Extract: Managing internal change when crowdsourcing

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Extract: Managing internal change when crowdsourcing
'Getting Results from Crowds'.

Chapter Six from "Getting Results from Crowds".

Mark down 2011 as the year the blue-sky concept of 'crowdsourcing' was legitimised in the Australian business community.

The Commonwealth Bank is using it to generate ideas for the future of online banking, IT security vendors are using it to evaluate the risk of new malware and astronomy researchers are using it to detect distant stars and galaxies.

Now a prominent Australian futurist Ross Dawson has co-written a definitive guide to how large organisations might choose to use the crowdsourcing concept to best effect. Getting Results from Crowds offers advice, use cases and an analysis of 'service marketplaces'.

But launching a crowdsourced project does carry its risks - and some of them are within your own workplace. What if your own staff feel threatened by the idea? Dawson has given iTnews permission to publish an extract from a key chapter in the book, titled 'Changing Organisations'. Enjoy.


"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
-          Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer    

 The opportunities created by crowdsourcing do not always come easily for established businesses.

Companies need to change how they work, which may impact employees’ roles and responsibilities as well as business processes. Companies need to carefully manage the journey from recognising the benefits of crowdsourcing through to embedding these approaches into their operations.

Dealing with resistance to crowdsourcing

Any organisation that adopts crowdsourcing approaches needs to be prepared for internal resistance. Some of this may be a response to change in general, however there can be specific concerns about the introduction of crowd-based work.

The validity of these concerns will depend on the organisation’s strategic intent of the use of crowdsourcing. If the intention is simply to cut costs through headcount reduction, the resistance is to be expected, and trying to present the initiative for something other than what it is will not help the situation. In this case there will undoubtedly be many broader organisational challenges than just introducing the use of crowdsourcing.  In addition, using crowds to replace staff is unlikely to be a realistic or useful objective.

Where the intent of using crowdsourcing is positive, in terms of benefiting the growth of the organisation and its staff, people’s spoken and unspoken concerns may have varying degrees of validity, but can always be effectively addressed.

Many perceive the use of crowds as primarily a tool for driving efficiencies and lower costs, however even this can be reframed as an opportunity for individuals. Creating more efficient processes can free up resources to enhance current operations and generate new revenue opportunities, as well as create new possibilities for staff.

In many cases the most valuable uses of crowdsourcing have nothing to do with cost but rather create insight and outcomes that could not have been available by any other means. Genuinely approaching the use of crowds in terms of positives for the organisation and employees is the only sustainable way to turn resistance into support.

Supporting adoption

If you are bringing crowdsourcing into an organisation you need to consider the potential resistance and whether there are particular measures you can take to facilitate adoption. This will depend on the culture of the organisation and the initial approaches you are taking to the use of crowdsourcing. In some or even many cases, there will be no significant resistance or issues with adoption. In other cases strategies for adoption will need to be considered and implemented. 

Six steps to adoption of crowdsourcing

There are 6 steps that businesses can take to overcome resistance and improve adoption of crowdsourcing approaches.

1.     Create a sense of urgency

There needs to be a sense of urgency for organisations to embrace game-changing shifts. Use existing communication channels, particularly from senior management and in larger staff meetings, to highlight the actions taken and the reasons. These should always be framed in terms of benefits to the organisation and staff. Ideally you are looking to create not just a feeling of the need to use crowdsourcing, but a positive outlook on the benefits and possibilities. It is valid to frame organisational survival as well as success as a benefit.

2.     Communicate a clear strategy

The organisation’s leadership needs to define the role of crowdsourcing in the organisation, including the benefits and scope. A key issue is gaining clarity on and communicating what will remain inside in the organisation, and what may be done externally. A clear policy on crowdsourcing could include:

  • The strategic rationale for crowdsourcing and the resulting benefits
  • Specific tasks where crowdsourcing will be implemented or trialed
  • Approved providers or platforms (where relevant)
  • Crowdsourcing approval processes
  • Information sharing policies

3.     Start small, learn, iterate

Establishing pilot projects is one of the best ways to identify the best approaches and their applicability to particular tasks or parts of the organisation. Success factors for pilots include careful selection of the pilot project staff, designing for specific benefits, actively identifying lessons learned, and building project visibility. It is also important to cut off or significantly modify pilots that are not working well, as well as rapidly building on any successes.

4. Define roles and provide training

Establishing clear roles and structures enables people to understand their role and how that relates to other internal and external staff. This includes any workflow, approval processes, or other new aspects of their work. Especially for anyone who will have significant responsibility for the use of crowdsourcing platforms or external providers, training or mentoring should be provided.

5.     Design incentives

Organisations should define metrics to measure the benefits of crowdsourcing.  These may be as simple as time saved or may include benefits generated through the use of crowds. Incentives for staff on the effective use of crowdsourcing can be included in compensation or bonuses, or be addressed in staff reviews. Alternatively, discretionary bonuses or incentives can be used to support a positive stance to the use of crowd-based approaches.

6.     Highlight successes

Stories of successful employment of crowdsourcing should be communicated across the organisation to increase interest, and reward those who are early adopters. These stories make the benefits tangible, motivate staff, and allow useful insights to be shared across the organisation.

'Getting Results from Crowds' by Ross Dawson and Steve Bynghall, launches this week and is available online for US$25.

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