How can companies tap their employees’ existing social-networking savvy to succeed with knowledge sharing and collaboration? How can companies avoid possible security and privacy pitfalls and work inefficiencies, and still prepare for integrating whatever the next wave of technology brings? Three practices can guide plugged-in managers and employees to make decisions that support collaboration and knowledge sharing while being realistic about what can and can’t flow across an organization’s network. The first practice sounds like three on its own -- but it needs to be practiced as a set. (This series is a continuation of the thinking from my recent Wall Street Journal article, Tapping Into Social Media Smarts.)

Stop Look Listen

The first practice is to Stop-Look-Listen (like a child learning to cross the street) to understand the current situation across the company’s people, technology, and organizational process.

Stop and reflect on all three dimensions -- no short-cuts. Many organizational failures are because someone thought technology alone could solve their problems. For example, leaders who want to implement a socially networked suggestion box (technology) for new product ideas will need to see if employees have free or at least flexible time to participate (organizational process), and that employees have access to devices (technology) to enter and follow the development of their ideas (it’s human to take ownership and care about your contributions).

Look at real-world information to make your decisions. Compare two existing approaches to collaboration and see which one is doing better, build on that one. Companies like Google and Yahoo! are constantly testing different ways of presenting information, but you don’t have to be an Internet company to use information to help make decisions.

Listen to feedback from past projects. For the collaboration tool that wasn’t as successful, what was the problem? Tech guru Guy Kawasaki suggests holding “pre-mortem” meetings (2 min video) while there is still a chance to make improvements and where blame isn’t an issue.

Stop-Look-Listen is the first practice of a plugged-in manager. If you've lived long enough to be reading this blog you probably have this one memorized. Click here to read about the second practice: Mixing.

I've given a few examples here, but what have you seen? How have you practiced Stop-Look-Listen in your own organization? What have you seen happen if this practice is skipped?