From “social switchboard” to “direct dial”

In his recent blog post “How to avoid having your social media team becoming a “social switchboard”, my good colleague @AndrewGrill makes a good case on the dangers of adding a filtering (switching) layer of social media people between employees and the world around them – similar to the phone switchboards of days gone by.

So far so good.

But, extending the switchboard analogy, for direct dial to work well, everybody needs to have a phone that can be reached directly, they have to know how to use it, how to speak and call in a professional way and to know what they may or may not say as representatives of the organization.

Bypassing the switchboard without enabling the employees to handle direct dialing may result in substandard responses or maybe even in some major commercial or reputational hazards.

“Direct dial” translates, in our digitally connected world of today, into “Enabled and Empowered Employees”

Many times, I have compared social media marketing with the way rock bands tend to work. Traditional marketing is all about companies communicating with non-customers to turn them into customers. Rock bands play for their fans and leave it to them to communicate with non-fans to turn them into new fans. This is also the fundamental formula for successful social media marketing. But, to extend that analogy too, when the fans approach, they don’t want to speak with the band manager. They want the band members. Just like customers approaching your company don’t want to be “switchboarded” by your social media team. They want to get in touch with the folks who know things for real, from experience, the experts.

Jon Iwata said it very well already in 2010:

Your best social media marketing is made by engaged customers and engaged, enabled and empowered employees.

So, to make it work well, you need:
  • A social communications policy coupled with thorough training of employees (include online security and respect for copyright while you’re at it)
  • Communications professionals who coach the experts instead of insisting of themselves being the voice of the company
  • For your foremost experts, it doesn’t hurt with some analytical support to help them improve their communications, to be made aware of which influencers to engage with and where there are relevant discussions going on
  • And, as usual when I’m involved, a social intranet where they can get backed up by shared knowledge and easy-to-reach experts is of great help too. It sure will speed up answering the tricky questions.

Replacing the old telephone switchboard with a social media filtering and forwarding team is no good. Automatically channeling them to identified experts who aren’t on board is not much better (but a little). You need to attend to both sides of this equation to get the full value.

Investing in social business

In my most recent blog posts, I have focused on the topic of goals and social intranet adoption, in general and for managers. Including a social dimension in personal goals is the key to adoption by the bulk of employees, the late adopters.

Why? Because for many, personal goals are the definition of what they are paid to do, Goals = Work. As long as goals have no social dimension, nothing about knowledge sharing, nothing about collaboration, about creation of intellectual capital, why would you do it. It’s not your job!

But, as I have pointed out before, using the social intranet doesn’t produce benefits that are easy to measure and attribute to actions by individuals, that are sure to benefit your own organizational unit or that can be predicted to occur within a specific time frame – the type of goals we have all been trained to set. These types of goals are rather production oriented, don’t you think? But working out loud, developing intellectual capital or sharing it generously are not about production. It is rather an investment. Something that may pay off, some day and maybe not for your unit.

So, the key to including social aspects into goal setting is to supplement the traditional goals:

You are supposed to produce for your unit for this quarter AND to invest in shared knowledge, relations and transparency for the benefit of the entire organization, some day.

Goals. The challenge to managers getting into social business ways of working?

In my experience, managers are often a stumbling block for adoption of the transparent and collaborative ways of working enabled by social intranets.

Do you have the same experience?

I have tried to wrap my head around why this is so.

  • I’m too busy
  • It’s a waste of time
  • I don’t have the time to re-learn

I have heard those arguments from many, but rarely louder or with more emphasis than from managers. Usually, we find the enthusiasts among the grass-roots or at the executive level. Well, if executives aren’t too busy, have time and have the time to re-learn, why aren’t the managers? The people between those executives and guys like me?

I have thought that they might be the busiest people in the organization, squeezed between pressure from above and demands from below. I have thought that they tend to have a higher average age than the grass root folks. But on the other hand, the executives are usually even older. Finally, it all boils down into one thing for me: Social business is not in line with their goals.

What do the goals of managers usually look like?

  1. They are finite an measurable
  2. They are usually focused on their own department
  3. They are often set by quarter

So what characterizes the benefits of using a social intranet?

  1. They are hard to measure and make tangible
  2. Collaboration increases efficiency of people and work groups
  3. But Working out Loud, transparently may benefit any employee, anywhere anytime (and rarely get tracked back to the origin)

To illustrate #2:

A team may reduce version confusion by sharing documents online instead of shuffling attachments around via email. They may communicate more efficiently etc. But how do you measure these benefits? And how do you measure the benefits of speedier onboarding from having all documents, conversations and discussions in an online community? And, by the way, that team might span several departments with several managers

To illustrate #3:

A successful proposal may be shared by a person in one country, found and re-used by someone in another country, bringing in loads of money (and saving both time in creation and benefiting from lessons learned the first time) but will the original creator get to know about it. Will her/his manager?

Executives supposedly have a focus which is both wider and more long term than the managers. Employees in general think of their professional development long term and may have a bit more wiggle room than their managers.

But, quite simply: The typical goals of managers are virtually incompatible with the benefits of social intranets.

  • Measurable < – > Vague
  • Department < – > Company/Individual
  • This Quarter < – > Some time

So, where is the motivation to change for managers?

Until we start changing the way we set their goals, that is.

Setting social goals, the key to changing the ways of working?

Social. Goals. Two concepts that we’re not used to bundling. Like combining lobster and mashed potatoes. “Social” sounds friendly and positive while “Goals” are square, constraining and pressing. But I think it’s time to rethink.

For years now, we have tried to convince people to break out of the email bog, to stop withholding hinted-at knowledge (since they believe it gives power), to quit hoarding information instead of releasing it and to dare to both ask and help colleagues they might not know already. The greater portion of the population we manage to see the light, the harder the resistance from those who remain. Quite naturally, of course. You advance where the resistance is the weakest.

Why care? you might say. Because the benefits to all of people working transparently, sharing and helping increase with the proportion of employees who are on board while, at the same time, having a major portion of employees sticking to their old habits, restrains the rest of us and force us to manage both the old and the new, all the time.

So which arguments do we get back from the opposition? Usually a version of “I don’t see the point to invest the time in learning new tools and to change my habits just to play around with this social stuff. I have work to do.” The key I see in this statement is in the italics at the end: For them, social isn’t work. It’s not even another (never mind better) way to get work done. It’s just frosting on the cake. Social isn’t work. Which brings me to the headline. If we are to get these late adopters to change their ways, we have to make working openly an integrated part of their work. And, for many of us, a major part of the definition of our work is in the goals we are told to work towards.

So, adding a social, collaborative or knowledge sharing dimension to the definition of personal and departmental goals, will lead to a change in the definition of the work that should be done.

Wasting time on the social intranet!

“Where do we draw the line? At what point are we becoming too social and therefore non-productive?”

This question was posted today on my board in our internal social intranet, in a discussion on the level of social presence by people with an ambition to present themselves as social business consultants. I guess you've heard it before, or similar questions implying that social equals non-productive and can only be tolerated in limited doses. “Social media and social intranets are a waste of time”

Last time your talkative friend phoned you and talked with you for a little less than an hour about nothing, did you blame the phone? Or maybe your friend? Or maybe yourself for not being able to cut them short?

Or the last time the neighbour caught you just outside your door and kept you busy listening to their complaints about the other neighbour's pet?

Chatterboxes waste our time if we let them. Whatever the medium and context.

I use our social intranet to communicate:

  • I ask and answer questions openly, to maximize the possibility of additional contributions as well as re-use of answers in the future by others with the same issue
  • I share knowledge and experience so others can build on mine instead of starting from scratch
  • I reuse knowledge and experience from others for the same reason
  • I scan the flow of updates on boards, blogs, wikis, bookmarks, activities to maximize the potential of stumbling over inspiration or discovering knowledge I didn't even know I could benefit from
  • I collaborate in communities and activities (task management) with efficiency and with the time zones, reducing the need for us to work off hours just because the people involved happen to be on another continent

Wasting time? Rather working efficiently and maybe investing some time for the good of both my colleagues and myself.

For what do we get paid in a social business?

John had worked four weeks on the proposal.

Days, evenings, some weekends and even two nights. Finally, John and the team heard the words they had been fighting for so hard: We have decided to award you our business. And then – even better - …the solution you have suggested is more complete and smarter than your competitors and you have also done a better job of presenting the benefits our company will reap by choosing you and your solution.
Time to celebrate!

A week later, after the first turmoil of getting things started, John thought it could be a good idea to share the winning proposal with his colleagues through the social intranet. First, he hoped that such a strong proposal could help colleagues elsewhere win even more business. Second, John, who was a nice and empathic fella, wanted to save colleagues some trouble and hardship in creating proposals for similar deals from scratch. After all, he knew very well how unhappy he and his family had been with his workload during those four weeks. Finally, he realized that sharing the proposal would build his reputation as an expert in this field and as a good salesguy. Win – win – win!

But, first he needed to cleanse it from confidential information, client identifiers, financial details etc. It took him two hours to do so. But then he shared the file and posted about it in a couple of forums and – of course – in a status update on his profile page. (He added a couple of relevant tags to his profile too, while he was at it, by the way).

Over the following weeks and months, colleagues around the world re-used John’s shared proposal, tailored it to their needs and managed to win several deals around the world, spending only half the time and much less weekends and evenings in doing so. How many millions was it worth for the company?

What did John get out of this? Indeed, his reputation got a boost and people from near and far asked him for supplementary information. Flattering, but time consuming. He probably spent another day’s worth of time on answering such supplementary questions over that period. Still, John thought of the good business he helped the company to make and the gratefulness from colleagues who could work so much smarter than he had been forced to do.

But apart from some thanks a million in mails, chats and over the phone, what did he get out of it? Did it show on his pay slip or in the appraisal by his manager? Not at all. On the contrary. His manager said John, you winning that deal for us was great. But since then, you seem to have lost focus and keep chatting away with colleagues across the world. But out business is here. Our department is measured on the profits we generate from our clients in our local market. Not on some deal in Farawayland. We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, you know.

Social Business brings fundamental changes to the way we reward our employees

For ages, workers’ pay has been based on what they produced. Number of widgets produced, seams welded, kilos of produce, hours worked etc. Our pay has been in direct relation to what came out of our hands or our time worked. Only very few people have been paid for what came out of their heads: artists, writers and maybe a few others.

But Social Business breaks this direct relationship between our effort and the benefit to the company we work for. Our shared knowledge and experience can mean so very much more to the entire company than our original effort actually did. But – and this is the tricky part – we are unlikely to know where or when those benefits are generated and there is no good way of tracking the benefit to the company from what an individual has shared. At least I haven’t seen any, yet.

So, HR folks will have to work out new formulas to reward us for what we bring to the table.

And suppliers of social intranet software or other software manufacturers will need to come up with ways of identifying re-use and benefits reaped from shared knowledge

If they don’t, luddites will keep coming up with the same excuse for not collaborating and sharing: What’s in it for me really?

It will be most interesting to see what they come up with.

4 great reasons not to write headlines or tweets like this one

I too, have read the research claiming that headlines/tweets promising a list with a set number (figure, not in text) of <reinforcing adjective> things to read/to do (or avoid) to produce some desirable result.

Here’s why they rather turn me off, than on.

  1. Everybody else does. I’m not questioning the research saying that clicks increase. But what works well when a few people do it may not work as well when everybody does
  2. How original do you look really, when you keep using the same formula over and over?
  3. It tells me that clicks is what makes you tick, not sharing great knowledge or spreading bright ideas. You’re merely a crowd pleaser, regurgitating what you have read elsewhere, in list form – or at least, that is what your headlines tell me. If you’re the Real McCoy, it’s a pity your headlines scare me away
  4. If I feel this way, how many others do too? If #3 actually applies, can you afford the risk of turning clickers away this way?
Please, next time, give me a question, a surprising fact, an intriguing expression, a double meaning, a pun, a chocking insight or just a plain, simple statement. Anything but a list of “X creative ways to bend a banana”