How can you tell if your Enterprise Network is Innovative?

One of the most commonly stated objectives for establishing online enterprise social networks (ESN) is to facilitate greater levels of innovation. But how do we know if we are being more innovative or not? One way is to wait to see what sorts of tangible outputs emerge from the cross enterprise communities within the network.  This may result in some good individual cases, perhaps enough to claim an increase innovation capability. More likely these may be seen as random outcomes if the organisation doesn’t ‘feel’ like its being more innovative. In a recent article on behaviours that can create an innovation culture, Rob Shelton identifies five key behaviours that can lead to creating an innovating culture. The behaviours were: broad based collaboration, measuring and rewarding intrapreneurs, emphasising speed and agility, thinking like a venture capitalist and balancing operational excellence and innovation.

There are now many online tools designed specifically to support innovation activities e.g. Spigit, Innovation Cast, Hype and some that are built on top of existing Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) platforms e.g. Sideways6. Typically, these systems are used to facilitate pre-defined innovation challenges or campaigns; if you like, ‘programmed’ innovation. The heavy use of tools and innovation programmes may also result in an organisation ‘feeling’ more innovative.

In the absence of specific innovation tools or programmes how could we identify if our organisation is developing an innovation culture? To guide our thinking we will use the five behaviours identified by Shelton and our own Swoop Personas (Engagers, Catalysts, Responders, Broadcasters and Observers) to explore this:

  1. Build collaboration across your ecosystem

This is the most straightforward one. The Swoop social cohesion measure  applied across the whole enterprise and measured over time will provide an accurate assessment of this.

  1. Measure and motivate your intrapreneurs

Intrapreneurs are the entrepreneurs inside the enterprise. A true entrepreneur is more than an ‘ideas person’. Successful entrepreneurs are able to deliver on ideas, whether they are their own or not. We would see the behaviour patterns of a successful intrapreneurs as essentially displaying the behaviour of a Swoop Catalyst. Over time, however,  as they drive ideas to successful completion, their networks will become denser and more cohesive i.e. their personal social cohesion measure will increase over time. They also may migrate from being a catalyst to an engager as they become more active and focussed in their contributions to the network, as ideas progress to execution. Successful execution is typically characterised by tighter, more cohesive teams.

  1. Emphasize speed and agility

Speed and AgilityThis is perhaps best observed at the team or community level. We know that speed comes with trust and trust is generated through reciprocated relationships, so again the Swoop social cohesion measure is the one of choice. However, speed does not mean agility. The world’s fastest vehicles achieve their speeds by not having to turn corners! So how do we know if a team or community is agile? Here we would have to observe team goals and how quickly a team or community can adapt to a change of direction. One way of achieving this in Swoop would to get into the habit of hash tagging all community/team initiatives. Using the Swoop Topic analysis, one could monitor over time how quickly, and to what extent, conversations evolve around each tagged imitative. An agile community would see a rapid and broad based network of conversations emerge on the launch of a new tagged initiative. Therefore, a combination of the social cohesion measure across the group (speed) and then indicators like the interactions and relationships built around a new topic/initiative over a short period; perhaps a variety of conversation leaders for different topics; a large and rapidly growing number of conversation threads on the launch of a new tagged initiative (agility), could all inform on progress and performance on this dimension.

  1. Think like a venture capitalist (VC)

Venture Capitalist.tifShelton describes this as coming up with the ‘Big Ideas’, rather than dismissing them out of hand. He suggests protecting them by addressing the potential challenges/barriers. One idea to implement this is to establish a group where these ideas can be captured for discussion. Perhaps the group could be called “Moonshots” and the ideas hash tagged to track engagement around the ideas, as the inevitable challenges are surfaced. For most enterprises, ‘#Moonshots’ rarely make it out of the ‘ideas lab’. The rare ones that do will have been adapted as challenges are addressed. They will also have a consistent suite of discussants that will have to include the senior decision makers. Even a single successful ‘#Moonshot’ is enough to have an organisation labelled as “innovative”. I can think of a hardware company called Sun Microsystems inventing Java; Apple, a company making personal computers creating a game changing mobile phone; the dominant provider of large corporate mainframe computers, IBM, building a highly successful personal computer.

Using SWOOP we would monitor the discussion patterns around #Moonshot ideas and the seniority of the discussants over time, to sense whether the organisation was really thinking like a VC.

  1. Balance operational excellence with innovation

BalanceThis is a nice one to finish with, as many organisations struggle with achieving the right balance between the shorter term and more visible operational excellence initiatives and the less visible and perceived riskier innovation initiatives. In the academic literature this is often coined the “Explore vs Exploit” challenge. I have written extensively on this issue, suggesting that they are not ‘choices’ and that explorations only create value when they are exploited; so it should be thought of more as a ‘flow’. Many years ago we published a short paper on this called the ‘3 E’s of Innovation’  for Explore/Engage/Exploit, where the Engager, was identified as the link between exploration and exploitation. For those with more of an academic bent this journal article “Corporate social capital in business innovation networks” explores it in more detail.

The SWOOP monitoring suggestion for this would mimic the ‘Speed and Agility’ behavior. The social cohesion measures will predict speed of execution, viz Operational Excellence. The innovation aspect would look at the breadth of the conversation topics and the diversity of the participants, across geographies, formal business units and/or levels of seniority. In essence we are characterizing the operational excellence/innovation balance as a social cohesion/diversity balance. The diversity measure in Swoop is yet to be installed, but to operate, will require profile data on business unit membership, location and if available, seniority or job/role classification attributes, to be made available.

So to summarise; how can your ESN analytics flag if you are developing an innovative culture or not?

  • Monitor your enterprise social cohesion measure over time; is it travelling upward?
  • Identify your Catalysts that have highly cohesive personal networks. Are they increasing in number?
  • How diverse are your conversation topics and those participating in these discussions? Is your diversity increasing in line with your social cohesion?
  • Do you have a space where “Moonshot Ideas” can be proposed and discussed? If so, to what extent are the senior leaders engaged in these discussions?



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