The Power of the Social Cloud

In our previous two posts, we discussed the significance of cloud computing and social software. We rarely get excited about technology for technology's sake — we are most interested in how technologies (and people and practices) alter the business landscape. In this post, we explore how the convergence of these two technology edges can help to support extreme performance improvement. In particular, we want to focus on their potential to change individuals' behaviors and orientation toward challenges.

Where do these two technologies converge? At the unexpected business challenge. At the unfamiliar. At the request not previously seen. Together, they transform the way workers grapple with and resolve the unfamiliar. It is in these challenges that workers develop their talents and engage their interests and that firms discover new opportunities for growth and innovation. Both of these aspects drive sustained performance improvement.

Cloud computing provides flexible access to the resources needed to address the unexpected

Cloud computing provides easy access to sophisticated tools and highly flexible IT resources for the people on the edges of the enterprise who are confronted with unexpected business challenges. These unexpected business challenges are far more prolific on the edges of enterprises. They require workers to respond quickly and to pursue a number of solutions, often without any certainty about outcomes or time for extensive planning. The people encountering these challenges often are not in a position to get the central IT organization to support their efforts. With cloud technology, they don't have to wait for approval by a central IT organization — they can quickly ramp up alternatives and pursue parallel solutions. Because access to tools and resources doesn't require major investments or time-consuming implementations, cloud technology encourages improvisation, experimentation, and tinkering — within and across enterprise boundaries.

By significantly reducing barriers to experimentation, these capabilities help foster a questing disposition among employees on the edge. They don't have to invest a lot of time and resources to address these business challenges and they can get a significant payoff from their efforts. This helps to increase the motivation not only to address these challenges when they arise, but also to begin to actively seek out similar challenges as opportunities to test themselves and drive their performance to new levels.

In contrast, take the case of exception handling in the large enterprise which we discussed in our last post. What's the typical reaction of most workers to these exceptions? The worker might first ignore it, then gloss over or minimize the challenge, and finally, if the challenge will not go away, try to find a quick and dirty solution even if it is not sustainable or compatible with the organization's goals. The worker's primary goal: get past the challenge and return to the assigned task.

This type of orientation toward the unexpected not only causes stress (because these challenges come up every day) but also fails to derive any possible benefit or satisfaction from the experience, for the individual or for the business. Opportunities for growth and learning are lost, inefficiency remains, and another inconvenient challenge will probably pop up tomorrow.

A questing disposition, in contrast, reacts with excitement at the opportunity to confront something new that will test the capabilities of the worker and provide a catalyst for reaching new levels of performance. Dispositions develop over a series of accumulated experiences. A worker who is inspired to solve problems but repeatedly runs up against an inflexible, hard-wired IT system that cannot be readily bent to the needs of an experimental response is likely to lose enthusiasm for tackling difficult challenges. Workers are much more likely to maintain or develop a questing disposition if they have tools to effectively respond to unexpected challenges.

By reducing barriers to experimentation, cloud computing fosters a questing disposition among the types of employees who might see opportunity within the unfamiliar. Enabling these motivated employees requires relatively little investment but can lead to a significant payoff for the company.

The biggest risk to companies is that these cloud computing resources will be increasingly accessed by employees on the edge of the enterprise without the knowledge of the central IT function. There are significant security, control, compliance, and tax issues associated with use of cloud computing services and most employees are unaware of these issues. Yet, it is not sufficient for central IT to simply become a roadblock to the use of these services. Central IT has an opportunity to become a constructive catalyst driving availability of cloud services to a broader segment of employees within appropriate guidelines to protect the broader interests of the firm.

Social software helps people to connect more readily to address the unexpected
As discussed in our last blog post, addressing unexpected business challenges often requires identification and mobilization of relevant participants — this can be the major bottleneck to rapid problem resolution. Two factors make this important: first, different parts of the organization must be represented to ensure that the resolution is consistent with broader firm interests; second, employees want to connect with other people who are knowledgeable and can be helpful in resolving difficult and unfamiliar problems. A connecting disposition causes a person to reach out and share information with others who can help them get better faster. Increasingly, these likely participants reside across enterprise boundaries among partners in extended business processes.

Social software provides a scalable and robust platform, not just to identify people with
appropriate backgrounds and skills, but also to engage them in collaborative problem solving. By reducing barriers to connection, social software fosters a connecting disposition among employees. Once again, businesses can reap a significant payoff from facilitating the efforts of motivated employees to connect, and doing so requires little investment of time or resources. In a similar spirit, though, central IT needs to become more actively engaged in helping to manage potential governance and security risks posed by social software without becoming a roadblock to the constructive deployment of these powerful platforms.

The convergence of cloud computing and social software amplifies passion

People are more likely to view unexpected challenges as positive opportunities for learning or problem solving (questing disposition) if they feel they can quickly and easily reach out to find people who can help them in their quest. People are more likely to have a desire to connect to others for insight and skills (connecting disposition) if they are repeatedly engaged in addressing difficult challenges that they have not seen before. As the two technologies amplify both dispositions, we expect that they will help to catalyze passion among workers. Passion represents a sustained commitment to a specific domain where the intent is to make a difference by continually seeking out new challenges and connecting with others to more rapidly find creative ways to address these challenges. The combination of questing and connecting dispositions among workers helps to establish a foundation for extreme performance improvement.

This perspective raises the obvious question of how widely questing and connecting dispositions are found in the workforce today. Our forthcoming 2010 Shift Index sheds new light on this. It turns out that questing and connecting dispositions are far more frequently found among workers who have integrated their passion with their profession — in fact, passionate workers are twice as likely as disengaged workers to have questing and connecting dispositions. The bad news is that less than a quarter of the workforce has this kind of passionate engagement with its work.

As much as we hope that we've convinced you of the potential of each of these technologies, we believe that the real value is in their combined power to ignite and unleash the human potential in the firm. Ultimately, the convergence of social software and cloud computing may support a more productive orientation to the constant disruption and unexpected change of the business environment. These technologies provide the tools and platforms to extend and deepen questing and connecting dispositions among workers, and in the process, fuel greater passion among the workforce. This indeed will be a key factor in driving sustained extreme performance improvement.

What do you think? Do you believe the convergence of edge technology will foster new dispositions that reinforce each other and achieve a potential that is greater than the sum of its parts? How do you see technology as a catalyst or an enabler of greater passion in the workplace?

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