Transparency and social pressure.

by Gil Yehuda on January 22, 2010

in Enterprise 2.0

I came across two examples this week of how transparency creates social pressure that can create positive change.  You can leverage these patterns in the workplace too.

The first is Jonny Bentwood’s list of influential analysts on Twitter which I blogged about earlier this week.  The list was created by inspecting and gathering facts about how we use Twitter.  These behaviors are within our control.  It’s a natural reaction for anyone listed to look at who is ahead of you and wonder what you can learn from them that would improve your rankings.  Many of us seek to show ourselves well alongside our colleagues.  Competition is a motivator.

In another timely (though tragic) example:  The coverage on the part of the news media of the way countries have responded to the tragic earthquakes in Haiti.  It’s important to note that many countries are helping the Haitian people.  But some more than others. Check out Wikipeida to find out details.

Most notably mentioned in the news sources I see (e.g. NBC, CNN, etc.) has been the impressive story of the Israeli Defense Forces’ on-site hospital that was deployed quickly, effectively, and days earlier than the US’ hospitals. To me, the story is about how people are helping others — saving their lives — regardless of any other consideration.  Although my family and I are Israeli (I was born and raised the US though), I view the story as a human story, not a national one.  In this case when lives are at stake and are being lost, it’s not about who does it, it’s about what is done.  And yet, it is impossible to ignore that there is something remarkable about the agility and ability of one country’s reaction relative to other’s reactions — hence the coverage on the news.  I speculate that the US (and other) emergency response forces are reconsidering their processes and asking:  We all see that the Israelis are doing a better job than we are, so can we learn from them and do better next time?

Did you review the Wikipedia link? Imagine if the list was sortable on quantitative measures.  What if you could sort by total dollars of aid spent per country.  Or total dollars spent as a measure of a counties’ population, GDP or proximity to Haiti?  What if you could sort by “speed to response” as a function of proximity?  Even better:  what if you could compare this over time with other similar earthquakes over the past 10 years?  And of these kinds of charts would really make for a fascinating news story.  Because the very act of measuring, sorting and displaying data will change behaviors.

I bring these examples to highlight the effect of transparency.  If you are on a list, you want that list to show you well.

I used this kind of social pressure when I was an enterprise architect at Fidelity.  At first, we were all nice and gentle, helping each other out in the most congenial way.  But in the reality of a very competitive corporate environment, there were times when we had to deal with conflicting views and actions.  My approach was to shine a light onto reality and let the social pressure motivate actions.  Let me give you two examples.

I led one of the elements of our IT governance program — and started to notice a pattern on the part of many business units.  They would engage vendors independently and acquire software “under the radar” to suit their needs.  In many cases they would circumvent the vendor relations department who was responsible to manage the software purchase process.  VR was put in place to save money — to negotiate costs, consolidate licenses, and use preferred vendors.  But (I’m sure this is all fixed now, so many years later), the system was not bulletproof.  I noticed that we had multiple enterprise-wide licenses for the same software.  A silly expense that meant that the vendor was able to pick at our inability to collaborate across the firm and make money from it.

My response was to put up a wiki page (on our internal wiki — only visible to employees) with a list of software that was purchased, the URL on the intranet to find it, which business unit purchased it, and the scope of the license.  I was careful to only share information that was not sensitive.  The stated intent was to provide a directory of similar things.  But by including the licensing information — it became pretty clear that something needed to be fixed.  And without any visibility, it would have never been fixed. Some people might call this ROI.

Later, I was working with our internal communications department on an overhaul of the intranet portal.  In the process we found many abandoned outdated intranet websites.  Groups set up a site, a few years later those groups were re-orged, but the sites remained.  They messed up with our intranet search, rendering it pretty useless.  No one had the authority to take down these site.  I kept hearing the fear that someone might still use it, what if the information is still needed?  My response was that we faced a bigger risk if someone was actually using the sites, since the information was clearly outdated.

So I created another internal wiki page — it was inspired by the WayBackWhen machine and it featured a list of all these old websites, the most senior person associated with the site, and an indicator if it was still accessible on the intranet and our search indexer.  Soon enough, many sites were taken down and then removed from the wiki page.

The degree of snarkiness you can get away with is a function of your seniority and the company culture — so be careful.  Just present the information that is already out there. Put it on a list.  Make sure that nothing private is shared, and that everything is verified.  If anyone finds incorrect information — tell them they can remove it — it’s a wiki.  They’ll be motivated to act.

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