Collaboration, data and how being vague is a great way to start!

Yesterday I had the honour of presenting at the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit (#swf2015) at the Kia Oval in London. Sadly I missed the morning but as I popped in to talk to them about the journey of collaboration I have been on for the past few years it was clear the day had been good.

A very engaged audience welcomed me to the event and so began a frank and open discussion about delivering collaboration channels and how engaging the workforce in them is tough.

What followed my session blew me away. Professor Brian Cox took to the stage to discuss the theory of the universe and everything we understand about our existence – not too heavy for 4pm on a Thursday!

His ability to translate seriously complex data into things we could understand is amazing. I have never felt more like Penny in Big Bang theory but I was starting to understand more than I ever thought I would.

While he covered a vast amount of theory there were two things I really took away that I could relate to the day job:

Data vs opinion
Everything he talked about was backed up by data; data to prove or disprove a theory. It made me realise just how much we accept opinion in the world of communication.

Employee engagement and the correlation to productivity is proven in data. Yet if the opinion of leadership is the opposite we just back down. How can we overcome this huddle when opinion is overruling what the facts are telling us? What do we need to do differently to get engagement on the agenda of the board?

Vague but interesting
This was the comment from Tim Berners-Lee’s manager on his first paper about information and the theory of the World Wide Web. I’m pretty sure this is how my manager thinks about some of the stuff I come up with, and no I’m not comparing my ideas to the introduction of the World Wide Web, but it makes you think about how we approach change.

The concept and theory about what you are trying to do can be vague. We then have to go and find out a way to prove we can do it or that it needs to be done. It doesn’t matter where it starts… Vague but interesting is a great foundation.

For me, attending events like this not only helps to contribute to your CPD but they also gives you that head space away from the day job which we all need.

I’m about to take three weeks off to get married and have my honeymoon and my brain has been horribly full of everything I need to do before I go. Now, with some space yesterday I’m clearer about what I need to get done before I go and I have some great ideas about how I want to influence our strategy going forwards.

I got all of that in 2 hours so I can’t even imagine what other delegates took away from being there all day!

CIPR TV: Talking Social Media and Internal Comms

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in a CIPRTV event covering the topic of social media and internal communication. Alongside Mike Grafham from Yammer, we had loads of questions before and during the interview. For those that wanted to see it and missed it, or for those that asked questions we didn’t answer here is the video and your questions answered below.


1. How important is the streamlining of an organisation\’s software suite for good internal comms?

JW: It’s important but sometimes not possible. I think you need to review how all the tools work together and interact with each other when creating your toolkit. I also think it can be difficult to influence the infrastructure of an organisation as there are often lots of legacy systems in place.

MG: What’s most important is that people understand what they should be doing to support particular business outcomes (e.g. if I want to learn about what’s going on in the London office, I go here, if I want to share experiences with my other IC colleagues across the world I go here). You can have multiple pieces of software in place as long as you have that clarity of purpose.

2. Are risks worth the reward by engaging with staff using a twitter hashtag, where funds don’t allow 4 other solutions 2 be procured?

JW: This totally depends on your business policy for social media. If you are blurring the lines between internal and external which many companies are, then engaging customers, potential employees and current employees in a conversation can be a great tool for conversation. In terms of risk and reward- are your employees on twitter already? If not then it probably isn’t worth exploring.

MG: What you could consider is making use of free-to-use tools that allow staff to engage with each other internally – Yammer and others offer free-to-use models that would suit this purpose well without having to use a globally visible platform like Twitter.

3. What advice would you give to Comms teams who feel they don’t know enough themselves about social media?

JW: Go and find out about it! It’s not that scary once you get into it and seek advice from people you know who use it. I don’t think you have to use it all the time to be able to see the benefits of social platforms inside an organisation but I do believe that when you’re trying to sell it into the Board, using it and understanding it works in your favour.

There are plenty of events worth exploring like the Social Workplace conferences or even going to something free during social media week. People are more than happy to share expertise so just ask.

MG: Explore and participate. There are a great number of ways to experiment with social media in a relatively safe environment without any cost. Take advantage of communities and conferences and resources like @theiccrowd on Twitter to connect with those who can share their experiences with you.

4. What is the best advice for ‘selling in’ social media at board level? Do you think boards have an outdated attitude to social?

JW: I think it is often led by fear of the unknown. I didn’t mention social media when I created our intranet – I talked about dialogue, engagement and bringing people together online. You don’t need to through in social media buzz words – just simple conversation and business rationale will get you the buy-in if it is right for the business.

MG: Explain why it’s relevant to them. If you’re trying to sell ‘social’ to the board, they won’t care. If you’re selling a faster route to understand what customers want, quicker innovation, faster closure of sales and a better way of improving your products, then they’re likely to respond better.

5. What content should internal social media be used for? Are there any topics which should not be covered by it?

JW: We use a social intranet for all news and it allows people to comment on anything. From organisational change to promotions running in the business people can have an opinion, double check something and seek advice from their peers too. I don’t believe you should only use it for good news, it should be used as a conversation tool for any topic. We only remove comments that are abusive or offensive and in 14 months we haven’t had one of those!

MG: There shouldn’t really be any boundaries that aren’t already covered by your existing policies. Work tends to be a pretty rich fabric of people both talking about getting things done and interacting in other ways, so you’ll find your internal social network reflects the nature of that conversation. This shouldn’t be discouraged but you will want to make sure you’re using things like groups to make sure people are able to tune out of discussions that they’re not interested in.

6. What have you learnt from the process of introducing internal social media that you would/wouldn’t do again?

JW: What would I do again?

  • Take people every step of the way. We did research, told them the outcome, told people about the tool through quarterly milestones.
  • We showed everyone how the site would work to allow them to find their content and then trained authors on how to add content. That way they understood the desired view from the end user
  • Added additional functionality we didn’t have before – a searchable people directory, links to tools in one place for the business to use etc.

What wouldn’t I do again?

  • Assume it’s a simple tool. No matter how simple you think it is, there are lots of people that need to take time to understand how to use it – be patient!

MG: Some of the main keys to success that we see time and again are:

  • Make it relevant: the average person should be able to explain why it makes their work better
  • Have executive support and participation: This goes beyond the ‘this is great, you should use it’ all company email into active participation in the network
  • Put it where people can see it: Summarise key conversations and share them outside of the network to encourage people in. Place the feed from the internal social tools into the intranet and places where people are going to engage

7. What channels do you think should be replaced by internal social media or is there room for it to be added to the mix?

JW: The intranet should be replaced with a social tool but this should work alongside and integrated with other tools. Social tools allow you to increase dialogue and if you go down the route of social enterprise the possibilities are endless!

As with all tools, it depends what is right for the business. We use print and social tools alongside each other and I wouldn’t want to swap one for the other.

MG: Each channel has its benefits and weaknesses, so it’s all about working out where internal social media fits into how your organisation gets things done. Remember it has applications that go well beyond communication.

8. If a corporate communicator said they didn’t see the need for internal social media, how would you respond?

JW: I would ask them why they see the need for it externally. The same reasons apply, just the audience is different.

MG: I would focus on what it gives the organisation that it didn’t have before (e.g. a channel where people are able to respond easily and participate in a discussion, in a way that communicators can see) and help them understand the relevance. Also sharing examples of where internal social media has added value to an organisation’s communications is a good way of convincing those that are initially sceptical.

9. How has social media changed the face of employee engagement?

JW: It has broken down the barriers we used to have and given people the chance to share ideas with their peers in an open forum. It encourages communication and transparency in the organisation which builds trust and that in turn, should link to engagement.

MG: it’s made it more visible. You can really see when people are engaging with a message.

10. Can social media really add any value to employees engagement since online communities are managed by the organisation in a way that all information and content are in line with the organisation’s policy? Is it not just another way of a democratic censorship?

JW: Totally depends how social you go and the governance around your tool. Some social enterprise tools allow anyone to create communities and content where as a social intranet might only allow comments and forums. There will always be a need to information to be managed by the organisation in terms of messaging and timing but this should sit alongside content generated by people or conversations between colleagues.

MG: We find that open, community moderated communities are more engaged and active than those that have heavy central control, and result in people being more engaged with the content. Participating in discussions with the community about what’s happening in the organisation allow people to better understand the rationale behind decisions and ask questions that they’d have otherwise been unable to get the answers to, which in turn leads to better engagement with the message.

11. We’re looking at implementing an enterprise social media platform at our company to improve internal collaboration and knowledge sharing – are there any pitfalls we should be aware of? Jenni – do you have any tips on how to evaluate the different platforms available?

JW: I think some of this was covered in the interview. It depends what your criteria is; obviously cost is a factor. I wouldn’t go for a licensed model and I’d ask people in the industry – try tweeting @theiccrowd as that might help get some answers from the field. When I was doing our intranet I needed something relatively bespoke so I worked through what I needed a tool to do and spoke to a few agencies about it and asked them to suggest the tool that met my requirements. I only engaged the agencies once I had budget (which is important as you don’t want to get them in if you don’t have the money to go through with a purchase) and then chose the agency that selected a tool that was right for our business, could work with our systems and met all our needs.

12. We want to encourage different depts to use tools like Yammer but we also want to keep a central, arm’s length monitoring in the Communication Dept to ensure consistent, quality use across all the teams and even measure collective success – is that possible with Yammer?

JW: I have seen people create phantom accounts to step in to conversations on yammer and other tools to make sure there is some control but I’ll leave this one to Mike!

MG: This is possible and is a model we help organisations develop to get the most out of Yammer. There’s a central team whose role is to enable the community and help get a sense of the overall value that is being created – as well as doing things like welcoming new members to the community and summarising what some of the key groups / discussions are, they also share successes across the community so that people can see and adapt to best practices.

13. Can the panel give some tips on how to get buy in from senior managers that social media is here to stay and its benefits staff working in a public sector body?

There should be the same benefits in public sector and private sector – in fact more in the public sector! There are several bodies doing very similar things all over the country – working together through the same challenges or sharing best practice could revolutionise the public sector and a great synergy across all departments. Check out some of the social events specifically for public sector like UKgovcamp etc.

Building a social workplace? It’s all about business change

swconf logoYesterday saw the second Social Workplace Conference hosted by Crexia take place in London. With a bigger turn out than November we had some great discussions and saw some great case studies about what works and what doesn’t in the world of social tools in the workplace. Here are some of my highlights…..

The biggest thing to think about has to be business change and culture shift. The tools are one part of getting the conversation going but so often we focus on the technology before anything else:

The 6 pitfalls we often fall into when embarking on a social project

  1. Avoid creating silos of info
  2. Technology must not be only focus
  3. Viral adoption strategy is not enough
  4. Not the cheap option
  5. Avoid too much too soon
  6. You don’t need to replace email completely

Social tools simply allow dialogue across the business. Let’s not over complicate what they help us achieve

So if better collaboration = better business what blockers should be consider as we start the journey?

  • knowledge is power
  • habits are hard to break
  • lack of time
  • what’s in it for me?
  • collaboration tool fatigue

Social tools need to enable spontaneous collaboration. People need to want to be in the conversation. If you put people in communities they won’t engage with them so unless you’re changing how you communicate and how your business operates the project is going to be an uphill struggle.

68% of IT projects fail or are challenged.We heard about some key reasons why IT and social collaboration projects fail:

  1. No business case
  2. Allocation of resource is misplaced
  3. We don’t ask people what they want. Centre decides on the need and delivers something they think people want
  4. Wrong product for your scenario
  5. Incorrect budget: People only really budget for the software, not the added extras and resource to tailor the product to your needs
  6. Business process aren’t mapped
  7. Training (how to use the tool) and education (why we are building the tool). Two different things but often forgotten.
  8. The roll out. Big band will give you a big blow up
  9. Stakeholders want different things from the tool. Define these and measure success by them

The last panel of the day looked at the 7 habits of an open and socially collaborative business. After a lot of discussion around the tools they have introduced the panel talked about several habits companies needed to adopt. These are my favourite 7:

  1. Take the risk and be prepared to fail
  2. Have the desire to be open and share knowledge
  3. Give people permission to get involved and be part of conversations
  4. Don’t add a tool unless you remove another one
  5. Educate and train people – nurture their collaborative skills
  6. Respect and trust. The on-line office space is no different to the actual office space in terms of etiquette
  7. You need support from senior leaders to get the tool and senior leader activity on the tool

And as the day drew to a close, drinks were shared between the delegates and i reflected on what has once again been a great day with some real food for thought. As i tweeted all day there were some great quotes from the presenters – here are my favourites:

  • ROI should stand for return on involvement when looking at social tools in the workplace
  • “A social workplace is a professional environment that enables employees to become social individuals” – Rita Chambers, Sodexo
  • The project is not the implementation with technology, the project is business change
  • Never waste a good crisis. It’s a great time to make a change

Thanks again for the team for a great event. To see the full Twitter feed check out #swconf

Letting go

Having worked in internal communications for over 5 years it’s difficult to know how to adapt to the changing landscape of social tools. I’m a huge advocate of social media and applying that internally but can you ever really let go of controlled communication?

I write this as a colleague sent a mass email to people about an operational issue that will occur during a large sporting event later this year. He was being helpful, giving them information they needed. But I can’t help but tense because this communication should have gone on our intranet for everyone, and we have a comms plan for the event that we should follow. Am I being unreasonable? Am i too used to everything being joined up before going out to the masses? And how on earth do I get passed this?

I like structure and process and a comms plan, so does all that go out the window when you introduce and integrate social tools in a business? He could have posted this on our intranet, but even then would that be ok if the comms plan has timescales and other channels included for messages?

I genuinely don’t have the answer but it’s made me realise how easy it is to pay lip service to social tools in internal communications and how the reality of change is actually quite daunting!  Here’s hoping for some discussion on this at the Social Workplace Conference in May!