This is the third of three posts by Martin Seibert. He is the CEO of a German internet agency called //SEIBERT/MEDIA, a specialist for enterprise wikis and corporate communication. //SEIBERT/MEDIA is one of Atlassian’s official partners in Germany. This blog post is also available in German at http://seibert.biz/wikisuccess3.
From dozens of company Wiki projects, we know that the successful introduction of a Wiki into a company typically depends on three factors: technology; organization; and culture. In the first of these three articles we focused on the requirements of technology. The second of these articles focused on organizational factors. This report will now focus on the implications of company culture and how these relate to the introduction of a Wiki.
Introduction of the Wiki: The company culture must shift
The establishing of a Wiki is necessarily accompanied by a change in the communicative practices within a company. In comparison to technological and organizational aspects, the component of “company culture” typically plays a somewhat lesser role during the introduction of a Wiki, yet certain kinds of resistance can hinder the success of the project within this context as well.
1. Changing of the approach to communication within a company
The establishing of a Wiki changes the approach to communication within a company. At a basic level, you often encounter within companies the so-called “top-down” approach: The management defines topics and communicates these consciously and intentionally to the employees. A Wiki causes this to change, as employees can themselves produce topics by putting new documents into the Wiki, thereby drawing attention to those topics, and they can also independently push new topics into the spotlight.
Many leaders in many companies fear this and are skeptical that the normal top-down method can be replaced – if not by a “bottom-up” approach still perhaps by a “communications loop”. It is often necessary to convince the management to relinquish some of their control over the communication within the company.
From the employees’ perspective, it can be a critical problem when employees hesitate to share their knowledge – their most valuable possession. Our project experience shows that in this regard some employees fear a loss of power or even a loss of their value to the company.
Over the course of the Wiki introduction, such people need to be convinced that this will in no case occur. In fact, sometimes the opposite of the fears of these employees occurs: Through the depiction in the Wiki of parts of their expertise, many users become even more important, can position themselves more strongly through their active participation, and profile themselves even more clearly as specialists. This is the case in nearly one-third of the participants, as shown by Majchrzak, Wagner and Yates in their study Corporate wiki users: results of a survey (Odense 2006): 29% of the surveyed Wiki users reported that they had achieved more respect within the company through the sharing of their knowledge, while 28% reported that their reputation within the company had risen.
2. Building of acceptance at decisive levels
In many Wiki projects, especially those in larger companies, you can witness the following phenomenon: Those people who make the decisions about the introduction of the Wiki are not the same people who will later use the tool. There are even decision makers who disparage the introduction of a Wiki, people who say: “I’m not going to work with it, so for that reason I don’t need it.”
Therefore, the decision about a company Wiki is also a challenge to the company culture, because those people with decision-making authority need to be shown conclusively that it is important for them to create an environment within which the employees can work productively, and that it is not their job to ensure only the introduction of those tools that help themselves. Instead, the task of a high-level manager is to provide those employees who are lower in the hierarchy with the tools that will help them increase their value to the company.
3. Responding to those who are skeptical of innovation
Regarding the cultural component, it is also important to evaluate whether you are dealing with a company that tends to quickly adopt innovations and new technologies – or not. In more conservative company cultures, newer technologies – even when they have been proven to lead to the optimization of processes – are often met with initial skepticism, or even in some cases with sweeping criticism.
If this is the case, meaning that there is a critical, conservative company culture within the company into which a Wiki is going to be introduced, then this must be met with extensive organizational measures, more Wiki marketing, and the stronger regimentation of Wiki use cases and other like-minded measures in order to implement the Wiki concept in spite of the opposition.