Social Change Communications

Seriously, I should rebrand this blog a “splog”, a sporadic blog! It’s been two and a half months since my latest blog post. Shame on me! I have to change my habits.

change-aheadTalking about change, let’s continue where I left off late August; changing change management. I promised then to expand on how an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) can facilitate your change management efforts.

Obviously, the inner circle can leverage a wide range of tools to make their work more efficient. They can develop and manage their plans in a community, share, comment and co-edit files to minimise confusion and effort duplication, they can discuss in a forum or in status updates and so on. But those things are a given. Let’s look instead at how the ESN can help the work outside of the change team and decision makers.

Let’s have a look at what you need for reasonably smooth, lasting change:

  • Understand the terrain – Face it. You will never understand the situation as-is as well as the people “out there”. Nor will you ever understand what their pains are or their aspirations. You need to get input from the field.
    • An ideation blog lends itself as well to gathering input – requirements – as it does to collect and evaluate ideas. Let people post their input, encourage others to comment to develop and refine. Ask them to vote to help you in your prioritisation
  • Clarity is key – Times of change are usually times of worry (at least by the people expecting to get impacted by the change). The main remedy is early, clear and frequent communications.
    • A blog (maybe a video blog) – is a perfect way to spread the word without risk for it getting lost in translation. Use blogs, early and continuously, to communicate the rationale, milestones and progress of the change programme
    • Wikis are great to post plans, new policies and procedures. The entire team can edit and they can be changed over time. As questions start to flow in, it’s easy for the team to create and maintain an FAQ in a wiki
    • If you happen to miss out on something in your blog or wiki, anyone can be allowed to comment, giving you a chance to fill the gaps, clear misunderstandings and kill rumours. Nice, ey?
  • Manage questions, manage worry – As I stated above, many get worried as soon as they hear a rumour of change coming. And worries is fertile ground for rumours.
    • Open forums allow people to air their worry and allows you to respond before they grow into rumours in email chains, at lunch tables or by the water coolers. As I mentioned above, the most frequent or most important questions could easily be turned into an FAQ, to simplify your response management.

Finally, if the change at hand involves acquiring or creating new units or teams, try to compare the effort of just pushing a button to create a community for that team or unit with restructuring and changing the navigation of your old fashioned top-down intranet with or asking an administrator to build a team site in clumsier tools than my favourite one.

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.

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!