The tale of two coffees – or why altruism doesn’t work in ECM

Our facilities management has been changing how coffee is provided, and judging by the posts on our internal social network, they have been failing miserably.

On the face of it, the new system should be much better – freshly brewed coffee in a range of blends and flavours. It replaced a system using single pouches of reconstituted, dried coffee that most people felt was tolerable at best.

So where's the problem? The new system depends on altruism. The coffee must first be brewed in several large batches that are then saved in thermal carafes to hold the brewed coffee without burning it. There are five or six blends, and therefore an equal number of carafes in every small office kitchen.

In the ideal use case, a 'user' comes to a kitchen, selects the blend they would like and dispenses a steaming mug-full. If they see that a given carafe is almost empty they set it under the coffee machine, select the right blend, push various buttons and then ideally wait ten minutes until it is completely brewed, or at least expect another colleague to finish the process and move the carafe back to its stand.

Of course anyone reading this knows what actually happens. You come to get a coffee, find several carafes empty, take some coffee from one of the only carafes with some left, and then find it is lukewarm. To rectify this situation you would need to brew up at least three or four large carafes, but you're already in a foul mood so you just walk away in disgust. After all, you have an important business meeting in one minute and the company isn't paying you to make coffee for everyone!

There have been attempts to rectify this. I've seen helpful Post-it notes saying, "Brewed at 1:35pm" – which at 4:00pm tells me I don't want to even try the half-empty carafe! Packages of the correct blend are kept next to the carafes to make sure people can find the right one – as if that was the only reason they hadn't re-filled an empty carafe before!

So it's pretty clear un-recognized altruism doesn't work in the workplace. That's as true for coffee-making as it is for managing content.

ECM implementations that depend on users to do more than they need to do to discharge a task don't work. Enforcement efforts only work until people find an alternative, which is becoming increasingly easy to do with the availability of free Cloud resources.

But self-promotion works, which is recognized in successful social networking implementations. So look to social networking as a way to get people to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do in your ECM systems! After all, why else would I be writing this piece on my personal time?!

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  1. Too funny, Martin! Yet, oh so true! Employees need to feel as though their actions/activities have value. Social networking, combined with ECM allows them to do the work, share the work, and received feedback from those who felt the impact. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement from co-workers to validate that what you're doing makes a difference in their workday.

    Now...if we could only get them to feel the value of filling that coffee carafe!


  2. If the recognition of peers is the motivator, maybe some sort of coffee maker of the month challenge would be the ticket. Post a sign up sheet and have people tick off everytime they make a pot of coffee. The person with the most gets a Starbucks gift card.

    Same in user adoption -- create some sort of competition and people will be on board with the new behavior.

    In both cases, the organization is signalling that this is something important. Coffee, at least, is key to a productive office!