Work Changes Culture

Sharing Out Loud

Work changes culture, not words. The future of work needs action to create new ways of working together. Creating new value requires people to do more than communicate. They must work in new ways.

With management of enterprise collaboration often falling in the Employee Communications function in organisations it can be tempting to see the challenges as primarily challenges of communication. How do we get people to use a new communication tool? What information do we want people to share in our new communication tool? Which communication tool should we use when?

The bigger and more valuable opportunity is to change the very nature of work. Changing work behaviours runs directly into the challenges of changing the culture of the organisation.  After all, culture is the expectation of future behaviours in any organisation. What ways of working are expected, what work is valued and how others will support your work is all wrapped up in a rich tapestry of cultural expectations born of past behaviours, some going back as far as the origins of the organisation.

As we have seen from communication campaigns around values in organisations, message can temporarily influence expectations. However, what confirms a change in expectations is when people see new behaviours being practiced consistently, rewarded and ultimately expected by others.

Sharing information in enterprise social networks is a start but the real value of working out loud is created when people begin to change the very nature of their work process to respond to expectations that they be more agile, more transparent, more collaborative, more trusting and more open to the expertise of others.  When this occurs they get the benefits of the input of others in greater speed, productivity and effectiveness. The changing nature of work and the changing culture of the organisation will develop hand in hand in this case and be supported by increasing personal and organisation value to justify the ongoing change.

Organisations that want to realise the true value of enterprise collaboration need to create an expectation that work will change to be more open. The best way to start that change is not with talk but by fostering the action that role models it to all in the organisation.

Invest in Better Work

Collaboration and other future work practices require investment from organisations to foster community and support the changes in practices. The potential value from this investment is better work organisation-wide.

Speaking at Intranets2016, I had the opportunity to see a showcase of presentations from organisations large and small on how they have leveraged value from new ways of working, better communication and collaboration with employees. I also got a chance to speak to many of the people attending the event and discuss their challenges and concerns.

Reflecting after the event one thing was striking: Each of the case studies had invested time and resources into helping their organisation get the most out of collaboration and community.  They had spent time and money on strategy, on design work, on employee engagement, on training and community management. They had ongoing resources devoted to realising the value of community. When I spoke to many members of the audience winning the support of their organisation to invest in these elements was a major challenge. The success stories were successes because their organisations supported their team to realise the value of changing work.

Many organisations have not yet realised that the potential value creation from their new intranet, their new productivity tools or their new collaboration software far exceeds the investment they need to make to support change and adoption. These tool are part of the furniture in an organisation and while from time to time we invest in the latest version to stay effective, not much more is expected from their use. 

Organisations that invest in community and collaboration know the value creation opportunity is far greater than a more effective tool.  The value creation opportunity goes to the heart of their organisation by making work better, more productive and more effective. What little resource they choose to invest will deliver benefits that are multiplied by all the work that they do in the organisation. Scrimping or not investing at all in this capability leaves the tools to miss their potential and the community of users to miss the benefits.

Champions of social collaboration and new productivity solutions need to do more than fund the technology. They need to help the organisation see the strategic value of the new tool in new ways of working. When that value is clear then the business case for ongoing investment and in community and change is much more obvious.

#intranets2016 Day 1: human work inside and outside

Three themes came through strongly on Day 1 of Intranets2016:
– focus on the work, not the technology
– consider your intranet in conjunction with your external internet presence because work stretches outside the organisation
– your organisation is human so engage them and help them with change to new ways of working

Work, not Technology

No intranet should exist as a cool piece of technology. No intranet should exist solely as a channel of communication.

We come together to work. We want out tools at work to help us to do what we need. We need to connect, share, solve or innovate together. These use cases should be the focus and the source of value of any work tools.

Work goes Outside

Intranets need to connect with Internet assets because work goes outside and involves external communities. Examples were everywhere consistent navigation between internet sites and intranet to encourage architects to update the external status of projects, Australia Post using a public intranet to engage all its communities and the integration of external social content and other content into intranet experiences.

Our work involves stakeholders inside and outside the organisation. We need to have consistent conversations and share the same information to work effectively in a transparently connected world. Importantly, it makes no sense to be recreating materials and managing distinct solutions with the same information. Transparency in this way is a great way to address remote working and mobile worker needs.

Changing Work

Great tools need to be used. We need to help people to adopt the tools and use them in their work. Importantly change starts before the tools are designed. Using collaborative design and deep data analysis we should understand the work, the challenges and how use cases can align to business needs.

Organisations then need to invest in ongoing support for leaders, champions and users. New ways of work are not launched they are fostered, role modelled and rewarded.

Vibrant Groups

In the Office 365 Community, I was asked by Cai Kjaer of Swoop Analytics how we can identify groups in social collaboration tools that are thriving, struggling or dead. We are becoming increasingly aware of the value of great group and team structures to the success of collaboration in organisations. With that in mind, group health takes on a key role in the success of networks.

Here’s my response to Cai’s great question:

Because groups exist for diverse purposes it is hard to assess universally but here are a few reflections at each level of a group’s purpose. I haven’t mapped to your three levels but there is a mapping that is possible from the themes below. e.g. Dead is when it is not a group anymore and at the other end if it is Solving work problems it is clearly thriving.

Is it still a group (Connect)? Most basically does the group serve a purpose that continues to attract people? Are people joining, do they come and visit the group and is it not losing its membership? Groups can exist as a kind of social distribution list. These groups can remain dormant/passive for long periods of time but play an important role when they are needed. More importantly does it connect people who are not connected elsewhere?

Is it still sharing information (Share)? Is new information being shared in the group? Are there interactions on the information in the group (Likes/Shares/Replies)? Is there a core champion team creating an experience for others in the group? How diverse are the contributions to the group? Is it playing a role brokering information sharing between different parts of the broader network?

Is it doing work (Solve)? Do posts in the group get a timely response? Does the topic at the heart of the group animate people to do things? Is the activity drawing in a wider group of champions and also activating more interaction from all the members of the group? How does the group drive value for members and for the organisation? Does the group create a strong cluster within the wider network?

In my view this is a cascade. If groups aren’t moving up the maturity curve, then they are falling down. Attention is limited in large organisations. People move on to other things when they don’t create value for them and the organisation. The exception would be groups as previous referred that exist solely for option value (i.e. might be needed later such as a CEO briefing group or a YamJam group). These groups should be few and documented in the community management strategy.

What’s your view? What defines a vibrant group? How do we get early warning of issues with groups?

Value the Individual

Value in collaboration is created by individual actions.

In building value for organisations through social collaboration we often resort to discussing the group, the team, the community and the network. There is lots of literature that references these terms and makes recommendations at these levels. Applying traditional business thinking we can lose sight of the individual and focus only on aggregates.

Networks don’t connect. Individuals take advantage of a network to connect with other individuals. Networks don’t share. Individuals share information in networks. The further we move into working, solving and innovating in networks the clearer it is that the value is created by individual actions multiplied by the power of a network.

Focusing on these individual actions is important because it reminds us to study individual motivations, mindsets and behaviours in the creation of effective collaboration. A culture of collaboration exists only in the expectations and behaviours of individuals. More importantly it enables us to talk to individuals about the value & practices of collaboration in language they understand. Nobody says to themselves ‘I need to engage transparently and collaboratively with an enterprise community’. People are looking to advance their work and their personal goals in tangible ways. People articulate often abstract concepts like generosity, authority, reciprocity, enagagement and trust in terms of very tangible actions in everyday work.

Aggregates give us opportunities to talk in lofty terms. Abstract capitalised bound abound. Many of these nouns seduce us with appeals to ideals not everyday actions. Real value is created with change driven using the language of individual users. If you value the individual, they will return the favour.

Do You Really Need That New Intranet?

Intranet projects are still popular these days. There is great new technology platforms & many new features available. Internet designs have moved on a lot so your old intranet is starting to look a little tired. Now your employees have new devices so your intranet needs to be mobile first and responsive. Think of the opportunities for new branding, a new name, better search and a refresh of all the content. Finally the intranet could be at the heart of the knowledge management and collaboration in the organisation. Delivering a new intranet is a signature career achievement.

Stop. Are you sure you need that new intranet?

New intranets don’t come cheap. Even after the technology solutions is acquired, the expenditure has only just begun. All that wonderful new design is going to cost money. You will need personas, card sorts and then branding advice. Getting the information architecture right can make all the difference so you will need a lot of time spent on the taxonomy of content, hierarchies of information, businesses and users. Glossaries and other reference materials will need to be reviewed and updated. Search will need to be tuned to make sure that it delivers the right options. All your existing content will need to be reviewed to fit into the new design. Throw in a policy and product information refresh and the costs and time skyrocket. Then there is the maintenance costs of all that content. Add in personalisation, collaboration and social features and the work never ends.

What is the Intranet really for?

To senior managers, an employee communications or HR team, an intranet is a showcase of the organisation, its business strategy and its knowledge. It is the one source of truth. It is the hub of collaboration and a critical place to share messages with all employees. This perception can create a whole lot of politics that disrupts the effectiveness of your new intranet. People become focused about the need to control the design and the content. User focus is swapped for the desire to meet the needs of the hierarchy. That control has real consequences when it disengages users. Worse still it can force one template on everyone and make everyone into ‘content providers’. The costs of this control are in content that gets out of date and grey market sites that spring up to break the shackles.  Soon the efforts to get around the intranet are drawing investment, effort and attention away from the platform. Confusion escalates and the intranet site is on its way back to being a stale reservoir of knowledge.

To an employee an intranet is where all the links in corporate distribution emails go. Usually the intranet is the last place they go to look when they and their colleagues don’t have the answer to hand and local searches have turned up no relevant ideas. Often the intranet is the place where knowledge is tied up in clunky processes & policy that don’t reflect their day job. Everything is anonymous. The context and authority that comes from human connection is lost. An employee does not care about single sources of truth or showcases of corporate messages. They care about findability and usefulness. Nobody browses an intranet willingly.

I know many organisations who have built elegant product sites on their intranet to explain all the features, process and policy relating to their products. Too often they discover that their teams use the customer facing website for product information. The structure of customer facing product information is usually better suited to employee’s roles in explaining that information to customers. It is indexed for Google search. Legal requirements ensure that product teams keep the external information that matters up to date. Also the employee can send the customer a link if they need to explain lots of detail. The pretty intranet is a showcase but the internet is the workhorse. How much of your intranet site could you do away with by directing employees to external sites?

Are the behaviours going to change?

In our work, we create value through our actions. If the behaviours aren’t going to change, then don’t change the intranet.  Changing only the technology alone, will foster only cost and confusion.

If you do want to get better at collaboration, communication and knowledge management, start with a clear understanding of the value to the organisation and the value to the user. Look for ways to achieve your goals that involved changed behaviours and community, not technology. When you are clear on the value of changed behaviours, you will be clearer on what your technology needs to look like to support that work. Now you won’t be forcing an intranet as a solution and you will be able to look at the breadth of options from social collaboration, to working out loud more, to using external internet sites and other tools of helping employees to find what matters most to help them do their job.

You will also have built a case for the whole organisation to align to working in new and better ways.

Slow Motion Disasters

In a competitive global economy, organisations want to improve their execution. With manufacturing paradigms, organisations often choose to focus on improving the teams doing the work of delivery. Management literature is full of processes and approaches to improve project and other forms of delivery.  However, organisations often fail to diagnose that the causes of poor execution can also lie around the teams and processes of the work.

Story: A Slow Motion Disaster

Yesterday I decided casually to make some sourdough bread because I thought I needed to use my starter again. My starter wasn’t quite ready but I thought it was close enough and I would push on. I was distracted when starting because I had a bit going on in the kitchen and I accidentally added a little too much water. I tried to fix that upfront with more flour and I thought I had it under control. The excess water made the dough loose and sticky and hard to knead.  I convinced myself it would work. When I finally had some shape to the dough, I left it to prove. As the dough proved, I found that it became too sloppy again and I took some steps to fix it but mostly failed.  

Now deep in the process, I tried to push on shaping a loaf into a basket and leaving it to prove overnight. When I turned that loaf out of the basket I no longer had a loaf. I loaded a collapsing mound of sticky dough into the oven hoping against hope it might rise a little in the oven. What came out of the oven was a flat mess. The entire process was a slow motion disaster from the beginning.

The output – half flat and half rounded. Tastes fine.

There are many points in that process where my execution of the sourdough bread failed. However, the bigger challenges were not my techniques of delivery but in the environment and mindsets surrounding the work:

  • I didn’t have a clear reason to start
  • I didn’t get ready to execute properly
  • I didn’t focus exclusively on getting the job done well
  • I was distracted by other goals
  • I kept convincing myself it would work out OK if I kept going
  • I tried to make late changes to fix earlier errors
  • I didn’t have any help, other viewpoints or external checkpoints to make me review my decisions
  • I fell into the sunk cost fallacy trying to finish when I should have seen the failure and started again
  • I felt the need to get the job done, rather than the pressure to do the job well.

Avoiding Slow Motion Disasters

Having been involved in many corporate projects, I have seen organisations experience many of the issues of delivery that I experienced above. These issues shape the ability of the team doing the delivery to manage the project and to succeed.

Talents are variable. Circumstances change. Mistakes will happen. Obstacles will get in the way. The challenge of effective delivery is how to design work so that the job gets done despite the skills, mistakes and the obstacles. That takes organisations to think through the goals, the support and the environment of the project to help those doing the delivery to best adapt to what happens. Process and talent won’t get you there alone.

Effectively delivery demands an environment where:

  • Clear outcomes are set and the outcomes matter most to the team and the stakeholders of the work
  • Work is put into preparation and clearing the path for the team doing the delivery to focus on their work
  • Hard conversations are had and clear choices are made to start, stop or continue based on progress towards the outcomes
  • Accountabilities are clear and teams are supported with autonomy, trust and support to achieve their outcomes around and through challenges
  • Issues are addressed properly as they arise
  • The environment, support and collaboration enables the project to work through issues, to make the needed changes and to pursue the agreed outcomes that define success. 

Poor execution is not a mystery and it is not always the fault of the team’s at work on delivery. Often organisations need to take a hard look at the contributions of leadership, debate, decision making and collaboration in achieving effective execution. Execution is as much an artefact of the culture of an organisation as any other activity.