Lucidea’s Lens: Knowledge Management Thought Leaders Part 41 – Jane McConnell

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

September 21, 2023

Jane McConnell is an independent advisor to global organizations on digital and workplace strategies based in Uzès, Occitanie, France. She is an analyst/practitioner with over 20 years of advising organizations on their internal digital strategies and 10 years of doing research. 

She has conducted annual surveys on The Organization in the Digital Age with 300-400 companies around the world and published annual reports from 2007 through 2017.

Jane runs a research program on the gig mindset, which is the subject of her book The Gig Mindset Advantage and her podcast Bold New Breed. She wrote the Executive Summary and Key Findings in Boston University’s Leading in the Digital Age, part of edX courses organized by leading universities in the US. She defined the Foundational Framework and corresponding Scorecard for organizations. Jane created and facilitates New Era Workplace Shift (initially Paris-based, but now virtual), a work group of organizational and digital practitioners in global organizations. She wrote the first business-oriented Internet book published in France in 1996.

Her specialties include:

  • Longevity
  • Gig mindset
  • Future thinking
  • Imagining possibilities


  • California State University, Fresno – BA, Language and literature




Clarifying the word “collaboration” to reduce confusion and conflict

Confusion and misunderstandings around “collaboration”

The word “collaboration” is creating lots of confusion these days. In several recent client projects, I’ve seen firsthand to what extent different interpretations of “collaboration” have triggered serious misunderstandings and even internal conflict. I can’t count the number of meetings I’ve been in where people use the word collaboration to describe quite different things.

It is important to clarify the type of collaboration you are talking about. Although the different types are not black and white, there are fundamental differences. Why is it important to clarify?

  • It influences the coherence of your whole digital workplace, in particular your entry point strategy.
  • It will reduce conflict among digital teams and bring understanding of how different pieces fit together to serve the people.
  • To some extent, it impacts the roles and scopes of members of the digital teams. It partially answers the question of “who is in charge of what”.
Team collaboration – probably the oldest sense of “collaboration”

This refers to designated people working together on a project with deliverables and a timeline. This has long been part of what organizations do. Today, in many cases, senior management have taken a new interest in intranets because they now include collaboration as well as information. This type of collaboration gets their attention because they see it as “the way work gets done”.

Communities of practice for support functions – long established in most organizations

Most large organizations have long-established communities of practice for their support functions: finance, IT, communications, and HR. Finance is almost always the leader because companies need to consolidate figures across the organization. IT and Communication sometimes struggle depending on how decentralized the company is. HR has a different challenge because the central function and the country functions need to work hard to clarify their complementary scopes.

These communities are “obligatory” in that if you have a job in finance or in communication, you are automatically part of the relevant group. Over the years, I’ve seen many global intranets built on the backbone of functional communities of practice. These communities are often strong allies for your change facilitation initiatives.

New for many organizations: social communities and collaboration

Informal networking around the water cooler and on business trips has long existed but, by definition, has geographical limitations. Online tools that enable people across organizations to discover each other, answer questions, discuss and so on, even if they never meet physically. This is bringing a new dimension of “collaboration” to organizations.

Communities around topics of interest are being created. They are voluntary. People join, participate, leave as they wish. Leaders emerge. There are no pre-defined deliverables. These communities are usually closely tied to social networking in that they may live inside the social networking platform and do a lot of their communication and collaboration using social tools.

The digital workplace where it comes together

I published my first diagram of the Digital Workplace in February 2011: “Snapshot of the Digital Workplace“. The purpose was to provide people with a visual way to communicate the digital workplace concept to management.

Over a year later in February 2012 I published a second version of the diagram. “Digital Workplace in Brief: 5 Fundamentals” where I emphasized the overlapping of the different dimensions and scopes.

A number of organizations now use these diagrams to explain how their “pieces” of the digital workplace fit together. They also use them to illustrate their entry point strategies. They help people talk about single or multiple entry point strategies. They also make it easier to define what is on the start page (as per the second diagram on the February 2011 version.

‘Community’ and ‘social’: ambiguous terms

Vocabulary, vocabulary! The word “community” is just as difficult as “social” when you’re talking with senior management. They are trigger words that can make or break your pitch to management.

‘Community’: strong views for or against

The word “community” can be a good word or a bad word, depending on who you’re talking with. I recently worked with an organization where the word “community” is interpreted at the senior level to mean “sharing”, “breaking silos”, “knowledge’” and “innovation”. There is senior level support for the “community” initiatives in this organization and a strategic, decision-making governing body with senior managers. The word “community” resounds better than the word “intranet” or “portal”. So much so, that the intranet portal project may soon be placed under the “community” umbrella and be governed by the same high-powered group.

A short while back, I worked with another organization where there was unanimous agreement in an intranet workshop that the word “community” was to be avoid at all costs. I asked why: “It sounds like a sect” was the answer. The intranet managers present, from different countries, agreed.

‘Social business’: unclear and risky

‘Social’ is just as tricky. I did a private poll recently 12 intranet or online managers I know personally and consider to be advanced practitioners. I asked them what they think about ’social business intranet’ as a term. Answers varied, but there only three who thought the term worked. They are in organizations with top management support for their social initiatives.

Other manager responses:

  • “It is difficult to sell to senior managers.”
  • “It may give the impression you’re only talking about social networks at work.”
  • “It doesn’t really make sense because generally people use the phrase ’social life’ to distinguish it from their business life.  As such the phrase is an oxymoron.”
  • “The social in social media is not really understood by management.”
  • “My first reaction is that the shortcut ’social business’ may be clear for us but may not for people not involved in the Intranet world…Problem comes from the ’social’ word. I am afraid association together can lead to possible misunderstandings. To break the shortcut, what about ’social based business intranet’ or ’social driven business intranet’?”
  • “My first reaction is that I’m not really sure I understand what you mean. Is it ‘Make business thanks to Intranet’s social network’?”
  • “While I understand what’s behind it, for me instinctively ’social’ is too open to interpretation when divorced from its roots in ’social media’, which is starting to have a recognized value for business (connect, collaborate…).”

Slightly more positive:

  • “It does make sense to me, although I would need to get accustomed to the sound of it. First reading I hear it as ’social business’ “intranet… unlike ’social intranet’ or ‘business intranet’… “
  • “Knowing I’m not a native English-speaking person, I am not sure my feedback will be accurate. Still, the term makes sense to me, but it could confuse if “social business” refers more to the business of social, if you see what I mean.”
  • “Interesting to bring together social and business with the notion of intranet. In my mind, social media put too much focus on ‘media’, and when discussing with potential stakeholders their reaction is very often: media = places for endless discussion or communication. They don’t see where the business stands.”
How to get around this?
  1. Know your organizational culture. Use words that will get you closer to your goals.
    Years ago I advised clients to stop using the term ‘blog’ and to speak about ‘one-click publishing tools’. That way you can get them into the enterprise and move progressively to more interactive usages.
  2. Use business language in a tag line to explain whatever term you choose.
    For example, ‘Social business intranet, where people make business happen.” or ‘Communities, where ideas and information are shared’. This is especially important in global organizations with many mother-tongues. The word ’social’ can even be negative in some cases. An example is in French where ‘movement social’ is a euphemism for ’strike’.
  3. Focus on the objectives, not the tools, in your messaging.
    Use words like “make it easier for people to find expertise”, “give our organization the capacity to respond faster to clients”, “reduce the risk of out-of-date information”, “increase our ability to follow industry trends”, and so on.

User adoption, a new perspective

User adoption starts at the beginning of a project, not at the end.  I have been contacted more than once by companies – all large, reasonably well-resourced and with smart intranet teams – who want to talk about user adoption just before launching their new intranets. That rarely works well.

I have developed 5 key success criteria for user adoption and most start very early in the process. We reviewed these points with the members of IntraNetWork in Paris at our September work session. Several members are currently rolling out huge new intranets and the discussion was lively and full of real examples.

  1. Create a “networked governance” with no black holes.
  2. Involve users from day one
  3. Play the local management trump card
  4. Deploy operationally, not organizationally
  5. Propose practical, decision-making tools

1. Create a “networked governance” with no black holes

(By governance, I’m referring to decision-making: scopes, roles and accountability.)

All parts of the organization must be somehow connected to at least one of the decision-makers and, more importantly, know how they are connected. This is valid for  intranet business-as-usual and for intranet projects.

Think in different facets: “organization”, “geography”, “function” and “operational”. It will require some creative juggling, but when steering group members are chosen, think of people who can wear 2 if not 3 hats. In a large, global organization, there is no other way to keep the steering group small enough to be workable, yet representative of the different facets of the enterprise.

Imagine your governance system as a network with lots of nodes. An example: imagine a person based in Germany, working in HR and attached to a specific business division. That person can be the governance network node for Germany, country HR teams and the business division. His/her role is to reach out to relevant people in those 3 dimensions and to keep them either involved or informed depending on who they are and what’s happening.

2. Involve users from day one

Users should be in the loop early on, regularly, and visibly. This is true for the business-as-usual life of the intranet. When a new project starts up, it is even more important. Their involvement must be visible to their managers. People from different parts of the organization should be included. There are lots of ways to involve them, and I won’t go into that here. Check out the dozens of posts and articles from Step Two Designs on this topic.

One thing for sure, end-users should be involved throughout the definition and design process, not just at the end to “test the prototype”.

3. Deploy operationally, not organizationally

Many if not most new intranets are inaugurating a collaborative or social dimension for the first time. Or they may be integrating “managed” and “collaborative” for the first time. Whichever, it will be useful to think in terms of “operational units” rather than “organizational units” when you roll out the collaborative parts.

Rolling out first to operational groups that already work together increases your chances of success. This includes teams, communities, workgroups, etc. Hopefully your new solution will make life easier for them. Hopefully, it will bring at least one or more of these 4 benefits: let them do things better than before, faster than before, cheaper than before or even things they could not do at all before. If you’re lucky, it will go viral and you’ll be overwhelmed with demand!

4. Play the local management trump card

The French refer often to “le management de proximité” – which somehow sounds more elegant than “local management”! Even if your project is driven from the center of the organization (a nicer word than headquarters!), it cannot be easily deployed from the center.

Local management need to make many rollout decisions, including when and how. Get them on board and deployment will be much easier.

5. Propose practical, decision-making tools

The more decentralized the system, the more essential it is to have practical tools that people throughout the organization can use to carry out their migration.

The deployment kit must be practical and contain decision-making guidelines and tools. It may include a grid to define content approval cycles, a set of guidelines for setting up a community space, tips for writing search-engine-friendly headlines and articles, and so on.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please enjoy Stan’s blog posts offering advice, analysis, and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may want to download a free copy of his book, Lucidea’s Lens; Special Librarians & Information Specialists: The Five Cs of KM from Lucidea Press, and its precursor, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program. Learn about Lucidea’s Presto, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus software with unrivaled KM capabilities that enable successful knowledge curation and sharing.

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