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.

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)

The knowledge that Knowledge Management forgot

Traditionally, the benefits of corporate Knowledge Management have had something in common with the Snark of Lewis Carroll. They have been evasive and difficult to describe.

There have been endless repositories, taxonomies and similar initiatives undertaken, but something seems always to have been missing. I think it boils down to the concept itself being wrong.

Typically, Knowledge Management initiatives spend lots of energy in attempting to identify which knowledge is needed and available, in categorizing it in some kind of taxonomy and in trying to motivate, nag or coerce those who have the knowledge to contribute it. Next comes “knowledge marketing” in trying to make others aware of the knowledge that is available and training or supporting them in how to find it.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is why:

  • The need for knowledge is dynamic, unpredictable and largely dependent on context. In the rapidly changing world of today, it’s close to impossible to predict which knowledge you will need. You’ll know first when you realize that you lack it. Any list of knowledge needed will end up largely incomplete because of difficulties in predicting the needs of yourself or others.
  • As we all think differently, even the best taxonomy will inevitably not reflect the way all users think about the knowledge needs they have. Therefore, there will always be complaints about the knowledge being difficult to find.
  • To top that, the taxonomy is doomed to better reflect yesterday’s needs than today’s. The process of defining  and updating a taxonomy will inevitably be slower than the development of new needs.
  • Finally, due to the combination of the efforts needed to collect and redistribute knowledge and the limited resources of all organizations, the focus will be to manage what I call prescriptive knowledge: blueprints, best practices, frameworks et cetera, i.e. knowledge from formally recognized experts describing how things should be done, often of a rather general nature.

A truly social intranet based on a comprehensive collaboration platform changes all that. For example IBM Connections that forms my everyday digital workplace.

Without preventing the spreading of the kind of prescriptive knowledge traditionally available in KM systems, a social intranet overcomes the shortcomings listed above.

  • Networking, board statuses, forums and communities enable you to reach out to colleagues for the knowledge you need when you realize that you need it. By reaching out directly to people we are able to access the knowledge they never shared in the KM systems.
  • As a truly collaborative environment allows us to tag content, documents and people as we see fit, the sum of all tags is more likely to better reflect the way people really think than any taxonomy created by a group of people ever can do for others. The result may not give an equally organized impression, but the probability is increased of someone having used a tag that suits your way of thinking, thereby making it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. A “suggested taxonomy” can still be implemented, but as a default that can be expanded, not as a prescriptive taxonomy.
  • Finally, and most importantly, making it easy to share your knowledge exposes all the additional descriptive knowledge, to supplement the prescriptive knowledge that usually is distributed in KM systems. Instead of only “This is how you should do” from acknowledged experts, there is suddenly an abundance of “This is how we did it” kind of knowledge. More of a flavour of experience, rather than expertise. The blueprints and frameworks, often generalized and open to interpretation, get supplemented by results and examples of how interpretation. By making it easier to share, a complete new category of knowledge surfaces – grass-root experience.

In short, moving from knowledge management systems into collaboration systems increases the availability of knowledge, makes it easier to find and supplements the official, prescriptive knowledge with inspiring examples “from the front line”, helping people interpret and understand how to best use the blueprints and frameworks as well as making the benefits more tangible of using them, thereby encouraging their use.

A positive side effect is the visualization of many additional employees with specific experience, if not expertise. A talent pool to tap, reuse and invigourate the cadre of existing experts.

Putting it in even shorter words:

It’s not about managing knowledge, but about releasing it!

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.