How to Ensure Yourself a Solid Return on Collaborative Technology
It seems like a day doesn’t go by without a new piece of collaborative technology hitting the market. WordPress’s parent company, Automattic, recently launched the collaboration platform Happy Tools, a suite of products that includes a scheduling service called Happy Schedule, which will provide round-the-clock customer support.
Happy Tools and collaborative resources like it are obviously important, but it’s critical that companies also assess the value those tools provide teams. Otherwise, they have no way of knowing their actual return on collaboration, a qualitative and quantitative measurement of, well, collaboration.
If a collaborative tool you adopt doesn’t provide you solutions and still keeps your team members siloed, you must question whether you’ve actually invested in the proper tool for your organization.
What’s the return?
Understanding return on collaboration, or ROC, can be a challenge. This is due partly to the initial decision to invest in collaborative technology in the first place. Many companies don’t spend enough time determining why they’ve invested in this particular solution. But without a clear reason driving the decision, the technology may either fail to garner support or fail altogether.
Don’t get me wrong -- this isn’t a declaration against collaborative tools. According to Doodle’s The State of Meetings 2019 report, U.S. companies will lose $399 billion to pointless meetings in 2019 alone. What’s more, Bain & Co. found that one large organization it looked at was spending $15 million a year on a single weekly meeting for mid-level managers.
Better collaboration probably could have corrected some portion of those problems. Showing a clear ROC comes down to understandingthe exact reason why you’re investing in collaborative technology. As with any other business initiative, you need to identify a point of origin to track your progress.
But the question remains, “How do leaders maximize and measure ROC within an organization when they invest in collaborative technology?” Following are what I find are often the best places to start:
1. Apply the "bowling pin" strategy.
When implementing new initiatives, most companies use top-down approaches in which CEOs mandate that all employees going forward will conduct business in a particular manner. However, this “because we said so” tactic can lead to resistance among employees.
Instead, pull people in by using the bowling pin strategy: Start with a small part of your team who will benefit the most from your choice of technology. If you win these people over, their enthusiasm will become a conduit of positive support, making it that much easier to win over the next group.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg applied the bowling pin strategy for his initiative's launch, starting at Harvard before migrating to other schools. By focusing on a single campus, the social network was able to position itself as a useful tool for students who then shared their experiences with friends at other colleges; these people then, naturally, wanted in. A groundswell of “word-of-mouth” support is a strong indicator that a particular collaboration tool is having the intended effect.
2. Start with simple metrics.
Collecting and analyzing data is standard practice for all organizations these days. A Deloitte study found that companies studied that were using people analytics to guide decision-making enjoyed 82 percent higher three-year profit averages as opposed to competitors that were not using them.
You certainly know your customer acquisition costs, sales revenue, monthly profit or loss and other figures. But do you apply these same principles to internal initiatives? Or, more to the point, do you track anything at all?
Identify some simple metrics as you implement collaborative technology. Make sure the metrics impact both your staff and operations. For example, monitor whether the tool benefits your employees’ work-life balance as well as the bottom line. Consider comparing their productivity before and after implementation to determine the effectiveness of the collaboration software.
3. Confirm that the tech will simplify things.
The ultimate goal with collaborative technology is to streamline the ways people work together, not just to add another tool to the mix. Ask yourself, “Does the technology simplify day-to-day operations? Or, does it just slap a meaningless task on the to-do list?”
Of course, simple isn’t always easy. Apple, for example, believes easy is hard, meaning that it requires a great deal of effort to clean the mind enough to make things simple. And while the company has experienced public successes, fumbles such as Apple III, the Lisa and the Newton show that the company hasn't always followed its own advice.
To catch on with users and yield tangible ROC, collaborative solutions should remove a layer of difficulty from some process. Determining whether that’s the case starts with asking questions like, “Is it simple to use?” and “Does it make sense?” Think about the way Slack simplifies interoffice messaging and file storage or how Google Docs has streamlined the real-time editing process.
The tech you introduce to your team should minimize the hassle that employees associate with some area of their work. Otherwise, it’s just one more thing making their jobs more difficult.
All companies agree that collaboration is a necessity. After all, two heads are better than one. But two heads are just two heads until you give them the right tools to make collaboration possible, and you won’t know whether you’ve invested in the right tools if you never ask “why” you need a solution.