate, but the jump to being active can be daunting for some who have never been able or encouraged to have a voice inside their business unit – or across the company. Amplifying that jump just a little more is the cultural factor we have being so decentralized.

When technology and new process is introduced in a highly decentralized organization the change management is often not as straightforward. When a company is decentralized, the change management process has to happen across each segment of the company (most likely at different paces)…and when there are multiple areas of the business with separate brands, social identity theory comes to play. I believe it’s one factor that has had a major influence in our case.

Social identity theory is: social categorization > social identification > social comparison. It’s something you most likely experience all the time without even realizing. Do you like a sports team? Do you have affinity to your company? Are you competitive with anyone on personal or business topics? Do you side with a dancer or singer on DWTS or American Idol? Well read on…

Human behavior is to categorize people in order to understand the social environment. This is social categorization, and these categories have norms associated with them and we can appropriately behave around groups of people based on the categories we put them in. In our case, people look around the company and see 50+ brands. The people that work within those brands are categorized as part of that brand.

Once we understand the social environment, we identify the category in which we belong. Social identification has an emotional significance and self-esteem is tied to feeling connected with the category membership. This is where behavioral norms are also established for how we act within our groups. Brand affinity within the business unit you work for breeds pride in your work and your product and when your product is solid, your esteem is affected positively.

The social comparison stage (the final stage), is where we recognize how we categorize ourselves vs. others – and since self-esteem is woven so tightly into social identity, comparison happens. Maintaining esteem is tied to your category (“ingroup”) comparing favorably to others (“outgroups”). So, if there are 50+ brands with pockets of strong affinity and feel no attachment to the “mother ship,” the environment can be silently competitive which would tend to hamper participation. People would not feel willing to share what they’re working on beyond their business – or not feel willing to collaborate with someone they feel is in an outgroup.

I do feel personally that the higher up in a decentralized organization you are, the more collaborative you are across business units….but the further down in an organization you go, you see stronger brand affinity and less willingness to share or collaborate with an outgroup. As someone who has spent time in franchising and most of my career in decentralized companies, I’m used to seeing this and not deterred from finding a way to overcome it.

Where does this lead to, you ask? Well, we’ve introduced Jive as a platform for collaboration internally across our businesses. We had been on Sharepoint for 3 years and recently migrated our content to a more flexible platform with a robust feature set. We launched in March – less than 6 weeks ago. The site has received rave reviews from the core group of users who “get” collaboration across our businesses and who understand the value and power that crowdsourced innovation can bring.  However, for the vast majority, even though we have the richest set of tools that they know how to use, I feel that culture and social identity are what are hampering the growth we could otherwise see. First we need to overcome the silent competitiveness that social identity breeds – and then we need to employ wider change management methodology that isn’t, itself, decentralized. Absent of a corporate employer brand (that would unite all employees, regardless of brand, into one “ingroup”) – we need to focus on the positive results collaboration could drive and attack change.

We have no global active directory. We have multiple disparate systems and are federated. Each of our decentralized businesses has their own local workflow and their own intranets. However – if we focus on what’s unique and positive about our site, we can more clearly articulate the value that the decentralized entities could tap into: Our site is a social business network that connects the entire, collective company for the first time, allowing people to find each other regardless of what business they’re in. People can share local expertise and reduce duplication. They can use it as a channel to market their content or crowdsource ideas from 50K “consumers” (colleagues) across businesses. They can consume exclusive content created by an in-house journalist who mines the company for stories to cover and features them on our homepage. They can use it for scalable learning and development programs. They can innovate around common challenges facing the industry or debate solutions – and they can do it all in a secure place.

For me – understanding the human psychological dynamics behind the cultural issues has been a big step. The approach of so much “cross-business” collaboration off the bat has shifted because of strong social identity and brand affinity — and we are now looking to have teams within each business collaborate amongst themselves to create small wins. Then, we’ll look to use those small intra-business wins as case studies to show other businesses how they could use the site. I am sure there will be a tipping point at which someone sees something from another business that inspires them, and further cross-pollinates. We’ll then see the cross-business come in as a by-product of those intra-business wins. As we’re nearly 6 weeks in at this point I can confidently say we have the right platform with right tools…and a strong partner in Jive – and we need to work to help drive a culture that embraces cross-business collaboration. It goes write back to the “WIFM” (what’s in it for me?) discussion. Where I stand, the future is bright.  My advice to anyone who has seen limited or plateaued engagement and collaboration – would be to step back and look at some of the behavioral theories in management and see if there are cultural or psychological factors at work. Often, we tend to send information out and we think we need to train on the tools available or simply demonstrate “how to,” and talk about “why”….but it’s communicating and creating a culture of collaboration that will make the difference. Everything I am reading lately is pointing to the fact that immersive experience and personalized value are what will make the difference. Be part of the conversation. We need to balance our broad-stroke modules with understanding pockets of high potential and creating an experience for them in which they become walking advocate groups further seeding success.

Here’s a great quote I found that wraps this section up nicely:

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” -Sydney J. Harris


In closing, I’d like to say that I have gotten a lot of value out of collaborating with other Jive clients – especially those in franchise organizations, decentralized companies, etc. For us, the major factor was working with a partner, and among constituents, who understand the unique challenges that come with being decentralized. Many of the things colleagues in centralized organizations take for granted are often the things that present the largest challenges to people like us trying to leverage technology to drive enterprise (cross business) collaboration. So, I love the reading – I love the collaboration – and I love the learning. Thanks, Jivers.