helping employees to work out loud

Small and effective steps to help your employees work out loud

Congratulations! Your company has implemented an enterprise social network. You drummed up excitement with your fancy launch campaign, created initial content on the platform and training material to help your colleagues understand the why and the what. Yet after the initial hype, interest and activitity are slowly fading. Most people might have logged in once to look around, but are never seen again.

There are many reasons why this happens. One of them though is that people are thrown into unknown waters. They might have understood what is expected of them, but they still feel highly uncomfortable.  Simply telling them to share what they are working on or participating in conversations on the platform gives many people the chills. It may sound easy but it’s not! Very crucial steps towards becoming comfortable with this new way of communicating are missing that create barriers to participation.

What I have seen successfully working in my projects is showing  people a clear path towards making full use of an enterprise social network. Explain what they can do at the different levels to become more comfortable over time. Explain that they don’t have to post anything in the beginning. Normally, people don’t appear at a party shouting what they have to say. Normally, people listen to conversations first and if they feel comfortable and have something to say they will participate. It’s very similar in an enterprise social network.

Steps to helping your company work out loud

The ladder below shows the different levels of engagement. You will need to read it bottom-up.

Helping your company work out loud

Helping your company work out loud

Any good learning material takes the fears and concerns of people into account. It explains the Why, the What and the How in a language that is relevant and easy to understand by the audience. I have seen many training and awareness material created for enterprise social network platforms, but many fail to speak to the target audience. Often the Why is  primiarly based on why the platform is good for the company but not the individual. The What is often describing abstract use cases and user scenarios and the How talks about the functionality to make the magic work. Maybe I will write a blog post about the right content of ESN learning material. 

To sum it all up, if you want to influence behaviour, do not only look at the end game. Take good care that you make your target audience comfortable by taking small steps without much risk. It may take a while longer, but in the end it will all be worth it.

Crumbling infrastructure - change or be changed

Change or be changed!

There is a lot of talk about how 20th century organisations need to change to be successful in the 21st century. And when we say organisations need to change, we actually mean people, as they make up and shape organisations.

Change is a process, not an event

Change is a process, not an event. It is underpinned by a learning process, as depicted below:

The learning process visualised

The learning process visualised. (Source: Author)

The end of the process may be fuzzy and thus be without concrete end date. However, the learning process is coming to an end once a person has learned a new skill, behaviour or technology and is first consciously and later unconsciously applying and using it. Traditional IT change management has always been about the changing technology itself. Change requests are raised for new features. Communication is tailored towards explaining new functionality. The traditional change management process is often part of an IT initiative with a defined start and end date. Becoming a 21st century company is not purely about introducing new technology. It is about new work models, new (social) contracts between employer and employees, new behaviours, a different corporate culture and organisational structures. Unlike technology, this is all rather fuzzy.

In the past ten years many organisations have experimented with new (social) technology to address existing business problems. Many of them focused on the technology aspect, some paid lip-service to the importance of behaviour and culture, though few really lived it. Changing technology is something tangible and can often be implemented by a project team. A business case is construed based on the most disputable facts. And of course, a start and end-date is set, ideally within a short timeframe to deliver results and be predictable. Organisations did themselves a disfavour though, as these projects did not yield the promised results. Many of them are now going through the Trough of Disillusionment, rethinking and redesigning the early initiatives. Other companies have been more realistic and strategic (holistic) about their initiative to evolve from a traditional to a social (connected) business. It’s not about implementing a set of technologies but about becoming a 21st century business. A great example is the Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany. Joachim Heinz of Robert Bosch GmbH presented the journey of his company at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris. What is noticeably different to other companies is the realistic and holistic design of the change process. Joachim said that it will take between 7 – 10 years. It may sound like a long time, but again probably realistic for what the company is set out to do and based on what kind of actual change we have seen in the past 10 years.

Change or be changed!

Change or be changed!  When you listen to the conversations between E20 practitioners in general or at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in particular it is often like preaching to the converted. But then they return to Planet Earth and reality kicks in. People immersed in their day-to-day work life don’t see the need for change, are afraid to change, have other priorities. Change or be changed. While it is a true statement, it immediately creates resistance because it is seen as a threat.  Change is a learning process as depicted above. The question is whether we could and should accelerate the process. So I asked this question on Twitter during Joachim’s presentation at the E20 Summit and it evoked pushback from people, whose opinion I value and trust.

Could and should we accelerate change?

Could and should we accelerate change?

With its strategic and long-term programme Bosch is actively facilitating the learning / change process. In a sense, it is also accelerating the process. Maybe it does take 7 – 10 years instead of 10 – 15 years. What we should not be aspiring to is to let change happen, especially when meeting resistance.

A Change Acceleration Programme

We can’t expect people to simply change. At the same time we often can’t afford to wait until people are willing to change. In a recent client engagement I created a Change Acceleration Programme (partly inspired by General Electric’s Change Acceleration Programme) to plant the seeds for change. Based on an overall strategy it comprised a large number of concrete tactics, nudges and messages to help people change. Some of these tactics and nudges were derived by applying the Influencer Framework (Amazon) for specific people (CEO, COO etc.) and roles within the 40,000 employee strong organisation, others based on my own experience from other engagements or inspired by other practitioners.  The initial tactics and nudges were targeted primarily at changing employees‘ behaviour from ‚working in silos‘ to ‚working out loud‘. The better you understand the motivation and ability of single individuals the better (and quicker) you can help them change and learn new behaviours, skills and technologies. (Shameless plug: 21 of my fellow change agents of the Change Agents WorldWide network just published our first e-book ‚Changing the world of work. One human at a time‚). Below is just a very short list of change tactics that were part of the programme:

  • Supporting key company events
  • Reverse Mentoring (Video; Reverse Mentoring at Bosch)
  • Email-Free-Friday / Meeting-Free-Friday
  • Flow of Work integration (Desktop, Mobile, IM, Office, Email, ERP)
  • Ask Me Anything
  • When To Use What Matrix
  • Before/After Scenarios
  • Card decks for specific roles
  • A day in the life of…

Sometimes, your posters, brown-bag lunches, user manuals and other communication and education material is simply not enough. You will need to find more creative ways of nudging people into the right direction and facilitate the change process. The tactics above and their exact content and approach depend on the organisation and should therefore not be simply copied.

To sum it all up, I believe we could and should accelerate change by facilitating the underlying learning process and influencing behaviours. For that we will need to zoom into the individual and group layer, rather than talking about big-splash change that is orchestrated only on the organisational level.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

UN Security Council

A change tactic for helping your executive management to work out loud

Summary: In this post I present a change tactic to help executive management see the value of their company’s enterprise social network without risk and time commitment.


Many employees only know the name of their CEO and that he probably earns lots of money. That is not much to trust him as a leader. In large traditional organisations the executive management is often far removed from the workforce. Once a year the company might hold a town-hall meeting, at which the management team lays out the company’s strategy and answers employees‘ questions. The rest of the year the Internal Communication department prepares and distributes updates on behalf of the management team. Thus, in traditional organisations there is hardly any interaction and communication between the executive management and workforce leading to misunderstandings, mistrust and potentially disengagement. How do managers expect employees to trust and follow them if they don’t know them?

An enterprise social network or similar can help bridge the (communication) void between management and employees by ‚working out loud‚. In a previous blog post I talked about why managers, including executive managers, should be using such platforms. There are many others that highlight the necessity of the C-Suite to become ’social‘ (aka connected!). In a recent post I also wrote about very concrete first steps for managers to get started with a company’s enterprise social network.

And yet, some managers may still refuse to use such platforms actively, partly because of different reasons or excuses, e.g. lack of time, unable to see the value or other higher priorities. But rather than just giving up, maybe there is something that can be done to ’nudge‘ executive management and accelerate the necessary change? Two ideas that go into this direction are  ‚Ask Me Anything‚ by John Stepper of Deutsche Bank and ‚Open up the corporate ivory towers‚ by Daniel Martin Eckhart of Swiss Re. In both cases the goal is to make executive management more accessible and certain decisions taken by them more transparent.  The initial investment taken by the management is low, but the value that can be shown is high.

Based on a similar thinking there is a change tactic I call ‚One day in the life of…‘.  The title is actually inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel ‚One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‘.  Thanks to Solzhenitsyn and his remarkably detailed narration, the reader can get a sense of the inhumanity and brutality that inmates of the Gulag prison camps suffered. Whilst many of them were not able to speak out, Solzhenitsyn gave them a powerful voice in his book.

‚One day in the life of…‘ in a corporate setting is (hopefully) taking place in a different context ;). The idea is to open up a world to people which they usually don’t have access to.  It can provide a glimpse into the demanding but interesting day of people that employees know the name of but not much more than that. This builds trust and probably to a certain extent understanding of why certain decisions are taken.

How can ‚One day in the life of…‘ work? It should be set up as a campaign supported by proper communication and also educational elements, since it is not meant to be done just for the fun of it but to help people adopt new behaviours and tools! One employee is selected to follow a senior manager or C-Suite member for one day to meetings, lunch, events (whatever is on the schedule). The employee uses the company’s enterprise social network or Intranet during the day to keep other employees updated obviously leaving out any confidential information. It needs to be ensured though that there is no censorship by anyone, otherwise the communication becomes inauthentic and not trust-worthy and is perceived as yet-some-other-internal-comms content. The employee can use #hashtags to update his status, so others can follow the conversation, ask questions or ask the employee to ask certain questions to the senior manager or C-Suite leader. Since asking a question on the enterprise social network or Intranet is in most cases not anonymous, it can be assumed that there won’t be any difficult or inappropriate questions. Quite the opposite, it might be difficult to get people to post questions. That is why it is important to facilitate this process carefully.

What does the manager gain? Well, let me ask you: ‚What does the manager stand to lose?‚ A skeptical manager can experience the power of using such platforms with very low (time) investment. There is not much he needs to change in his daily schedule if anything. At the same time he can get to know the platform and how he could use it himself. It’s a supervised learning by doing exercise. More importantly though, the manager might be able to earn higher trust, credibility and better understanding among employees. And hopefully, the next time he will use the tool himself to keep his employees informed of what he is doing by ‚working out loud‘. Of course, this idea is also valuable for further increasing the use and reputation of the company’s enterprise social network or Intranet. Thus, a win-win for all!

Enterprise social platforms allow for and at the same time require new behaviours.  It is a learning process. However, sometimes traditional learning formats like videos, presentation, brown-bag lunches etc. are simply not sufficient to help with the first steps. If your managers and employees don’t see the value or don’t know how to use these tools for their own benefit, it’s time to explore new ways of learning and helping them to get started!


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

4 steps to get executive management use your enterprise social network

In a previous blog post I looked at WHY and HOW managers, especially executive managers, could and should use their company’s enterprise social network or social intranet. In this post I describe WHAT they can do to quickly get started.

Quick recap from the previous post. Not only the technology to interact with employees changes, but more importantly certain character traits need to exist or to be learned. To become better managers, managers need to be

    1. Visible
    2. Authentic
    3. Human
    4. Valuable
    5. Compassionate.

To make things easy I will refer to enterprise social network and social intranet platforms in generic terms. Some of them may not have the features mentioned below. Some of them, for example IBM Connections, Jive, Yammer, Socialcast, Communote, Chatter and many others, might have, including other relevant features.

If you have 30 min with an executive manager, here is what I would do after having explained the WHY and HOW:

1) Fill in your profile

Every employee should have a profile on platform, which is visible to the entire company. In some cases information is pulled from the Active Directory. In most cases this information is incomplete though. A photo, About Me, Experience and other profile fields are probably missing. Depending on the platform policy the picture may not need to be a formal corporate photo. Remember being authentic and human!

About Me section: Of course, some formal words about the manager, his role but it’s also important to include something interesting that maybe few people knew.

2) Get the app on mobile

Especially managers and executives are often in meetings or on the road. Having easy access to the platform through mobile devices lowers the barrier to participation. Thus, help the manager to download the app or provide other means of mobile access to the platform. In some cases, the app can be pushed to the device beforehand.

3) Microblogging

Once this is done you can start with using the microblogging part. If you have only 30 min, I would focus on this. Few executives will immediately join communities, collaboratively work on documents or want to start a blog. Microblogging is something quick and easy to pick up and can already provide a lot of value.

When it comes to the microblogging part it is important to remember the principles of this new way of communicating a – build trust by being visible, authentic, human, valuable and compassionate. To make the microblogging part more tangible for your executive, explain that it is similar to working out loud, i.e. working out loud in public but within the company, of course.

Quick starting points when thinking about what to post:

  • Share what’s on your mind
    • Collaboration can start with just four words: ‚what do you think …‘, ‚anyone heard of this …‘
  • Share what you are doing
    • ‚I was just interviewed by Bloomberg. We talked about …‘, ‚Here is an interesting article I recently read. Wondering if we are doing anything in this area already…‘ or ‚what do you think about…‘
  • Share something personal
    • ‚I went to see the Red Sox game on the weekend. Great atmosphere…‘ or ‚I just finished reading War & Peace. It took a while, but glad I read it till the end.‘
  • Share to care/give praise: 
    • ‚Thank you <employee> / <team> for your contribution…‘ or even just by simply liking a status update or comment by other people! This takes about 5 min of your executive’s day but can be invaluable and motivating to his employees.
    • If the executive feels more comfortable, he can also give praise in private channels in the beginning. Even this will show employees that he is actually aware of what is going on in the company.

When talking about microblogging you should also introduce @mentions and #hashtags. @mentions are relevant because you can ‚tag‘ people in a post. That means if they are mentioned they will receive a notification. #hashtags are another way of disseminating information on the platform. People can subscribe to #hashtags. Maybe there is a particular hashtag that is relevant for your executive or he would like to introduce, e.g. ‚innovation‘ or some campaign he is responsible for. When you click on a #hashtag people will be able to see all posts to the microblog that have been tagged with the #hashtag.

Point out to your executive that he does not need to check the microblogging stream every 10 minutes. Important information and discussions will flow to the top.

What to avoid

    • Purely promotional posts.
    • Too formal updates. Being authentic and human is key.
    • Posts by others than the executive
    • Useless or frequent posts with same content. Just writing ‚I am meeting person x today‘ every day becomes boring over time. More context and variety should be given.
    • Lengthy updates
    • Giving up. In the beginning people might be hesitant to interact, especially if they don’t know the executive personally. Some are probably shocked by the fact he is actually reading people’s updates and even responding. That is scary and people need to get used to it. One way of breaking the ice is by being proactive – asking questions and going out to where the people are having conversations.
4) Follow relevant people

Obviously, your executive should start following all other executives and maybe their reports. Also, he should follow people from his team, people he worked with at the company etc. Explain why he should follow other people and what impact that has on his interaction with the platform.

Whilst the above already provides concrete, practical steps to get executives into using your enterprise social network or social intranet by working out loud, you will still need to tweak the messages and steps for your managers. There is lots more that can be done (e.g. particular use cases for executive management) or said depending on the experience, behaviours, requirements of the managers.

If your executive needs some more inspiration and convincing, you may want to show him this video of Giam Swiegers, CEO Deloitte Australia talking about his own use of the company’s enterprise social network based on Yammer.

This post is part of the blog parade of the Social Business Arena. Check out other blog posts that deal with the adoption of social tools in the workplace.

Influencing behaviour: Stop the meeting madness

Recently, an article over at Business Insider caught my attention. It was titled: This Startup Forbids Meetings On Wednesdays. It talks about the task management startup Asana and how it introduced the ‚No Meeting Wednesday‘ policy to allow employees to focus on getting work done in one big block.

There are two incredible productivity drains in organisations – email and meetings. Countless times I have heard people complaining about the amount of emails and meetings they are subjected to. During the day they get hardly any work done. They feel most productive very early morning before the email/meeting madness starts or in the evening or worse on the weekend. That is when people get work done!

Asana’s ‚No Meeting Wednesday‘ policy did not only catch my attention because of its radical shift, but because I had a very similar idea for one of my project engagements last year. In this case however we are talking about a 40,000 employee strong, well-established company. As part of the engagement I initiated a Change Acceleration Program. Included in the program was a catalogue of over 70 change tactics to help introduce a new (social) Intranet (SharePoint 2013) by influencing employees‘ and managers‘ behaviour. One of these tactics was called ‚Meeting-Free-Fridays‘ and another one ‚Email-Free-Fridays‘!

Now, before I explain any further, I believe meetings are not bad per se. Some are absolutely necessary including for team building. But over the years we have been conditioned to set up and invite for meetings no matter what. There are meetings for status updates, reviews, planning, decision-making. Sometimes there are even meetings to plan other meetings! This needs to stop! We need to unlearn the meeting madness and learn again when meetings are useful and when they are not. This is where the ‚Meeting-Free-Friday‘ comes in.

John Stepper introduced me to the Dragonfly Effect in one of his blog posts. John is one of my favourite bloggers, because he shows you how to apply dry theory and frameworks to real business problems. In one of the posts he applied the Dragonfly Effect to reduce his company’s printing cost. The elements of the Dragonfly Effect framework are:

  1. „Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.
  2. Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.
  3. Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.
  4. Take action: Enable and empower others to take action…move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

How could you apply the Dragonfly Effect to change behaviour regarding meetings by introducing a „Meeting-Free-Friday“?

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce meeting hours by 20%.”

Ideally, the percentage could be translated into hours, as this is more tangible to people. In some cases it might be even possible to get aggregated, anonymous data from employees‘ calendars on the number of meetings / hours of meetings per week. Of course, the data would need to be sanitised to filter out time blockers (‚meetings‘ that employees put into their calendars to block time to get work done!) or meetings unrelated to work (e.g. lunch appointments).

Make people care about it: “Work smart not hard! Avoid working late or weekends by decreasing your hours spent in meetings by 20%!“

You should try to play with the intrinsic motivation of people, rather than saying that employees can become more productive if they reduce the hours spent in meetings. Increasing employees‘ productivity might be the company’s objective, but not necessarily employees‘.

Make it easy for them to change: “Here are 3 great alternatives.”

Just because people are motivated to change, does not mean they are able to change! Introducing a ‚Meeting-Free-Friday‘ is already a first step, as it gives employees an excuse not to schedule or accept a meeting that day! In a small company this will be much easier to introduce than in a large organisation. Way too much politics and concerns would stop this initiative forever. Thus, better to consider this initiative as an awareness and education campaign. Participation is voluntary!

Highlight advantages and disadvantages of meetings (visually). If you relate this campaign to your new social intranet or collaboration platform, highlight ways of using these platforms to avoid excessive use of meetings. Create use cases and write user stories to make it more tangible for employees and managers.

At the same time you can also introduce material about meeting etiquette. What makes an effective meeting? How to make sure only the right people attend? What is the right duration of a meeting? Remember that this campaign serves primarily awareness and education purposes. Technology is not always the answer.

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “This month we reduced meeting hours by 12%. That translates into whopping X hours!”

Feedback is highly important for influencing behaviour and initiating change. If you can, try to get hold of factual data about the number of meetings (see Step 1) and what impact the ‚Meeting-Free-Friday‘ had.  Highlight new achievements, no matter how little they are in the beginning. Ask ‚Meeting-Free-Friday‘ participants to write a small story about how they use the new intranet, collaboration platform etc. to avoid meetings. Ask them to be as specific as possible. For example, what type of meetings did they use to set up / attend? How are they using other communication and collaboration tools to keep the number of meetings to a minimum? How has this impacted their work life?

This campaign should not be a one-off. You need to be able to sustain it until the new learned behaviours have become the norm and have been institutionalised by individuals and the organisation as a whole. Furthermore, the outcome does not necessarily need to be meeting-free fridays! It’s about (re)educating people about using meetings effectively and potentially using other forms of communication and collaboration to avoid the meeting madness!

Change is hard! But you need to start somewhere and somehow. If it is a voluntary participation be realistic about its initial success. You might only get a few people to join your movement. Embrace them! Celebrate them! If you can spare another 3 minutes, I encourage you to watch this Ted talk by Derek Sivers. He talks about how to start a movement and lessons learned. It’s fun and informative!

‚Meeting-Free-Fridays‘ – It may sound stupid in the beginning, but once everyone does it, it will be the new cool! Luis Suarez (the man whose mission it is to kill email) called for it in his long but excellent blog post and I am happy to join in. Let’s stop the meeting madness!


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

Introduction of social tools in the enterprise

We just published an article (in German) in the Community of Knowledge called ‚Einführung von sozialen Technologien im Unternehmen – Erfolgsfaktor Mensch‚. It looks at a variety of barriers to introducing social tools in the enterprise and presents strategies on how to overcome them. In particular, it focuses on how human behaviour can be influenced to overcome the stated barriers.

Excerpt:

Today, there is hardly a company that has not already experimented with social technologies. The high expectations, however, have only been met in very few cases. Will this new software category suffer the same fate as the first generation of knowledge management tools? Disillusionment is spreading, but also the realization that the introduction of social technologies is not a typical IT project and that this is not a sprint but a long process.

Excerpt:

To be successful and economically viable social technologies require nothing less than a new form of organization – the networked enterprise. Depending on the size of the company the cultural and organizational change, however, tend to be extremely difficult, costly and above all very tedious. On the other hand, large companies can benefit most from using social technologies because of network effects.

For managers of initiatives tasked with the introduction of social technologies, this results in a dilemma. The success of their initiative depends not only on technology, but depend even more on employees and organizational factors. See diagram below:


Diagram: Corporate struture and culture can only be influenced indirectly, yet are very important for the introduction of social technologies

 

 


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

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.

Alumni relations in a connected world

I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

Let me ask you a question: are you still in touch with a company where you worked previously?

I assume most of you are, but who you are in touch with: HR? External Communications? Probably not. In reality, you probably still have connections with someone from your team, colleagues that you shared an office with or others that you met through communities of interest (including social groups) while with the company. People connect with people and not with companies and their corporate functions.

This simple observation has a profound impact on the way companies go about their alumni relations. Unless you are McKinsey, most alumni programmes today look something like this:

When an employee leaves the company he is invited by HR to be part of the alumni network. Frequently they will send general news and updates about the company as an email and/or shiny magazine. Recently, companies have rolled out corporate alumni platforms or started to use Ning, LinkedIn or other social media channels to stay in touch with former employees and facilitate connections between them.

In all cases, the value for the company and for alumni is more than questionable. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that most alumni programmes suffer from poor engagement and low return-on-investment. The problem is that the approach to alumni relations is currently flawed. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Do alumni want to connect with HR?
  • Do alumni want to suddenly engage and network with people they don’t know?
  • Does this approach offer intimacy at scale and help build meaningful relationships?
  • Do alumni remember and want to go to yet-another website destination…to do what exactly?
  • What value does corporate news, job tips, discussion forum really offer to the alumni?
  • What value does it bring the company?

If I was put in charge of an alumni programme I would radically change the traditional approach. My alumni programme would:

  1. Enable employees to connect with anyone inside my company
  2. Encourage employees to connect with other employees outside my company
  3. Give ownership to alumni

Enable employees to connect with anyone inside my company

Often, alumni relations start once an employee leaves the firm. I would argue that this is too late. It is difficult to start building relationships once an employee is out of the door. Better to do it whilst he is still with the company, because alumni relations start the day an employee sets foot into the office.

Before the arrival of social tools, hallways, cafeterias, smoking corners and office parties were the few places to meet colleagues you did not directly work with. Unfortunately, these do not scale very well. These days, many organisations have piloted or perhaps implemented an enterprise networking solution. It allows employees to collaborate with each other beyond physical borders, discuss topics they are interested in and connect with like-minded people. That way employees can build their own network of respected and trusted colleagues. The stronger an employee’s network, the more likely she is to stay with the company.

That also means that organisations should not restrict the types of groups or communities of interest that employees would like to create, unless they violate company policy. If there is a group of people crazy about wines or football fanatics, why not provide them with the means to connect inside the company? The money saved for other initiatives to improve employees satisfaction, and thus retention, will make it even more worthwhile.

Encourage employees to connect with other employees outside my company

As sure as death and taxes, an employee will leave eventually. What is one of the first things she does, when she hands in his notice and leaves the company? She reaches out to everyone she knows in the company, says goodbye and leaves her contact details. If she hasn’t yet, she will also start connecting with colleagues on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. This can be a laborious undertaking, and in most cases employees will miss some of the people they met during their time at the company. But they are likely to stay in touch. People connect with people.

So, if I know that people leaving my company connect with my employees using external social media channels, why not encourage and facilitate this activity to begin with? As alumni programme manager, I would look for ways to lower the friction for employees to connect with each other on external networks, too. Easier said than done. I shall delve into details on how exactly this might look like in my next blog post.

Give ownership to alumni

Basically, I would ‘outsource’ parts of my alumni programme to the rest of the company. Nonetheless, even as someone leading such a programme for a company that has become a social business, I still need to be in touch with alumni. Alumni will pick up most of the relevant information or gossip from former colleagues. Thus, general company news or news about other alumni is a nice-to-have, but does not build much trust or engagement. I need to offer more than mere updates from the company: ideally, something that alumni feel proud of and passionate about even when they have left the firm. For example, it is said (http://www.corporate-alumni.info/survey_corporate_alumni_networks_summary_english.pdf) that Ben & Jerry’s donate a percentage of pre-tax profits to philanthropic causes, and invite their corporate alumni to decide where the money will go. I could not find confirmation of exactly how this works, but even if it is not entirely true, similar concepts are worthwhile to explore.

This calls for a radical change in the way we think about alumni relations. Alumni managers will depend on many other people in the organisation to make this change happen. Management needs to understand the different dynamics in a connected world, a formalised social media training programme needs to be implemented to enable employees to use external social networks, IT needs to put the technical foundation in place for employees to connect both inside and outside the firewall, and many other steps are also probably required.

If you are an alumni manager, I would like to ask you to challenge the status quo. Think beyond what every other company does today. Think of what could be. Think of alumni as employees that never really left, and then ask how you can create a genuine value exchange to strengthen the ecosystem that supports your firm.

How an organization turned its internal communications upside-down

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

Recently I had the opportunity to present one of our case studies at the Social Media for Business Meetup Group in NYC. It was the inaugural meetup, which I am co-organizing together with Daniel Leslie from Reflexions Data. At the heart of the group is, besides networking, the idea to talk about concrete business needs and showcase how organizations have addressed those using social tools. At our first session we looked at internal communications and employee engagement. Presentation below:

The way organizations perceive their ‚human capital‘ has apparently changed as well. Most organizations state that they value their employees and welcome active participation. All too often this is in stark contrast to reality. To understand an organization’s true corporate culture it is sometimes best to simply look at the office layouts and technology provided to employees. How can you honestly believe in employee engagement and participation if you lock people into cubicle farms and give them tools that severely restrict them from communicating and connecting freely with each other?

The cafeteria, hallway or watercooler are the only true social spaces in most organizations. That’s where people meet, discuss, learn. If the early KM era has taught us anything at all, then it’s that knowledge can’t be extracted, stored and archived. It was a flawed and in the end a very costly belief. Knowledge is inherently attached to people. Thus, instead of connecting people with documents, we need to connect people with people. And that’s why chatter in cafeterias, hallways and at watercoolers are so important. Check out Gil Yehuda’s observation why smokers seem to know everything and everyone.

Obviously, these offline social spaces don’t scale very well. Social tools reflect better than traditional IT systems how humans really communicate and connect. With those kind of tools organizations do have the possibility to create the digital watercooler and thus take advantage of its benefits enterprise-wide.

Installing social tools is not a challenge. The challenge are people and their perceived risks associated with the usage of those kind of tools. One of those risks for example is gossiping. Well, gossiping is actually an important social activity. It separates the insiders from the outsiders and by that creates a stronger social bond between insiders (thus all employees + management). But apart from that, will people gossip in front of the CEO? No? So, why would they gossip in an open space, where every word is attributable? People might gossip in the hallway, where they can have private conversations, but not on the company’s forum, blog, wiki or what have you. Another perceived risk is that the free flow of communication can be used for creating movements among employees against unfavorable decisions taken by the management.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that internal systems are not the World Wild Web. It’s a controlled environment, and as such comes already with underlying norms and principles. Still, organizations seem to highly distrust their employees and prefer locking them into cubicles and systems willingly accepting the deficiencies of this approach. But the growing discrepancy between the open communication people enjoy on the Internet and the highly restrictive environment people are faced with at work is becoming a major headache for organization.

In my presentation I talked about the case of the law firm Heller Ehrman. The firm got into very rough waters last year and subsequently dissolved. The dissolution did not happen over night. It was a long and painstaking process full of anxiety, fears but also glimmers of hope. Naturally, employees wanted to connect with each other, but most importantly ask for and provide help and support. But the firm did not provide a platform to address these needs. Consequently, one employee set up a WordPress blog on the Internet, which soon became a refuge for his co-workers and probably a nightmare for the firm. If you have time you should read the blog’s Dos and Don’ts – they show in a very plain and honest way that employees are not evil but passionate and caring individuals. If people really want to bad-mouth and spread rumor they will do so using highly visible websites and blogs like ‚Above the Law‚.

Learning from this and other negative examples, progressive organizations are starting to embrace social tools to give people a true platform for engagement, communication and support. I presented the work that we did for the Barnet Council in London. The Council went through a major change management program to meet new needs and challenges. Rather than pushing it down from top to bottom, the Council felt that anyone in the organization should have the possibility to become a change agent and turned the communication upside-down. We installed a system which allows the Council to publish news, but at the same time have an open conversation about new developments. A forum provided the employees with a tool to drive their own agenda and points of interest. Interestingly, the system did allow for anonymity, but that functionality was very rarely used. Included in the platform was the ability to create ad-hoc project spaces to allow the collaboration on specific programs, issues etc.

The technology aspect of the project was not a big challenge, but it did require a bold step by the Barnet Council, trust in its employees and understanding the changing tides in internal communications.