Resilience – bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges

Tougher together – How companies and their employees better can face setbacks and challenges through transparency and collaboration

Where should I stay and eat om my upcoming first visit to Madrid? How do I take a screen shot om my mobile phone? By which watering hole can I find animals to hunt? What did those poisonous berries look like, really? From the beginning of time, our best source of knowledge has been other people. We ask others for help or advice when our own knowledge, experience or skills fall short. Within the family, our village, our school, in Q&A columns of the papers, over the phone, on Facebook or on Twitter. But at work, who do we ask? And how?

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

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

Old style

In old style companies we tend to ask our colleagues we already know for help, or maybe some manager. Usually live at the office or via email. How many times haven’t we sent an email to someone only to get an automatic reply that they are on holidays or in training and will be back in a week or two. Or that they pass your question on to someone else who send it to yet another person who in turn passes it on to a fourth person who replies, four weeks later The answer is available on the intranet. Just follow this link.

Does it feel familiar? It was for me, too. But no more.

Sharing and caring

Nowadays, I ask my question in a status update on our social intranet. Maybe I mention a couple of persons who I guess may have the answer or if I guess that someone in their network has it (as mentioning them makes my question appear also on their board, for their network) or in a suitable online community. Usually, I get an answer within an hour or two. I rarely have to wait longer than until the next day. I even share half finished sketches of presentations and documents, stating “I know that this isn’t quite correct and will appreciate any help to improve or any other views”. Such an amazing response I have received! From the foremost experts in the field among my 400.000+ colleagues. Compare that with “Johnny is on vacation and will be back in two weeks”. Every time, it feels as amazing and empowering to be able to get help, without even knowing who to ask. There always seems to be someone who knows, who has sufficient time or willingness to reach out to help. Admittedly, it does help to have a pool of many colleagues at hand, but the positive effects show also in smaller organizations. An open and helpful culture is more important to have than an ocean of colleagues. As is a culture where it is accepted that everybody cannot know everything. Asking is nothing to be ashamed of. Just imagine being able to close a deal or solve a problem with the help of a colleague who you might not know, but who knows what you’re facing and how to resolve it..

It may not even be necessary to get hold of the actual colleague. Often it is sufficient to find the knowledge and the experience they have shared earlier. Either intentionally through working transparently, sharing their documents, presentation and other whatsits. Or unintentionally through answering questions from others in the transparent way I’ve described above. The more transparently everybody works, the easier it becomes to find what you need to overcome the challenges. And you can always ask the author for explanations or supplementary information. We do not realize how much we do know and can share with intention. The rest surfaces when we help others.

With such support it doesn’t only become much easier to bounce back after a setback, but also challenging your limits becomes much easier too.

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By Pingswept (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0] Helping a struggling runner at Boston Marathon

Enablers and obstacles

As mentioned earlier, a condition for this to work is that you have a culture of transparency, helpfulness and acceptance that everybody cannot know everything, of generously sharing your work products and of communicating transparently. And, as a fundamental enabler, that you have a collaboration and communication platform that makes all of this possible and that, through design, encourages and supports transparency rather than closing up.

The obstacles include, of course, a culture where you don’t dare to admit shortcomings, a culture of “withheld knowledge gives power” and without a sense of all working towards a common goal. But also technology can be an obstacle. Questions and answers via email benefits nobody except those involved in the correspondence (plus it takes much longer as I mentioned earlier, or results in an overload of many parallel conversations). The replies can’t be reused by others faced with the same challenge, but they have to search again for the people in the know who, in turn, have to answer the same questions all over again. Shared drives and closed team rooms do not create open collaboration either. They may be beneficial for those with access, but for no-one else. How many other team rooms with similar content do you think there may be in a large organizations, do you think?

Additional benefits for the company

The benefits for employees, described earlier, benefit their employers too, obviously. Employees being able to deal with challenges benefits the company too, of course.

But there’s even more in it for the companies:

  • As long as work is done in the old style, knowledge keeps being locked up with the individual employee. It’s locked up in their heads, on their hard drive or in their mail conversations. What happens if they disappear? The head disappears. The hard drive usually gets erased and the email on the server usually only resurfaces if it’s needed in a legal context. Remaining intellectual capital = 0. If employees work transparently, though, share their work and answer questions transparently, the knowledge stays within reach for all to use also after they have left. The dependency on the individual employee is reduced.
  • In addition, since the knowledge is easily available for re-use and you can Like what you have appreciated, since you can see the number of downloads and so on, you can easily see a de facto standard emerge, based on the benefits and appreciation of peers. Not bad, either, I’d say.

Do you have experience of your own of the difference of searching for help and knowledge in the old fashioned way and of doing it in a transparent organisation? Either inside your company or externally? Maybe in your personal life? I’d appreciate reading about it in a comment.

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”.

 

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Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction

or, as Charles Darwin wrote “…survival of the fittest”, not “…of the strongest”

development of man

The words of Darwin have proven to apply not only in nature, but also in business life. Examples abound of companies going down because they didn’t realize that the world around them was changing or because they were too slow or rigid to adapt even if they did realize that the map had been redrawn.

This blog post is the second in a series of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees of communicate transparently and to collaborate online. You find the initial post here in English and here in Swedish “As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before”. The rest of the series, including this post, focus on each of the five key factors listed in that blog post:

As I wrote and exemplified in the initial post, the speed of change today is scary… or thrilling, depending on who and how you are. Either way, it’s frantic! And unpredictable. Through the internet and globalization, you can never know what the next big thing will be or from where it will come. Who would have believed, only two years ago, that the possibility of sending self-erasing messages between mobile phones would be the hottest thing around and generate a business valued at 10-20 billion USD? I’m referring to Snapchat. Or that Sub-Saharan Africa would be a Global leader in mobile payments?

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Many scouts = More and more alert feelers

In such an environment, having lightning-fast intelligence can be the difference between survival and succumbing, or flourishing. The challenge of the traditional methods is that the trends are old already when the printed report arrives on your desk. No, it’s better to learn from flock animals, to use the “wisdom of crowds”. The greater the number of scouts, the greater the chance of one of them noticing something relevant. Through the internet and public networks, every associate, business partner or customer is a potential trend scout who can identify new possibilities, ideas or threats.

This can be amplified, of course, but using tools for social analytics. However, in spite of the speed and power of those tools, they still depend on a limited team asking the right questions. Using the wisdom of crowds, you get as many scouts and analysts, all of them with some understanding of the company and the business.

But how do the observations reach the right person? and generate response?

Scouting is not enough. How can the scouts communicate their findings? This is where platforms for open communications and collaboration make the difference. Unlike companies using traditional methods for communication, where employees are stuck with email and their existing network of contacts, the scouts in a company using modern tools can instantly write an update in a relevant community, on their profile, on a profile of someone else (or all of the above) for all to see, comment and pass on to the right audience. Relevant business intelligence can spread as fast internally as bloopers and cute cats do on the public internet.

Once the intelligence have reached the relevant audience and they have decided on a suitable response, this response can spread just as fast throughout the organization – unchanged.

A telling example is how the global HR function of IBM did a 180° policy change in less than 24 hours, due to the widespread and vocal support of a 26-year old associate who complained in public about his Uber expenses not getting covered due to an internal policy. (Business Insider UK: How a 26-year old caused IBM to abolish its ban on Uber)

Benefits of personal agility for employees

Transparent communications and online collaboration doesn’t improve agility for companies alone, but also for their employees. The ample access to knowledge and experience opens up possibilities like never before to build your competence in areas you’re interested in or curious about, without having to ask for approval or budget. If you want to invest you own time, or time between tasks, is up to you, and the information is there to grab.

Transparency opens the possibility of showing what you’re made of, preferably simply by helping colleagues in areas you happen to be good at or have experience of, thereby building your reputation as not only knowledgeable, but helpful too. Suddenly you can get recognition for the expertise you have always had, but only your closest colleagues was aware of. Who knows which doors it may open?

The benefits come with use, not just from deploying a system

Naturally, implementing an system for online collaboration doesn’t automatically make everybody change their way of working. It makes it possible and easier. To make it happen takes a transformation effort in the organization. If you’re curious about how to drive such a transformation project, I suggest you read this white paper: “Best practices for establishing a new way to work

If you have more examples of organisations or individuals reaping benefits of online collaboration or of working transparently? Questions or objections? I encourage you to comment below.

Originally published in Swedish here, on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

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As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before

The world around us changes at a pace we haven’t experienced before. It’s harder than ever to know where we are headed. Exciting and stimulating – and nothing any one of us can change. I talk about the digital transformation.

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Just imagine working as agile as a murmuration of starlings! Copyright: Walter Baxter Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 2.0

Over the coming months, I will publish a number of blog entries, expanding on five important factors to succeed in this changing environment. Factors organizations can realize through changing their ways of working based on collaboration tools. I will touch on them one by one, both from the perspective of the organization and of the individual. The blog entries will be published at the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden in Swedish and here in English. The five factors are:

You’ll find an overview in this white paper, “The only constant is change”

Technology, business models, market preferences, communication habits, power balances, you name it. They all change rapidly and simultaneously. You have to stay  alert, agile and always informed with many and sensitive tentacles. We don’t need much time or effort to come up with examples of drastic changes, for better and for worse: Air BnB, Über, Kodak, Nokia, video rentals…

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Photo credit: William Warby on Flickr

But for decades, companies and organizations have focused on structuring, standardizing, streamlining and, to a large extent, eliminate “the human factor”. The result? Shiny system and processes that work efficiently, but which are static, insensitive and uninspiring.

It’s time to reintroduce people and positive human factors like creativity, engagement, flexibility and relations. To show that talking about the employees as “our most important resource” was earnest, not just empty words. Listen to employees, customers and partners. Engage them through including them and give them opportunity to leverage their entire potential, not only what the standardized job description says. Not just leverage, by the way, but grow their potential. It’s time to engage and inspire! I want to give people possibilities to communicate, collaborate, learn, share and help, easier than ever before. To find the people and the knowledge you need and to be able to show what you’re really made of, with minimal extra effort. All to the benefit of both people and organizations.

I don’t think it’s enough to be able to produce and manage pretty documents and presentations. What is important is to enable people to fill them with the best possible content.

What do you think? What makes work interesting? What brings out the best in you?

Originally published here in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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!