You Don’t Have A Strategy if You Don’t Have the Work

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The commonest error in plans to develop social collaboration in an organisation is the most obvious error. Too many plans aren’t focused on the work. You don’t have a strategy for realising the value of collaboration in your organisation if it doesn’t focus on the work of your organisation.

Early Friday morning last week was the #ESNChat tweet chat. Rita Zonius and Dion Hinchcliffe were discussing a question about the plans for developing ESNs. Dion reiterated an important point – adoption or other abstract goals don’t matter.  Your business is in business and needs your employees doing something meaningful.

One Success Measure

The only measure of success that really matters to your business is the value that you create in your social collaboration.  Value doesn’t have to be measured wholly in monetary terms but for a great majority of businesses value will have clear measures and commonly direct financial elements. Value creation, broadly defined, is what separates successful businesses from the pack.

Your organisation exists to fulfil some purpose. The strategy that is in place in your organisation sets out how you will maximise the value of the work to realise that purpose. If social collaboration in your organisation is not directly connected to this strategy and the value to be created for purpose, then everyone in your organisation has the right, and the obligation, to (a) question why it matters and (b) ignore it.

Measuring value in collaboration is hard. This challenge is greater when organisations are often sceptical of new ways or working or chains of benefits. Usually the benefit realisation happens away from the platform and is measurable only in other systems. Many proponents of social collaboration choose to ignore the hard to measure benefits and focus on easier to track goals, like adoption, satisfaction, sentiment, engagement or measures created specifically for the organisation’s collaboration plan. The danger of failing to align the measures of social collaboration to the measures of the meaningful work of the organisation is the danger of irrelevance.

Parallel Paths

The most damning criticism of many social collaboration networks showing high degrees of adoption and engagement is that they are a “parallel universe” to the real organisation and its interactions.  In this parallel universe, the hierarchy is levelled, leaders are proactively engaging people in conversation, employees are empowered to speak up and discuss their whole lives and great strides are being made in engaging employees and advocating for social issues. In the office, not so much.

In this scenario, the lack of accountability for real work outcomes has allowed the collaboration network to drift into play-acting an ideal organisation. Without real work there are no hard decisions and no ugly compromises. Without real work, it is easier for everyone to get along. You only need a little bit of fantasy to undermine the interactions of an entire network.

When a collaboration network is focused on supporting the real work interactions that network is bound to what goes on across the organisation.  There is a greater chance that the discussions in the network will reflect the issues, the challenges and the interactions that happen in the corridors of the conversation, for good and for bad. Getting tough work challenges into a collaboration network, as ugly as they may be, enables the network to help address and improve them.

Many organisations like the idea of a utopian network that shows them their better side. Role modelling is a valuable purpose. However, role modelling only works when the interactions are real.  The network can only contribute to making those interactions better, if the work is being done in some way across the network. Without the work, there can be no greater value.

A better network for social collaboration does the hard work to fulfil the organisation’s strategy. You don’t have a strategy for your social collaboration if you don’t have that work and aren’t measuring its value.

Do You Want Power or Entertainment?

I woke up this Sunday and I had a terrible nostalgia for the days where my morning question was not:

“What have the politicians done to entertain us today?”

All around the world politics has become far too similar to a reality television show.  The politicians, the media and our focus is on the daily conflicts, dramas and stupidities. The media environment and the demand of the media audience is far less concerned about leadership (other than the theatre of a leadership contest) than the entertainment of the political show. We have forgotten that the exercise of power for the betterment of society is more important that a following.

Politics is not alone in this confusion. Thought Leadership and other forms of punditry also shows a similar confusion. The accuracy or effectiveness of advice to better society now matters less than the ability to entertain and accumulate an audience. Platitudes and gross simplifications play better than difficult messages or a call to hard work.

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

Conflict has always entertained humans. Conflict is the key to all our storytelling. Threat based narratives help us understand our tribes and bind together in times of adversity. We can see why politicians and pundits rely on them heavily. Inspirational narratives tend to appeal to our ego, our desire for ease and the uniqueness of our community and suggest the inevitability of our future success as long as we continue to follow the advice of the storyteller. We are suckers for entertainment as the makers of content for our mobile phones are well aware. Politicians, thought leaders, media commentators and even corporate executives are just meeting the market demand.

Increasingly, in the age of mobile devices, entertainment is a solo activity. We have lost much of the collective experience of entertainment that was the standard experience of previous generations. That lack of collective context weakens the foundations of community and hinders collaboration. We need shared context and trust to come together to make change happen. Trust is an outcome of the work and the experiences we share together. If we are each following our own personal entertainment guru, there is a fragmentation of that larger shared community.

As social technology and far better media tools creep into corporate life, we have also seen the rise of the executive as entertainer. Senior management can now engage and cultivate a following internally through collaboration tools and externally through social media and even traditional media roles. For some the dynamic changes from leading to entertaining. Rather than advocating for change and conflict within the organisation, it is easier to demonise an Other, such as a competitor, an external stakeholder or abstraction like errors or waste and demand the attention of a following without pushing people to change themselves. These executives are far less likely to demand challenging change of people themselves for fear that they lose part of their following or that they lose status to someone who promises a more compelling external enemy or an easier life.

We Need Power

We need to do more than meet a market demand for entertainment. We need power to push us beyond the limitations of our own efforts and our own imagination. We need the power to step outside of our individual potential and collaborate with others. The exercise of power in this way is called leadership.

A comment in a recent article on the often hidden role of power in design practice put the issue in a way that helped me see the connection:

The definition of power: the ability to influence an outcome

This quote starkly highlights the connection of power and leadership. We can often confuse power with its past abuses or the privilege that vests it undeservedly or unevenly in others. We can prefer our power to be responsive to the needs of the community. However, as Adam Kahane has pointed out in Power and Love, it is wishful thinking to wish power away or to demand that leaders are only responsive.

Leadership is about influence. Leadership is about achieving outcomes together with and through the work of a community. Without any resulting outcome, all you are doing is entertaining the community with a show. Bringing people together to help address complex social issues is going to take the exercise of power.

We need leadership because we need the action of small self-governing communities of change. That work is the power that matters now. We cannot rely on the politicians, the thought leaders, the senior executives or the experts to deliver us. We will have to do the work of change ourselves.

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.

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.