Homework the Teacher Learns From

Last week I used an online poll to ask my MBA students their opinions on the potential benefits of Enterprise 2.0 as well as the actual benefits most companies will be able to achieve. I also asked them to explain their answers to these questions. Below is a particularly insightful and encouraging response, lightly edited to maintain anonymity.

"I have been an eye witness of the power of enterprise 2.0 (although I didn’t know that is what it was called at the time) technology in promoting collaboration and connectedness across disparate individuals and groups within organizations.  

While interning at Chemco this summer, we were briefed on the Company’s brand new intranet, which included blogging capabilities.  The site was relatively new, and only a few people (mostly more senior leaders) had created blogs at that point.  About a month into the internship, my supervisor (the head of coporate development and strategy) forwarded us a link to one of the comments to the CEO’s blog.  

The comment had come from a low-level marketing manager located in a satellite office.  In his remarks submitted to the CEO’s blog, the marketing manager openly questioned Chemco’s sacred cow – its ability to wring costs out of a process and to successfully operate an ultra-lean efficient organization.  Specifically, he questioned the importance of one of the company’s favorite metrics (something they are extremely proud of); I’ll call it Metric A.  

In his post (which was several pages, probably 800 plus words), he broke down basic financial information for Chemco and its 3 or 4 main competitors.  Chemco was the clear leader in Metric A.   He then overlayed this analysis with metrics such as market cap per employee and other metrics of value (I have forgotten what else he used), where Chemco was a distant laggard.  

He went on to say that Chemco needed to essentially reverse its strategy and begin adding significant additional costs in the form of additional sales reps and R&D professionals, which are the key drivers of value in large chemical firms.  His analysis was insightful, extremely thorough and bold.  

I was amazed at how much buzz it created in the organization – my project team decided to use much of his material as a source reference for one of our deliverables.  The office of the chief executive formed a small (informal) task for to investigate some of the marketing manager’s claims and test their potential benefit.    

In short, without this new E2.0 vehicle, this manager’s voice would likely never be heard.  From the look of his robust analysis, this was something he wanted to (and perhaps had tried to) share for a long time, and he now had the means of doing so.    As the above example illustrates, I think that the potential benefits of E2.0 to an organization can be revolutionary – a step-function improvement in collaboration and efficient dissemination of information and resources. 

However, in the near term, I think the actual benefits may fall short of the potential benefits due to company inertia and the difficult tension that managers face in actively promoting (even mandating) the technology while at the same time giving it enough room and freedom to be effective.  This tension is perilously difficult to manage, and I think some managers’ inexperience will result in more than a few E2.0 rollout failures."

This sounds just about right to me. What do you think?