Breaking Down the Value Creation Opportunities in A Yammer Post

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Value is created in enterprise social networks as people connect, share, solve and innovate together. That value creation is an outcome of the work people choose to do together. Measuring the activity in the technology isn’t a measure of the value created, it is simply a measure of adoption. The value of the adoption comes from the organisations strategy and the work of its teams.

However, the features in a typical Yammer post, or any enterprise social network, can give us a guide as to how people come together in networks to work in new ways.  Let’s break down a Yammer post using the Value Maturity Model so see how new organisational value gets created.

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Connection brings people in the organisation together often for the first time.  That connection can be a simple as the feeling of belonging or recognition when a post gets a like. It might be bringing people together around a topic of current need or ongoing mutual interest like a community of interest or a community of practice.  Most directly, connection can be a way in large, distributed or siloed organisations to find the people responsible and get in touch to move work forward. 

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Sharing lifts information out of its hiding places, makes it findable and directs it to people who need to know. That can happen in the enterprise network through replies that answer common questions for everyone’s benefit, provide links to information or provide documents meeting a present need and saving future time and searches.  Shares make sure information reaches the right people whether a group, an individual through a private message or even by taking a message out to email to those who don’t regularly use the network. All sharing is silo-busting. Adding topics, either in a message or later, provides people new ways to navigate information and helps make information searchable. Sharing creates a rich domain for social learning and helps the new employee seeking to learn more. A culture of sharing fosters working out loud to help people achieve personal purposes, bring work to the surface and further increase these benefits. Most importantly of all, this activity helps build a shared and discoverable context for the work of the organisation reducing errors, duplication and improving problem solving and efficiency.

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Value creation accelerates when an enterprise social network becomes a way for people to come together to work on solving problems. People can ideate, offer solutions and work together in the thread or in groups to discuss ways to solve work problems with existing or new solutions. Having a way to discuss and work through problems in products, policy or process, either through fixes or hacks, helps the organisation continue to flow for those doing the work. The problems raised in this way are able to be solved not just for one user but for everyone in the organisation. The value of these solutions will increase as the problems that teams tackle increase in value. Leaders, experts and creative individuals can help enable the organisation to move past its daily obstacles and create better experiences for customers, employees and other stakeholders. The benefits here are in work in the network and out in the organisation that continuously and responsively improves organisational effectiveness.

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Innovation adds value to the organisation when employees feel enabled and encouraged to put forward possibilities, to seek ways to make them happen and to recruit capabilities and coalitions to experiment and execute on opportunities.  Vibrant communities will work well beyond a single post out into the broader organisation to make their ideas a reality and help the organisation to respond to its opportunities. Innovation allows employees to explore ways to better fulfil the purpose of the firm, to radically reshape the processes of their work and to deliver new forms of value.

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Building the Goodwill of Networks

Networks give people access to more people than ever before. However, they can also create new inconveniences by allowing people to free ride. Networks are fostered when people are encouraged others to making contributions to others first and to consider in their approaches the value created for others in their requests. These actions, like purposeful and generous working out loud, rebuild the goodwill that free riders consume.

The Network Externality of Free Riders

In economics, an externality is a cost imposed on other people who did not choose to incur it. Free riding is where a person consumes more than their share of a common resource. Every network depends on common resource of goodwill in continuing connection. A common barrier to the development of collaboration in networks is the network externality of thoughtlessness and free riding.

Great networks build up goodwill among the members which facilitates collaboration through trust, shared connection and a sense of reciprocal benefits. Free riders are members of those networks who don’t contribute to the general goodwill. 

The Externality of Thoughtlessnesss

Thoughtless activities in networks consume goodwill because they impose costs on others in the network without any return:

  • Noise: It takes time and effort to filter out noise. Creating noise in networks is costly to everyone. Noise can include repetitive posts, broadcast messages, long rambling messages, diversions from purpose, spam and other forms of low value messages.
  • Laziness: Failing to check that the question you ask has not been answered already or that the answer is not readily available. Let me Google That For You is a great example of a solution to this common occurrence.
  • Confusion: Making a unclear request of the network. In many cases questions are far easier to ask than to answer well. Many people do not think through what others need to be able to answer their query. It takes time and effort to clarify what the issue is and what answers or assistance will be helpful.
  • Selfishness: Making request of others for effort without giving anything back. We have all been asked to help others in our networks. The better requests are respectful of the individual and the network. Most of the requests that come through Linkedin have a clear benefit to the other person but much less consideration on how I might be interested in helping. Responding to these requests takes time and effort which lowers the value of the network and the priority of responding at all.
  • Lack of Follow-through: Making requests that are ambit claims, have unnecessary urgency or where you are not prepared to invest in follow through on the responses others will make. A common issue is when people ask for urgent help and then disappear again without responding to even acknowledge the answers given to their query. 
  • Unclear Benefit: Making unclear offers of benefits. If you suggest something offers ‘exposure’, ‘mutual benefit’, ‘rewards’, ‘an opportunity’ or similar it helps to quantify this in your request. Leaving it for others to discover the meaning of your obscurity imposes costs on others and on you.

There are many more examples. While it may be easy to decline all poorly framed requests, some times opportunity lurks under the thoughtlessness.  The challenge is that the time and effort to respond, to clarify, to negotiate mutual benefit and to help can unduly burden network participants. Suddenly people withdraw from helping others in the network because the collective experience is burdensome. 

Sidenote: Recognise Your Own Value In Networks

Under an avalanche of requests for free time, free help, free speaking engagements, free advice, offers of ‘exposure’ and general lack of consideration, it can be tempting to decide that you have to acquiesce because the whole system works this way. This is even more the case when you are told ‘everyone else’ seems to be doing things on this basis. We are still learning how to manage relationships at scales, timeliness and distances that have never been possible before in human history. Remember always you have choices. The best way to make choices is to respect the value you bring, set your own strategy and set your own rules for the value exchange. That way you take and miss the opportunities you choose, not others. Ask people you trust to help you assess the value you create, if you can’t do it yourself. Grace, humble respect for the value you create and a focus on reciprocity can make magic happen.

Replenishing Goodwill with Purpose, Contributions and Serendipity

One of the reasons that I am a advocate of John Stepper’s work in promoting the value of working out loud is that John has made explicit the value of making contributions to others. Making purposeful contributions to people in your network builds goodwill. It is a great way to start a relationship. People are more likely to assist you if they have seen you making contributions to others. Most importantly of all to make a contribution to another person you need to take the time to think of that other person and their needs.

Goodwill erodes if it is not actively restored by reciprocal benefits in a network. Creating goodwill through consistent contributions to others and serendipitous benefits helps the networks deliver net benefits to participants overcoming the costs imposed by the thoughtless and the deliberate free riders. The more people make purposeful contributions to others the more likely the balance will be a net positive one. For this reason many early online forums excluded lurkers in an effort to foster purposeful participation and reciprocity. The champions, change agents and connectors at the heart of your network will be some of the most purposeful, considerate and generous individuals that you know.

Fostering a culture of working out loud that is purposeful and generous will help any network overcome the challenges of occasional free-riding.

Algorithms Work Out Loud

Whether we like it or not, working out loud is coming as a work trend. The benefits for productivity, learning and effectiveness from working out loud make greater transparency and connection in our work inevitable. If we do not work out loud, it will be our tools that work out loud for us.

Algorithms Ascendant

If you have any interest in digital trends you will have noted the news that software beat the world’s best Go player 4-1. I’ve played a little Go and even at a much smaller scale than a competition board it is a mind-bendingly tricky game that relies on intuition as well as logic. Software being able to beat a Go master so comprehensively is a significant development because analysts had forecast it could be up to a decade before Go fell. Go is too complex for a simple brute force strategy of computation of possible paths. 

The breakthrough occurred because the Google team developing AlphaGo didn’t just rely on one source of technical expertise or one strategy to beat a Go Master. AlphaGo improved itself by testing multiple strategies in machine learning, specifically learning better models of play each time it watched or played a game of Go.  AlphaGo’s success reflected a key benefit of working out loud – learning through observation and experience of not just one’s own practice but also the practice of other Go algorithms and Go masters.

Algorithmic Insight

Whether we practice working out loud or not, the software around us is already beginning to leverage our work to learn and enhance its effectiveness. Social media sites are all moving to algorithmic display because they can leverage our behaviour and relationships to better meet our needs (& their own business models).  I remember my resistance when Yammer first implemented an algorithmic feed and moved away from following. I thought there was no way that I would value the algorithms choice of messages over my own curation of content through following strategies. These concerns passed quickly in use and it has been a long time since I reflected on the need for a better following model.  Incidentally, Yammer moved to this change as a result of analytics and A/B testing, leveraging the work of thousands of customers to find better ways to build its product.

These algorithms are coming deeper into our work. I recently had a demonstration of Microsoft Office’s Delve and Delve Analytics. My takeaway was here was that I was looking at the potential for algorithms and analytics to turbocharge the value by leveraging a form of passive automation of working out loud. Clearly tools like Delve can help by reducing search, however they can also deliver further benefits for learning, collaboration and business value by helping make working out loud a default practice in the future of work.

Delve offers a key way to address the concerns many critics of working out loud raise. Today working out loud requires an individual to push their work out visibly so that others can pull the work for the purpose of learning or collaboration. That first push upsets some critics as it is seen as contributing to noise, raising the possibility of unconstructive distraction or requiring incremental effort from the worker. My experience is that the benefits far outweigh this minor inconvenience.  However, algorithms and analytics like Delve, change this game by leveraging our working behaviours to pull information and insights from the work of others and make them available to enable us to better learn or to find better practice. 

Solutions like Delve enable all of our working out loud practice to rest on a pull model. If Delve can surface a document that I need to see or I can use from the work of my peers then it doesn’t rely on any more effort from my peer that to enable this sharing and configure privacy and security settings. If Delve Analytics can help me to learn how better to use Microsoft’s productivity tools by supplying insights on my use and that of my peers, then again it does not require my colleagues to measure, document and share their approaches. A similar example is that Swoop Analytics have now released Swoop personas to enable each user of an enterprise social network like Yammer to understand their personal style and effectiveness in the use of the platform. 

The trajectory of innovation is that these algorithms will be increasingly effective and increasingly deeply integrated into our products.

Is that it?

If algorithms are the answer, it that it? Do we no longer need the human practice of working out loud? Why don’t we just wait?

There is an adoption challenge of sorts with the coming algorithms. Algorithms can help with insight, but they cannot address the human side of openness to learn, willingness to experiment and ability to handle the social elements of working out loud.  We all need to learn to be able to manage new practices and to have mindsets to be able to benefit from the change.  These mindsets stretch from an attitude of generosity, desire for connection, a move from reliance on personal expertise and through to the ability to handle odd moment of embarrassment. If we do not get the mindsets right, then we will miss the benefits of new ways of working.

The value of the practice of working out loud now is that it enables each of us to learn important social skills in the network era: building connections, reciprocity, generosity and how to create and sustain the creation of value in networks.  The networks and the algorithms are not going away. The challenge for all those seeking to be ready for the future of work is to learn how best to leverage these new models.

Just like AlphaGo, those who are already working out loud are discovering new practices and approaches to work through their own work and through watching the practices of others. You can wait for an algorithm to arrive to make the change for you or you can get ahead of the curve and enhance your practice of working out loud.

Why Collaboration Value is Understated

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Applying mechanical process productivity to collaboration provides us with an efficiency benefit case for collaboration. Understanding the true benefits of collaboration requires us to understand the knowledge work systems in place and the broader effectiveness of the organisation at creating value.

Value of Collaboration is Not Easy

We always facing the challenge of valuing the benefits of collaboration.  Collaborative technology is part of the infrastructure of the organisation. It’s use is open to many applications that will be co-created by the employees and shaped by the organisation. Many of the outcomes are not direct; collaboration facilitates a more effective organisation.

The temptation is to play it safe. We can use the same process efficiency mindset that applies to any other system to automate processes.  The question usually asked is “How much more efficient will our people be when they use a collaboration system?’  A number of studies have looked at the impact of collaboration systems on in process efficiency of knowledge workers. One of the most widely quoted statistics is the McKinsey survey that identified 20-25% of the time of knowledge workers could be saved with better ways to search for and interact on information. This mindset often drives an adoption focus to collaboration projects that misses a bigger opportunity to create value.

25% Better Off?

If you are processing iron ore into steel and you find a way to do it 25% better, then you will have 25% more steel or need 25% less inputs. That is a mechanical process saving. Inputs became outputs at a cost. This is how our traditional efficiency mindset has focused us on measuring value.

However, knowledge work isn’t like steel manufacture. At the end of a knowledge work process, we still have the inputs and the outputs. Both the inputs and the outputs can be shared widely at very low cost because they are easily reproducible. Most importantly, neither the inputs nor the outputs are fixed. 

Let’s consider a practical example. As a knowledge worker, you are asked to create a new process to improve the efficiency of steel production. Is the goal to do this 25% faster? No, the goal is to create the most efficient way of producing steel.  There are four elements that measure effectiveness of your work:

  • Reduce waste: If there is no better way currently possible or someone has already done the work, then don’t work on creating a new process. Do something else.
  • Reuse existing knowledge: If someone has developed a process that is more efficient, use that process as a basis. Don’t start with a blank page.
  • Create new knowledge: If you can bring together people who have never been connected, if you can share information that has not been shared you may be able to solve new problems or create an entirely more effective process for steel manufacture. This is likely to impact a much larger value opportunity than knowledge work in your organisation.
  • Create new value with existing or new knowledge: Your new process for steel manufacture will be able to be shared across your organisation and may even become a product in its own right.

The economic value of these four elements aren’t productivity measures of knowledge work.  The economic value is the impact on the production of steel and the greater value created in the organisation by collaboration to improve steel production. In my experience the benefits from simply stopping wasteful projects without any value add, is an order of magnitude larger than the productivity benefit from reduced search by knowledge workers.

Thinking more broadly about the economic impacts of collaboration can create a dramatic step change in the benefits for an organisation.  Rather than looking at efficiency in the cost base of knowledge work, collaboration impacts value creation organisation-wide. This new view has a critical role to play in shaping leaders support for collaboration and the level of investment an organisation should make in fostering collaboration in the organisation.

Reflections on Facebook at Work (& Promises of Universal Adoption)

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One core reasons collaboration tools have an adoption problem is a lack of benefits to users. That problem is not solved by a new tool. The benefit problem is solved by working out loud purposefully – creating an environment to learn, solve problems and create new solutions together.

The reviews of Facebook at Work are starting to come in. The claims from Facebook are intriguing: no community management required, no need to worry about adoption (after all its Facebook – your users are using it already) and so on. Does a new solution like this solve all the issues with collaboration at work?

Universal Adoption Isn’t Enough

We have had similar promises before of universal adoption before. Many existing IT systems providers were convinced that collaboration was a layer or feature that they could add to their applications. After all, they had adoption and use of their system, so the collaboration would naturally work in their system, particularly if they forced it into the existing processes. These systems have largely failed to deliver on expectations because the basics of value are not met. People don’t expect to connect with others or to share their work while working on processes in ERPs or other IT systems. Usually people collaborate to avoid the restrictions of these process driven systems or to achieve better outcomes than they can get from the system. Forcing in additional messages and conversations brought greater burden and more noise than user benefit.

Facebook begins as a dominant personal social tool so it starts in a much stronger position for adoption. For Facebook users, it is already platform to connect and share with others. Many sophisticated users already work there, marketing themselves and their businesses and engaging communities through Facebook pages and groups. Carrie Basham-Young has reviewed how easy Facebook has made it in Facebook at Work for people to Connect and to Share. We might wonder how the separate Facebook at Work profile will compete with the personal profiles for time and attention. Many users will already be connected and sharing social updates with work colleagues through a personal profile. Even so, Facebook will undoubtedly be able to capture a large share of the corporate graph and its watercooler conversations.

Sharing Isn’t Enough

Velux recently shared some insight into their adoption of social collaboration. A key insight of that case study was that sharing social status updates alone is not enough to create value. They needed to solve problems and create new value together. They need to move beyond what they saw as the pattern of ‘working out loud in Twitter’ to a more purposeful form of work asking questions to solve problems and connecting around key projects and activities. Like all social collaboration tools, Facebook at Work will need to help organisations navigate this transition and its history may be its disadvantage in this regard.

The Solve and Innovate steps of the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration will be where users see novel benefit and what keeps ensuring that they devote time and effort to using the new tool. Facebook at Work has clearly taken this into account with its focus on categorising groups into Teams and Projects, Open Discussions, Announcements and Social. However, if the traditional Facebook patterns of behaviours of social announcements and other forms of social sharing dominate, Facebook at Work will have not advanced the collaboration in the organisation, they will have simply extended Facebook use deeper into office hours. What if the patterns of Facebook use prove harder to change than our work email practices?

 Purposeful Working Out Loud Required

Working out loud requires people to consider the purpose & effect of their sharing. John Stepper’s discussion of the 5 elements of working out loud makes this explicit. Working out loud only makes sense when it makes work better for you and for others through learning, winning or giving help, making a new connection or other ways of solving every day work challenges. 

All forms of social collaboration, no matter how smart the technology, require individual users and the organisations involved to solve the challenge of creating connections based on purposeful working out loud. Slack another adoption success story is now being queried for the value of the conversations it creates. Slack’s solution is often suggested to be in its integrations but these can be complex to navigate and even discover for a new user dealing with a high volume chat channel.

Creating value for users and organisations is what will ensure that we change the long entrenched practices in way we work and we will consistently value new approaches to collaboration. Organisations need to invest in change support and community management to achieve an ongoing uplift in the value of collaboration. Facebook at Work is unlikely to magic this away any time soon because the context of value creation in each organisation and for each employee is different. The organisation needs to use new methods of working and collaborating to create its own approach to success. This is why customer success processes at other collaboration vendors have been notoriously resistant to being reduced to an algorithm. 

What Kind of Community Do You Have?

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Enterprise Social Networks reflect the organisation’s culture and the maturity of collaboration in that organisation. As collaboration matures, different modes of engagement arise.  Higher levels of engagement aligned to the strategic objectives of the organisation are fundamental to the growing value of collaboration for any organisation.

Connect: The Directory

Many organisations don’t create much community in their networks. Networks or collaboration features imposed without thought or support will often languish. Without clear strategic rationale for collaboration in the organisation, their efforts create a new directory of employees (In many cases, a directory of only those who adopt). The collaboration features are used to create a social profile for individuals and to help people find others using the knowledge of those in the network.

Share: The Salon

When people are freely sharing ideas & their work, the level of engagement in the network rises. The community begins to resemble a salon. A salon can be an inspiring place filled with insightful knowledge and witty repartee. However, it can also be dominated by personalities, expertise and narrow schools of thought. Sharing knowledge is an important step on the journey of collaboration and a foundation for greater connection but posts with links is only an entry level for the human potential of social collaboration.

Solve: The Universal Genius Bar

When trust and engagement is high enough, people will see a community as a place to solve their work and personal challenges.  Like a Genius Bar, the community brings now just expertise and ideas, but solutions in the form of resources, processes and other ways to help drive change in the organisation. Well managed communities will be universal in their ability to reflecting the strategic intent of the organisation and the breadth of its people’s interests and purposes.

Innovate: The Platform

Successful cultures of innovation are those where people have a platform to which they can take ideas for development and trial. They also leverage the value of that platform as a way to track, understand and refine new ideas and those in development. When you have an innovation platform built on a rich level of engagement of all your employees, then the value and pace of change,  innovation and continuous improvement is accelerated.

Questions to consider:

  • Where does your organisation sit today in terms of the nature of the activity in your enterprise social network or other collaboration platforms?
  • What level of collaboration fits the culture of your organisation and its strategic goals?
  • What are the modes of collaboration that will help your organisation best achieve the value it seeks from bringing its employees together?
  • How have you authorised and enabled people to drive change and to collaborate in your community?
  • How can you move your organisations network from a Directory or a Salon into more valuable levels of engagement?
  • Do you have the leadership, community management and the change agents necessary to build trust, role model change and develop engagement?

The Value Maturity Model and its supporting tools are ways to help organisations plan and execute the development of strategic value in collaboration through enterprise social networks and other communities. For more information on the Value Maturity Model and how it can help you develop collaboration, please contact Simon Terry.

Partisan

‘Noun: strong supporter of a party, cause, or person…adjective: prejudiced in favour of a particular cause’. Oxford dictionary

Increased connection can bring us together with diverse others. However, they can also make it easy to find and form cliques with those who think like us. Networks can make it easier to be partisan.

The difference between the two outcomes comes down to our willingness to test our ideas and to learn. If we seek confirmation of our views from networks, we will find a niche of other like minded folk to act as echo chamber. The reinforcement we receive runs the danger of causing greater disconnect from reality as we become surer in our beliefs.

If we want the benefits of networks to make us more effective we must be prepared to learn and put our beliefs out for testing in action. Networks that simply confirm our knowledge and beliefs will rarely add value other than a smug sense of satisfaction. We will rightly question the value of participation.

We need to be open to new facts and new experiences in the network. If we respect the views of others and seek to understand, we may not change our opinions but we will be open to changing our prejudices and remaining connected to others and reality.

The Four Capabilities of a Social leader

Senior executives need new mindsets and new capabilities to be effective in the networked work of the future. Four capabilities will help e executives make the most of their networks:

Personal Knowledge Management: Personal Knowledge Management gives executives the personal learning skills to manage the flow of information and to deepen their personal networks. As executives personally learn to Seek>Sense>Share they develop critical digital skills for network leadership.

Working Out Loud: Working out loud is a practice that helps surface the value of work and learning in networks. Leaders are already the focus of attention. Making their work in progress visible to others is a highly valuable step because it accelerates trust and learning.

Leading in Networks: Network leadership requires leaders to surface shared purpose, build trust and influence and enable collaboration. Expertise, rank and orders are replaced with adaptive leadership techniques that manage learning, tension & alignment.

Creating Value in Networks: Leaders need to be able to set a strategy for their and their team’s engagement with networks. They need to be able to accelerate the maturity of value creation in those networks as they develop through Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate.

Developing leader’s practice of these key capabilities will enhance their effectiveness in enterprise social networks and the future of work.