April 2, 2011

The 90-9-1 Collaboration Paradox: Org’s Should Aim To Reverse It

Through various studies and reports, given the chance where online participation is possible, 90% of the users will simply observe and lurk (remember, Learning is Lurking), 9% will occasionally contribute, edit, etc. whereas 1% of users can be denoted as those that contribute most of the content itself. (aka. The Power Collaboration Users)

Thus, we pay homage to the 90-9-1 phenomenon or as Nielsen describes, “participation inequality”.

It is also known as the 1% rule.

Randstad recently published a Global Workmonitor study suggesting Canada, USA, France and the UK aren’t utilizing the power and capability of social media in the workforce to assist their actual work output, whereas, China and India are.

  • Sixty-seven per cent of Canadian employees only use social media to stay in touch with family, friends and acquaintances, as opposed to the 27 per cent of employees who use social media to profile themselves as an employee.
  • The results are vastly different in India (78 per cent) and China (63 per cent), where employees use social media solely to present themselves professionally.
  • 68 per cent of workers surveyed in India, and 65 per cent of those in China, say they use social media to get customer information, while only 25 per cent do so in Canada, and similarly approximately 30 percent in the United States, UK and France.

Gartner published some worldwide summative data in 2010 that outlined the perceived importance of traditional communication technologies and 2.0 collaboration technologies by users:

Naturally, these data points got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about the 90-9-1 phenomenon.

To get to the true state of the Collaboration Cycle, where users both contribute and consume, through strong and weak ties, employing the model in a continuous, authentic, receptive and enriching fashion, we have to ask our various users two questions:

  1. Where are you right now in the 0-90-9-1 continuum?
  2. How can we help you shift to become more collaborative?

A-ha! (not the band)

You’ve no doubt (not the band) noticed the number 0 added to the 90-9-1 continuum.

That’s because it’s my belief we have forgotten to qualify a set of users who, quite frankly, aren’t even observing/lurking. They are the individuals who, at a 0% collaboration level, are simply ‘aware’ of the 2.0 tools (Twitter, Discussion Forums, Openness, etc.) and perhaps the behaviours of being more collaborative, but aren’t yet even observing/lurking, let alone passively contributing or collaborating.

By viewing the Gartner and Randstad data, it’s evident that we may be putting more emphasis on collaboration behaviour and tools in our personal lives, than in our work lives, but either way, the entire working population is not on the collaboration bus to start with. (aside from China and India) That is, many are just simply aware you might be able to use these techniques in the work world but they aren’t in fact utilizing them for business productivity results.

Our quest in the corporate world, therefore, is to help employees recognize that for the sake of their personal and career growth, along with the growth of business results for the organization, the model needs to be flipped around such that 90% are actively collaborating, 9% are somewhat collaborating and 1% do nothing.

The steps to think about that help flip the model are as follows:

  • Qualify
    • Where do employees sit in the 0-90-9-1 continuum?
    • Where are you? Aware, Observer, Participative or Collaborative?
    • Once qualified, you can address change management steps.
  • Educate
    • Provide the most appropriate education & change management opportunities for each 0-90-9-1 stage.
    • Shifting people from Aware to Collaborative is the ultimate goal
    • Engage with them – utilize collaboration methods & behaviours to help the shift
  • Reinforce
    • In all aspects of your business, reinforce Collaboration as an arc to being more productive
    • Build the transition from Aware through to Collaborative in as many practices and systems as you can found throughout your organization (IT, HR, Finance, Marketing and other organizational pillars)
  • Re-Qualify (and measure)
    • On a quarterly basis, qualify where your users are in the continuum
    • Has the individual made a shift (behaviour and tools) and has the team, business unit, org, etc.
    • This can help paint the picture, and assist in the transformation & change management planning

It’s a shame that we humans (at least in Canada, USA, France and the UK) view the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 (ie. the external use of social media) as more fruitful than within our corporations and organizations and that the use of such tools are deemed not as important as traditional communication or collaboration means. It’s even scarier to see that India and China don’t view things this way; even more reason to suggest that their more collaborative ways are pushing their economic growth through 2050. (see BRICs and Beyond: Goldman Sachs Global Economics Group, 2007)

Is there a link?

I’d like to suggest there is. What about you?

Thanks to Rob Sharpe for planting the seed.

UPDATE (4/17/11): PDF download version now available thanks to The Waypoint Group in Sydney, Australia.

7 Replies to “The 90-9-1 Collaboration Paradox: Org’s Should Aim To Reverse It”

  1. Hey Dan! Liked the post but I’d say to shift that we must focus on the perception of people regarding collaboration. As I showed you in a post a few weeks ago I created a plataform here in Brazil based on collaboration for achieving better grades in University. So far, I’ve been the only 1% over there my 10% looks like 2%. I guess it’s a cultural difference here in Brazil we have. Not to collaborate has been the imperative for long since our national identity was created. Here’s an article at HBR.org saying something like it http://blogs.hbr.org/schrage/2010/10/hit-by-a-ton-of-innovative-bri.html

    we Brazilians tend not to collaborate unless we see a reward or advantage for us in the short-run. With that in mind, I think the way to shift the spectrum is to bring to present-value the benefits collaboration gives us in the future. The only way of doing so is through story telling and case showing.

    I think we face the same problem many organizations faced when Toyota Manufacturing System and its ideology appeared. We need to run a lot of tests and engage many of the 1%s throughout all the collaboration networks to show the other 99%s how goos collaborating can be.

    Great blog man! I’ve sent it to my Org’s CMO when she was talking about collaboration tools…. which we have in tons, but nobody uses hehe just me and a few(very few) others. Let’s see what happends.

    Regards from São Paulo,


  2. @Fabio – welcome back. The perception is in fact one of the mountains to climb. You, me and a bunch of other ‘bleeding edge’ individuals are the sherpa’s. We’ve been to the top before, or have ventured into other mountainous territories in the past … it’s our job to help others overcome the perception and help them reach the summit.

  3. Dan

    Great blog. Glad I found you.

    Completely agree with this piece. One of Nielsen’s proposed remedies from forever ago (2006), was to make it easier to share. And while there are enterprise tools emerging they are disconnected by and large from the ones we use to “do” business. Outlook, once a savior, is now a tryrant.

    Interested in your thoughts around countering the “email IS social” argument you hear from the boomer and early-onset GenXer’s in the corporate world (the necessarily ordained “influencers” that make or break collaboration endeavors).

  4. @Daniel – another ‘dp’, thanks for stopping by. The Outlook Social Connector is an example of briding two worlds. Some may feel comfortable only within Outlook, so we (as perhaps bleeding edge collaboration technology users) should embrace it.

    Another example relates to SharePoint. If there are those that are rooted only in their email, secretly we can get people collaborating within Outlook by some of the SharePoint connectors into Outlook itself. Of course, an org would need Exchange, Outlook and SharePoint, but many do.

    So, I do believe that email can be thought of as social … if Outlook (and other email clients) are treated as social collaboration mechanisms.

  5. Hi Dan, Great post. I’m focusing my MA project on the adoption through implementation of innovation with both a technology and the behaviour of collaboration as the innovations.

    Olivier Zara created a collaborative book of sorts about this. It’s called managing Collective Intelligence and has some really interesting thoughts about collaborative technology as a route to change org culture to that of a more collaborative one. Not cooperative, or consultive – collaborative, huge difference there.

    In addition to the MA I also work for a company that has developed an online platform that helps groups collaborate. (thoughtstream.ca) We used a lot of customer feedback to create the platform and found, like you, that email was the comfort zone for a lot of Canadians. As a result our platform uses email to engage staff, stakeholders, others in a collaborative online process. As a result, I think, we get that 1% group to engage more often and at a higher level.

    Sometime you just have to meet people where they are and then build on any success.

    As for your question – great question! I’m sure there is a link and that link could be cultural differences combined with an increased sense of urgency to innovate or at least to adopt innovation.

  6. To be honest,
    My first reaction on the 90-9-1 % was: are there still companies today who succeed in surviving having these ratio’s? My second reaction was identifiying the type of companies: yes, they indeed exist.

    And there is a real opportunity for them,and for KM consultants since these companies are the companies which are are able to make a quantum leap in handling their knowledge.

    As always: everything starts with people (not with technology). An assessment at the start can even identify what exactly these percentages are, and who fits in what percentage. Starting from there, and depending on the results and the vision of the company, for each company an effective strategy can be developed. Indirectly shifting the ratio’s.
    Geert Willems – follow us on Twitter @GSWconsulting

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