Everyone is a Change Agent but there is only one Change Agents WorldWide network

Change Agents WorldWideI recently became a member of Change Agents WorldWide. It’s a global network of experts from very different fields, but we all have a common vision and passion: We help organisations thrive in the 21st century!

If you only have 2 minutes, I recommend flipping through the slides below to learn more about CAWW.

In the 20th century people were busy creating the most efficient companies the world had seen to that date. Every company introduced processes, procedures and structures to manage every little single aspect of the organisation.  Companies adopted a mindset of control, distrust, opacity and shareholder value. By doing so they alienated employees, partners and customers. Paradoxically, these are the very same people who keep a company running!

Whilst these people felt powerless against the de-humanising companies of the 20th century, the tide has started to turn. As we move into the 21st century („The Networked Century“), traditional companies need to evolve into networked companies. Companies are not at the center of networks anymore, they merely form part of it. This changes pretty much everything we know about companies:

  1. Why companies exist: Shareholder Value vs. Stakeholder Value
  2. What companies do: Consumption vs. Sharing Economy
  3. How companies create value for themselves and the ecosystem that breeds them: Short-term Profit vs. Sustainable Outcomes

These fundamental changes do not affect just  one industry, one company, one department, a single employee or manager. It affects everything and everybody. It affects people, processes, structures, culture and technology. Since this change is so complex, there is no single company in this world that can provide the expertise and credibility to facilitate the necessary change.

Imagine a company with a rigid structure trying to tie hundreds of experts to it, that are then controlled by overpriced and frustrated managers and supported by a thick administration layer and located in expensive offices. We are everything but that!

What is Change Agents WorldWide?

  1. A group of psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, technologists, management consultants, marketeers and other professions.
  2. Expertise in organisational design, (organisational) psychology, organisational learning, social business, collaboration & communication, knowledge management, innovation management, gamification, enterprise technology, change management and other disciplines.
  3. Solo change agents that work independently with a large variety of organisations and enterprise change agents that work as intrapreneurs within organisations like Deutsche Bank, Disney, UNICEF, BASF, Evonik, Walmart and many others.
  4. A lean network that thrives on distributed leadership but has no managers.
  5. A learning and evolving ecosystem fueled by passionate and engaged people connected globally and virtually together.

 How can Change Agents WorldWide help you?

  1. You have a business problem and believe it could be (better) solved with new business thinking and technology? Contact us! Seeing is believing, which is why we have created Project Green Room. It’s free of risk and charge! It allows you to pose your business problem and questions to the change agents that best know your industry and have the most expertise in the required field. If you like what you see and feel that change agents could provide sufficient value in helping you with your business problem, you are free to engage with selected change agents without having to give up access to the wider network. Please feel free to contact us to discuss Project Green Room or contact me directly.
  2. It takes knowledgable, curious and courageous leaders to make the shift from a traditional to networked business. But the managers and employees of your company are stuck in their daily business and ignorant to the changes around them? Engage us to help educate and coach decision-makers to prepare your organisation for the change necessary. We are not only good in creating the right content, but also in knowing how to influence people and facilitate change.
  3. You are looking for sponsorship opportunities? We are currently working with leading universities, but also social technology vendors to spread the messages near and dear to our hearts, i.e. the changing face of business in the 21st century. You can download our first free e-book or tune in to the webinars we have done to date.

How to engage with Change Agents WorldWide?

Additional information

Have a look at what some fellow change agents (link to the entire team) have written about their involvement in the network.

There are currently 3 change agents in Germany. If you would like to chat further, please do let me know.

How to become a better manager by building trust?

One of the key success factors for implementing an enterprise social network, collaboration platform or social intranet is the support from the executive management.  Whilst you might have found a (financial) sponsor for your project, it does not always translate into actual use of the platform by the sponsor. However, if they don’t walk the talk, you face a long and painful uphill struggle culturally implementing the platform and ideas for new ways of working.

I hear too often from executives that the new enterprise network or social Intranet is for employees but not for them. Employees should use the platform to connect, communicate and collaborate for the better of the firm. The apparent ignorance stems from the fact that executives do not properly understand how they can make use of the tools themselves, even though these tools offer tremendous value to executives, too!

As for anyone, it comes down to the question: Why should I use it? By using an enterprise social network and working out loud employees can build their own brand and take control of their career path. Managers*, including executive managers, can use such tools to become a better manager. There are few people who will admit that they are not interested in their own career or to be a good manager. In both cases we are talking about intrinsic motivation, which is more powerful and sustainable than extrinsic motivation. Thus, in your communication you should stress the point about becoming a better manager. To drive home the point about the importance of being a good manager, you may remind them that employees usually don’t leave companies. They leave their leaders / managers. Besides, employee engagement is at its lowest point, poor managers being one of the root-causes. Edelman, a leading digital agency, called 2013 the Crisis of Leadership. I believe it’s far from over. In Edelamn’s latest Trust Barometer report CEOs are still one of the least trusted people.

What does it mean to be a good manager? If you want people to follow you, they need to trust you. The number one thing employees want from leaders is not a strategy but honesty. Much can be gained already by being more transparent and communicating directly (and not through the latest corporate newsletter or town-hall event once a year) with a true, pure and humble voice. If you want people to make more sales, be more productive or whatever, they need to trust you. No matter whether you are an employee or a middle/senior/executive manager, here are five elements that can help you build trust and strengthen your corporate network:

    1. Visible: It used to be the case that managers were able to walk the (factory) floor and talk to employees directly. These interactions and relationships built trust. Nowadays, a distributed workforce makes this a huge challenge for any executive. The higher up the hierarchy the less visible and accessible managers become. Using an enterprise social network allows managers and leaders to be visible to employees again due to the transparency and scalability these technical platforms offer. Executives can get an unfiltered (by middle managers) view on what is going on within the company. Being visible on the enterprise network usually doesn’t take more than 15 to 20 min a day.
    2. Authentic: It’s important that executives speak with his own voice. They must not let their assistants or Internal Communication managers do the talking on the platform. Otherwise, it is just another comms exercise. In that case, they executives might as well send a pre-written and approved email to employees.
    3. Human: People trust people, especially if they know each other. The higher up a manager sits though, the less he knows his employees on the ground. Managers need to be approachable even by lower ranked employees that don’t have constant contact with higher level managers. Sometimes sharing something personal, makes us human and thus approachable and likeable.
    4. Valuable: It’s important to provide value to people who might follow the executive’s updates on the enterprise social network or social intranet. Similar to Twitter, just sharing what you had for lunch and that you are going to the loo is probably less interesting to people. Be interesting!
    5. Compassionate: Showing that you care, makes you more human and again approachable and likeable. Besides being interesting, you should in first instance be interested! Listening to what employees are saying is crucial. Joining the conversation with short comments or ‚like‘ or ‚thank you‘ clicks is quick and easy to show interest and appreciation and will go a very long way.

A fellow Change Agent, Simon Terry, arrived at a very similar list of traits that managers need to adopt in a networked company.

In this post I discussed the WHY and HOW executive management could and should make use of the company’s enterprise social network or social intranet. In a follow-up post I will discuss WHAT the executives can do to get started.


*For simplicity’s sake I am using ‚manager‘ and ‚leader‘ synonymously in this blog post, as the content discussed here applies to them in almost equal weight. However, it is understood that there is a difference between the concepts of ‚manager‘ and ‚leader‘.

Influencing Human Behaviour to Increase Enterprise Social Networking Adoption

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

In my previous post, I promised to elaborate on one of the three pillars of successful adoption – people. Changing people’s behaviour is hard, but not impossible. It just takes more thought than some blunt incentive scheme or gamification strategy. Successful adoption of an enterprise social platform means influencing human behaviour.

Humans behave in certain ways, sometimes illogical ways. This is the result of evolutionary processes, education, cultural norms and tools. For example, in the absence of better suited tools people have come to use email for everything from private communication, team collaboration to audit trails and task lists. Now many people automatically turn to email without giving it a second thought.
For an organization to grow and evolve with their social network, encouraging positive and discouraging negative behaviour is critical. We need to provide certain stimuli. These stimuli vary greatly and depend heavily on the desired behaviour, the audience, their current behaviour, tools, and culture.

Recently, gamification has moved into the limelight as part of a change management initiative. It describes the application of game mechanics in a non-game environment to nudge people to take certain actions. It is an interesting concept and can indeed be helpful in influencing behaviour in the short-term if applied correctly. However, as with everything there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you recently followed the #e2conf hashtag of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, you may have stumbled across the hashtag #badgeburnout. It reflects the view that too often gamification is reduced to handing out badges. That’s the ugly. The bad are tactics that incentivise the wrong behaviour. Companies create leaderboards of people that created the most content, have most comments, likes etc. But how meaningful is that? Have you ever thought about creating a leaderboard for people that wrote the most emails, received the most replies, cc’d the most people? Ask yourself, do you roll out a collaboration and communication platform to create as much content as possible or do you roll out your platform to solve business problems? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to have a good insight into the activity on your enterprise social network, but I think activity data only shows the health of your community. In the quest for showing value organisations turn to data that is easily available and unfortunately use it in the wrong context.

So, what’s the good? A good gamification strategy aims at business metrics and not just project metrics (e.g. engagement, number of visits, most active group and others). For example, if you want to improve the performance of your regional sales teams to increase leads or revenue why not make that kind of data visible? Why not rank them according to those metrics instead of competing based on how many discussions they created last month? In most cases companies have the data. It’s a matter of identifying the right data sets to influence certain behaviour and making it available where it matters.

Change Agents WorldWide

How to increase adoption from your enterprise social network

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

This week the McKinsey Global Institute published a report on unlocking the value and productivity through social technologies. While it was light on actionable recommendations, it provides a superb overview of how social technologies impact both the consumer and enterprise market. A great seal of approval!

Over the last decade more and more organizations have started looking into the use of social technology to solve business problems. We are now at the threshold going from experimentation to institutionalisation. But how do we take what we learned in pilot deployments to the next level and apply it across an entire organization? How do we get people comfortable with new technologies and the dynamics that come with them?

Three years ago I published three blog posts with the title: ‘Second-wave adopters are coming.  Are you prepared?’ The articles talked about the challenges organizations have to address to move beyond the early adopters championing a new technology to the rest of the organization. Much of what I wrote back then still rings true today.

No doubt, adoption is critical especially for social tools because of network effects. The more people use them (both actively and passively as lurkers) the greater value they can potentially generate. That is certainly one of the reasons why organisations seem to be chasing the Holy Grail of Adoption. However, it does beg the question: is adoption the new ROI of collaboration? Are you deploying an enterprise social platform to achieve high adoption? Does a high level of activity equals business value? I would argue no. It reflects first and foremost the health of a community, but you deploy enterprise social networking platforms to solve certain business problems.  Activity and hence adoption is a good project metric, but not a business metric. This observation has a big impact on your adoption tactics, the messages you send to employees and the (social experience) design of your technical solution.

In a recent presentation I talked about the three pillars of successful adoption for an enterprise social networking platform, which include technology, organization and people.

I focused on the people aspect in particular, as this is the most interesting and challenging part of introducing social tools.

In future blog posts I will look in more detail at how to influence people and encourage them to change particular habits to ultimately achieve a successful introduction to their social platform.

Second-wave adopters are coming! Are you prepared? Part III

[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

This is the 3rd part of a blog post looking at user adoption.

  1. Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
  2. Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
  3. Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters

In the previous post we looked in more detail at barriers to user adoption and identified the following as key to be addressed to get second-wave adopters on board:

  1. applications not part of user’s workflow
  2. time effort > personal value
  3. complex applications

Letting people engage with social tools using what they are already familiar with, seems to be paramount. If you are too prescriptive about the tools they need to use to interact with others or the tools themselves demand a certain type of interaction, you will lose a lot of people on the fence.

Since a lot of people live in their inbox, we should be looking at ways to interact with a company’s wiki, blogs, forums, social network and even microblogging engine using an email client. I specifically say ‚email client‘, by which I mean not the ‚email inbox‘. The inbox should be for private information only. All other content (e.g. updates from blogs, wikis, newsletters, RSS feeds) should be received in different folders within the email client.

There have been some interesting developments, but I would expect to see more in the near future:

1) Blogs

Users should be able to post content to a blog using email. Products like Telligent, Movable Type cater for it already.  The latest version of WordPress also allows to reply to comments via email. Three days ago Posterous, the ultra-simple blogging platform, announced a new feature which lets users interact with the platform without ever having to leave their email client. I would expect enterprise vendors to implement similar functionality in the future.

2) Wikis

Pretty much all wiki products allow users to subscribe to updates via email. But very few products allow users to post content to a wiki and even create wiki pages via email. Socialtext is one of them. However, as far as I am aware, Socialtext and other products do not allow users to directly edit content in an email client and sending it back to the wiki.

3) RSS

A lot has been said about the use of RSS. While RSS for plumbing purposes has been widely accepted, standalone RSS feed readers are having difficulties to find their way into the enterprise. Primarily because most feed readers are fairly complex and expensive, but also because users don’t understand the difference between receiving their newsletters, updates in their email inbox and in a reader. For them it’s an additional destination they need to go to. Newsgator for example offers a plugin, which enables users to consume feeds in their email client. Since feeds are completely different than private conversations, they are displayed in separate folders and not in the inbox.

4) Internal / External Social Network 

Email is used to connect with other people, but so far most email clients don’t show context information about the recipients or senders of an email. It would be interesting to automatically have profile information, status updates, last actions from a sender or recipient of an email. This could work for a company’s internal social network but also with external networks like LinkedIn, Facebook using XOBNI or Gist or services like Jigsaw, Zoominfo, especially for sales people.

5) CRM

CRM set out with the best motives but many CRM initiatives fail because of low user adoption, significant amounts of inaccurate data and a poor match between processes and technology. In the end, CRM is a top-down tool that works for managers who can get their salespeople to play the role of a data entry clerk in addition to selling and managing customer relationships. Companies should look at possibilities of exchanging data between email client and CRM systems. For example, scheduled meetings or to-do items are automatically transferred into the CRM system. Team members can view that information inside their email client before sending emails to clients.

5) Microblogging

Twitter is all the rage at the moment and we are seeing very promising products appear in the enterprise space, e.g. Socialtext Signals, Yammer, Socialcast. For most people however, it is yet another application and destination they need to go to. Yammer allows to post and receive messages via email.

6) Instant Messeging 

Sometimes it is desirable to initiate an IM chat right after having received an email. For example, IBM’s Sametime IM technology plugs into MS Outlook indicating if a person is available for a chat/call and allowing the user to directly contact another person within the email client.

7) Email distribution list

As mentioned before, people use email to have conversations about non-confidential topics. In this case, it could be beneficial to the company if these conversations where accessible to other employees. But convincing them to use forums, blogs or wikis can be very difficult, as they are outside of their workflow. In its latest version Thoughtfarmer introduced a feature, which publishes content from an email distribution list to the wiki adding details like profile pictures, links to employee profiles. There it will be indexed and the information is accessible even if people leave the company.

All these examples are related to email in one way or another. However, transition strategies go well beyond email. In general, it is important to keep in mind:

Don’t be too radical

For example, working on wikis and blogs potentially exposes people’s work to the entire firm. Most people are uncomfortable with that idea. Furthermore, it can require considerable effort. Instead of implementing wikis and blogs from the start, it might actually be better to look at social bookmarking, social networking or social messaging (microblogging) first. The value/time investment ratio is usually better than for wikis and blogs. Look at social bookmarking: The workflow is not radically different from what people are used to. They can opt out of sharing on a case-by-case basis, learn how valuable tagging can be for themselves. At the same time they understand the value of transparency when searching/browsing colleague’s bookmarks instead of relying on the enterprise search engine.

Let people decide how to interact

Early adopters and enthusiasts will be happy to work directly on the wiki, consume news and updates in their RSS feed reader and read and send messages directly in the microblogging engine. For the rest make sure that they have the possibility to use those new tools with something they are familiar with.

Let people receive content the way they want it

If people find content (sources) interesting they should be able to decide how and when they want to receive content; let it be via email client, RSS reader, feeds on the team space, message on the microblogging engine, or PDF. Stop pushing content down people’s throat using email!

Build on existing workflows

This is nothing new, but I believe people have been rather ignorant to the fact that a lot of existing workflows involve email. Instead of simply implementing some new shiny tools, try to bridge the gap between the old and the new world.

New behaviors will emerge, but it won’t happen over night. That’s why enthusiasts need to acknowledge that most skeptics will continue to follow the path of least resistance and reject tools that are not part of their workflow, are too difficult learn and use or don’t yield an immediate personal benefit. If you ignore that, the success of your Enterprise 2.0 initiative may be in danger and the skeptics may prevail in the end.

Second-wave adopters are coming! Are you prepared? Part II

[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

This is the 2nd part of a blog post looking at user adoption.

  1. Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
  2. Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
  3. Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters

In the first post I listed the following barriers to user adoption:

  1. Insufficient training
  2. Culture
  3. Generation Gap
  4. Applications not part of users‘ workflow
  5. Time effort > personal value
  6. Complex applications

The first barrier (insufficient training) can be addressed fairly easily. The scope and content of the training program should depend on complexity, context and people’s background.

Barriers two and three (culture and generation gap) are cited very frequently with respect to user adoption. Not to sound harsh, but I think the importance of these two barriers is partially overrated. This is not to say that they do no effect user adoption at all. But looking at cultural issues, people assume that certain behavior can be attributed to a particular culture and by that ignore other explanations.

For example, a very common argument is that people are unwilling to share what they know. Well, they may not be necessarily unwilling to do so, but it does take low priority when people try to meet their goals and deadlines. That was the fallacy of the early KM era, in which employees were asked to step outside their work and ‚contribute‘ to a fancy KM tool (aka database). The beauty of social tools is it then, that they allow people to do their work in a more efficient manner, thus, gaining direct personal value and at the same time letting the organization as a whole benefit from it by breaking down silos and enhancing transparency. People need to realize that in most cases, knowledge-sharing is not an activity but in fact a by-product of people’s work. That’s why it is so important to implement these kind of tools into people’s workflow.

On the generation gap, most of the statistics seem to indicate that the older generation is technology averse and few use social tools or services on the Internet. But what about LinkedIn with it’s 39 Million users? What about XING, where 37% of its users are baby boomers? What about Facebook, where the fastest growing demographic is women over 55? And if the younger generations are always on the lookout for the next cool thing, why is the average age of people on Twitter 31? Can we really explain all that just by looking at age, gender or race? I doubt it! Ultimately it comes down to value! People flock to a service from which they get value. What constitutes value, lays in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, it is paramount to understand people, their needs, interactions with others, current tools they are using and so on.

This leaves us with the last three barriers (applications not part of user’s workflow, time effort > personal value, complex applications). To reach second-wave adopters we will need to concentrate on these barriers and come up with strategies to bridge the old and new world.

Whenever there is change about to happen, people effected can roughly be divided into three groups:

  1. People inside your garden
  2. People on the fence
  3. People outside your garden

The number of people can be visualized according to a bell-shaped curve. People on the edges, thus, group one and three, are usually in the minority, whereas group two constitutes the majority.

When considering the introduction of social tools, the groups above can be mapped as follows:

  1. People already using social tools or very eager to do so (the enthusiasts)
  2. People not completely opposing the idea of social tools, but reluctant to some degree to adopt new ways of working for various reasons (the skeptics)
  3. People completely resistant to the introduction and use of social tools, e.g. lawyer that asks his secretary to print out emails or newsletters. (the lost)

Forget about the third group! Getting them into your yard will most probably be impossible and distract you from focusing on the people on the fence. Besides, the group is usually fairly small and may well leave the firm not too long into the future. The enthusiasts are also  usually a small group, but a very important one. They can positively influence at least some of the people on the fence.

As pointed out before, the skeptics are not opposed to social tools per se, but do need to understand how they can benefit most with the smallest effort to change existing practices. And that’s where Enterprise 2.0 projects fall dangerously short. Early adopters and enthusiasts tend to have their heads somewhere in the clouds and forget about the existing work practices of the masses.

I liked Gil Yehuda’s analogy of the E20 and the long neck, which applies to enthusiasts vs. skeptics:

„The problem is that the „body“ — the enterprises that are supposed to benefit from Enterprise 2.0 thinking are lagging far behind. […] the „head“ is moving forward, looking at traditional business as the outdated, backward-thinking, unimaginative dolts who just don’t get it.  The messages delivered by the head seems to say everything you are „is dead“.  SOA is dead, IT is dead, data-centers are dead, waterfall is dead, email is dead, etc.  Instead, we live on perpetual betas, agile, clouds, and micro-this or that, social-this or that.“

As much as we dislike it, people live in their inbox and this fact is not going away over night by telling them about the benefits of using social tools! Given the lack of appropriate tools in the past, people have grown accustomed to (ab)use email for everything, e.g. public conversations (e.g. cc’d), collaboration, awareness (e.g. newsletters, updates), connecting with others. It’s effortless to fire an email to a group of people rather than using a separate tool. And yes, for most people it is easier to use email for collaboration rather than a wiki, even though they are aware of the disadvantages.

In the last part of this series we will be looking at ways to attract second-wave adopters of enterprise social tools.

Second-wave adopters are coming! Are you prepared? Part I

[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

I decided to break this blog post down into three parts, as it had become way too long during all those endless nights of writing. The general theme is that in the near future we will see more companies starting Enterprise 2.0 projects to increase productivity, reduce cost, improve client relations. While we have seen some early success stories, companies will need to think hard about ways to attract second-wave adopters.

The post is divided as follows:

  1. Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
  2. Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
  3. Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters

While everyone is talking about social tools and services in the consumer market, things have been comparatively quiet in the enterprise market. Yes, there are very noteworthy case studies out there (Sun, Wachovia, TransUnion, and also some of our clients), but the number of initiatives and scale can’t stand up to the things happening in the consumer market.

The crux of the matter is that different dynamics are at play in the enterprise impeding more often than not the commission of even small-scale social software projects:

  • IT departments
    • There is an obvious disconnect between IT and LOB; rigid, long-term IT strategies; concerns about security and compliance
  • IT investments
    • Millions of dollars have been spent on heavy enterprise systems that promised much but delivered little. Admitting failure is difficult, especially if people that commissioned the systems are still with the company.
  • KM 1.0 stigma
    • The promise that knowledge could be captured and stored was proven wrong but cost businesses millions of dollars. Anything coming along now promising better ‚knowledge-sharing‘ raises immediate suspicion.
  • Organizational hierarchy
    • Gatekeepers seeing their position weakened.
  • Corporate culture
    • Fear of losing control.
  • ROI
    • The focus on quantitative ROI, even though investment is relatively low compared to traditional enterprise systems and ROI figures for DMS, CMS, CRM systems were usually based on a coin flip rather than real figures.

 

However, with the current economic climate, change is not optional anymore. Organizations need to address inefficiencies caused by outdated management ideas and inadequate technology to increase productivity, save costs and offer better service to existing and prospect clients. This is one of the reasons why I expect to see more and more social software projects starting over the next months. At that point we will talk more about the HOW and less about WHAT and WHY of social tools. But even if companies start exploring business social tools the question remains: Will people come if you build it? And more importantly, will they stay?

User adoption is especially critical in E20 projects, because the tools become more valuable the more people actually use them. Therefore, user adoption must not be an afterthought but carefully thought of for from the start.

Here are some of the most common barriers to user adoption:

  • Insufficient training
    • Even though the training effort is relatively small compared to heavy and complex enterprise systems, handholding during the rollout is very important.
  • Culture
    • Culture can be subdivided into personal and corporate culture, but both influence each other. People fearing disadvantages from the introduction of new tools will do everything to sabotage or avoid their usage.
  • Generation gap
    • Baby boomers, Gen X and Y and Millennials adopt technology in different ways and interpret the world according to their own values and beliefs.
  • Applications not part of users‘ workflow
    • Technology exists to help people to create value and do things more efficiently and effectively. If the technology does not support those processes, users will be reluctant to use it.
  • Time effort > personal value
    • People are pressured by deadlines, objectives and managers. If the tools do not help them to alleviate some of the pressure, they will stick to their current tools and processes ignoring their inefficiencies.
  • Complex applications
    • Uptake will be low if applications require a lot of effort to learn and subsequently to use due to unnecessary complexity and lack of usability.

In the following post we will have a closer look at each barrier.

Edutainment and competition makes the world go round

I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

The New York Times published an article today on how utilities turn their customers green. For years and years the Sacramento Municipal Utility District had tried to push people to using less energy by offering for example rebates for energy-saving appliances. However, all tactics seemed to be in vain until they applied a very simple but effective principle – peer pressure.

Last April, [the Sacramento Municipal Utility District] began sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy.

After about six months an assessment showed that people that had received personalized statements reduced their energy use by 2% more than the ones that had received a standard statement. Encouraged by these results the approach is now piloted in ten other major metropolitan areas.

The results of this initiative seem to validate a study conducted by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University.

In a 2004 experiment he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. „But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use. (ibid.)

The article mentions similar initiatives, for example at the Central College in Pella, Iowa, and in Massachusetts where towns are competing in a reality series, called „Energy Smackdown,“ which is shown on a local cable station.

Most of these initiatives are locally. Using the power of the social web though, competitions can span the entire world and increase its impact considerably. Headshift has been involved in two green projects which are using peer pressure and competition as engagement models. Do the Green Thing is a fun and engaging way for people to tackle climate change. It’s based on the premise that simple actions done on scale can have a big impact. If you do a green action it is automatically communicated to your peers and wider network enticing them to do the same. The results speak for themselves. Within 18 months people were able to save as much as 5.86m kgs CO2.

The other initiative has been set up by NESTA and is called ‚The BIG Green Challenge‚.

NESTA put out a £1 million prize fund to come up with the best ideas to tackle climate change. Out of the 350 projects that entered, they are now down to the final ten. These ten communities have one year to implement their idea and prove its practicality and effectiveness to reduce carbon emission. By the way, our colleague, Robin Hamman, is currently traveling the country up and down to visit the finalists and bring them up to speed with social media, so that they can reach their audience. You should subscribe to the blog to get the latest info.

It will be interesting to see where the competition leads us to. It has already spread awareness and unlocked the innovative potential of the people involved. Whatever is saved in terms of carbon footprint will simply add to the success of the project.

So, what can enterprises learn from these insights? A lot, I believe. Let’s take a look inside the enterprise first. We quickly remember the study of Dr. Robert Cialdini, in which he left three different messages at doorknobs to see if they had an effect on the energy usage of recipients:

  1. Save energy to save the world
  2. Save energy to save money
  3. Save energy because your neighbors are doing it already

Only the third note seemed to have a significant impact on the behavior of the people. These three notes could be translated in a business context as follows:

  1. Contribute and share information to make our organization better
  2. Contribute and share information to gain some sort of financial reward
  3. Contribute and share information because your peers are doing it already

Experience shows that notes one and two very rarely work. They reflect a very top-down approach. People are under a lot of pressure and therefore need to leave their altruistic spirit at home. They are concerned about getting their own work done and do not have time to think of others. And who could blame them? Financial incentives have been discussed widely. The general tenor on this is that the approach is flawed, as it can easily be abused and the initial effect wears off after some time.

This leaves us with the the third note. Competition is unlikely to instigate the cheerful sharing of information. It’s more about reputation, thus intrinsic motivation. The more transparency there is across the organization to easily identify topic experts, the higher the motivation to become more visible. This in return means the person needs to engage with others and contribute through his work. It won’t be enough to brag about oneself. Reputation is based on one’s action and other people’s judgment. Will transparency be enough to kick start communication, collaboration and connections between employees? Surely not! Tools that increase transparency will need to be easy to use, embedded into peoples‘ work and make them more productive. You may want to think about whether your email client, your IT and Internal Comms driven intranet, proprietory DMS and CMS caters for that.

Now let’s take a look outside the enterprise. With the advent of social tools customers have become increasingly deaf to brands‘ marketing messages and blind to their shiny advertisement. Customers want to be engaged. They want to feel part of the producer / consumer equation. The traditional model did not reflect that. Some brands have acknowledged this shift and are actively listening to and engaging with customers. By now there are a lot of brands that have set up a blog, Twitter account or Facebook fan page / group. But really, how many brand or product based FB groups / fan pages are out there and enjoy a large number of followers? Most of them are inactive or dead. That’s because there is nothing to engage them with (but also because of the shortcomings of FB). Competition, entertainment and education can be strong drivers for engagement if applied adequately.

Recently I found out about a NYC based start-up called StyleHop, which is a social fashion recommendation site. (Disclaimer: I don’t have any equity in that company and never spoken to the founders). That’s what they are saying about their concept:

‚Stylehopping takes shape via several fashion-orientated games that are an engaging way of checking out the latest styles while voicing your opinions. You’ll accumulate points and rewards for playing along the way, such as gift certificates to popular stores and websites.‘

Playing games is such a fundamental part of our childhood (and beyond) that it is an easy way to engage people. Most games come with some sort of competition, which keeps people coming back. They can reveal things about ourselves that we didn’t know of, would rather like to hide or were not able to express. In the case of StyleHop retailers can show and sell their products. They receive genuine feedback and can identify upcoming trends, because it is based on data collected with the games. The girls on the other hand can see what is out there, receive better recommendations, can compete with their direct friends or even their network (e.g. university) or other networks.

StyleHop is just an example. The principles at work here can be applied to other retailers, products, target audiences. The implementation though is the tricky part of it.

We are all human beings. We love to be entertained, play games, compete with others. We have done that for thousands of years. The Internet is not going to change it. Instead we need to figure out how we can make use of it for a good cause or to thrive our business.

Should knowledge retention be high on organizations‘ agenda?

I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2008. ]

Yesterday I stumbled across a post by Gordon Ross of Thoughtfarmer talking about a client where 50% of its staff is eligible to retire in the next eight years. What a massive brain drain! But we don’t even have to go that far into the future. Times are tough now. The lists of laid-off employees (here and here) become longer and longer with every day. Even though these are two totally different scenarios, the fact that people and their knowledge are leaving an organization is the same.

Most companies have extensive data backup and disaster recovery plans in store. I think it speaks for itself that companies are still more concerned about machines breaking down than people leaving the company. Axing people now may help to cut costs and survive the economic downturn. However, if companies do not take action to retain the knowledge of people leaving, they will face increased transaction and training costs in the long run.

Obviously, the problem of knowledge retention is not entirely new. It has been on the agenda of knowledge managers for a long time. Early efforts included conducting interviews or documenting everything the employee deemed to be important shortly before leaving the organization. I personally have not read any statistics (or even seen an ROI ) on how fruitful these efforts actually are. However, I can imagine that the success is rather limited, since there are various problems with such formal approaches:

  • What is important to one person is not necessarily important to others.
  • Most knowledge cannot be documented but is inherently connected to people.
  • Questions and documents are inadequate to capture informal conversations or to make social connections visible.
  • Given our short time span, it is very likely to miss important pieces of information when interviews are conducted.
  • If an employee is laid off…

In short, relying only on formal approaches like the ones mentioned above will yield poor results when it comes to knowledge retention. I am not saying that these do not bring any benefit, but it should be clear that an organization needs to take a more holistic and especially timelier approach to knowledge retention. Holistic in the sense of being able to capture/transfer informal knowledge and timely meaning starting today and not when an employee is about to leave. Knowledge retention starts as soon as a new employee comes into the office for the first time. In almost every interaction between people, let it be online or offline, knowledge is created and shared. These interactions are vital for knowledge transfer, as most knowledge is attached to people and cannot be captured in formal ways.

Instead of trying to document everything and controlling knowledge transfer, invest your efforts in facilitating knowledge networking. Allow employees to connect and interact with each other using simple tools. By doing so knowledge is naturally disseminated across the organization. In case an employee leaves the company, there are others that (most probably) carry parts of his work-related knowledge or know someone that knows. In the end, this informal approach to knowledge retention could save the company considerable amounts of money, because people do not have to spend extra time for interviews / questionnaires etc. when leaving the company and new people can get up to speed much quicker, as they can rely on the help and knowledge of the other employees.

I believe that the notion of knowledge retention as a one-off activity in a distant future will soon disappear. Instead, organizations will need to find ways to make it part of employees‘ day-to-day work – from their first to their last day at the organization.

That’s easier said than done, but here are some tactics that can help to achieve that:

1) Increase transparency

Large organizations are ‚famous‘ for re-inventing the wheel, since the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Give employees smart tools that enable them to easily communicate, collaborate and connect with each other on an organization-wide level.

2) Enable free flow of information

Too often gatekeepers and inappropriate tools are major barriers to information flow. Employees should be able to decide what information is important and relevant to their work.

3) Focus on personal productivity

Employees are primarily concerned about their own performance. Give them simple tools that make them more productive, but which at the same time make use of network effects and benefit the organization as a whole.

4) Get out of the way!

Facilitate but don’t control!

Surely, this is by no means an exhaustive list of tactics. If you have any other thoughts or suggestions on how to tackle knowledge retention, please consider leaving your comment below.