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Dreamforce and the Social Enterprise: An Interview With Terri Griffith

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The Salesforce.com annual pow-wow took place last week amid much fanfare. While I could not attend, I was able to get a first-hand account of it through Terri Griffith, a professor of Management at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business. She's also the author of the award-winning book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive. She is an expert on how you make combined technology and organization decisions and then work these changes into your business. Terri is also one of the 100 honored members of the 2012 Silicon Valley Women of Influence.

Here is an excerpt of that conversation.

PS: You have just returned from DreamForce. What was your general impression?

TG: I dream of a world where my work is integrated with the tools I use, the people I work with, and how my organization keeps track of that work. Along with more than 90,000 others, I got a glimpse of that world at the 2012 Salesforce.com annual event, Dreamforce, held this week in San Francisco.

PS: It sounds like Salesforce.com is extending beyond the sales and service vertical, is that true?

TG: Salesforce.com traditionally focused on the sales cycle with their flagship customer relationship management solution. However, the company now describes itself as "the enterprise cloud computing company that is leading the shift to the Social Enterprise." They've expanded to touch all of an organization's activities through their communication tool, Chatter, and now, the alignment, motivation, and performance management of work through Work.com.

For me, their Work.com launch was the biggest of the show (and it was a show -- they blocked off a major San Francisco street and turned it into a park between two of the main convention center buildings).

PS: What is so special about Work.com? Seems that it could be seen as just another application in the Salesforce ecosystem.

TG: I'll admit that I've been tracking this performance tool since it was a start-up with the name of Rypple. Salesforce acquired Rypple about a year ago as part of their move to cover human capital management. According to John Wookey, SVP of Product for Work.com, is "the world's very first social performance management platform." I see this move as a big deal as it brings serious technology into something that has been limited by a focus on just people and organizational process. Where technology did play a role, it was to support human resource rules, not the business or the people trying to do their work. Work.com allows performance management to be an everyday event -- as it should be. Back when I was covering the tool as Rypple, one of my post title's was, "Are annual reviews passé?"

PS: How does the addition of a cloud-based performance platform change how we work? You're known for always talking about people, technology, and organization together; if this is just adding technology to the mix, isn't that a mythical silver bullet?

TG: I'll claim that what we had before was the silver bullet. Some HR groups took their paper forms, put them online and thought they'd transformed their process. Work.com instead allows individuals, teams, and organizations to set social goals. If the goals involve others, then they are part of tracking that goal through its completion. Great strategy for helping people be clear on what needs to be done. It also allows anyone with passion and expertise to commit to supporting a goal. The work is social idea runs throughout the Work.com approach.

Team members can give thanks, feedback, even gift cards (possible through a partnership with Amazon.com) as work progresses and in public. I see this as taking the "check-in" we might do in Foursquare or Facebook and applying a similar gesture to our work practice. There is real meat behind this feedback as it then can roll up for on-going coaching and feedback. Managers can also use a dashboard to help make promotion decisions supported with information about their whole group.

PS: The view is interesting, but will people really do this? Are people ready to be that social in their day-to-day work?

TG: I had the chance to ask Daniel Debow, co-founder of Rypple and now VP Strategy for Salesforce Work.com, about the triggers that had led organizations like Facebook, 1-800-Flowers, and Gilt to come onboard. I opened with the idea that there are certainly some organizations that are hip to the value of transparency, collaboration, and alignment, but there are many others that don't have those features top of mind.

PS: I'm guessing that one of those triggers has to be that someone told HR to figure out how to use "social" in their function...

TG: Dead on. Daniel said that's a common scenario, noting that, "as HR organizations get on the bandwagon to figure out how [social] is going to be relevant, how is it going to apply... then we really are the only game in town if you really want to be social in people management."

PS: Is there a grassroots angle?

TG: There is. A manager, an employee, a sales leader often starts using Work.com to solve a problem and others see the value. Daniel mentioned this was the case with John Quinn, SVP of Engineering at Gilt Groupe. He needed information to do one on ones with his group and found this tool to meet his need.

Phil: Those are the triggers we see for many social collaboration tools. Are there examples of more strategic approaches?

TG: Given that I'm a proponent of work that builds from transparency to responsibility to professional development, I was very happy to hear of some more deeply integrated triggers -- indicating this isn't just a fad reaction. Daniel talked about an internal angle and more integration based on Salesforce.com larger footprint.

From a strategic HR angle Work.com is finding that "next generation" HR leaders are focused on getting business results. They are looking to add value and are often armed with internal data from employee surveys showing that employees don't feel they are getting enough feedback, coaching, or recognition, or sometimes aren't even clear around their goals. Daniel said, "if you've got that combination -- the data and a next generation leader -- and they go looking, they find us."

There is also the opportunity to extend from what Salesforce.com is already offering organizations. Leaders are seeing that that can't have deep connections with their customers if they don't have deep connections with their employees. Work.com is integrated into the sales, service, and communication pieces of Salesforce.com and so is letting people participate from the same desktop and mobile screens where they do the rest of their work. It's exciting to see that level of integration and to speculate on what's to come.

An aside -- as I told Daniel, I'm not an unbiased journalist. I've taught thousands of students and spoken with many many leaders about the value of mixing together the human, technical, and organizational processes of our organizations. I wrote The Plugged-In Manager as an additional channel to communicate that value. I want work to change in ways that leverage transparency, responsibility, and professional development. I see Work.com and a tool that can play an interesting role in many organizations.