Friday, July 25, 2008

How management beliefs inhibit egovernment

I've met people who consider their online communities and online friends as significant and real influences on their lives.

I've met others who regard online communities as some kind of crutch for a few lonely people with limited social skills.

This is often characterised as a generational gap, shaped by how people see themselves in context of digital technologies;
This division is significant for organisational management. It shapes the underlying beliefs, assumptions, culture and therefore strategy, policy and behaviours around internet use.

For example, a group of senior executives I worked with a number of years ago were avidly interested in technology and thought of themselves as in tune with the modern world.

However when presented with the concept of an online forum for their customers, they were extremely unwilling to take the risk of having negative feedback posted about their company.

They saw this as a major risk - many customers were already complaining about their company via other online forums, which were totally outside their control.

Their initial decision was to either prohibit any comments on their forum that could be construed as negative, or to not have a forum at all.

It took several months to help the group understand that if they did constrain the participants in this way the forum would not be credible.

It took about as long to convince them that if they decided to not have a forum then others would fill the gap and the organisation would have no effective online channel to present their side of the story.

The organisation eventually gave the go-ahead to experiment with a forum - which my organisation managed and moderated. Other than screening for language and tone, no censorship of customer sentiment took place.

There were negative comments made. These were responded to with objective and factual information about the organisation's approach and how the matters raised were or would be addressed.

This approach helped turn several of the most vocal objectors into supporters of the company. It also allowed the organisation to uncover several easy, but important improvements that helped many other customers (who probably would never have bothered complaining, but would have changed suppliers).

The organisation now operates a number of extremely popular and successful forums and blogs and conducts much of its business online.

It has changed its mental model of the online world, and this has helped them better understand and meet their customers' needs.

Many organisations have not made this leap as yet, and some are in the process of doing it.

Where does your department sit?

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