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
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.
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?
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
One of the keysuccess factors for implementing an enterprise social network, collaboration platform or social intranet is the support from the executivemanagement. 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 workingoutloud 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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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‘.
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:
„Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.
Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.
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.
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 effectivemeeting? 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!