The Collaborative Commuters

“Being Social” is not a thing. It’s not something a business would want to do. In the same way as a business doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t need to be social. It’s there to deliver something to someone – dividends to its shareholders, services to its citizens or aid to the people it is there to help.

So why would “social” be something you would want in business? Let’s drop the word “social” for a minute and think about a new word – “collaborative”. Why would a business be collaborative?

Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals [Wikipedia].

So if we’re working together to achieve shared goals then presumably Collaboration is something a business would be interested in?

So what does Collaboration look like these days? Well it’s talking to each other and helping solve each others problems by applying our own experience and knowledge. It’s working together on a document, or jointly moving something forward by each applying our own abilities.

The result for the business is that customers can be happier, projects delivered more accurately, with better quality and perhaps on time. Work gets done more efficiently and, in general, work progresses smoothly towards whatever goal it is we have for the organisation.

This is how work has always been, well, it was when we all commuted to an office and were around the same people every day. I remember hearing about a group of people who worked in different companies in London and lived in different parts of England served by the same train line. They all chose to sit in the same part of the train and over time decided that they would each bring part of breakfast with them. One would bring coffee, the other cereal, one would bring fruit, and so on. They then had a good breakfast and shared the experience while swapping information about their lives. The commute went quickly, everyone benefitted from the experience and the people found that through collaboration there was greater value to be had from the train journey than would otherwise be the case.

Its this inherently “social” nature in humans which lets this kind of behaviour happen. Imagine therefore what steps could be taken in your organisation to make the most of this collaborative approach?

You might think you already do collaborate at work. You’ve got document management, intranets, emails, corporate bulletins, jogging clubs and social events. What more do people need? You’re right – maybe they don’t need anything more for them to turn up and work for you each day.

But like the people on the train, they turned up each day to travel to their destination. They could have simply read their newspaper or listened to their iPod. Instead they decided to talk to each other, find out more, and find a common ground – breakfast in this case – that they could work on. They each brought their “expertise” to the shared goal.

What opportunity do you offer your staff to share a goal and bring their expertise? What about the many different locations your organisation runs in? What connections could be formed by people who don’t work next to each other but actually could collaborate to produce something great in your organisation?

Permit me a small metaphor: Some organisations think that collaboration is provided using an intranet. To our commuters, this is the equivalent of the train itself. They’re all on it, but they’re all doing their own thing. Other organisations think that collaboration can be provided by giving people email. Our commuters would see this as the background conversations they hear in the train as they move to their destination. Occasionally something important (like an announcement from the driver) might be heard, but mostly its unimportant chit-chat they have to try to block out.

Instead, if you give people a common purpose, like connecting Project Managers across your organisation, or involve discussion and feedback in business processes, you unlock the social nature of your staff in a way which is shared instantly with the rest of the company. Who knows who might in the future make use of a snippet of knowledge or experience which a collaborative network in your company would capture?

So, being social isn’t really a thing. Being collaborative is, and if you think you’re doing it well in your organisation, consider our commuters and how they had their breakfast.

Social Connections VII in Stockholm

The worlds finest social collaboration conference comes to Stockholm on 13-14 November

It’s time for Stockholm, Sweden to be the centre of the social collaboration universe with the seventh Social Connections conference being held in the “Venice of the North”.  This is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who works with, or is considering deploying social collaboration solutions from IBM to get the facts and strategies they need to be successful.

This is a community-run event where the speakers and organisers give their time free of charge.  You pay a small fee to cover the cost of the venue.  You’ll get the rub shoulders with the greatest and most inspirational speakers on the planet.

The enormous popularity of this event and its predecessors is testament to the value attendees get from these events.  Space is limited so if you can attend – book now.

Embracing Corporate Communications with IBM Connections

Or how to avoid one of your employees writing a song about your company…

One of the first uses many people consider for a social platform is corporate communications.  I mean the kind of top-down good-news story stuff that the senior management would want you to read and feel good about so that you’ll be happier at work and do more on a day-to-day basis.  We all know however, that the circular email, the printed out newspaper or whatever form it takes, is often dismissed by its readers as being simply propaganda from the HR department or some other faceless part of the organisation.  Everyone is smiling in the pictures, someone is getting a carriage clock to celebrate 25 years service, and some department has done a charity paintball thing.  You might glance at it for ten minutes and then put it in the trash, delete it, pass it on to someone else, or simply snort and carry on working.

Am I overly pessimistic and jaded in my outlook on the corporate newsletter?  Maybe.  But I bet many of you reading this will recognise some aspect of the status quo situation for corporate communications.  Of course, its not just the monthly or quarterly newsletter that gets treated this way.  Often communications from senior management are written in third-party dispassionate prose.  Long paragraphs extending to several pages of your screen in the circular email announce changes of staff, new directions, etc.  There is little to engage, motivate and drive you forward.  There is rarely any kind of call to action, nothing that provokes a response, and again you return to your work.

With this long setup you have no-doubt recognised by now that I am going to offer you some sort of alternative solution.  Some sort of panacea to these ills that drives engagement, enthusiasm, motivation and action.  Well, maybe some of these things, but with the number of people using Facebook topping 1.1 billion we must assume that a more social, interactive form of media holds some sort of interest for people.

In the chart shown here, there are three big players in social media: YouTube, Twitter and of course Facebook.  I haven’t included LinkedIn because although it is a significant player in business networking, its main use is similar to Facebook, in my opinion.

My point here is that a product such as IBM Connections provides similar functionality to the main players in the social media space but in a business context.  YouTube provides video streaming – Connections has its media gallery.  Twitter is primarily micro-blogging – Connections has its Status Updates.  Facebook is about people information and status updates – Connections of course has Profiles and Status Updates too.

There are many parallels in IBM Connections to the kind of social media functionality you will already be used to, such as @ mentions and # tags.

The unbalanced use of Social CommunicationsWhy then, if these social media tools are so popular, and the market-leading enterprise social business platform has much of the same functionality, would you not use it to promote your organisation internally?

Many organisations have recognised the need for a social media presence.  They have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence, Twitter accounts and of course some sort of website.  Internally, however, they have not invested so much.  They might have an intranet which is underused and rely on paper or email mass communication as the means of communicating with its staff.

The reason many organisations maintain this imbalance in social communications is because they recognise the risks of what people in the outside world might be saying about them as a company.  Unchecked social media rumours and speculation, un-handled customers complaining about bad service and so on are all the kind of thing a corporate communications or marketing department is kept awake with at night:

Since the publicity around this example and many others which followed it, like the guy who took out a paid-for tweet when British Airways lost his father’s luggage, larger organisations are much more attentive to the sentiments expressed in social media and are much quicker at correcting inaccuracies and putting out social media fires.  Why, though, if they recognise the advantages and risks of social media, in terms of engaging their customers, and showing that they care, would they not want to use similar technologies for internal communications?  Are they more scared of what their own employees might say about the company than the general public?

Fundamentally the culture shift to use social technologies is still happening, in my opinion.  I believe many of the organisations who have a strong presence on social media have been forced into doing so because of some of the examples and many others I have illustrated.  They have done it not necessarily because they want to be open, caring and listening to their customers but are in fact so scared of bad publicity they have had to take action.  Internally though, the process is more controlled and of course, not public.  The need to do something to be open, caring and listening is not one which they have to take.

At least, that’s what conventional corporate culture would mandate.  These days, many of the best organisations have recognised that culture shift internally towards open communication and collaboration drives better and stronger customer service, happier employees and better productivity.  In the recent publication “Raising the Game”, the IBM Business Tech Trends Survey highlighted that “Pacesetters” (those that believe that these technologies are critical to their business success and adopt them ahead of their rivals) are seeing a six fold improvement in communication and collaboration by embracing social inside their organisations.

Turning the Corporate Communications newsletter into a daily blog with the same kind of attention to typography, photography and journalism as is the case with the current monthly paper newsletter is the kind of thing that drives interest.  People get smaller snippets of news (a single article, rather than ten or twenty at a time) and can be more compelled to provide comments and feedback about these specific points.  With the current mode I as a reader have no idea what sentiments others are expressing about the content of the newsletter.  Putting it into a central blog accessible from everyone’s desktop with the facility to comment means that I as an individual can participate in a discussion with my colleagues about this news.

Culturally of course, having open discussion in such a medium might frighten management.  They may wish to put a stop to it to avoid discontent being stirred up.  The truth, of course, is that  people talk to each other anyway, its just that management doesn’t hear it when its done in the corridors or in the car park.  By having open discussions where a debate can be aired and people’s views expressed and understood by a wider audience helps in these ways:

  1. People feel that they now have a voice to feedback on what’s happening in the company;
  2. Others find that they are not alone in how they feel and debate can be had;
  3. Management can get a better understanding of what the employees think of a particular announcement

In other words, the very thing that the management of an organisation craves – feedback to improve the business – is unlocked through the use of social internally.  Using video, status updates, micro-blogging, regular blogging and all the other social media tools available to organisations using something like IBM Connections means that the path to business improvement can be accelerated.

In summary

In summary, if you want to improve employee engagement, improve morale, communicate better with your staff and understand from the experts (the people you employ) what your customers are saying and how to improve your products then open the door to a two-way conversation.  Start with something simple and universal like corporate communications.  Abandon the monthly paper newsletter or the long circular email.  Use a blog to post a news update once a day or once a week.  Use pictures, video, whatever makes it attractive to read and absorb and pose questions throughout the article.  What do you think of this?  What could we have done better?  Do you know of a situation like this we could improve – give us your comments.  Treat your employees as valued people and give them a voice, before someone makes up a song about your organisation!