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

 

 

 

Social is something you are, not a tool you use

We’ve got all the tools implemented, but people don’t use them! What’s wrong?

Unfortunately, this is not too uncommon a statement. Organizations buy and install software for internal collaboration, pay the bill and then pray that staff will find them and use them just because they are there.

Sure, some curious enthusiasts may find the new “cool tools” but you will not reach widespread adoption for a very long time unless you supplement the social enablement with changes to the way the organization works and with communication and motivation for the employees.

Watching several sessions from IBM Connect in January on Livestream triggered me to summarize some input from there and adding some of my own.

The mindset you should encourage carries a set of characteristics:

Show trust in others to earn trust by others (and be worthy of trusting, of course) – Guy Kawasaki

All positive, productive relations and social interactions are based on mutual trust. The fastest way to gain the trust by others is to start displaying trust in them. This goes for companies trusting their customers (generous return policies to encourage trying of products as in Guy Kawasaki’s examples) as well as executives trusting their associates with not misusing the openness of social intranets.

Default to openness  – Chris from Lowe’s (sorry, I didn’t get his family name)

Is there a good reason to keep “it” under wraps? No? Then work “out loud” as Lowe’s called it. Let others see what you’re working on and what you have achieved. Save your documents as public files, make your bookmarks public, update your status frequently. If there is no reason to keep it to yourself, you may just as well let your work speak for you. And, you never know who may stumble over it and be able to help you improve it or get unstuck. At the same time, your work may be useful to someone else, increasing efficiency and maybe inspiring to new and better ways of doing things.

Default to “yes”Guy Kawasaki

Being positive pays back. If you respond positively when others ask you for help or favours (within your capacity of course – because not delivering on promises is not good for building trust). If you help out when you can, your network will help you out when you need it. Maybe not exactly the same person you helped out the other day, but since your positive attitude has been on public display, your “karma-account” will be positive.

Dialogue, not monologue

Monologues may communicate your experience or view to others, but they aren’t great for building relations. Just how popular is the guy at parties who keeps talking about himself and listens to nobody else? Just like offline social life, being social online is a matter of listening and responding. It’s a new medium for behaviours man has cultivated for centuries.

I love my network

It’s strange. I live my working life in the midst of what might be the world’s richest enclosed source of knowledge – the IBM social intranet. I don’t know for sure if it is the richest, but if anyone is ahead it cannot be that many. And yes, I wrote enclosed to exclude the public internet.

Yet, I find myself not looking for information as much as before. It’s there allright. I can search it and I get suggestions for interesting information based on my actions, tags I have used and that have been used to categorize me, communities I’m a member of and knowledge I have shared myself. I can even reduce the “content noise” using my friends as a filter (although we don’t use the expression friends, but the more neutral network contacts).

But in many cases I just ask.

I have actively and generously invited people to my network. Maybe even because we don’t claim to be friends but just contacts, we can be more generous in connecting. Currently I have built a network of 933 colleagues around the world, in all sorts of professions and at various levels of the hierarchy. Varying levels of activity too. The more the merrier is my parole. I have written it before, and I keep repeating my mantra: You never know who you can help or who can help you.

Well, last week I gave a keynote speech at a client workshop on Knowledge Management and went on to listen to their presentations and participating in discussions and breakout sessions for the rest of the day. Towards the end of the day, I was asked a technical question about if IBM Connections, the star of IBM collaboration software, could be implemented in a certain way. I didn’t know the answer.

At 18:45 (6:45 PM for you Americans 😉 I wrote the question on my board on the social intranet and then we went for a delicious dinner supplemented by a very nice Amarone (thank you very much, guys). Back to my room after dinner, I found that a colleague in Canada had written that he didn’t know the answer, but recommended me to ask another, named, colleague in USA (unknown to me). So I asked my question again – on this third person’s board – and did some other work in my hotel room. A short while later I checked and found that a fourth person (unknown to me too) had responded to my question on the board of person #3. I added a follow up question, got a swift reply by #4 that was followed after a while by a confirmation by #3 of what #4 had responded.

Within 4 hrs 10 minutes, my question was answered thanks to two, completely unknown helpful colleagues and a third who knew who to ask. (I did notice, though, that we shared some network contacts). The next morning I could supply an answer to the client and hopefully moved us closer to an interesting deal.

Referring back to my post on ROI for social intranets I just wonder, how do you calculate  the value of helpful colleagues like these?

Today I had a similar experience where I let this image speak for itself

Volunteers offering practical help within two hours
Thanks to Keigo and Jonny

So what’s the morale of my story?

We can talk forever about documents, repositories, structures, software and features. The bottom line is: It takes people to collaborate. You can never predict what people might need, nor what people may know. And even if you have access to the most magnificent technology imaginable, collaboration is a matter of corporate culture. It’s a mindset.

So what’s so great about social intranets?

If there is one thing almost all intranets have in common, it is that people complain about them. The appreciation of traditional intranets generally is somewhere on a scale between neutral and abysmal.

If you ask employees who have access to social intranets, they would rather be somewhere on the scale between neutral and extatic (at least on occasions).

Communalities of most traditional intranets are:

  • Information is spread down- or outwards in the organization
  • Content is created by a cadre of communication professionals
  • The editors constantly debate structure and editor access
  • Users have difficulties to find their way in the structure
  • And just as much difficultyto find stuff when searching
  • Much of the content is out of date
  • An ever-present question for the company is “How do we make people use the intranet?”. (The response usually is to make it the default start page for all browser installations)

So what about social intranets?

  • Content is spread in all directions by the people who know the topics, not by the people who know how to write about them
  • The creators of collaborative content don’t care too much about the big structure. Only about the substance. And everybody have access to create content (but not everywhere, though)
  • Structure is secondary, since content is found through searching, and by association with similar content and with people you trust
  • Search works much better since it is based not only on search engine “mechanics” but is boosted by peer recommendations and social bookmarks
  • Social intranets apply “Content Darwinism”. Almost all presentation is based on “recency of updating”. Hot topics and communities therefore float to the surface while inactive communities and stuff people aren’t interested in slowly sinks to the bottom. (It can still be found through searching for it though)
  • As the intranet is seen as valuable and relevant, people will want to use it. There is no more need to make them go there.

Of course, it cannot be ALL social. The most powerful tool is blending the traditional with social. The communications folks may give some screen real estate away, but increased exposure of what remains is likely to compensate with a healthy margin for the lost real estate.

But, won’t the staff waste valuable time socializing via the intranet? No way! I’m constantly amazed by how the same kind of features result in such different uses on each side of the firewall. Or would you consider it a waste if:

  • people find experts to help them solve problems fast and with proven solutions
  • instead of re-inventing the wheel for the umpteenth time, people find documents from others that they can adapt to their current needs
  • employees band together in communities to share and build common knowledge on topics of professional and corporate value
  • knowledge is unlocked from employees hard drives, brains and desk drawers, shared and made available for the common good of the company… and for the future – an aspect to take into account in these days of retiring babyboomers and shortening average tenure
  • and – much needed in many a company – the ability of employees to network and communicate in all directions bridge geographic and organizational boundaries helping to overcome the frequent suboptimization stemming from organizational protectionism.
  • the criss-crossing of networks and communication generates chance meetings of people with other people or with unexpected information, a well known, proven and sought for environment for creativity and invention.

For me, it is very simple: the ability of implementing social intranets is the possibility for companies and organizations to show that “Our Employees are our Most Valuable Resource” weren’t just empty words.

Network value = People x Relations

Whatever value you look for in your network, socializing, improving your knowledge, finding job opportunities or finding a spouse, the headline formula stays valid: the value of your network depends on who (and how many) are in your network and what kind of relationship you have with them.

Just having 168 friends on Facebook doesn’t bring you closer to any target whatsoever if you don’t nurture your relationship with them.

So how do you nurture relations online? There are some simple basics:

  • Standard: Help them to know who you are through your status updates
  • Stronger: Respond and comment on what they share (Simply, we appreciate more to get feedback on our stuff to reading just one more status update by someone else)
  • Share generously (I don’t mean all of your party pictures! Of your personality, knowledge and helping hands)

Regarding the “People” component of the formula, only you can know who are the best people to have in your network. But I do have a view on “how many”: The more, the merrier. Why? Three simple words: “You never know….” as in:

  • Who might have the answer to your question
  • Who will know someone you need to get hold of
  • Who may inspire you to make good choices
  • Who may put a smile on your face