Why knowledge management is like herding cats

It struck me quite recently:

Knowledge management shows some uncanny similarities with herding cats

The moment you try to get a whole company to embrace knowledge sharing, storage and the like, you just know at least one cat will scoot off under the sofa and another will claw its way up the curtains. And that’s before you reveal you prepared a nice B-A-T-H for them ūüėČ

Interior with cats

Interior With Cats – Amsterdam Museum Collection (Willet Holthuysen)

Previous IT (tool) projects thought to support knowledge management often delivered digital archives where knowledge either went to die or refused to show up at all.

People who still ‘do KM’ focus on separate activities that should amount to a more mature way of handling knowledge.¬†They also typically¬†try to instill¬†the basics of a new attitude towards knowledge in¬†one team after another –¬†dealing with one cat at a time.

Why is it so hard to get people to take knowledge seriously enough to share, store, and acquire it in a structured way?

Let’s go back to where the trouble starts.

1. The nature of knowledge

The point about¬†knowledge is that it has little in common with concepts like truth.¬†Your knowledge is what¬†you know about the world and bits of that world.¬†Personal knowledge is by default incomplete, and in large part inaccurate, irrelevant, and possibly obsolete (and an information specialist’s nightmare).

2. You can’t manage what’s in people’s heads

Think about yourself for a moment. You can barely manage what’s in your own head. So-called ‘critical thinking’ doesn’t seem to start even until the age of 8. Your own most unshakeable ‘truths’ were probably instilled in you before that age. If a situation gets awkward, and you catch yourself talking nonsense, remind yourself it could well be your inner 5-year-old talking. Surely that’s a great reason to snap out of it already ūüėČ

3. Knowledge management does (not) equal a lot of things

Crystallized applied knowledge that results from any key process in your organization is in essence your archive. Most organizations are required to store this kind of information for some years.

Then there’s basically know-how, know-what and know-who:

  • Knowing the best way to get things done (procedural knowledge).
  • Knowing the essential and other useful facts about your organization, its peers and competitors, et cetera. Who did what in a similar situation? (archive)
  • Your network as a part of the organizations ‘relation grid’. Who has had contact with whom, when, what topic? And so on. (customer database)

And there is content resulting from research or activities conducted by your organization. Which is not generally seen as archive, but (perhaps for that very reason)¬†it can be notoriously hard to determine what content your organization has produced in its outlying regions¬†ūüėČ

There are more elements to knowledge, but they’re not often the major focus of KM: that’s trying to stop knowledge from walking out the door.

I think it’s time to pull the rabbit out of the hat…

Possible motivators to start managing knowledge

  1. Responsibility: Here’s all this knowledge sitting in my head, took years to collect, don’t get hit by a bus now…
  2. A love for teaching: What’s the point of gathering knowledge if you don’t intend to share it?
  3. More time for challenging tasks: Here I am instructing new employees again… I’ve explained¬†the same thing¬†4 times this week. Got to write the basics down. Hopefully then they’ll only come to me for the complicated stuff.

These are my personal reasons for wanting to share knowledge. Starting with the last potential motivation: I did record most, and before I left a previous employer, all the knowledge I had about some vital procedures. And having them documented somewhere really helped me and the company. Documenting procedures was recognized as important in making processes less dependent on the good health and availability of¬†employees. Part time employees tend to be more understanding in these matters ūüôā

How to avoid beating potential knowledge sharers into submission

Would you encourage people to benefit from sharing their knowledge freely? Would you help them share their knowledge in a way that suits them? Getting buy-in from everyone means you need to sit down and figure out (together with them if possible) what is important to them and recognize what obstacles they see. At this stage it’s so easy to slip into the ‘expert’ mode and tell them how to solve their issues. Or rather: their company’s issues. Don’t!
This is where your knowledge-of-the-world meets theirs. Try to understand the picture they are painting for you. Recognize your own urge to take over – stay in listening mode. Identify the knowledge sharer’s needs. Perhaps they need to know it’s official that they can spend 10% of their time as a mentor. Perhaps they’re more comfortable being interviewed about their knowledge than to document it all in some system. Or they’d love to ‘teach’ new employees if only someone would ask!

Sometimes all there is to herding cats is to put down a bowl of milk.

More reading (found via LinkedIn: Gurteen Knowledge Management community):

I hope you enjoyed today’s post! Please add your thoughts about knowledge, management, and the art of cat herding in a comment!

Money and the infinite pursuit of innovation

Having a couple of million dollars in your bank account takes the urgency out of your drive to innovate… Just last Tuesday I ran into this piece of Stanford research. It shows that an initial public offering (IPO) on¬†the stock market¬†has a negative impact¬†on the¬†level of innovation in a company. I get that. Being rich might even make a lot of bloggers lazy ūüėČ

But.
I wonder where true inventors¬†go after they leave such a company. Do they spend the rest of their lives hanging out by the pool side? Somehow I don’t think so. So why do they leave? An IPO – or the presence of money – seems to cause a shift in a company’s priorities away from creativity. In this post I will explore the issue (without suggesting I did any kind of thorough research myself).

Money Creativity Matrix

IPOs seem to cause a shift to urgency (left) at the expense of R&D activities

Why do innovators leave after an IPO?

At one point in my career I was working at a, well not a start-up because it was a couple of years old, but still a company in the early pioneering stage. Characteristics:

  • Most people around are actively trying to improve the product, or they’re helping out on the stuff that needs to get done.
  • No one gets excited over quarterly reports, but they do get wowed by anything that will make the product easier or more fun to use because everyone wants people to know it and love it and, yes, buy it too.
  • The bottom line is that there is no budget but you’re allowed to tinker. If you have an idea, you check with your boss (the owner/entrepreneur) and he may well give you permission to invest your time, energy, and intelligence. So long as the¬†dull must-do¬†tasks are¬†taken care of¬†too.

Creativity scare #1: investors’ risk adversity

The moment IPO and suchlike is around the corner this all changes. Inventors become the engineering department. That may sound like an important part of the company, but more and more people within the company get interested in things like marketing and quality control and business process management. Which basically means more rules.¬†It means that¬†if you are really excited about something you thought up, you need to make sure¬†you’re talking to the right person by the coffee machine or risk:

  • watching their eyes glaze over as they say “Oh – yeah. That’s great, really great”.
  • having them say stuff like¬†“I’m not sure that’s¬†allowed/safe actually”.

That’s exactly the kind of situation that might, apart from no longer having to worry about money, cause this:

“I find that the quality of innovation produced by inventors who remained at the firm declines following the IPO and key inventors are more likely to leave.” (Shai Bernstein)

Key inventors – that doesn’t sound like people who were in it just for the money. These are the born tinkerers.

Innovations that do pass the risk-and-legal test may have been compromised at an early stage – any part¬†deemed risky is replaced by add-ons to bits that were invented at an earlier stage.¬†It seems that investors want you to do what you’ve proved yourself to be good at, only more of it, and without risky adventures now that their money is involved. Think sequels ūüôā

Creativity scare #2: a sense of urgency

Marketing talk on its own is unlikely to scare innovators away – start-ups all try to come up with a viable product. What else is there? An innovator is motivated by curiosity – wanting to find out how things work, how problems can be solved, products might be improved…

A shift in¬†your company’s mindset from opportunities to threats¬†(to the investors’ money, for example) will lead to¬†decisions based on¬†a sense of urgency. Especially if you have the money to act immediately – you find yourself¬†buying a company that has the necessary tech rather than wasting time trying to figure it out yourself.¬†Added effect is that¬†such an action¬†knocks out a potential competitor, or allows you to effectively monopolize a couple of relevant patents.
Invest wisely – don’t gamble.

How to pull off the combination of money AND the pursuit of creativity

There are at least two things you can do to safeguard creative processes in your company:

  1. I found this sentence: “Firms with more entrenched managers, whose greater job security makes them less likely to be sensitive to market pressures, experience a smaller decline in innovation novelty, and interestingly, their inventors are less likely to leave the firm.” I could translate this as “Firms that don’t get completely taken over by shareholders don’t scare their inventors away as much.” Make sure your company has solid management before even considering going to the stock exchange.
  2. Don’t interfere with creative processes by throwing risk and legal stuff in at an early stage. Let innovators tinker and give them credit for being good at it.¬†This is¬†what companies like Google understand. Inventors, while liking the idea of having enough money to live a comfortable life, need to know they are allowed to tinker (part of their time). There’s nothing quite like someone asking themselves “I wonder if it’s possible to… How about if I try…” and taking off. This is ‘flow’ for inventors. Mess with¬†that and you should not be surprised if¬†your inventors pack up and leave.

If you don’t like the sound of ‘letting them tinker’, you need to accept that your top innovators will turn elsewhere to do what they do best.

Source: Research paper No. 2126 “Does Going Public Affect Innovation?” Shai Bernstein, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, December 2012.

P.S.: I just found myself wondering how this relates to blogging vs. corporate blogging. What do you think?

I hope you found this post of interest! Please add your thoughts about innovation, creativity, and tinkering in general in a comment Рwhat else could you do to keep inventors on board?

4 steps to turn your business (more) social-minded

Sure, social business has to do with content, and with content marketing. It’s an aspect¬†I’m definitely interested in.¬†But¬†content – or a perceived lack of it – is not the root cause of resistance to social business. It’s this:

Social business means change.

If you try to change today’s organizations there are some common hurdles involving IT, organizational structure and ultimately psychology. In this post I’ll give you 4 simple steps to start edging towards social anyway, knowing you’ll tackle¬†each hurdle – when you’re ready.

First let’s take a quick glance at each of the 3 hurdles I’m talking about:

  • Firstly, every change turns into an IT project. Any change to an existing process means redesigning the process¬† – and then checking how soon the software that’s supposed to help you do your job can be adjusted accordingly. Until that happens, your precious software will enforce its own logic on your daily work.
  • Secondly, new activities need to compete with the existing ones. The teams and people who have already gained a foothold inside your organization tend to take up all of the available space, budget, and time reserved for meetings. Anything new is perceived as yet another task when everybody is already pressed for time.
  • Finally, new concepts need to ‘conquer’ established practices.

4 steps towards a social business

The whole target-mindedness in marketing departments is a major issue for anyone who would like to suggest a different way of doing things. Social business advocates are not the first to run into this brick wall.

The predominant force within established (marketing) departments is to nail every new idea down by claiming it – and any available budget – immediately, then:

  • put it into a corner,
  • put one person on it and
  • consider the subject covered.

Do correct me if I’m wrong by being too cynical. I realize I’ve read a lot of Dilbert ūüėČ

4 key steps towards a social business

Here are a few things you can do to get started. It’s important to start with at least a bit of awareness, then try integrating ‘social’ into¬†single tasks before taking it further.

1. Conquer the psychological hurdle – step by step

Let employees (including you)¬†get social with the instruction to learn as much as they can to find ways to use social media in their (daily) work. Use this as a conversation starter in workshops to raise awareness of the differences between private and business communication online. Find out for what business purposes employees (including you) in different roles could use social media. And importantly, translate employee experiences into stuff that improves your team’s and company’s performance.

2. Integrate social media into one or two daily tasks

Anything new will only stand a chance if it’s integrated (as a first step, mind you) into some aspect of daily work.

After you figure out (see #1) how social media can add value for you and your team by making some aspect of your daily work easier, better, possibly faster you still need to determing at what exact point and in what way you will use social media as a natural part of the process.

3. Find a new use for old (and new) habits

It doesn’t take much of your time to share stuff you’ve already found, read and reviewed. By sharing interesting articles you:

  • give more people the chance to pick up on important developments.
  • deliver hand-picked content
  • show them that your team has access to content, knows what’s relevant, … contains professionals who know what’s happening.

3. Evaluate with care

After at least a month, have a first ‘light’ evaluation. Have you needed to tweak the initial idea? Does your method seem to work? If so, you’re ready for a one-month (minimum!) trial to see if you can truly integrate ‘social’ into your daily routine. When that month is over it’s time to evaluate the process (your social routine) rather than the results. That comes next and may take a couple of months.

And what about IT?

As far as I’m concerned, software for anything comes in after you’ve figured out what exactly you want to do without it but can’t. It’s no use implementing some great and costly tool that’ll¬†pin your daily workflow to it like an unfortunate butterfly before you even know what your workflow would look like in your new social business.

That’s it for social business this year – if you want to add your thoughts you’re welcome to do so in a comment, and I still promise to reply to every non-spammy¬†contribution¬†ūüôā

Social business homework: all employees are not (yet) equal

Do you know the one thing that amazes me the most about social business? It’s the way it doesn’t seem to take off even though¬†your boss¬†says it’s a good idea ūüėČ

Social Business Homework: all Employees are not (yet) equal

Social Business Homework (based on OCAL image)

Of course it really helps if your CEO and/or CFO and others are blogging or tweeting and generally showing their support of social media use by actually being present on them…

Your company may even have a number of employees dedicated to filling social media channels with fresh branded content or teaching others how to use social media for business purposes.

But there’s a snag somewhere I think – wouldn’t things go a little faster if there were not? So where exactly is the hurdle we need to jump?

The perceived value of social media for business

One issue is perception. My impression is that in many parts of businesses, processes are rolling on like they always did with social media seemingly adding little value. But I happen to have done a bit of archiving in my time ūüėČ and here’s the thing:

  • an archive contains process-bound content. That content is produced as a result of you doing your work. This is valuable information which people may want to know about at a later time, so you need to store it for a number of years.
  • on the other hand, there is information which you may have read to inform yourself about a topic in order to do your work well. Stuff you need to read up is not considered of direct value for the process. So you can chuck it out whenever you like (well, after a year).

This perceived difference in value affects decisions as to who is allowed or expected to use social media as a regular part of their job.

Social business homework: all employees are not (yet) equal

Depending on where you are in your organization you’ll be able to use social media for different purposes. Some of them add value directly and some indirectly.

  • For people with a lot of professional connections on LinkedIn – I mean connections they actually know and have spoken with – and for whose job a large network is essential it’s relatively easy to use LinkedIn to benefit their company. If they need to come up with new leads, they check who in their network is familiar with the topic or has connections that bridge the gap between their own company and the potential customer’s business.
  • Making new connections is easy on Twitter, but not everyone wants to engage in conversations. Finding people with similar interests is great though. If they’re in your industry or in the same region as well you may at some point meet up at an event and add your new connection on LinkedIn (or Facebook if that’s your preferred place for contact).
  • Another thing: I use Twitter to look up recent posts/articles on subjects I need to read up on. Actually Twitter is the reason I’m not using search machines exclusively anymore for finding relevant information about anything regarding social media, social business, content marketing. Because social media marketers and content marketers are out in force on social media ūüôā

My point is that each way of using social media adds value – but that value is not equally visible. And nothing you do counts unless you make sure people notice you’re getting results doing it.

Accepting that using social media can work

How to integrate social media into your work:

  1. Examine your job and identify one or two tasks, where social media may add value.
  2. Make sure you know exactly at what point and to what purpose you will be using social media.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate. If it means you “search database X, Google it, and check Twitter” for information about a topic, fine.
  4. Keep it up for at least a month, because apparently that’s how long it takes us to form new habits.
  5. Then check the results and ask yourself if you’ve developed new methods that allow you to get the most from your new way of working.
  6. Make a note of any tangible result you got through social media.
  7. Review your daily activities again for other tasks that may benefit from using social media.
  8. If there aren’t any, fine. One or two tasks are a great start. Don’t rush.

The best way to prove the value of social media for business would be if you could tell your manager that you found that excellent article/that lead/a piece of information through a search on Twitter or a tip from a Facebook friend or a LinkedIn connection… if that leads to raised eyebrows you can always add that your study at X has given you an excellent network of professionals in your field ūüėČ

As far as I’m concerned you’re ‘social media-enabled’ as an employee when your manager (and the level above that) accepts that you use social media for some aspects of your work because it helps you get the results they need.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that accepting the fact that social media can contribute to almost anyone’s work is crucial – and not always straightforward.

Please add your thoughts about social business, social media, and any related topic in a comment – I promise I’ll respond to any non-spammy contribution as I value your input ūüôā

Social business: what we need is a plan

If you’re interested in ‘going social’ you need to know why your company should do so. Do you have an answer ready?

Good ūüôā

In this post I will ask a few (impertinent) questions and hope they help you decide what to do about ‘social’. In other words, my aim is to make you think. All right, now I’m in trouble ūüėČ

Social business: what we need is a plan

Chocolate inside and out
Social business mixes social media in – inside and out.

While reading some recent articles I noticed that several¬†of them¬†mention the ‘checklist approach’ to social media (I’m borrowing the¬†word from¬†Steven van Belleghem).

It’s a tactical approach: are you on Twitter? Check. Facebook? Check. So you’re ready. Right?

When you ask¬†businesses ‘why’ they are on social media, chances are they’ll tell you something¬†like “the whole world is there, so our customers¬†are somewhere in there with the rest of the world”.

I’m not arguing. But that’s just¬†one step on a long journey.

How does your content strategy connect with your social media strategy?

Yup, this non-strategist is talking strategy for once Рbut only to ask you more questions.

How will you connect with (not just ‘reach’)¬†people on social media – or even on your own blog or web site?

Does every piece of content you create¬†help your customers in¬†some (small) way? When you read an article it really helps if it’s well-written and either amusing, or interesting, or both. Add a comment below if you disagree with me ūüôā

You need people within your company to want to achieve this connection with customers. What value you aim to¬†offer to customers should be clear to all. It shouldn’t be up to each individual employee (or team) to imagine where the link¬†between¬†the ‘top blah’ (vision, mission statement) and¬†your company’s customers might be found.

How will becoming a social business help you help your customers?

An article by Adi Gaskell refers to a recent report by IBM stating that three main approaches have proved successful as starting points for the journey to social business heights:*

  • Creating valued customer experiences
  • Driving workforce productivity and effectiveness
  • Accelerating innovation.

Whichever starting point you choose, you need to integrate ‘social’ into the entire process. It’s not something a few isolated employees can do for you. It takes a plan that involves everyone at some stage, in order to achieve anything above the bare minimum.

In other words, if you want to become a ‘social business’, social media is not the cherry on¬†your chocolate cake. It’s not just the chocolate that glistens on the outside and makes you want to eat until you burst. It’s firstly the cocoa you mixed into the dough. And it’s the chocolate icing. And, possibly, it’s also the cherry – although that’s optional. You get my drift ūüôā

Social media creates valued customer experiences

Funnily enough, I wrote most of the above before reading a post which to me seems the perfect inspirational example when it comes to customer experiences (even if you feel there’s no way you’ll ever measure up to this stuff).** Read it, enjoy it, ask yourself what is in there that you could use in some way. How will your use of social media make a difference to your customers?

A few thoughts about social business Рand why you need a plan for it

  1. You can’t add social media to an existing business as an afterthought and expect to become a social business.
  2. You need a plan so you don’t get distracted by the latest hype all the time.
  3. Without a plan, you could end up out of breath by going nowhere at all.

Social media¬†has been called ‘disruptive’. I take that to mean it creates a healthy imbalance in places where everything used to stay more or less the same. You need to think about business basics, and see how social media fit into your business.

You need a plan to let social media influence your entire mix of activities in a structured way.

Social business is not a thing –¬†it’s an emergent property of the way¬†you handle the potential of social media.

References

* Adi Gaskell, IBM reveals the secrets to social business success, Business2Community, November 10. Adi refers to this report by IBM, The business of social business: what works and how it’s done.

** Matt Wilson, 3 essentials that power Disney Parks’ social media strategy. PR Daily, November 12.

Hoping I’ve managed to make you think, even for a moment, about the essence of social business – if so, please let me know by using the comment box below!

Social business process: tying your teams together

When reading and hearing about social business, what¬†is your image of what¬†its ‘ambassadors’ want? My impression is that they want change before anything else. Unfortunately, ‘tearing down silos’ in large organizations like many innovative minds want isn’t popular with the people who will be doing the answering if things go wrong.

I agree with¬†the¬†ambassadors’ plea¬†to get a good number of people involved in social media for business¬†– and train them properly: in possibilities AND in risks. But how do you avoid getting yourself into a complete mess?

The case for a unified social media approach

I’ve talked before about the way marketing may well be up to the ‘social challenge’ but that it doesn’t help much if your customers get stuck elsewhere in your organization. Getting one team onto a level that shouts ‘social business!’¬†and neglecting the others can be worse than… Well I might say¬†“doing nothing” but let’s settle¬†for …starting quietly and watching what happens. Let me give you an example.

Social Business Process

Social business process: where do you lead your customer?

Andrew Grill recently had a dismal experience in the world of ‘4G’. In a post this week he gave the issue some thought in terms of social business. He refers to his earlier post “Mind the social media gap” in which Dave Evans tells us:

“Marketing sells the expectation, marketing creates demand, … Operations delivers.”

The social media gap is the gap between expectation and delivery. Any kind of gap between the two drives conversation. The good part is it works whenever you do better than you promised (unless you promised way too little). But the reverse is also true.

In the case Andrew describes, marketing was clearly so far ahead of the game in terms of social media that this led him to expect a great (social customer) experience on every level. But operations wasn’t half ‘social’ enough. Andrew¬†lists all the things that went wrong in the ‘support’ phase, thus giving an excellent to-do for anyone who seriously wants to go social.*

It¬†might have been less of a problem if Andrew had not been a social media ‘native’, or if support had been able to get hold of someone who could actually manage the support process via social media. The way things went, the whole company looked bad.

The conclusion has got to be that you can’t limit yourself to training¬†just the marketing team.

Tying teams together: sales to support

Perhaps you don’t get many questions¬†via social media right now, at least from customer services.** What¬†you could do to get a clear picture of customer feedback is¬†contact a few people from different teams:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • After sales
  • Customer service

Now I won’t go all ‘agile business’ on you – classic Prince II project management tells you to “manage transitions”. It’s your job to find out where valuable customer information falls into the cracks of your organization, and then seal the cracks. If the only viable way to seal the cracks is to redesign the whole process, fine, that’s your next step.

First you can check:

  1. If marketing or sales are actually taking care of part of customer feedback via social media Рbecause they have established a presence there.
  2. Whether all feedback is addressed efficiently.
  3. If anything is referred from one team to the other.

The least you can expect is to¬†get some idea of what everyone is doing, and whether or not different parts of your¬†organization are¬†showing the same ‘face’ to your customers.

Extending the ol’ sales funnel

Information from any customer-focused team should be accessible both ways: up and down the customer process. The ‘normal’ way would be for customers to get ‘handed down’ the process from marketing through sales to after sales. In case of issues, customers are then handed¬†into the care of¬†customer service.

But anything which comes in after sales should be added to the existing customer account, and any kind of feedback – positive or negative – on the sales process should¬†travel back up and get serious attention and follow-up. Don’t let complaints just sit in your customer database – or worse, a separate customer service database. Check¬†a number of¬†complaints¬†for clues that point toward underlying issues, and address those.

Working your way toward a social business process

What I would like you to consider is this:

  1. give teams a reason for working together,
  2. add a structure like regular meetings and calls to exchange information.
  3. enhance a starting cross-teams trend by providing any common support (unit) you can think of.

Even if you have a clear picture of where you want to go,¬†you need to¬†look for¬†transitional stages¬†that ‘work’ every step of the way.

One last addition: today’s interview with Frank Eliason of Citibank reminds us that customers don’t want “social services” – they want you to get things right the first time. If your cross-team session hints at problems, use that knowledge to make sure no customer will ever need your customer services.

Literature:

* Andrew Grill, Had EE Been a Social Business They Might Have Survived Launch Issues – Socialmediatoday, November 5.

** EMarketer, Social is still a small part of customer services. November 7

Further reading:

  • Amanda Nelson, 60 smart social media marketing tips, Radian6/Salesforce Marketing Cloud Blog, November 6. Amanda serves¬†up a¬†long list devided into aspects of social media marketing you need if you’re to call yourself a social business. One aspect is Workflow and Automation, where you’ll find some of the things I mention in this post.
  • In case you are a Microsoft/Yammer user: Yammer Announces Deeper Microsoft Dynamics CRM Integration – Microsoft.com, October 29.

Feel free to share your thoughts about what a social business process could look like in your organization!

Social business people: a grass-roots movement

In the past few years social media have become so commonplace you could say they’re boring if¬†we didn’t find something of value in them:¬†our networks.¬†Our access to heaps of information and more friends, acquaintances and complete strangers¬†on another continent than we ever had contact with before has had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way¬†we view¬†our lives and¬†our jobs.*

A grassroots movement

This new perception is trickling into the fabric of every organization – through us – through all the individuals who show up for work every day. We’re oozing global networks from every pore. One side-effect may be that employees who’re not allowed to be on social media check their Facebook updates when they visit the bathroom, and get notably upset if they drop their smartphone into the toilet.

You don’t want that sort of thing. It’s bad for productivity, and it doesn’t smell pleasant either. By now,¬†most businesses have a social media policy. The level of strictness varies widely.

How do people turn into social business people?

Social Business People
Social (Business) People [OCAL image]

Our present-day collective experiences don’t translate directly into employees being ambassadors for their own company. Not even the ones who are actually proud of working for or with you.

It didn’t work that way offline, and it doesn’t do so online.

So how can you help people adjust to a social business role that comes more or less naturally to them?

How to make¬†social¬†media¬†‘work’ for¬†you

This may either sound completely silly, or so obvious you can’t believe I’m bothering to say it. I’ll risk it anyway. Have you considered:

  • taking inventory to see what types of people work for your organization;
  • thinking up ways to ‘market’ the uses of social media for business to each group? How would you approach someone from accounting, or in HR?

I’m talking classical market research and segmentation here.¬†My next paragraph is for you if you lack time, resources, knowledge,¬†or interest¬†to get involved in¬†‘real’ market research.

Your people in the picture: cutting a few corners

Sit down with a few colleagues. List all your teams or departments. Then jot down every conceivable prejudice you could have about¬†each team.¬†I’ll¬†help you get started with¬†two unresearched examples ūüôā

Accounting:

  1. maniacs for details. Never challenge them on details, unless you value emails longer than this post ūüėČ
  2. cautious types: will always come up with rules we might be breaking. Share half a profile on social media – if they’re there.
  3. allergic to marketing talk which seems all promise and no accountability, unless they actually know responsible-sounding marketing people (what are the odds?)

Human Resources:

  1. will talk all day just for the sake of communicating.
  2. tech dummies. If a printer breaks down in HR the mechanic will find half a dozen people discussing how they have no idea what to do about it.
  3. allergic to technical explanations.

Don’t forget your own team, if only for the fun of it – or to avoid being unfair to others. Establish a rule of no rules and you should have an amusing¬†and productive session ūüėČ

Next up would be to find out what’s true of all the stuff you’ve collected, or you skip that step and work out an approach for every group. What characteristics and natural affinities¬†in each group can you use? What issues do you need to address?**

Use your¬†people’s strengths

Anyone who wants to turn a company into a social business by influencing the employees should assess people’s strengths and ambitions¬†and build on those:

  • Support¬†people who want to help others by making room for peer2peer support;
  • Train¬†people who want to represent your company to guide online conversations.
  • Help people with a passion for reading and writing find subjects to write about, and train their writing skills.***

I’d like to conclude with a¬†few¬†tips for conversations in an advisory role:

  1. Make sure you know what you want from the conversation: are you checking your assumptions (or prejudices), or finding out what skills and ambitions people have that you could use in a future ‘social business’?
  2. Clarify what you want to achieve by asking questions, and why. Especially if you’re in a company that has prohibited social media use in the past,¬†you¬†had better¬†come¬†up with¬†a good and honest reason.
  3. Practice serious listening.
  4. Don’t offer to fix anything – this¬†tip is aimed at tool-selling specimens ūüôā

Good luck, and let me know what else you’d like me to talk about!

Further reading:

* In case you missed the introduction to my ‘social business’ writing project, here’s my post from last Friday.

** There is any number of books about personality types and¬†communication styles. One I’m familiar with is Management Drives (scroll down for the English text). Knowing a little about the subject may help you in conversations.

***Lou Hoffman wrote about writing skills, Experimentation in Content Marketing Offers Promise of Competitive Advantage, November 4, Business2community.

Please share this post if you found it interesting, or leave your thoughts about social business people and must-read articles in a comment below РI will reply to any (non-spammy) comment!

Social business organization: elements of change

Since I started to write about social business and agile business, I’ve had some feedback¬†(thank you¬†Twitter) that said something on the line of “useful stuff – like to read more”. Lucky me – I’ve discovered I have a lot more to say. So much in fact that it’s never going to fit in one post.

In this post I’ll go¬†into a bit of organization history and the present-day trends and I’ll tell you how I propose to deal with the topic of social business.

Business organization in theory

History is a wonderful thing so long as¬†you don’t have to live it. If you don’t believe me, imagine life without toothpaste. But here’s the thing: we do live history. At least many of us do – we work in organizations that are too big for us. How’d that happen?

Social Business Organization - Elements of Change

What’s your view of change?

In any group of people it will soon be obvious that some people have different affinities and skills than others.

In larger-scale businesses (let’s say in the¬†Industrial Age)¬†it made perfect sense¬†for successful, growing organizations to form teams and departments that could function relatively independently from each other.

In management literature the term ‘span of control’ is used for the number of people any manager (or whatever he/she is called) can manage effectively. Managers were given¬†a group of people they could actually oversee, and the ‘managees’ didn’t have to deal with 200 colleagues every hour of the day¬†– just people in their team, and their manager. In terms of organization theory that must have seemed very efficient.*

Unfortunately, these silos have some major drawbacks, like a lack of communication between teams and valuable information falling into a crack somewhere. We’ve learned over time to deal with the status quo by using work-arounds of every description and ignoring the bits we can’t solve.

But in our current, information-overloaded society these negative side-effects of the nature of our organizations are no longer something we can safely ignore. And we don’t have to.

Technology-driven changes and your business organization

Technology has reached a point where it can actually help overcome the age-old problem of working in an organization its ‘inhabitants’ and its customers can’t oversee. But these new ‘social’ solutions need a different mindset from all those involved. And at some point some CXO is going to have to decide to ditch some of the old structures, procedures and software¬†to make way for the new social working method.

Most businesses stop short of that, settling instead for add-ons and plug-ins. The thing about plug-ins – as any self-hosted blogger will tell you – is that some of them make your blog run a whole lot slower…

My credentials as a social business or change management pro

Here goes:

  • Affinity with the subject: check
  • Any kind of topic-related study: started with an introduction on organization theory, been interested ever since.
  • Strategic role within a company: nope
  • Strategic change management experience: nope
  • IT implementation: yes, on the user side of the equation (functional requirements).

I basically know what doesn’t work, and I have some ideas about why something will or will not take off the way you’d like it to. Standard procedures for supporting or facilitating online collaboration on any level, of any description don’t lead to adoption by employees of its own accord. A lot of tech stuff has got so many handy options,¬†giving it¬†to your average employee is like¬†handing a Swiss army knife to your granny and telling her to open the door with it. It won’t work in a hurry – unless your granny had an unusual career that is.

Elements of change: proposed subjects

There are many ways to start changing your business, and I’m sure every single one of them has its challenges. To increase my chances of writing sensible information about each aspect, and hopefully add some useful articles for further reading, I will deal with one view in each post:

  1. Bottom up – employees are changing. I’ve written a post that addresses some issues. How do you enhance and direct changes in your workforce?
  2. Top down – strategy talk. I’ll get into it when the time comes.
  3. Manager level – this is actually a part of larger organizations that should not be overlooked. It’s more interesting than it looks from the outside!
  4. Tying your teams together. Buzz has it that you should be tearing down the silos inside your organization. You’ve just read a paragraph or two in which I stated that those silos used to have a function. Like it or not, they’re hard to get rid of. The fact that most articles about social business are¬†focused on marketing¬†led to my writing my “Back to Front” post.

* Literature I’m loosely referring to in this post:

  • The organization classic: Mintzberg on Management
  • Steven van Belleghem: The Conversation Company (which I mentioned in an earlier post before reading it)
  • And there are any number of great titles out there¬†that focus on the role of conversations within the confines of your organization, like Crucial Conversations and Conversations for Change.

The central issue I’d like to ponder is what it takes from all those involved to adapt to the changes which look set to turn your organization into a social business.

Do you have thoughts or must-read literature you’d like to share? How do you view your own organization – and your¬†role¬†in it¬†–¬†in light of the whole social business buzz?

Business dynamics: big data and social media are changing us

A few days ago¬†I found an article titled: “Being Agile Is the New Paradigm for Marketing”. It could have been a quote from Dilbert’s manager, but (alas) no.

I’d run into the term ‘agile marketing’ before. Since it¬†sounded like a possible¬†trend I decided to dig just a little bit. In this post you’ll find¬†the results of¬†my amateur archaeology.

Dig into the subject of agile business

Trend: BYOS

A few points from the ‘agile marketing’ article:

  • “Agile” is a method from software development which basically means you’re more flexible than in traditional project management. (I’d say that¬†shouldn’t be too hard, especially in IT projects.)
  • Recent changes in social media make it necessary for us to¬†develop an agile business model. I mentioned a few of those changes in an earlier post.
  • We should become more¬†flexible since¬†rapid changes in¬†technology can impact business to the extent that it, too needs to change – if it’s to survive.
  • This calls for changes to the business model. Everything seems to hinge on technology here.

Marketers are supposed to be able to spot trends and write about them, so it’s no surprise to find oodles of articles about marketing trends.

Is it just marketing going all hoity-toity about discovering what will turn out to be the next management fad? Just a silly question maybe¬†ūüôā but let’s see if there’s a glimmering of an answer out there.

A glance at Twitter shows talk about the #hrtecheurope event (October 25th): Josh Bersin gives his audience a tour of, yes, #agilebusiness Рand what it means for HR.

A few disruptive changes seen in technology and society are:

  1. Social media
  2. Big data
  3. My personal favorite: people have changed (as a result of access to social media and huge amounts of information)

Organizations need to adapt by becoming highly flexible, which means quick decisions supported by technology to deal with ‘big data’.

What it also means is yet another force pushing the organization towards more transparency and employees acting more independently.

Why is it important to involve HR when you follow up on this trend?

Consider these aspects:

  • Recruiters notice people coming in with different mindsets and assumptions.
  • The technological changes affect¬†employers’ careers.
  • You need HR for talent development.
  • HR is reportedly at the bottom of present-day contributors to ‘agile business’.

There are plenty of reasons to take a good look at different parts of the organization to get an idea of what it would mean (and take) to turn them around.

I recently wrote a post on the case for turning a company into a social business starting at the ‘back’ rather than in the marketing department. If you want things to change it’s worth noting the people who are not immediately eager to get in on every new trend, but who are experts in their own line of activity and who will understand what you’re talking about because they see it happening every day.

In the case of ‘social’ that may be the people who answer the phone for your company. Regarding ‘agile’… introducing an extreme measure of flexibility¬†influences (organization) psychology as well as the actual structure of the organization.

It’s worth noting at this point that Beverly Macy has recently written an article about [social enterprise] trends for 2013 saying:

The true social enterprise is so far beyond marketing, it isn’t even funny.

If marketing is the only department buying into the changes affecting your business, you’re¬†going to be in¬†big *pause* trouble (head down ;)) sooner than you think.

How can you find out if ‘agile’ is a viable option for (parts of) your company?

  1. Read up using the reading list at the bottom of this post. I’ve included two blogs about Josh’ presentation.
  2. Look around you and talk to a few people, and I can’t stress this enough,¬†in different parts of¬†your organization. Leave the tool and tech talk out. Instead, ask about changes in behavior. What have people noticed about others, about themselves, about customers? Have preferences shifted lately? How do they respond to what they see is happening? What major issues are lurking beneath the surface of ‘business as usual’?
  3. While you do all this,¬†focus on being¬†a good advisor. Ask, shut up, listen, watch, think, ask again. I’m serious about the shutting up bit¬†ūüėČ

I hope I’ve given you food for thought. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you know of more ‘must-reads’ please add those too!

+If you found this post of interest, please share it.

Reading list

HR tech’s blog about Josh Bersin’s presentatio: Building an agile workforce;

Lumesse’s blog about Josh’ presentation;

And Janice Diner’s blog: Being Agile Is the New Paradigm for Marketing

Also worth thinking about: Beverly Macy, The Top Four Trends Shaping Social Enterprise in 2013 on Huffington Post.

Background: the classic by Jeremy Rifkin, The Age Of Access.