Social goal-setting, the key to turning middle managers in favour of collaboration and knowledge sharing?

Social business transformation is usually driven from the top or bottom of the organization hierarchy (or both in combination). Visionary leaders who lead from the front, by example, or skunk work initiatives from desperate people in the front line who see the potential of solving their hard-felt personal and business pains through working more efficiently together and through ease of sharing and communicating online.

Too frequently, middle management turns into a stumbling block, either by simply being passive or by even actively working against the change. Usually, it’s attibuted to lack of time, to being squeezed from both above and below, from being buried in administrative routines and systems or to the majority of middle managers being somewhat older and hard to teach new tricks.

There might be some truth to these claims, but behind them I see another reason: goals.

In December, I published a series of posts regarding setting social goals and this is where I believe we find the core of this challenge. As I state in Investing in social business, a key contributor to widespread change in the way work is done, is to change the way work is defined, and a major part of that definition is goal setting. What do the goals of middle management typically look like?

  • Increase sales by your team by x%
  • Reduce costs in your department by y%
  • Produce z units of whatsits
  • Develop q new products with a sales potential of ö money

Looking through the lens of the benefits of social intranets, where’s the broad sharing of experience, where’s the helping of colleagues, where’s the investing in the future of the entire organization

A substantial portion of the management of corporations happens through splitting up measurable goals into increasingly granular segments down the hierarchy. But, somewhere along the way, the shared goals that may be less easy to quantify are lost. And, you usually get what you measure. We have to reintroduce the common good into managerial and departmental goal-setting, through embedding collaboration, knowledge sharing and helping of colleagues near and far.

Fine, you may think, let’s include things like: Network size or growth in the goals for managers and employees alike. Or sharing of documents (or downloads and other signs of appreciation of shared documents – much better since it rewards quality or usefulness of contributions made). Or intensity of dialogue generated by contributions made or similar signs of impact). A very interesting approach is the engagement dashboard from IBM Research. (Of course, the ultimate move would be to automatically track re-use and economic impact of shared documents and contributions, maybe even single components like slides or text paragraphs. But that might be a bit of overkill.)

But, that would still not be good enough in my view. When it comes to conventional goals, managers aren’t measured on their personal contributions, but on the contributions of the team they manage, right? Why should social goals be any different? Let’s take goals like the ones in the previous paragraph, aggregate or average them for the entire team. Now, we’re talking! That would be a great step towards establishing social goals for managers to supplement their traditional ones.

Next, we should start analyzing those results for correlation with business results. Then we could start doing more useful work than repeatedly having to explain the business benefits of working as a social business.

Collecting “best practices” isn’t best practice

“We’re wasting the experience and time of our employees. We keep reinventing the wheel. Let’s start collecting best practices from our experts and distribute them to our employees.”

Sounds familiar, does it? Sounds like a good idea, does it?

I’d say that it’s not a bad idea, but there are much better ways to reduce reinvention of the wheel.

But before describing the better way and the reasons why it’s better, let’s just establish one thing:

There’s much more to it than efficient use of time only

The usual arguments for collecting and distributing best practices are about cutting waste of time and establishing a uniform, good standard of doing things. Cutting waste of time and making it available for better use is indeed a good reason, but there are other benefits that are even more valuable in my book, like cutting response times and shortening time to market. Those are usually easy to translate into hard currency. Quality is another key. Not necessarily as in “everybody doing things in the same way” but rather thinking of the inevitable fumbles you make each time you invent the wheel all over. If you re-use what others have done, the risk of re-making the same mistakes is drastically reduced. Then there’s the motivational aspect; spending time and effort on doing something you are convinced of has been done before is hardly good motivation. So there are good reasons to re-use experience and documents.

That said, what’s wrong with collecting and distributing best practices?

“Best practice”, says who?

A typical Best Practice initiative goes like this: A campaign, competition or decree is launched to get employees, often designated experts, to document and deliver their experience to a committee. The committee typically consists of some managers, some subject matter experts and the occasional token executive. They then go through the materials, agree on which should be shared, have someone from communications tidy them up and publish them on the intranet. Plus a communications campaign, of course, to create awareness of them being available. Maybe some system to track their use too.

Let me tell you what’s wrong with this:

  • It’s a batch process, not a continuum, meaning that it will all need to be repeated in a while when circumstances change which practices actually are the most useful
  • It’s a lengthy process, decoupling submitting from seeing your submissions being reused, thereby missing out on motivational aspects for the contributors
  • A considerable portion of the committee left the field for managerial positions a while back and their experience of what is needed out there is no longer up to date. Are they really best suited to know which practice is best?
  • What’s “best” in one context for one person may not be what is “best” for another in a different context. Very few events and projects are carbon copies of other. Similar, but not the same
  • Asking for submissions from established authorities misses out on discovering and motivating budding experts in the field

Many useful examples is much better than a few best practices

Instead, make it dead easy for anyone to upload and share their documents or to tell their story and share their experience online for others to re-use as they need it. The motivation of contributors will come from visible re-use, ratings, likes and positive comments from peers and experts. It might even be close to instant! After a while, the wisdom of crowds will help separate the useful stuff from the less useful. You are likely to find that the experience of the many is much richer and adds much more value than the expertise of the few.

What you think of sharing is only half the wisdom, if even that

Few of us are aware of the richness of our knowledge and experience. So when we share it, we are sure not to tell it all. There will always be gaps in our story. To surface that remaining knowledge, to fill the cracks in the stories we tell, please make it as easy as you possibly can to ask questions and to get answers. But channel the dialogue to transparent and persistent media and provide a powerful search function so the dialogue is there to find for the next person facing the same challenge. Use forums, build communities, encourage dialogue and reward those who help. Provide tagging and tag search to help categorize contributions in ways that feel relevant to the people on the ground, not only by a structure or taxonomy designed by those experts (and usually updated too infrequently).

It should not be about publishing best practices contributed by a few and vetted by even fewer, but of motivating staff to share as much knowledge and experience as possible, and to engage in transparent dialogue to help each other. Feedback and usage metrics will help tell what is the most useful – as seen by the people who need it. It’s not about managing knowledge, but about releasing it from heads, harddrives and enclosed mail conversations for the availability and benefit of the entire organization.

 

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.

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.

ooo

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 intranets grow faster than you probably think – only Facebook reached the first million users faster than IBM Connections

When discussing digital social networks, the discussion easily circles around Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and, more recently, Pinterest. It comes pretty naturally. They are all public and visible for all.

Social tools within organizations – often called Social Intranets or Collaboration tools – don’t make it as easily into the discussion. They are not in plain view, hidden behind firewalls full of information that companies and organizations naturally are unwilling to let loose externally.

The happier was I recently when I laid my hands on the chart below, as it shows that only Facebook reached the first million users faster than one of the leading social intranet platforms – IBM Connections. LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter needed considerably more months to reach their first million users.

I might just as well anticipate a couple of obvious questions:

  1. The IBM Connections numbers refer to users outside of IBM.
  2. The IBM Connections numbers are based on “Authorized users of licenses sold”. I.e. not only licenses sold.
  3. Arguably the different platforms reached their first million users at different points in time, but that does not change the point I want to make: exciting stuff is going on behind the firewalls and it’s probably happening faster than most people think

Image

Naturally there are factors that prevent direct comparison, but not enough to change that main point of mine. While the decision to use a public social network is taken individually, the implementation of a social intranet is made for you, also which platform to use. Still, it is the individual employee who chooses to make use of it or to keep working the old fashioned way. On the other hand, the decision to join a public social network may well be instantaneous, while a decision on a corporate social network takes a long time and includes financial aspects we don’t need to think of as consumers.

When I lectured at a course on Social Intranets given by the Swedish Association of Communication Professionals (Sveriges Kommunikatörer) on 9 May, I had the opportunity to listen to the moderator, Kicki Strandh who used an expression that caught me instantly:

Social Intranets are what we hoped Intranets would become

Just think of all the predictions of free-flowing information, inspiration and collaboration or about the open corporation we heard some 10-15 years ago when intranets started appearing. Do they apply to how intranets turned out until recently or do they apply to a social intranet? Ref: Social Business is about People and Opportunities

But, it does not suffice to just let loose some new software, even if it’s great. Companies, organizations and their employees are creatures of habit, fully busy with dealing with ongoing operations, usually supported (or maybe rather “constrained”) by established processes and policies that safeguard status quo. Capturing the opportunities that come with implementing a social intranet requires executive level commitment and conscious and targeted efforts.

But more about that in another post!

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.

Social_bookmarks

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.