Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – Bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

engaged_saleI started this series of blog posts by stating that as the wheels turn faster, people more important than ever before. Then people had better be more engaged than the souvenir lady in this picture. A person who merely “goes through the motions”, mindlessly, without engagement and whose mind is anywhere else than in the present, is unlikely make any positively significant difference. And without engagement, there will hardly be much innovation either.

This is the last blog post of six on the theme of the advantages for companies and their employees of collaborating and working transparently. The previous are:

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience
  • Effectiveness – Through more direct communication channels
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation

These blog posts have been published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Spend some thought on this video by Steven Johnson about where good ideas come from (I’m sure he will appreciate you buying his book, btw)

Isn’t it exactly environments like these we want to create and support in our organisations? Like the coffee houses of the age of enlightenment and the Parisian salons during the Modernism era. Environments where people and ideas meet, both on purpose and by chance and where you can find both likeminded to collaborate with and different-minded to get inspired by. Since long, farsighted architects have created office environments to generate random meetings, but how do we do when associates are spread across great distances? How do we do to involve both customers, partners and suppliers?

My answer is not surprising: Through a transparent work culture and tools for online collaboration

In online communities, discussions and through following updates by colleagues, maybe especially those a bit on the fringe, your understanding of what the company and your colleagues actually do, as does the understanding of how you can impact on results. The probability of random meetings with ideas, knowledge and interesting people is multiplied. The foundation for both engagement and innovation gets much more fertile.

If you have special interests or ideas you want to build on, but lack resources or have knowledge gaps, it becomes incredibly much easier to find likeminded to grow those interests with or to put together a team of volunteers with supplementing knowledge and skills to develop those ideas further. A paradise for intrapreneurs.

Just think of something as simple but inspirational as feedback (potentially simple and inspirational, that is). Usually it something that employees get rarely, usually from their manager in a strictly orchestrated appraisal ceremony. Not very simple and definitely not inspirational. How inspirational isn’t it instead to suddenly get a Like from a distant colleague who you might be acquainted with, but not necessarily, on that presentation you just shared or on your blog post? Or when you see how many have downloaded that Excel-thingy of yours? Or receiving a suggestion on how to improve what you are currently working on – from someone “who’s done it” before? How much more inspiring and motivating won’t it get to develop and share your knowledge and experience?

Most companies who introduce online collaboration platforms do it aiming at efficiency, aa I wrote about in the blog post, Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience. I am certain that the long range boost in innovation and employee engagement is much more important, though.

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organisation to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

What do you think of the value of employee engagement, innovation and what organisations can do to boost them?

Effectiveness – through more direct communication channels

“Whisper” by ElizaC3

Do you remember when you played Chinese Whispers as a kid? One person whispers a message to a second person who whispers it on to a third who….until the last person tells everybody what he or she heard. The message used to be complete gobbledygook and you all had a great laugh. (What’s Chinese in that game, by the way?)

What was a fun game as a kid, is the default way of communicating in most organisations, at least in one direction. If it’s not the words of the leadership that get interpreted and distorted on their path to the employees, it’s the questions or attempts at communicating up the hierarchy.

This is the fifth blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience
  • Effectiveness
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Is this how employees see the future? Photo by Broin under Creative Commons CCo

In times of rapid change, you can’t afford doing Chinese Whispers for the leadership team to communicate to the employees where you’re heading, why and how to get there. You can’t afford, neither the time, nor because of the risk of the message getting filtered or distorted along the way. Adding to that, surveys done by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute show that “Leadership Future Vision” is the prime driver of employee engagement – for each and every year researched (2008-2012). You can’t afford to waste that potential either by not leveraging the possibilities available for clear and direct communications.

Current volatility and the frantic pace of change make communications in the other direction more important than ever. Partly to enable the leadership team to verify that their message has been received and understood,  partly for the employees to be able to ask for clarifications and supplementary information to make sure that they really have understood. But also to help the leadership to catch what’s happening “out there”, as I described in the third post in this series, about Agility. Having a whole lot of scouts out there is of little value if they cannot pass their observations on to the hub.

A good collaboration and networking platform provides all this, and more

By using blogs – text or video – leaders can broadcast their message to all employees directly and without any middlemen. Through commenting, employees can respond and ask questions if anything still was unclear to them. Since commenting is transparent, you can easily see if someone else has written what you had in mind and save time both for yourself and others by voting/liking on their comment, instead of repeating it. In this context, it is important that the leaders actually read and respond to comments. Anything else would be a waste of valuable feedback and jeopardise trust in that the leaders actually do care about their employees.

For simple grass root publishing, collaboratively, of more structured and lasting information, wikis are a splendid tool. Perfect for FAQ, policies, instructions and the like. Wiki pages can be commented on too. Upward communications has more facets but is made easier by the transparency achieved in a good collaboration and networking platform. For the leadership team to know what the employees think, which challenges they experience and need help with, which opportunities they spot and which trends they have spotted on the horizon… all they need to do is to listen. Maybe even by using social analytics software which are more common on external social networks. Listen to status updates, listen to forum discussions, listen to blogs, gather ideas and get them evaluated in ideation blogs. The possibilities are close to innumerable.

What do you think? Isn’t it upon time for employees not to have to fumble in the mists of insecurity and for leaders to get a chance to leverage all the information and experience that employees amass, instead of it getting stuck in mail chains or discussions around the water cooler? Do you have experience of your own to share?

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organisation to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience

If only I could build on top of what someone else has already done. Without having to start all over on square ONE!

Familiar feeling? When time has been short, the hour late or you’ve been struggling with something complex or boring that simply has to have been done before and be available somewhere.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how greater transparency and online collaboration help us to dare to take on and resolve challenges and difficulties. In addition, it can help us save time. Time we can spend on something more useful.

This is the fourth blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness – through more direct communication channels
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Is there better use of your time than reinventing the wheel? Again? Cartwheel, Ulster American Folk Park. Picture: Kenneth Allen, license CC BY-SA 2.0

Build on top instead of build again

An organization doesn’t have to be very big before you risk starting to reinvent the wheel, at least in small things. The larger the organization, the more frequently it happens and the greater the double work and confusion can get.

One hour of double work is forever lost. This can turn into an immense waste for companies and organizations where associates keep doing what others have already done, or parallel initiatives get started, simply due to lack of transparency.

Only three things are needed for this to start to work:

  1. That associates share their work products openly – and make them easy to find, eg. by proper categorization
  2. That they acquire the habit of first search for if someone else has “done it” before, instead of starting to produce from scratch
  3. That there is a system in place to support transparency and online collaboration

How you choose to spend the saved time is another story. If we’re talking about overtime work on evenings or weekends, I suggest you spend it with family or friends, or invest in your health and fitness. But when you save time within your work hours, you may manage to produce more, boost your competence (see Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction in this series – about the easy of building competence in a transparent organization) or to let yourself be inspired to novel thinking and innovations, from all this knowledge and inspiration within easy reach!

In this video with Bosch AG, you can see how they increased efficiency through transparency, seeing some processes shortened from 40 days to 6!

Easier access to experts and to expertise both saves time and improves quality

The traditional view on experts leads to a few, officially recognized, experts in a few, formally defined, areas get overloaded, become bottlenecks and chokes availability of knowledge for the main body of colleagues who, instead, have to resort to spend time on searching among their closest colleagues without finding the really good answers. A grand recipe for both waste and sub-standard solutions.

In the transparent organization, focus tends to shift from experts – the persons, that is – to expertise -the knowledge, and the definitions of the areas of expertise are made from the perspective of the colleagues and the current needs of the business, not by leadership. From “Project Management Methodology” to “good methods to handle agendas and follow up of status meetings”, sort of. Expertise becomes more democratic, you could say. (Whoever can help me with pivot tables in MS Excel will be my expert and hero, but would hardly have been classified as such by leadership.)

Naturally, when expertise is defined “in the eye of the beholder”, when it resides with more people and becomes easier accessible – both from becoming easier to find in conversations and shared documents as well as through greater ease of finding and communicating with those in the know, the savings become substantial for both organizations and associates as well. In addition, it becomes much easier to deliver top quality and do the right things from the start.

Faster onboarding in new roles and projects

A frequent special example of advantages, is onboarding. Of new employees, of existing employees in new projects or in new roles. Since knowledge and history is easier to reach, people can become productive much faster, and more independently. Gone is “Can you please gather all mails and forward to Roger Rookie, please? Don’t forget the attachments, by the way!) Then Roger has to plow through old emails for a week or so. After someone else has sat for a week finding stuff to forward in their mail files and archives, looking for all the essential stuff in need of forwarding. (And how often do you find all of that, btw?)

Instead, it becomes:

“Roger, here’s the link to our team community with all information and history of this project. There’s an onboarding activity for you to work your way through, with links to defined processes, contracts and reports. In the forum, you can see how we’ve worked on the list of demands and understand why we’ve made the decisions made. And all minutes from the steering group are there too. Just let me know if somethings seems to be missing. By the way, you should join this open community for people in your new role.There, you can learn from colleagues around the world who work with similar things, but on similar projects around the world.

IBM uses social onboarding extensively, both for new hires in the groups Soon2BBlue and New2Blue, but also for integration of new employees from mergers & acquisitions.

How much faster do you think Roger may get – and feel – productive? Do you recognize the situation of having to reinvent the wheel? Or the relief of not having too? What defines and expert for you? When you need help, do you have to find the expert or is it enough to find the expertise left behind by him or her or o you have to find the person?

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organization to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

Tags – the DNA of working transparently

Does your social intranet offer proper tagging or is it just a facade?

Of the many tags that have been attributed to my profile on IBM Connections, our internal collaboration platform, one of my favourites is “tag-o-phile”.

We all structure information differently. We think differently. And the way we think and structure information may very well depend on the moment and the context. Just look at these three examples from a training session in Japan where we asked teams to create a logical structure of 15 foodstuffs.

One way of organizing foodstuffs Another way to organize foodstuffs Yet another way to organize foodstuffsWhich team is right?

I’d say “they all are, in their own way. But the top two teams would have a hard time in the kitchen of the bottom team.”

I have written more about this in a blog post a few years back, Folders is where knowledge goes to hide, but I’ll focus here on a specific aspect of tags which often is overlooked – tags can be applied to anything.

Tags can be applied to anything. Only files can be put in folders.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it brings big benefits to users who have a good social intranet (or Enterprise Social Network, ESN, if you prefer). Searching for the tag “collaboration” will produce all kinds of content and people that have been assigned that tag; People, Files, Blogs, Forum discussions, Wikis, Pictures, Ideas, Communities. Instead of just finding either files in folders or people in the corporate directory, you find all of the above and can filter either by type of content or on people or you can refine your search with additional tags, irrespective of type of content. This way you get a much fuller picture of the breadth of content and knowledge available on any tagged topic.

But, for tags and tagging to reach the full potential, there are a few conditions:

  • Tagging has to be transparent – If tags are not visible to others than the people who assigned them in the first place, they are of little value
  • Tagging has to be flexible – To be useful, taxonomies should be used to establish a minimum level of tagging, not to control which tags may be used. Taxonomies can never capture the richness of characteristics and contexts relevant to all users and they hardly ever keep up with development and changing priorities
  • Tagging has to be widespread – As with so many other aspects of collaboration, it’s a matter of the more, the merrier. The more people tag, the more different tags will be used, giving a wider view on topics and people. But also, the more people tag, the more will re-use the same tag for content or people, improving the differentiation between tagged items

Does your social intranet offer proper tagging or is it just a facade?

Tags 101:

Simply put, tags are nothing more than “Characteristics – to me – of someone or something – expressed in single or few words”. If many people agree on a characteristic of someone or something, that characteristic will show up stronger and the “someone or something” will rate higher on that characteristic than others with fewer instances of the same tag. If person A has been tagged with “collaboration” 25 times and person B only “10”, we assume that person A has more expertise or experience on the topic of collaboration. Or, possibly, a greater and more tag-happy network.

In many ways, tags applied by people can be seen as a supplement to the machine algorithms used in standard search engines. You search for a tag and then filter on additional tags to refine your search results.

Tags vs #Hashtags

So what’s the difference? #Hashtags are used within conversations (be they in text or in images), helping to identify conversations on the same topic. Often, they are part of the message, usually a status update. Tags, as discussed in this post, are “labels”, used to characterize less fluid content or profiles in an online environment. The conceptual alternative to #hashtags would be discussion threads. The conceptual alternative to tags would be folders (but which only works with uploaded files, as described above).

Bye, bye internal email?

On the first day of work this year, I took the big leap. I activated out-of-office for the rest of 2013 (for internal senders only, that is), telling them to post on my board on our social intranet instead of sending emails.


It’s a bit like converting to an electric car while the infrastructure around you is geared up to service the diesel cars everybody else drives. It takes an extra effort, some people think you’re crazy and others cheer you on, but you do know that you’re doing the right thing, at least for the long run. And you can be pretty sure to reduce pollution (cc’s) straight away.

The questions I’ve been getting fall in three categories: 1) Why do this? 2) Do you seriously believe in switching entirely from mail to social communications and 3) Why are you so negative towards email?

Let me respond in reverse order.

Why am I so negative towards email?

I am not negative to email per se. I am negative to many of the ways email is misused in large organizations like the one I work for.

  • The more distributed organizations become, the more we work remotely, the more unsure people seem to be that people important to you and your future realize how great a job you really do. I mean, a boss on another continent cannot see how diligently you work, can (s)he? The universal remedy seems to be to cc every Tom, Dick and Harry on all emails, just to show you work. I email, therefore I am.
  • There is a tendency and temptation to use email as a way to throw tasks over the fence for others to do and then go on with your the stuff you’ve decided to keep for yourself. People dump tasks on each other, large and small, this way without first checking if people have capacity to complete them. The inbox has turned into a to do-list, prioritized by others.
  • cansBut most of all: Email restricts the spread of knowledge and inspiration throughout the organization and there are much better alternatives available today, both regarding efficiency and effectiveness. Email locks knowledge in

Do I seriously believe in a 100% switch from email?

No I don’t. There are still good and valid uses of email: many, but limited number of recipients, system-generated mails, confidential or personal information and of course forwarding of any such mails. So, instead of going 100% electric, it’s more practical to get yourself a hybrid. And of course, there’s still phone, chat, txt, meetings as well for communications.

Finally, Why do this?

I do this for the benefit of my colleagues, my employer and – of course – myself.

  1. Colleagues looking for information will have their queries exposed to my extensive network and not only to me. Anyone can respond, even if I happen to be travelling or busy. That’s a much better OOO-function than just a response telling people that you’re not around and when you will be back
  2. Since conversations on profile boards are visible to all colleagues (at least in a social intranet) – and searchable – the knowledge from these conversations become common property and we all become more capable for each such conversation
  3. For colleagues in my network who support others by answering questions in public conversations (like my board for example) this is a good chance to show their expertise to the collective of colleagues as well as that they are nice guys and gals. Is there a better way to build your personal brand?
  4. My employer benefits by knowledge getting shared and easier to find and by improved visibility of and ease of finding experts. Less time wasted on looking information that would otherwise have been locked into brains, hard drives or mail boxes.
  5. For me, finally, I waste less time on processing mails and feel less pressure to answer questions. I learn from more knowledgeable colleagues who take time to respond to questions on my board and my reputation gets a boost too as a valuable resource, not only for my own knowledge but also for being a hub for “the right people”.

A bit more than a month into this quest, it progresses nicely. My load of traditional mails has decreased drastically, I still have to “shift to diesel” once in a while but, best of all, my quest seems to have inspired others to move in the same direction. Colleagues even send me emails just to get my OOO-message to copy. I am documenting my experience, learning tips and tricks to facilitate the shift and also various categories of mails that are a challenge to get rid of.

So far, so good.

(Jag bloggar om detta projekt på svenska på IBM Sveriges blogg www.ensmartareplanet.se ifall du hellre läser där)

Social Bookmarking – the Ugly Duckling of Collaboration

Blogging, Status Updates, Sharing Documents, Images and Film Clips, Pinning Pictures – all great things you can do using social tools, on the internet and sometimes also within the firewall on your intranet if you have the right employer.

One aspect of collaboration that is often overlooked is social bookmarking. To the extent even, that I feel compelled to explain the simple, yet appealing, logic behind it.

  1. Whether you use Favourites in Explorer or Bookmarks in Firefox or any of the other internet browsers, you only use them when you’re online. Right?
  2. As you only use them online, why not also save them online instead of in your local browser? Doing so may enable you to reach your bookmarks from any computer or even from your mobile device. Practical in any case, but especially when you make a hardware switch or have a crash.
  3. If you’re ok with saving them online, why not also share them with others while you’re at it. Particularly as it mean no extra effort for you.

I think we all agree that having knowledge yourself is great but becoming an increasingly impossible task with the volumes available and needed in modern society. Knowing where and how to find it has become a key quality. Expressing it differently: having knowledge at your fingertips comes in a close second to having it in your head.

Coupling that with the influence and reputation gained by sharing knowledge (or in this case – where to find it), social bookmarking becomes an obvious win-win activity. Maybe even win-win-win. You find stuff. Others find stuff. Your reputation grows.

On the internet, Delicious has been around for many years now. I have used it myself since 2004. Ownership has changed hands a couple of times and it is probably not all that easy to make money by providing the service, a probably explanation behind the apparent lack of attention to it and development of it over several years. But I greatly appreciate it although I think they could do much more with the iPhone app.

Google+’s +1’s (tricky to write, that one) wouldn’t require much additional features to become a serious competitor or even simply steamroll Delicious. Just promote it as a service in its own right, make it searchable and you’ve got it. I’m puzzled by why Google don’t.

Inside the firewall, the benefits and possibilities become even greater and more visible. As I work for IBM, I have the pleasure of being able to work with IBM Connections in my daily work life. As the primary business benefit of social bookmarking is ease of access to knowledge verified by peers, social bookmarking doesn’t face the same revenue challenges internally as it does externally. Also the benefits to the individual of the bookmarks not being machine specific benefits the company in case of crashes and hardware switches by reduced time waste.

In such a comprehensive collaboration environment as IBM Connections, social bookmarks become even more powerful. Have a look at the bookmarking dialogue below.


As you can see, it doesn’t stop at me being able to bookmark publicly (default) or just for myself (option). I also get tagging suggestions; both recommended and used by others for this page but also, assuming that I tend to bookmark things related to favourite topics of mine, tags used recently by me for other bookmarks. Great time-savers and ways to establish de-facto standards, no?

As if that wasn’t enough, as I save my bookmark I can post that bookmark in a multitude of places: in communities I am a member of, in blogs and in any of my Activities (i.e. the in-built, light-weight task handling system that I have come to use to manage my entire work life). So, not only can I make my bookmark available for anyone who happens to search for something with those tags but I can promote it to communities, blogs and activities where I think people may be particularly interested in the topic at hand.

Topping it all up, internal social bookmarks can very well be used to improve the search function, usually a pain point of intranets. The search algorithm is supplemented by the preferences and categorization (tags, that is) made by people who have appreciated content.

And yes, of course, the social bookmarks in IBM Connections can be applied to content both inside and outside of the firewall.

There may be other social intranet systems available with social bookmarking, but I don’t know of any other, especially not with such comprehensive features.

Collaboration contexts

Sometimes conversations on collaboration can get a bit confused. Often because you aren’t talking about the same thing, but without realizing. The concept of collaboration means different things to different people… and at different times. It’s a matter of context.

I find it useful to think (and explain) a bit extra about the context of collaboration when discussing with others, but also on my own when analyzing behaviours and observations.

The three typical contexts presented here have provided an excellent basis for me (I know it’s no rocket science, but it has proven useful often enough for me to want to share).

Collaboration Contexts: Individuals collaborating, Collaboration in communities, Task-oriented teams

Usually, I apply this model when talking about intranets, but I think it works pretty well also in public networks.

Many tools and features are used in all contexts, but in different ways and with variations of intensity and – definitely – for different purposes.

Teams with a goal

Teams with a goal are typically in need of a project space of some kind. A couple of characteristics:

  • Limited external visibility of the project space if any at all
  • Non-homogenous membership profile. Members are selected based on complementary competences and characteristics
  • An end in sight. When the goal is reached, the project space is no longer needed (except as a repository for reference if need be)
  • Greater need for and use of tools for task management
  • Easily understandable business rationale

As this context has long been the easiest to understand and assign monetary value, web support was available early, also on a commercial online basis.

Individuals sharing interests as individuals

The obvious examples of individuals sharing interests as individuals are all public: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. People who have something in common  (socially, business or interest) connect, keep in contact and share information on a “free-for-all” basis: “Here’s my update/picture/link. Come and get it if you’re interested.” Conceptually, the purest example in my book is Delicious, where I share my bookmarks publicly for anyone to find and use, with no strings attached whatsoever. Some characteristics:

  • Openness
  • Heterogeneous
  • One-to-any communication
  • Ad-hoc and serendipitous
  • Difficult-to-explain business benefits

While this type of collaboration has seen unparalleled success the latest decade in the public arena, it has had greater difficulties to make the same headway within companies and organizations. Quite understandably so, too, at least as long as you think conventionally; structure, purpose, process, measurability, cause-and-effect. In many cases, the public sites for individual collaboration may even have had a negative effect on internal acceptance. “I don’t want to introduce something for my employees to waste their time internally on socializing as they do already on Facebook”.

But those of us who have had the opportunity to use rich and comprehensive social intranets are very aware that they pay off. It’s just so darned difficult to present their value in a way that the conventionally minded understand.

Individuals banding together in communities of interest

In comparison with the Teams with a goal-scenario, Communities are:

  • Openly visible – although joining may be limited
  • Homogenous – people join out of a common interest
  • Longer lasting – as long as they stay vital
  • Focus on sharing knowledge, not on task management
  • Greater difficulties in measuring business value

Most of the time, it’s easier to measure the business value of employees being able to form internal voluntary communities of interest across borders and distances, be they geographical or organizational. Project managers sharing lessons learned, asking each other for help, sharing useful links, collaborating on describing best practices in wikis etc or programmers, or people working for a particular client, a customer segment or in a particular area of technology or…

But there is an increase of communities of interest also in the public domain; groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, by hashtags on Twitter etc. For companies who do not offer similar possibilities internally, I think these public communities represent a major risk of leakage of intellectual property.

So, next time the arguments of your discussion partner seem not to make sense, take a step back and spend some time on understanding if you talk about collaboration in the same contexts or in different.