I like my strategy hard-boiled, with pepper

There is a late night ad that drives me nuts, because it reminds me that sometimes ‘innovative’ attempts to repackage the basics are neither truly innovative, nor ultimately very useful.  The same is true with the way some people (pseudo gurus) and organizations are trying to approach ‘social’ business. One of these things is just like the other:  Behold, the Eggies System, which takes one of Mother Nature’s most perfectly engineered foods and turns it into a flat, hardened mess in a singular form.

Much of the social business hype reminds me of the Eggies System battle cry “Finally enjoy Hard-Boiled Eggs without peeling a single shell!” And, “When it comes to eggs, hard-boiled means hard work!  Messy shells, broken whites, and you’ll be peeling all night! Well, not anymore… introducing Eggies, the fast, easy way to cook hard-boiled eggs without the shell!”

When I watch that commercial, and I admit I’ve watched it far more times than I should, I hear the voices of the Social Gurus in my head, touting their wares. “Cook your eggs just like in a real shell,” sounds a lot like, “Go social, never mind how it fits into your core business.” Even while watching the recent keynote and corresponding tweets for Dreamforce, I was alternating between mockery and ire, as Salesforce  took it further and pitched ‘collaboration’ and ‘workflow’ so that they became sexy, trendy must-haves for the masses. This isn’t new. Or even fresh.  In fact, its long past the ‘best before’ date.

Collaboration, process, design and workflow aren’t new for many of us. They’re a given as necessary aspects in knowledge worker’s days. I believe that the attention E20 got via the Salesforce event will help us shape and mold broader adoption, which is something we’ve long strived for, but inevitably, I’m still left wondering who it is that businesses will trust to crack the necessary eggs, (and the heads), to implement it all in the Enterprise?

Crack, Pour & Boil!

But guiding organizations as they evolve to include social and collaboration into their cultures, helping them change to grow, is a business like any other. It’s not a brand new way to crack an egg and cook it. We often tell this to everyone who will listen, probably irritating them to no end with the repetition, and the sometimes strident tone. But, we will keep on saying it, because it needs to be said. Being a change agent is a business, with procedures that we study, refine, then improve upon, the same way that chefs learn to make a fluffy omelet or cook the perfect soft-boiled egg.  It takes practice, and an understanding of methodology until techniques are honed through the years and time-tested to work.

Susan Scrupski recently sent up call-to-arms to practitioners in Zen and the Art of Enterprise Maintenance, while championing a corporate culture ‘do over’:

“To get to the “fix” part of this equation, it’s going to take the smarts and knowhow of everyone who’s focused on the Enterprise.  There’s a great thread on G+ from Sameer Patel on the “how.”  The lasting value will be to apply the spirit of social revolution in the enterprise to the practical application of social in the enterprise.  I’ve heard reports from Dreamforce that the rhetoric-to-reality gap was pretty stark once you left the Benioff keynote cathedral and walked onto the show floor.

This is the hard part.  Delivering on the promise of social.  So consider it a clarion call for all practitioners, consultants, and vendors (big and small):  Figure it out.  Bring it home for the rest of us and the planet.  We’ve done the first hard part which is selling the promise of revolutionary change.  And we’ll keep beating that drum, btw.  It’s the backbeat to the song we’re singing.”

Which is definitely a tune I’m in harmony with, but I believe there are challenges in building an army of experienced change agents that can be heard above the choir of social misfits who lack any genuine enterprise knowledge or experience.

Do you want it whipped, fried, baked, scrambled, or coddled & cooked in plastic?

Much like new and improved cracked shell Eggies, the social gurus seem to be easier and more appetizing to the HR gate-keepers than the hard-boiled trench soldiers presenting old style resumes as their shell.  I hear it day in and day out from valued, truly expert contemporaries who have extensive domain knowledge, singing the same refrain for change, but they have to reinvent  themselves first as the jargon changes to compete. We’re forced to repackage the expertise and knowledge that will really benefit organizations into new HR marketing norms, using industry buzzwords that sometimes have little to do with the real value seasoned enterprise software vets have. Those of us ahead of the curve in experiences had better get cracking to stay competitive and findable.

And as a bonus – you’ll get the Eggie Slicer!

While this outstanding piece by Sameer Patel was written to illustrate the need for process and innovation in the HR space within the enterprise, I’d add Assessing the Real Value of Me to the must read list for consultants who are trying to hatch-up a better way to get the HR wardens to give them a closer look. Consider the line “I’m much more than what HR thinks of me, today”, as you read through the Four Dimensions of the Employee System of Record, then do an inventory to determine if you’ve put enough of your eggs into a basket that recruiters, colleagues and references can easily access.

We can’t blame it all on the gate-keepers, if we’re just recycling the same old CV’s and portfolios that used to work years ago, and yapping away on twitter and Google+. While reading Sameer’s piece, I recognized that while I have an extensive, solid body of work that clearly demonstrates my own abilities and value within a large enterprise that happens to be in the business of providing collaboration solutions – it isn’t findable to external resources. And while I rail against the thin veneer of of buzzword SEO, I recognize that in order to get out there as trusted practitioners, we do need to work to remain relevant in the same way that we preach and promote change in the organizations we serve.

There are problems to be solved, and improvements to be made.  Doesn’t matter what the problem is really; companies should be hiring people who know how to do both. Not just people who speak fluent (pick your target industry/role) hype.  But, this whole issue of relevancy and being heard is just another problem.  And we’re problem solvers and solution creators. We can do this.

While we might want to work with folks who dig a little deeper than the buzz anyway, we could be making it easier on them and ourselves by enriching the E20 community with ever more voices talking about the HOW TO get it done. In my case, that means bitching less about the gurus, and writing more about the delivery.  We all need to keep talking, singing, preaching and cracking through shells so that social isn’t just another gadget to clutter up the kitchen.

And that’s no yolk.

Podio POV

Absolutely agree with +Rawn Shah assessment of Podio in ‘Cooking up Tasks and Workflows on the Social Web‘. Podio excels in its simplicity. Knowledge workers can become ‘app developers’ in mere hours.

Having spent > a decade designing and implementing highly configurable workflow, I was instantly and immediately impressed with the simple process design functionality @Podio offers. Building flows and forms is so easy that most users can learn in a single session, and ultimately build apps to be shared on the developer network. Ideal for verticals. They won’t even know they’ve become ‘developers’ overnight. It’s that simple.

As a process workflow app expert (yeah, I said it because I earned that badge in the trenches,) I’m possibly far more critical than most would be and did offer up some critiques as Podio launched publicly. The CEO, Jon Froda, not only responded, but quickly organized a debrief meeting with development staff. I’ve been impressed with their follow through since.

My biggest complaint at the time was the fact that users would grab apps from the store that were empty, and lacking sample data. Bewildering for those unfamiliar with workflow processes. They’ve since begun to populate web store apps with samples in some cases, offering start-up text guides in the others.  Another issue was the inability to add calculated fields to forms in support of pipeline reports and the like.  Within weeks, the calc fields were added, and with more functionality and formula options than expected.

I walked them through an end-to-end use case I use when testing any ‘social crm’ offering which really piqued the Podio team’s interest. I put every platform I test through and end-to-end trade show campaign to see where their weaknesses are as a practical social business tool for typical CRM processes.  The Podio team jumped at the chance to see how it works in a fully functional ‘traditional’ system, pausing to take screen shots and ask many questions along the way. I’m happy to report that most aspects of the test can now be done within Podio, and with the ability to create reports to measure most of the metrics for each outcome.

I’d also like to point out that interest is so high that one of the CRM Idol semi-finalists, (but I won’t say which one), had me tutor and walk members of their own R&D team through Podio for several hours – including app building and the app store, for ideas and understanding. Frankly, I think they’re wise to look closely at how Podio is doing it right, and might be still wiser to consider a partnership with them.

Although I rely upon an enormously powerful collaboration platform for my daily work with my primary employer and partners, I’ve shifted my other project and contract consulting work over to Podio, and use it almost as often as my main work intranet. When time permits, I’ve got more than a few vertical apps in mind to build & share myself.  Because it’s just so darn easy.

Just this week, Podio released a major face lift and UI design overhaul. They continue to improve based on user and developer feedback, at a rate that few other emerging tech companies can match. The new FlexioGrid is fluid, scalable, and elegant – a framework that will enable many future design enhancements.

Rawn’s right. Podio is evidence of a significant change in how apps can be developed and shared. Check it out if you haven’t yet. It’s going to challenge some of the more popular offerings that Rawn also mentioned in his article.