AB Thinks Live: Confidence, Content and Purpose

Last week communications agency AB hosted their fourth AB Thinks Live event in London. I was their facilitator for the day and you can read my opening comments on the future of work here. Speakers covered purpose, virtual reality, culture and technology and the panel delved into the skills internal communicators need in the future.

There were some lively debates from the panellists around the need for an internal communications strategy – but I think the blog from AB Associate Helen Deverell nicely captures some of my own thinking; you should be able to have your strategy on a page, evolve it as needed and be strategic with the tactical.

Find what is uniquely human

In a world of AI how do we find purpose? Dr Alex Stubbings took us through her belief that there is a uniqueness to humans and this can’t be replaced by robots.

After The Big Yak I blogged about my belief that we are forgetting we are human and Alex opened her session saying that we have been encouraged to think like machines – and I don’t disagree. When it comes to technology Alex suggested that robots can’t be creative (intuition), drive compliance through touch (survey completion jumped from 55% to 81% with the touch of an arm) nor do they have ethics morality and values – traits that drive us.

Democratise communication and bring it into the business operation

When it comes to a change in leadership there is often an opportunity for a change in environment. For Rooftop Housing this included a desire to change the technology that the teams were using day-t- day. John Rockley gave great insight into how the team went about implementing Workplace by Facebook. He blogged about it before the event but on the day there were two things John said that stayed with me:

  1. Workplace by Facebook has democratised our communication streams and allowed people to have conversations entirely relevant to them.
  2. The Repairs team use Workplace as part of the business process – with photos of the items needed repair and plugging this into systems they have in place already.

To embrace virtual reality, we need to be immersive and interactive

Nadine Oehmcke from game developer nDreams gave us an insight into the virtual reality industry – exploring growth trends (there has been a 117% growth in headset sales in the last 12 months), what to expect in the future with the rise of AR and VR together, a look at headsets that don’t require a PC or phone and the need to create completely immersive experiences that transport the individual into a different world. It reaffirmed my belief that our use of VR in the workplace is so much more than training or looking round an office.

Confidence, pace and strategy

The panel of experts gave their views about the skills we need for the future. With experts in digital, employer brand, corporate communication and internal communication they all gave their views on what was needed. The big takeaways for me were:

  • Confidence to manage all aspects of communication (internal and external) and to have strategic conversations with senior leaders.
  • Get better at working at pace. The world of external communication can often be driven by deadlines from the media whereas internal communicators can often have the luxury or time to craft the message to ‘perfection’.
  • Don’t’ get lost down the planning rabbit hole. It’s easy to create documents to plan out what you’re going to do, spend hours writing a strategy and then leave it in a drawer. Strategy and planning is needed, but the document should be live in your department not locked away.

You can read my full blog about the panel session here.

The Future of Content

AB’s MD Katie Macaulay ended the afternoon with her predictions into the future of content. There were six:

  1. Employees do not owe us their attention, we have to earn it and that will get harder
  2. Internal communicators will find ever more sophisticated ways of analysing their audiences
  3. Internal communication will move from interruption to permission – content that is anticipated, relevant and personal
  4. The line between internal and external will become increasingly blurred
  5. Content will become more of a craft, less of a commodity
  6. Those journalistic skills of having a nose for a good story, being able interview people, interrogate facts, and create brilliant, beautiful prose will regain their importance.

Katie has shared her full transcript here and it really is worth having a read – the analogy to Clapham junction really resonated with me and I have long been a fan of fewer, bigger, better – enjoy!

The next AB Thinks Live event is taking place in December – to find out more get in touch with the team @abthinks on Twitter or drop them an email events@abcomm.co.uk

A blend of the right capabilities will deliver better outcomes

Earlier this week I attended IBM THINK Collaboration London – an opportunity to hear more about the latest updates to their collaboration suite and more importantly for me, a chance to really understand how Watson will help make organisations more efficient.

During my 13 years in-house I used a mix of social intranets (wordpress with buddypress), SharePoint and IBM Connections. At most conferences or events I attend about internal social channels we hear about Facebook Workplace, Microsoft, Jive etc but never IBM Connections – which is a shame because having used this for four years (both as an internal customer and as the global lead for the platform) it is the best solution I have found.

Cognitive intelligence with people at the heart
The founding principles of IBM Connections are people and choice and the basic elements of the platform are brilliant. When you start that internal change conversation with the basics – files and spaces to collaborate (Communities) the conversations in each part of the organisation are easy. Files are all in one place. You choose whether to share with an individual, a group of people, a community or make it completely public. I might even choose to just have it restricted so only I can see it. It even comes with a plug in to Windows so as a user I can see the familiar file and folder structure of a shared drive.

One of my main challenges with other platforms is this lack of one version of the truth. I want one file (with version control) that I can surface in different places and I want it to be easy for people to know where to put that file – this comes as standard.

With the introduction of Orient Me, IBM Connections can now offer a home page that is tailored to the individual. Surfacing content that is relevant allowing the user to pin communities, files, people in their network – this allows them to reduce the noise and see the relevant information to them.

I can tailor the design of the communities. I don’t need IT to help or an expert partner – I can do this and any of the employees in my organisation can do it as well. This ability to be able to have control over how the platform can work is brilliant. With every other platform I have experienced, I have needed IT or an external partner to create spaces and templates for me – not with IBM.

Deliver business outcomes faster
Watson is impressive. Watson Workspace is equally exciting. The use of AI in the platform means it not only helps the user based on keywords but it also understands intent – and you can help it learn too.

It can support the organisation in a variety of ways:

  • Watson Workspace will surface data regardless of source – if it is connected to CRM platforms, HR systems – pretty much anything – it can surface any of that content to help you – saving you the time to search
  • It works both ways. Using the workflow application you can sign off a sales deal that can then trigger an action in one of the platforms it integrates with – making you and your team more efficient
  • Watson technology can be used to search through social media channels for keywords and automatically create a space in Workspace, adding the relevant people into it, to solve an issue raised by a customer or employee
  • The platform understands the context of the conversation so you can summarise the discussion based on that context and build custom actions that can be fulfilled, all using the cognitive power of Watson
  • The cognitive capabilities can be extended into other existing applications, enabling you to summarise, gain focus and insight on data in 3rd party business apps
  • And the future is looking impressive with plans to integrate the technology with video chat/video meetings to make them more efficient

All about choice
Choice can be tricky. Sometimes too much can make it difficult to make decisions, but having a business model that has acquired businesses with expertise, created partnerships with some of the leading technology providers and created a stack that people are learning at college means they are flexible. I still have conversations about why I would use Box when I have files in IBM Connections but it has a place for some. The choice is there to ensure that you can create the right solution for your business. IBM work with Microsoft, Google, Jive and others to make sure they stay true to keeping people at the heart of the offer.

For me, the blend of the technology has to support the business strategy and in the communications function, this should include providing platforms and content that supports it all. I had my frustrations with IBM Connections when it first arrived and when I had to do upgrades and some things would break – but it is technology and we learnt that a close partnership with IT was needed to make it a true success. I have used other platforms since and it was painful. None of them have come close to the empowerment IBM Connections gives, the ability to collaborate with external parties, nor do they provide the seamless file sharing element I used heavily.

As they said at the event this week; you can integrate anything but what is meaningful? It is this question that should bring the IT, HR and Communications function together to create the right solution for your business – I just hope you add IBM to the list of providers who can help.

Is internal social media a danger to mental health?

Earlier this year I started following Matt Haig on Twitter. This was partly because I was taking part in the charity ride to Hull which was linked to men’s mental health and suicide prevention. A few weeks ago, Matt shared an article he had written about social media and the links it has to depression and overall mental health. For many this isn’t news. We know that the likes and comments on social media release dopamine in our systems – the same chemical we release when we drink, take drugs or gamble. The dangers are easy to see when you look at the science and when you see more and more people putting their highlight reel online for all to see and compare to.

I started a brief Twitter conversation on how this translates to social media inside the workplace and realised quickly that 140 characters wasn’t going to be enough to get my thinking across (even the new 280 won’t cut it).

What is the potential damage of social media inside organisations? No one thought social media could be linked to the likes of drink and drugs when it started but the parallels are frighteningly real.

I’m not comparing like for like here. Internal social media isn’t necessarily about sharing your photos from your holiday and projecting a perfect life. But, as a manager of a retail store, how do I feel when someone smashes their target and posts it online for all employees to like and share? Am I left feeling deflated and depressed that I haven’t done so well without knowing all the facts about how they achieved it?

Are we mature enough, cultural, for the manager without the great sales to comment with a question asking how did you do it? Any tips? Or are we still fostering competitive environments inside the workplace that go against every grain of collaboration you can imagine? I fear the latter.

Being ok with failure, being ok with saying I don’t know is not easy. We don’t live in a world where making a u-turn is ok. We are under huge pressure to know everything and to just get on with it. But not all of us can, and we shouldn’t have to.

The buzz around wellbeing has been on the corporate agenda for a number of years but what is this really? As we introduce these new channels to the workplace are we considering the mental health aspects? Are we considering the introverts, the late adopters, the people who want to come and do a great job and go home?

Can our wellbeing plans catch up with the pace of society and the reality that a charity bake sale and football match won’t cut it? Can the workplace start to explore its role in our now dopamine filled lives and help us get back to some of the basics of human behaviour? Can we have time in meetings to chat about our weekends, rules to put the phones away and regular breaks on the agenda to check in on things outside the room?

We are not too busy to take this seriously. We are not mindless enough to rush from meeting to meeting, task to task without considering the impact of it all. And social media inside organisations needs to come with a little warning – think about the impact on people and think about the culture you are trying to create. It’s not just a channel, for many it is the only way they know how to communicate.

Focussing on the reasons for your digital channels

On Thursday I attended the 2017 Intranet Now conference in London –  a day of talking digital with a room full of people responsible for intranet development. As always, the day was filled with 9 and 15-minute talks from a range of companies, experts and organisations.

So, what were the themes this year and what were my top takeaways from the day?

Task based content is king

It was amazing to see all the different intranets out there, and how some have been changed and adapted over the years. This is what I love about this conference – it’s the only place you can see behind the firewall and into the intranets of other organisations.

The example from Standard Life Aberdeen was the best example I have seen of changing to task based content – just six months after launch. You can see from the images below the change they made to the top level and the mega menu – it’s not a small change!

The need to focus on tasks when designing menus and the overall IA of the intranet is a definite shift from previous years and something to consider for anyone reviewing their intranet.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The six things we want from an intranet

The team at Barnados presented a great case study of the journey they have been on and shared the six things people identified in their discovery phase. Both Rachel Miller and I commented that based our experience – this could be any organisation. Those six reasons are:

  • Simpler processes
  • Easier connections
  • Saving time
  • Personalise
  • Single source of truth
  • Feel part of a bigger story

Finding the right solution to meet these six themes will vary for every organisation but taking them as the principles for the rationale for an intranet platform is a great starting point for anyone.

What was interesting about this example was the need to combine a social platform like Facebook Workplace with an intranet platform that allows for the single source of truth – I hope the team come back to share how the final solution came together and how the launch went!

Remember the reasons for the platform

The presentation from Sarah Moffat was a real highlight for me. Partly because it echoed some work I have done in the past to use digital solutions to engage managers, but mainly because it was ultimately using the technology to solve a particular challenge and integrating it into the wider channel mix. The line manager page with a supporting email cuts through the noise, provides everything in one place and saves time.

My definition of internal communication includes the need for efficiency and using digital platforms to do this should be part of any internal comms strategy today.

There were other presentations throughout the day that echoed the importance of the goals of the project. Don’t create something as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

There are always some big themes and some smaller takeaways from events – here are my smaller takeaways from the sessions:

  • Consider just how much governance you really need and don’t create rules and processes for the sake of it
  • Everyone learns at a different pace so make sure you have time in the plans to build people’s confidence in the platform. The stats around computer skills were a real eye opener!
  • Being the most senior person in the room doesn’t mean you’re the most powerful anymore
  • Accountability and the RACI model are important. I use RASCI – Responsible, Accountable, Support, Consult, Inform. Support is a useful addition
  • We have yet to really solve the challenge around search. It seems to be the thing people complain about most
  • We are creating an intranet that is a front door to the digital campus
  • The theory behind change projects hasn’t changed – we saw a model from 1987 which is still very relevant today

I was lucky enough to join the panel at the end of the day and there was a question on personalisation and collaboration that has stayed with me – further blog to follow on that theme!

So, if you’re working with intranets do check out @intranetnow and be sure to look out for the tickets next year. This event is a must-attend for those working in digital.

Our thoughts from SmileExpo17

On Tuesday I attended the Simply Communicate Smile Expo in London. It was a day of learning for me in some areas and a day that left me wondering how many more years it will take for us to move forward with the digital workplace agenda we have been talking about for years already…

50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020

So what? As Jakkii Musgrave @slybeer pointed out on twitter – they are already in the workplace and already using emails. The argument that we all need to stop using emails because of millennials is bonkers. Yes email isn’t the right tool for everything and yes people use it wrongly, but it equally has a place. I constantly hear people using email as an excuse not to do anything “email doesn’t work for me, I need to see you or talk to you” well that’s all lovely but if we had to do that for everything, we would be living in meetings which many of us are already!

Having heard Simon Sinek discuss the world of millennials just the other week the topic remains top of mind, but after researching and writing about them for my CIPR Diploma a few years ago there is little to suggest we need to rapidly change the use of email inside organisations.

The intranet is a place for static content and the collaboration platforms should sit alongside it

I could not disagree more with this statement and I think it’s time to redefine an intranet. In a previous role, I was lucky enough to have a relationship with IT that meant we were able to work together to try and change how our business communicated. Working with IBM we launched channels that were integrated, talked to each other, with an end goal of having one platform that could launch you to anything seamlessly – no it isn’t finished and yes user adoption was incredibly challenging.

The thought that everyone is picking up shiny new collaboration tools to sit alongside other intranet platforms, getting users to go to lots of different places and then only measuring the click rates or the likes or the number of people with profile pictures is not where we should be – where is the conversation about the content and engagement?

How do you define a digital workplace?

The session on digital workplace – hype vs reality was run by the team at Simply Communicate and was probably the best session of the day for me. It was interactive, prompted discussion and debate and was the most honest about where we are now. You can see the 6 definitions we were exploring on the day below but for me, it has to be number 6 with a little edit so my definition of a digital workplace is:

The digital workplace is the experience of work delivered through the collective use of connected devices, software and interfaces to drive efficiencies and engagement through the organisation.

What was equally good about this session was the discussion about moving from a personalised intranet, to a social intranet to the digital workplace and I really do think we are still far away from all being comfortable with a social intranet let alone a digital workplace.

Is the answer something like Workplace by Facebook because the majority of users will know the functionality? Maybe. But the fundamental challenge of connecting people at work who serve customers, without mobile phones to hand and an expectation to use their own device in their own time is not something a new channel can fix overnight.

Chatbots and ducks

I cannot thank Sharon O’Dea enough for her session on chatbots. This is an area still quite unknown so I was grateful for the chance to hear more and understand how they could be applied internally and throughout the exercises it became clear we can naturally complicate scenarios that should be simple. As an internal communicator interested in driving efficiencies through digital communication, this sort of advancement is fascinating for our industry.

The power of the duck has been chatted about since Alive with Ideas hosted their Ask the Guru event with CIPR Inside earlier in May and it’s an interesting concept. What I loved about this session was that it was more about the broader internal comms arena than just social and gave us all ideas on how to creatively create an adoption campaign inside an organisation using some new techniques.

Getting the basics right and the importance of adoption

The final session was a reminder about the importance of project planning and I’m thankful again for my IT project manager for teaching me some of these skills already. Adrienne took us all through some good principles around project management and while it seems really heavy – taking the time to do this will make the project much easier.

As I left the event on Tuesday I felt motivated and a little saddened that our journey to create a digital workplace still seems far away. The investment from organisations to do this and do it well is still minimal and the adoption piece is always the bit that gets left behind. To be an internal communicator today your drive and tenacity must be excellent to drive through the business case, the budget requirements, the resource and the ongoing development. Do we really need it? Yes…go and spend a day working in an organisation where there is no collaboration platform in place and you will easily see how difficult it is to work efficiently across multiple sites and countries in today’s business world.

Smile London – let’s stop feeling bad about our internal social media

Today I attended my second, albeit not consecutively, simply communicate SMiLE event in London. The format was much the same as before but my reasons for attending very different. Now four months into the new role I need to learn more about Office 365 so I was on the hunt to learn more.

There were some great sessions throughout the day that prompted some food for thought and some great research shared from both Lecko and People Lab about using Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) inside our businesses. Thank you to Wedge for the table session on news and the intranet – the most valuable part of my day.

The biggest thing I left with today was a sense of the need to stop. There are new tools entering this marketplace every year, if not every month. The current new tool is Facebook Workplace and while it was great to hear more about it – I’m already on my journey with Microsoft so for me, the session was interesting but not practical for application. And now I feel bad. Now I feel like I am letting my business down by not having the latest and greatest tool out there – and this isn’t the case.

With the constant new tools entering the space we are bombarded with messages about why one is better than the other and how you should have this or that technology because it is more in line with how we communicate today – but the truth is, it is a big investment. It is a big investment of time and money to launch and community manage an ESN. The companies that built them years ago – IBM, Microsoft – are constantly evolving them and if we have bought them, we need to nurture that relationship and learn together to adapt to how people change in the way they communicate.

Throwing out one tool for another won’t solve our problems. Yes we probably need to be quicker at adapting to change and integrating these platforms with others, and we also need to make sure our comms teams have the skills to evolve with the needs of the people and the functionality the tools can bring. But we can do all this if we work together.

I had some brilliant conversations today, learnt a vast amount about what I need to do for success in my organisation and got myself back into reality in knowing that I’m on the right track. But my ask for the future of any event about social media inside organisations is this:

  • Tell us how others have adapted and grown something they invested in years ago
  • Tell us how the strategy for collaboration has been a long-term wow – to quote intranetizen – and not a big bang launch
  • Understand where the audience is on the journey – some having nothing and others have had office 365 for the last few years and need to improve it
  • Tell us how to drive adoption, measure success and work with what we have to make it amazing

Everyone’s journey is different but we are all on one. I don’t want to feel like I’m behind the curve because I don’t have the latest and greatest – I want to feel proud of the tool I have, how it has grown, developed and adapted to the needs of my internal customers and I want my peers to celebrate (and when needed commiserate) with me. There was an audible laugh in the room when IBM Connections came up – I wonder how many people in the room have ever used it or know that it has been voted the number 1 platform for 5 years, ahead of SharePoint, for functionality. I know because I used it for years and while adoption remains a challenge – when people can see what it can do, they are blown away.

Let’s stop being trendy and get back to being functional – helping our colleagues collaborate and our businesses be more efficient – that is, after all, the goal (for me anyway).