#YearofYammer: Yammer as a Platform for the Value of Community

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At Microsoft Ignite 2019, the Yammer product team has debuted its updated product strategy. This strategy focuses Yammer on its core roles, redesigns the user interface and mobile experience and improves integration across the Office365 suite, including SharePoint, Outlook and Teams integration patterns.

Yammer

 

Bringing the Outer Loop to Life:  Yammer as a platform for Community

The Yammer community advocates are passionate advocates of this new product strategy because we have always seen Yammer as a way to connect communities enterprise wide. Much of the debate around Yammer in the wider tech community has been due to lack of clarity of how it plays a role in Microsoft’s Collaboration Strategy.

The Yammer team’s discussion in 2017 of Inner and Outer Loops of Collaboration clarified this role but we are now seeing the product roadmap and integrations focus us all on the potential of these use cases. I am excited we can now begin to accelerate the conversations about the leadership, change and community potential of Yammer.

Core to Yammer’s updated product strategy is an clear statement on Yammer’s core use cases:

  • Communities
  • Sharing Knowledge
  • Leadership engagement

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Photo credit: Amy Dolzine

These use cases align perfectly with the Value Maturity Model (seen above and explored on this blog) and highlight why the focus on adoption of Yammer as a platform for collaboration in community has always been a journey of focus on connection, sharing, solving problems and innovation.

Year of Yammer

Realising the Value in Community

Strong adoption support will be essential to help any organisation realise this value of collaboration in community. The Value Maturity Model and its supporting practices offers a roadmap for community managers to begin to leverage this new Yammer focus, particularly as it becomes more widely available to the organisation through other Office365 integrations.

Here a few key reminders for community managers planning to leverage this new Yammer product strategy:

  • Focus on value in your strategy: Yammer is just a tool to fulfil your strategy. Understand the value you want to create and align your plans around that value. Employees should be engaged in and aware of this alignment. Here is your chance to engage employees directly in alignment to strategic value creation.
  • The best engagement is action: Employee engagement is often the responsibility of employee communications or HR teams. There can be a tendency to see the challenge of employee engagement as one of better communication and employee experiences. It isn’t. Employee engagement is a tool to leverage employee’s capabilities into value creating action. Employee engagement is how you leverage discretionary effort and hidden capabilities to create surprising value. Give your employees the chance to do things to add value. Don’t just talk with them.
  • Employees are leaders too: Leadership engagement is deliberately vague.  Leadership is work. It is not a title or a role. Any employee can lead and given the chance on Yammer they will. The higher tiers of value in the Value Maturity Model represent the distribution of leadership, change and innovation that is possible in community. Make that a part of the plan for community in your organisation.

I am very excited about this Year of Yammer. Let’s create some value in community together.

 

Value depends on Values

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I have recently being doing work in and around the not-for-profit and mutual sectors. What is clear to those organisations is often lost in the wider business market. Value depends on values. If we want to accelerate value creation, we need to found our efforts in the expressing the values of the organisation. If we have challenges realising value, we are wise to look to values as a potential barrier.

Found Connection in Purpose & Values

Purpose is the core reason the organisation exists. In connecting people across the organisation, it is essential to leverage this rationale and invite employees to connect their personal purpose in pursuit of this value to others.  Purpose will also be an expression of the shared values in the organisation.

Values are an important part of this alignment. Enterprise social collaboration is a megaphone of organisational values, not the ones on the poster, the real values in action across your organisation. If you want to focus on fostering the value that flows from collaboration, you will want to reinforce the constructive values and address any negatives.

We are now clear that psychological safety is a key enabler of collaboration. Shared expectations within and across teams in an organisation help create this environment of safety to share, criticise and take risks. Those shared expectations are the values in action in your organisation. This is culture – the expectation of interactions.

A key step in setting up connection is working with executives, champions and other leaders to foster the visibility of the positive behaviours. Showcase the best of your values and help employees to move towards positive change.

Another key issue that improves psychological safety and demonstrates constructive values is leveraging the new collaboration capability to share with openness, authenticity and a reduced power difference between senior executives and other employees. The greater the power difference in interactions and the less transparent senior executives are the more uncertain employees will be of the value of contributions. Values will be shaping the value creation from day one.

Values Enable Scaled & Agile Change

Values shape how quickly organisations mature the value of their collaboration. Highly valuable collaboration depends on employees having the encouragement and ability to address issues and realise strategic goals together.

The four drivers of value in collaboration, growth, velocity, effectiveness and protection, each depend on the ability of employees to identify, share and come together to create solutions that improve the organisation’s performance of its strategy. Without constructive values, this work by employees will be blocked, deferred or frustrated.

This work demands organisations practice values that support this value creation by employees:

  • Openness: Is the organisation and its people open to hearing the good and the bad? How is feedback taken and actioned? Does the organisation listen to all voices – powerful and quiet, internal and external?
  • Integrity: Does the organisational conversation reflect the practice of integrity by employees? Is there a realistic view of what is going on? Are employees misleading each other?
  • Recognition: Are the efforts of employees celebrated? Are good outcomes and bad outcomes discussed openly recognising the contributions and the outcomes?
  • Generosity and Reciprocity: Do employees give of their ideas, time and talents? Are those gifts reciprocated by the organisation and other employees?
  • Autonomy & Initiative: What degrees of freedom do employees have to initiate change? What impetus is there for employees to take action without waiting for others or waiting for instruction?
  • Trust: are employees trusted to make change for the better?

Values play a key role in shaping the potential value creation by employees in collaboration. Through all stages of the Value Maturity Model we need to foster more constructive values in action.

Aware>Aligned>Action

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I often talk to senior executives about the challenges their organisations face creating value, coordinating work and achieving strategic goals in a rapidly moving digital environment.  Those challenges commonly fall into 3 categories:

  • Awareness: Do the employees in the organisation know what they should know? Are we making use of information effectively and in a timely manner?  This challenge is often summarised by the wish ‘If only, we knew what we know’
  • Alignment: How do I know that the effort in my organisation is going to creating value and high value work aligned to strategic goals? How do I enable employees to autonomously solve alignment issues? This challenge is often summarised by the wish ‘If only, we could get alignment without the meetings’
  • Action: How can I benefit from my employee’s position on the spot to solve problems and put information to use? How can we react faster and better to the opportunities around us? How do we engage discretionary effort and make things happen at scale? This challenge can be summarised by the wish: ‘If only, we didn’t wait for instruction’

I have previously described three patterns of human interaction that help address these key issues for senior executives:

  • Chat helps create Shared Information
  • Conversation helps create Shared Understanding
  • Collaboration helps create Shared Work

Shared Information solves Awareness: An organisation that has robust chats will have a wide sharing of information among employees. It is never possible to create complete information awareness, but we can foster an environment in the organisation of what McChrystal calls ‘Shared consciousness’ in his book Team of Teams. Having transparent sharing of information and context building chat across a public network, increases the likelihood that information will be available for employees to pull into their work when and where they need. This is because chat both helps surface this information such that others can find it and it also develops an organisation index of expertise and authority that individuals can leverage to find information effectively.

Shared Understand solves Alignment: Once issues of simple awareness and status of goals are removed by creating a shared context, most issues of alignment are issues of a lack of shared understanding. People are not testing their understanding of the goals and the impact of their work in conversations that would identify the tensions and enable them to adapt to better alignment. When there is misalignment, the issue is rarely one of better broadcasting of information, it is usually how well the recipients are understanding the messages and its connection to their work and its value.  Increasing the pace and volume of conversations that reconcile these tensions when small and improve the mutual understanding is essential to developing more effective alignment and sustaining that alignment as things change.

Shared Work solves Action: It’s hard and risky to make change on your own. Collaborative work brings people into action and shows them the potential of their work to drive change and benefit others. Increasing the volume of shared work, addresses agency, fosters better experiences for employees and customers and ultimately creates an environment in which a breadth of innovation is fostered.

We can see how Chat, Conversation and Collaboration mature across the four stages of the Collaboration Maturity model in the following chart:

  • Connect: bringing people together can start some chatter and enables the initial conversations around people and alignment.
  • Share: Chat is now well developed and the sharing in the network helps develop alignment. People are beginning to be inspired to action by the sharing going on, but this action may not be visible or be in other domains.
  • Solve: There is a rich environment for awareness and the potential of networks to solve issues of alignment is being explored well. The benefits of problems being solved is inspiring an increasing level of action and engagement from employees
  • Innovate:  Effective innovation requires all three to be operating at a high level and the ability to bring the whole organisation’s systems to bear on challenges and opportunities. This level of collaborative performance requires a high level of trust to have been created through the experience of growing maturity.

Here’s a table to reflect how each stage can be mapped.

Aware Aligned Action

This discussion to date has been agnostic of the tools you might choose to conduct chats, conversations and collaboration. As I have noted previously, these human behaviours relate to patterns of human interactions but can be mapped to a range of features of different collaboration tools. Different features of different tools address the various elements of awareness, alignment and action to differing degrees. Most importantly your tool will have significant impact on the shape of what is known and what is unknown. This can be a critical issue in awareness, alignment and action and the resulting value created (a topic for a future blog).

In addition, you will always find users whose preferences differ and they seek to execute the behaviour in unusual ways to suit their perceptions and needs. At times there may be a need for chats, conversations or collaborations to improve awareness, alignment, and action for these users.

Most important in achieving the goals that management want to see from these tools are key questions that must be address in the adoption of any new work behaviours:

  • what is the culture of the organisation now and what does it need to be for success?
  • How open and transparent can we be with information?
  • How well shared is the information, understanding and work of the organisation to begin?
  • What is the pace of change and adaptation?

The key challenges of management can be easily and effectively addressed by encouraging adoption of both inner and outerloop work tools and the use of both in combination. Designing and supporting that adoption in organisations requires a focus on the human change that will ensure success.

Do for, Do With or Enable

When managing the value of collaboration or other future of work activities, it is critical that we enable employees to exceed our expectations.

As a marketer, I came across research in many domains that highlighted that people have diverse preferences for the experience of choice and control. Some people like things done for them, some people like things done with their active participation and decision-making and then there are those who want to do it all alone.

Do it For Me

The practice of collaboration is maturing across organisations. Community managers and adoption specialists increasingly understand that we need to move beyond ‘do it for me’.

In the early days when the technology was new people found prescriptive approaches useful. They still demand them in psychologically unsafe environments because following an order is a form of thoughtless safety.

There will always be some part of the population that has a preference to be told what to do. However, this group probably won’t be the source of your greatest value creation.

Do it With Me

The Value Maturity Model of Collaboration above recognised that co-creation of value is a key part of effective collaboration. Employees want to work with others to break the shackles of traditional management and create new value.

Community managers must plan for this agile co-creation process. They need to leave activities and engagement open enough that it appeals to those whose preference is ‘Do it with me’. In this way, collaboration is an exercise in collective sense-making.

Enable Me To Do It

Much of what is said about generations is myth. However the highlighting of preferences for self-service and control in younger generations is an expression of the ‘I’ll do it streak’ in the whole community. The era now increasingly validates this choice and control and leaves us questioning the hierarchical command and control models of work and management.

Organisations need to enable the degrees of freedom for employees to do their own thing in creating value aligned to strategy. A key part of the approach to collaboration is deciding where these degrees of freedom are required and building employee capability to take advantage of it.

Independent action and agency is an important part of how people realise their potential. We come together in organisations to realise human potential more effectively than as individuals. Your collaboration plans should take account of all three segments – do it for me, do it with me and I’ll do it. This requires organisations to have a clear plan to align people around purpose, develop psychological safety and enable degrees of freedom in their employees.

Post #999 – How to have Meaningful Work Conversations Online

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I invited suggestions for the last posts before the 1000th post on this blog and Cai Kjaer suggested the great topic of how to have meaningful work conversations online.

This is a topic that has been underexplored so let’s dive into a long post to breakdown some of the elements and suggestions how to improve the interactions in your community. I don’t propose that this is a comprehensive response to the topic. What follows is my tools and approaches for managing meaningful online conversations. If all you want is a short post with some tools for conversations online, jump now to step 5. Before we answer the question, there are a few preliminary topics to consider. 

Step 1: What’s a meaningful conversation?

Mark is right that a meaningful conversation could be widely interpreted. I interpreted Cai’s tweet as using meaningful in the sense of significant to the participants. That lifts us out of the realm of light weight information exchange or chatter and into the realm of conversations or collaboration. Because we are looking at conversations and collaboration, I will be using a range of concepts from adaptive leadership, effective conversations, coaching, collaboration and other domains to guide us in how to foster an meaningful discussion.

For this post, I will use a definition of meaningful conversation in line with the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration. A meaningful conversation is one that the participants or the wider organisation see as delivering value to them personally or to the purpose of their work. Value in this context is not limited to monetary value. It is value as the one or more participants or the wider community define it.

The value might be intensely personal or it might be something shared with others in the organisation.  These latter types of value include achieving an organisational goal that benefits external stakeholders, enabling an employee to grow and develop or helping a customer. Meaningful conversations are often those that create or deliver value to the participants in the conversation or to the beneficiaries of work. The conversation particularly will leverage the economic and non-economic drivers of value.

Step 2: What is your goal?

A successful meaningful conversation requires some kind of goal to measure success against. Something needs to change as a result of this conversation. Achieving progress in the change that you want to explore should be your goal.

Our organisations today already have many conversations without meaning, value or purpose. To have a meaningful conversation, you need to know the significance you want to deliver. Start with the end in mind is great advice and it applies in this context too.

The best goals aren’t capitalised nouns. They are specific changes to enable you to think about who best should be involved in the conversation and what kinds of value you might be looking to realise from a discussion. Starting a conversation about Employee Engagement in an online community is likely to be unproductive. Using employee input to design solutions to improve a specific pain point in the employee experience is much more likely to be productive.

The end should not be a specific predetermined outcome of the change. A meaningful conversation is one in which the participants have the opportunity to add value to the discussion in a generative way. Meaningful conversations are those where greater value is created than anyone expected going in.  If you know exactly what you want and you aren’t open to input, you aren’t trying to have a conversation, you are trying to deliver an order.

The goal should not be having the conversation itself. Conversations are great. However, in the work context people are busy achieving meaning and creating value. If you want to take their time, their input and leverage their potential, it needs to go beyond a conversation alone. Your meaningful conversation is only meaningful if it results in new value, new actions or new changes.

Step 3: Should the conversation be online?

Not every conversation is well suited to be online. There I said it. I’m not suggesting you start pulling out your ‘what to use when’ guides. I am suggesting you reflect before you start as to whether an online environment will be conducive to the participants, the participation and the value that you seek to achieve from the conversation.

Online conversations are often more asynchronous, lower bandwidth and less rich in context. We know participation can be an issue at many times but particular when the stakes are high. This means that they can be great for wider engagement, real-time interaction and less personal issues.

Online environments aren’t always a great environment for emotive issues, win/lose debates, situations that are highly stressful or where there is a large amount of context or confusion to address. One person’s speculation or thought leadership can feel to another like trolling. Meaningful conversations require participants who have trust and sensitivity to diverse others.

Step 4: Where online?

Just as not every conversation should be online, not every conversation should be public online. Reflect before you start on this meaningful conversation whether there are issues that might cause some people concern if this conversation is held publicly. We know that the best teams ensure that participants in discussion feel psychologically safe to participate and make contributions. You might want to choose a smaller group or a more private environment to maximise the value of some conversations.

Choosing the right place online will depend whether the conversation one that belongs in the inner or outer loop in your workplace, the culture of use of those tools in your organisation and the velocity of conversations and messages in those tools. It can be hard to try to have a meaningful conversations that requires though reflection and changing views while being bombarded with new messages, distractions and other issues. The culture in practice of your organisation and your own choices are the best guide to where it makes sense for you or the organisation. Don’t follow a ‘what to use when’ guide blindly for an important conversation.

Relevance of the place chosen matters too. Working out loud works best when it is a conversation about work in a relevant community with relevant people. The best place to have a meaningful conversation is where those conversations will be appreciated and people will want to be involved.

[We are the length of an average blog post and we have only just finished preliminaries. Great question, Cai. However let’s get to the ‘how to’ part of the answer]

Step 5: How to have meaningful conversation online

As I framed at the beginning of this post, this is not a definitive guide, but is instead a description of my practice in creating, sustaining and fostering these conversations. More work and research is required to build a complete picture of all that is needed. I would encourage readers to treat the following ideas as ingredients in their own experimentation, rather than a definitive recipe.

The Ingredient List

  • Have a Plan: Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate – The four stages of the Value Maturity Model can also act as a handy planning guide for meaningful conversations. Who do you need to connect? What information do you need to share? What needs to be solved? What can you do more, better, different or less?
  • When: The right conversation at the wrong time is the wrong conversation. Conversations need to be timely. That may mean having a meaningful conversation when matters are hot. It may also mean having a more reflective meaningful conversation at a later stage. The question is when is the best time for this discussion to occur. There may be no perfect answer and if in doubt start now because currency is often the best context.
  • Are you ready? If you are seeking to facilitate a conversation, your state of mind, confidence and readiness is an important part of the discussion. Your inner state will influence others even if you never verbalise it, even online. Reflect before you start and understand your doubts and uncertainties. Ask yourself how you might use them in the conversation explicitly rather than be undermined by them. Sharing your vulnerability in the right way can be an important part of facilitating a meaningful discussion.
  • Be Inclusive: Great conversations are inclusive. Focus on what capabilities are required to ensure everyone can contribute their capabilities to the conversation. Opportunity to participate is not enough. For truly inclusive conversations, you may need to engage diverse voices on how best to be involved and actively invite the participation for those who may not otherwise speak.
  • Create a Context: Conversations don’t happen in isolation. They occur in a context. Two or more people who don’t share a context won’t be able to have a valuable or a meaningful conversation. That context includes such issues as shared facts, the rationale for the conversation, power, authority, status, safety and so on. The context needs to allow for the culture of the organisation. One way to rapidly bring in a context and lift above dry facts is to focus on beginning your conversation with some storytelling.  Storytelling is the human way of sharing context.
  • Love and Power: Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love is a reminder that meaningful conversations take account of both power and emotions. If you don’t deal with both aspects in your meaningful conversation it will fall over. Ask people questions that engage their emotions and encourage them to share how they feel. Make sure you have engaged and involve those with power and explicitly discuss the issues power presents in your conversation. You don’t want an utopian conversation.
  • Call Bad Behaviour: if you get disruptive, trolling or other negative participation, you will need to call it out and encourage others to do so too. Don’t hesitate to discuss how to make the conversation more productive while the conversation is underway. Change course if there is a better way. You may need to exclude people if the behaviour persists after warnings. Sustaining a safe and constructive environment for the conversation is important. As you invited the discussion, it is your responsibility to keep it safe.
  • Defer Action: In every conversation, someone arrives too early with an answer. The more senior they are the more likely they are to believe that they have the answer and that they want to act on it now. Facilitators know to structure discussions to allow actions to be decided later. We find better actions when we have understood more by discussion.
  • Framework for Discussion: In the book The Communication Catalyst by Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek, the have a conversation framework that I have found incredibly useful in high stakes conversations. That framework is to discuss in order people’s purposes, concerns, relevant facts and then agreed actions. Facilitating conversations in this order creates a process of alignment that helps people collaborate even where they have opposing views.
  • Manage the Disequilibrium: Adaptive Leadership reminds us that meaningful conversations are not easy ones. To foster a meaningful generative discussion, we need to encourage participants to feel unsettled, to reflect and to consider the system more widely. This means you will need to lean into some conflict and challenge to get people’s attention and shift them out of everyday transactional discussions. I know I am prepared for the disequilibrium when my fingers tremble at starting the conversation.
  • Jumpstart discussion: If you want to start a meaningful discussion online with lots of participants, it is valuable to have a few people you have invited in to get the conversation going. Mentioning people is one way to start this, but for really meaningful topics you may want to engage a small group of early participants to help set the tone and kickstart the discussion. Don’t tell them what to say, but do arrange that they will participate to make their own contribution. Give some thought to ensuring that this early group has some disequilibrium in it.  You will want disagreements and diversity of views. Watching a group of people engage in group think is not engaging.
  • Conversation meter: Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek also have a tool in the Communication Catalyst called the conversation meter. It encourages participants to reflect on whether their contributions to the conversation are on a rising scale from Pretence, Sincerity, Accuracy to Authenticity. Conversations below Accuracy are unlikely to be effective. Conversations from Accuracy up improve in effectiveness.
  • It’s not A to B in one transaction: A meaningful conversation is a relationship, not a transaction. Don’t expect a meaningful conversation to be over and done in one interaction. Allow time for the conversation to develop over phases. Good generative conversations include new insights and ideas generated from pauses and reflection.
  • Questions: A good generative conversation depends on great questions. Ask lots of questions, especially early on in the discussion. Keep asking questions all the way to the end. One of the forgotten elements in modern workplace conversation is asking questions to confirm understanding and to validate agreements. These are critical to the value of a discussion. As George Bernard Shaw said,

‘The greatest challenge in communication is the illusion it has taken place’

  • Explore Options: Questions can encourage people to look widely for solutions. Encourage people to explore the whole system in which they operate. Ask people for analogous situations and metaphors that might help foster new and different patterns of thought. Spend as more time on what can be done than on the barriers and historical issues. You want to help guide people to their degrees of freedom to act.
  • Don’t Panic: Meaningful conversations aren’t easy. Things can and will go wrong. You may want them to go wrong to cause disequilibrium and have reflection on why. Whatever you do, don’t panic if something bad happens. Pause, reflect, deal with it and move on.
  • It’s Never You: You want to have a meaningful conversation and nobody else does. Your meaningful conversation collapses in fights and name-calling. Someone tells you the great discussion was a waste of time and won’t go anywhere. People will attack you personally. Remember you are not the conversation. You are just the facilitator. Don’t take it personally. It’s never you. You are not your work. There will be other conversations and you can try again.
  • Work towards Value: Purpose, your goals of the conversation and the value that flow should be your guide in the conversation. There may be many byways and digressions but your role is to keep bringing the conversation back to these elements.
  • Finish with Action not more Discussion: You will learn more by doing. Make sure your conversation agrees some actions at the end and there are experiments to be run. If people can’t agree, then decide on some hypotheses to test in action.
  • Practice: The best way to have meaningful conversations online is to practice having meaningful conversations online. Engage people and learn by doing. The skills you develop across a range of online forums will help you to develop your skills in starting and managing these discussions. You will also learn to appreciate the best practices and things to avoid that you see in action.

Community managers getting to this point might reflect that what I have described above sounds a lot like community management. Do we really expect each employee or user to manage each conversation in this detail? Yes, if the stakes are high enough. If you want a meaningful conversation you must deal with the fractal nature of online communities. The large scale issues are reflected at a conversation level. Skilling up participants to support the wider group dynamics is a powerful part of highly effective communities.

Creating the right value in online communities requires people to manage the scale and value of conversations. Developing these practical skills is essential to organisations ability to learn and adapt. Most importantly, conversation are how we leverage the potential of the people in the organisation.

‘Markets are conversations’ – Cluetrain Manifesto

Accelerating the Value of Collaboration

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Accelerating the value of collaboration remains the key issue for many organisational leaders.  The Value Maturity Model of Collaboration and the extended tools and practices that it has shaped have been a useful guide to adoption practice for leaders and community managers.  It has also inspired a range of other applications of the ideas including its use by Swoop Analytics to shape the analytics leaders and teams can use in these networks and a range of extended applications by others, including this recent post by Harold Jarche on its application in leadership.

The model is now approaching its 5th anniversary. As our understanding of collaboration in organisations grows through growing global research and practice, there is value to revisit and update the implications for the models we use to foster adoption and accelerate.  This post recaps the high-level themes from my latest work on application of the model and highlights the directions of my future work and research.

Connect: The Rise of Purpose and Psychological Safety

In five years, adoption practice and the related customer success focus of the technology vendors has changed dramatically. ‘Build it and they will come’ is unambiguously dead. Value is now a regular part of the conversation for organisations and adoption is often aligned to strategy. Value to the employee is increasingly an important element of planning.

The core elements of the Connect phase are largely well understood and have matured and begun to be codified into workshops, governance guides, playbooks and roadmaps for new solutions. What remains a challenge is that much of the focus reverts to technology and narrow use cases instead of a focus on people and value creation that people can deliver for the organisations strategy. At senior executive levels, strategic alignment remains a core issue in organisations.

Organisations are increasingly focused on the role of purpose for engagement of employees and as a guide to alignment for value. However, there remains a lot of confusion as to what purpose is and how to leverage it.  Just like collaboration, purpose cannot be imposed. Purpose is a process of discovery and alignment for the individuals in any group.

We have discussed since the beginning of the model that the Connect phase is a time for people to find ways in the organisation to connect their personal purpose to the shared purpose of the organisation. The better organisations design the Connect phase to enable people to reflect on and discover connections and alignment around purpose the stronger the foundations are for the community that develops. Collaborative communities can also play a key role in engaging a wider organisation in reflection and discussion around shared purpose.

It would be hard to miss the recent discussion around psychological safety in organisations. The work by Amy Edmondson and others to highlight the importance of psychological safety in teaming and collaboration puts real rigour behind many of the adoption challenges organisations face with these solutions. Five years ago unsafe organisations were full of people asking ‘Why should I share? What are the risks? What happens if I do something wrong’.  You find those same questions in the laggards today. If it is unsafe to share or take any risk, employees will not do so, no matter how nicely you ask.

As Dr Jen Frahm recently highlighted our control oriented cultures and cultural uniformity can create real issues for the safety of employees. High performing networks are those with high diversity and where people share more of themselves without the risks of being forced to do so.  There is much more work to do to make this commonplace and to enable all leaders in networks with the skills to foster and lead in this diverse environment.

Psychological safety is not something that organisations announce. The culture of the organisation in practice will determine the perception and expectations of safety Creating that practice requires leaders and teams to have active conversations about work, failures and appreciation. Amy Edmondson has highlighted many of those steps in her book, The Fearless Organisation. Collaborative communities are great places to foster this leadership practice and spread it to the wider community.

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Share: Working Out Loud in Every Day Work

The principal difference between a network that is solely a tool of employee communications and a productive network is the existence of a consistent practice of working out loud, sharing work in progress with relevant communities to foster learning and collaboration. Working out loud changes the nature of a network. It removes the social media feel and it helps employees find the relevance of the community to their work. It still surprises me how many organisations are focused on collaborative communities but don’t include work in their plans. You can see plenty of consultant’s approaches to social networking that leave work out too.

Many networks have working out loud. I have discussed before that by drawing discussion of work and awareness of work into the network, working out loud enables the transition to the Solve stage. As we have demonstrated through International Working Out Loud Week year on year, working out loud takes many forms and is increasingly practiced around the world.

The best performing networks don’t see working out loud as an extra thing that they do. They don’t have dedicated working out loud processes, groups, tags or feeds. The goal is for everyday work to occur on the network. The organisation exists for the purposeful work and so should the collaborative network. Work is designed to be open, to be narrated, to have input from others and to allow others to contribute to the goals. When that is the case, value creation accelerates quickly and employees quickly understand the value of changing their work to be more collaborative.

Solve: Enabling Degrees of Freedom

All business is about change to create new value. Most traditional organisations are established with so many layers of control, process and policy that change is difficult. Employees and customers are expected to put up with or work around, partial solutions, broken things and poor outcomes. In every senior management conversation, fixing these issues and delivering the efficiency and effectiveness outcomes that follow is a key topic of discussion. Senior managers tear their hair at the silly little issues standing in the way of performance but the culture of fear and lack of freedom to act differently is why these issues persist.

When we import concepts from social media into our organisation collaboration, we can become overly focused on hierarchical power and fame. Organisational collaboration is not a power or game. Organisations don’t need influencers. They don’t need heroes who share their thought leadership or highlight issues for others to solve. They need the work of change to address the real gaps and to solve issues as and when they surface in the flow of work.

We have had a rush of discussion of alternate organisational models, like holacracy, agile and more, many from the start-up world, that endeavour to address these issues by fostering discussion of tensions and accelerating change. However, we have also seen that implementing these models in a traditional organisation meets real challenges. They are often an entirely alien experience of organisational leadership, interactions and decision making. The same managers who talk of the importance of trust also struggle to deal with the vulnerability of trusting.

My recent experience is that we should be focusing instead on the degrees of freedom employees need to realise the organisational strategy, make change and create new value. Degrees of freedom are the magic ingredient in a collaborative community. Instead of adopting an alien culture wholesale, we can enable employees to begin to create agile change one degree of freedom at a time. This is a key theme of my current research and practice.

Leading collaborative networks encourage these degrees of freedom in the themes of discussion that they pursue, in the examples that they set and the leadership that they foster. Organisations release the real or perceived constraints with approaches from a Fix it group to encourage all employees to take ownership of change to Invitations to remove policies. Organisations create more value this way from enabling front line workers to represent the customer to more elaborate innovation programs, collaborative networks should be enabling every employee to contribute to making the organisation better. Organisations enable greater changes by tolerating their rebels and giving them the tools to start movements.  That means more than just chatting. It means the freedom to do themselves and experience the personal rewards of influencing others and achieving a better way of work.

Innovate: Scaling Agency and Agile Change

Organisations exist to enable us to realise human potential individually and as a collective. That goal of greater effectiveness is widely demanded by employees but translates in management speak into strategic value creation, innovation, agility and change management. To break free of the innovation labs model of value creation we need to be able to scale employee agency and sustain agile change aligned to strategic outcomes.

We lose sight of this often in our focus on efficiency. We need to escape the Four Horsemen of the Organisational Apocalypse and build organisations that give employees agency, scale that agency into teams, communities and networks and leverage agile models of change. Digital transformation and the competitive environment demand that change but it is a direct challenge to deeply engrained management values and traditional concepts of leadership and power.

When we consider agency and agile change we must recognise that these must be supported by new systems and new capabilities. The freedom to act without the systems or capability to do so is no freedom at all. Organisations that want to realise the potential of employees will need to focus on how they support the development of these capabilities and systemic approaches to capability development that ensure agency results in effective change.

Conclusion: Ongoing Work Accelerating the Value of Collaboration 

Almost five years ago, when I wrote the first post on the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration, I thought the challenges of adopting social collaboration would largely be completed over the next two years. Five years on, we have learned a great deal but we still have only begun to scratch the possibilities of realising human potential, working together in better ways and finding new sources of value.

I underestimated the cultural challenges, overestimated the technology and the willingness to change traditional models of management. We have in many cases chosen to put new tools to the service of old values of management. What I have realised in the years since is that the process is one of mastery, not achieving perfection. We are working in the realm of culture, community and people, not technology. That means we will always be learning and coming together to do better. The greatest collaborative communities will be those who accelerate the process to realise more value for participants and the organisation.

Applying the Four Drivers of Value in Collaboration

 

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After publishing my recent post on the four drivers of value creation in collaboration, I chatted with Anna Chu about how these concept is applied. The conversation highlighted to me that there was value in further explaining how to use these drivers to connect senior leaders and employees to the value of collaboration.  This post will explore that topic further.

Drivers as a Link

As I noted in the initial post the four drivers are a simple tool to find value creation opportunities. Their power is that they act as a link between organisational strategic value whether in economic or non-economic value and the features and benefits of technology solutions and their use cases.

Let’s look at two examples:

Top Down Start – From Strategy to Use Case:

  • The CEO approaches you to improve Innovation in line with the new corporate strategy. The strategy is a little unclear on how innovation works in your organisation so this responsibility is a little daunting.
  • You have a conversation with the CEO and ask some questions to explore the drivers:
    • Growth: What outcomes do you hope will grow through Innovation?
    • Effectiveness: How do you see Innovation enable us to do things better?
    • Velocity: What do you want us to do faster through innovation?
    • Protection: How do you see innovation help us to avoid risks?
  • The discussion is long and involves a lot more back and forth but together you clarify that the CEO is interested in how the organisation can more quickly bring products to market based on insights from customers. She is worried about being disrupted by a new competitor.
  • You develop a strategy for the innovation initiative that is based around a series of new use steps that demand different ways of working:
    • Growth: Increase Sales and Retain Customers by Delivering New Products
    • Effectiveness: Better Convert Insights to new Product Features with higher value for Customers
    • Velocity: Deliver Products to market Faster using better interactions in product team and the rest of the organisation
    • Protection: Reduce competitive threat of disruption
  • With these tangible steps you can now approach users to discuss how they might achieve these steps by changing the way they work:
    • Growth: Better train sales people on new products and help them to better pass on customer feedback and insights directly to the product team. Allow them to collaboratively work together to develop new sales strategies for the new products
    • Effectiveness: Enable the product team to work to a product backlog with more customer insights and involving more interaction with the customers and the rest of the organisation
    • Velocity: Reduce the number of meetings and approval steps to bring a product to market. Shift from exhaustive approval to transparent experiments that are monitored by all stakeholders
    • Protection: Alert the whole organisation to the disruptive threat. Engage all employees in the search for customer insights and competitive intelligence. They can come from anywhere.

Bottom Up – From Use Case to Strategy

  • You notice an employee using a collaboration platform in an unusal way and you go engage them in conversation.  She is posting daily tips and tricks on password security.
  • The employee explains that she has decided to work out loud on her challenge of improving employee passwords.  She knows that passwords impact everyone and her role in IT security doesn’t give her contact with everyone.  There aren’t many resources for this initiative.
  • You help the employee to connect this activity to the strategic goals of the organisation:
    • Effectiveness: How can we better secure organisational data and systems to ensure legal compliance and also to maintain a secure environment?
    • Protection: How do we avoid the risks of intrusion or breach of legal compliance?
  • You work with the employee to get some additional funding given the strategic importance of this work and you develop a much wider range of initiatives that leverage collaboration to address the key work challenges using different collaboration opportunities:
    • Effectiveness: In addition to better passwords, you are able to improve single sign-on, deliver better document management, etc
    • Protection: You are able to engage a much wider group of employees in working together to improve information security more generally. In particular, you let employees know the many risks and legal requirements through discussion and action together.

A Bridge Between

Organisational goals and strategies are unique and highly contextual. So are the goals and strategies of users. The power of the four drivers is that they sit at a middle level of abstraction which helps connect high level strategic concepts and outcomes from the strategy process with specific individual user actions.  Using the drivers to guide conversation and to guide questions helps anyone leading adoption to build a much stronger connection between activity and value in both directions.

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Breaking Down the Value of Collaboration: Four Drivers of Value

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For over five years, I have been talking about the potential for organisations to create value everyday using collaboration. Through the Value Maturity Model, and its application in the Collaboration Value Canvas, I have discussed repeatedly the importance of an understanding of value to users and to the organisation.

Until now, I have left the definition of value entirely to the imaginations of readers. One reason for resisting defining value was to avoid an immediate reduction of value to an ROI calculation, which is both notoriously ambiguous and beside the point. The role of value in this discussion is not to justify investment accounting. The role of value is to shape the adoption actions, the use cases and the norms of the community that an organisation is seeking to create. The second reason for my reluctance is that value means something different to almost every organisation at every time. How an organisation and its people need to create additional value is highly dependent on their context.

In this post, I want to share my key drivers of value creation, which I find useful tools for anyone seeking to guide collaboration adoption in a wide range of contexts. Ability to leverage the drivers of collaboration will help you to identify the opportunities for value creation from collaboration, shape use cases and communicate to individual users about value in a simple way. To explain the path to these drivers, we must talk about what value and break it down to everyday topics of business conversation.

Understanding What We Mean by Value

Value is in economics is a measure of the benefit to be gained from any activity. Vibrant and sustainable organisations create a surplus of value, using their resources in a strategic way to create more benefits than the value of their intial resources. Value add is the difference between the benefits generated and the resources consumed. The goal of most strategy is to sustain and increase the value added by an organisation.

At an individual level employees also want to experience purpose and meaning in their work. They want to deliver greater benefits to themselves and others than simply the time value of their work.

Value can be monetary but it can also come in wider non-economic forms. Therefore as we think about value for individuals and organisations we need to keep in mind:

  • Economic value add – the dollars and cents; and
  • Non-Economic Value – any other meaningful sources of value (i.e. meaningful in the eye of the beholder)

If we break down how both economic value add is created and non-economic value we will find some common drivers. If you are short of time or not interested in the background to my approach, you can skip to the answer in the section entitled Four Drivers of Value Creation below.

Economic Value Added 

Economic value add can be defined for an organisation as the excess of the net operating profit after tax of an organisation over its cost of capital.  An organisation deploys financial capital in its operating activities, that capital has a cost and the activities need to generate more operating profit to be sustaining.

A value driver tree enables us to break these concepts down to more everyday topics of business strategy, activity and conversation in green in the table below. Sales, Cost of Sales, Other Organisational Costs, investment in assets and working capital are key elements of how much economic value added a business creates. If the adoption activities in your organisation are not changing these sources of value in some way, then they are unlikely to be creating economic value, especially after the cost of adoption is taken into account.

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Non Economic Value

We can similarly breakdown some major categories of non-economic value, such as Social, Environmental, Governance and Generational value considerations. Because non-economic value is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ to some extent, this list is inevitably a partial one. There are likely more categories that are omitted, such is the richness of human life as expressed by individuals in organisational communities.

Economists will argue that some or all of these can be captured in or flow through to economic value, but the average person sees many of these sources of value as richer for lacking a direct monetary equation. Many of the sources of value in green are key elements of creating an organisation or living a life that is rich in human potential.

The green categories of non-economic value listed below are those most commonly discussed in any project of adoption of collaboration. These may be the starting points for any project. Non-economic value add is usually critical in the ultimate user and organisation success of any collaboration project. There is however a danger if this value is defined only in terms of these Capitalised nouns and they are not translated into specific measures of success and intiatives that users and the organisation can embrace.  Projects that set out after the mystery of ‘Culture’ or ‘Engagement’ without further support or without considering other categories of value, especially economic value, will likely fail because users rightly question their point.

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The Four Sources of Collaboration Value

At the beginning of my career in financial services we had a simple mental model, derived from the Cohen Brown Sales framework, of how we delivered value to customers from the vast array of products and services that a large diversified financial services organisation offered in banking and wealth management. That model was “Save Money, Make Money, Save Time or Protect Money”. Reducing the complexity to these four options guided bankers and other advisors through a great deal of complexity.

As similar guiding structure can be used for value creation generally. When we look at how collaboration can deliver value to each of the green elements of value in both economic and non-economic value we find that value is created by four key drivers. In simplest terms those drivers are:

  • More: Growth – how can we have a bigger impact? how can we help more people? Many organisations want to grow in customer relationships, in scale of operations or in other ways.
  • Better: Effectiveness – how can we ensure we do the most we can do? how do we do more of the right things? The literature of Lean has enriched our understanding of the value of effectiveness in economic value but effectiveness is also a concept that works for non-economic values too.
  • Faster: Velocity – how can we take less time to do our work and to get to our goals? Time is a valuable and expiring resource. Let’s use it as well as we can and remove the traditional work frustrations of delay and waiting.
  • Safer: Protect – how can we avoid risks and better manage consequences? Risk is a part of any life or organisation. We can however improve our management of risk.

As you can see in the tables above, I have highlighted in amber, how each of these drivers commonly creates value for the elements of value in driver. For example costs and working capital can create value if they are used more effectively or with greater velocity.

Here’s a little more detail on what these drivers each mean in organisational terms:

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One of the advantages of framing adoption conversations in these terms, is that it helps make the value of activities clear to users and senior leaders in simple terms.  The key benefits that they are likely to see are:

  • Individual and Organisational Growth
  • Increased Individual and Organisational Effectiveness
  • Improved Velocity in activity, opportunity and leverage of potential, both in an employee and organisational view
  • An environment where individuals and the organisation have better Protection against risks

We Create Value Because We Are Human

If we are to make work more human and more rewarding through shared leverage of human potential in collaboration, then these key drivers should guide our projects and guide our value conversations with stakeholders. We should set our metrics and our use cases around these drivers so that we have the widest impact on value creation. If we need to increase value creation we can come back to these drivers to search for a way forward for users and the organisation.

Every organisation and every user needs to define the value of collaboration to see effective adoption. Understanding value is critical for anyone seeking to accelerate adoption of collaboration in organisations. The four drivers of value can help us to keep conversations and the actions focused on how collaboration can have its greatest impact on value.

Appendix: Recapping All Value Creation Together

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Collaboration Adoption: Act Your Way to a New Way of Thinking

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It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. – Jerry Sternin, The Power of Positive Deviance

Thinking Gets in the Way of Change

A common barrier to social adoption in organisations is when we let our traditional management patterns of thought get in the way of employee adoption of the technology. Because social technology in the workplace demands new actions and new interactions that don’t fit with our mechanical metaphor of employee performance we find our traditional thinking is a barrier.

Adoption is commonly held up as senior executives and even the employees themselves debate issues like:

  • What if I don’t trust the employees in this organisation?
  • What if they waste time?
  • What if they don’t value my contributions?
  • What if nothing valuable comes of all the effort and investment?
  • What if they don’t collaborate?
  • What if I lose power or influence?

We struggle with these challenges because social adoption is ultimately a sense-making exercise. The platforms are neutral. The networks that gather on them have no defined purpose. We need to come together as a community to individually and jointly make sense of the potential, the value and how to realise it.

This sense-making exercise is why you can’t order collaboration. It is also another reason to be sceptical of those who will guarantee collaboration with technology or fancy adoption practices. The same scepticism should apply to any claims to deliver fast adoption. The best way for each community to realise the value of social adoption is for them to practice it and make sense of the change.

Acting Creates New Sense, New Potential and Accelerates Change

The Collaboration Value Maturity Model is based in a series of simple actions that individuals and communities can take. The power of these actions is that they are generic enough to be universally valuable in organisations. Every organisation and indvidual can benefit from connecting, sharing, solving and innovating. We can get started on these actions now in and for themselves:

  • Want to know people in the organisation better? Connect
  • Want to learn more about what’s going on? Share
  • Want to make work easier and better? Solve
  • Want to deliver more value? Innovate

These four steps enable the individuals and the organisation to benefit from a set of near universal use cases that deliver the basic value case for collaboration in any organisation. Starting a community with a clear sense of the value to be created by the action helps justify user’s time and efforts and also shapes the future growth of the community by providing a north star.

Acting As If Culture Has Changed

The secondary power of these four steps is that as people act on each of them, they effectively act as if a new paradigm of organisational culture is true:

  • Connect as if the organisation is full of humans
  • Share as if the organisation can be trusted
  • Solve as if the organisation is enabling, generous and collaborative
  • Innovate as if the organisation is empowering, agile and responsive

As people act through each of these four stages they surprise themselves with the potential that is realised, reinforcing their practice and fostering new beliefs as to the culture of the organisational community. There will be scepticism, doubts and recalcitrant sub-communities in the organisation. The goal is never 100% adoption. You only need enough people acting as if to create the value that justifies the organisational investment in collaboration and helps realise your strategy through collaboration.

Because culture is just a series of expectations of how we behave in an organisation. This pattern of ‘acting as if’ creates change in the culture of the organisation. Others see the practice and the benefits and are encouraged to copy the practice and reinforce it. Over time this consistent practice and the community it builds does more to change the organisation than posters, videos and CEO speeches.

Those who have been through the endless debates at the beginning of a social adoption journey know that issues like trust, safety and value are quickly resolved in properly managed adoption journeys. Often they are never discussed again after the program of adoption support is approved.

 

The Rhythm of Collaboration.

slide1Time and the pace of business cycles play an important role in collaboration. However, we are so accustomed to our own time cycles we don’t often reflect on them. Designing the rhythm of collaboration in your organisation for effectiveness is one of the key untapped opportunities for organisations.

Time Flowing Fast as Water

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace Kenyon College commencement speech

Time is ever a concern in business. We worry about wasting it. We worry about how it can be better used. However, despite all our concerns time tends like water in the story above to flow past us unnoticed if not for the regular milestones that bring it back to our attention. Techniques like sprints, project planning and other productivity disciplines can also help focus our attention on time.

When I wrote about the role of transition in discussion Microsoft’s explanation of how their products support an inner and outer loop’s of collaboration, I threw into a table a row that discussed time. At the time I had a query about it and I intended to write more on the topic. That thought flowed away too quickly to turn into action. A recent conversation with Steve Nguyen of the Yammer Product Team reminded me to return to the topic.

Why did I include time?  The time cycles of a business are one of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration. We can often assume that everyone in the business perceives time the same way we do. Our perception of time is directly influenced by the normal operational business cycles within which we work. This cycle is usually determined by the length of the core process we manage each day.

This difference of perception can be a barrier to sustaining effective collaboration. If my definition of ‘fast’ is in the next hour and another business defines fast as by the end of the month, there is likely to be conflict. Let’s look at an example: an organisation with retail stores is experiencing an issue with a recently implemented IT project. 

  • Retail stores live and die by the day.  Everyone in the retail part of the business will be focused on having an issue addressed by no later than the end of the day. Tomorrow’s trading needs to be secured.
  • Depending on whether the IT project is waterfall or agile the natural time scale of that project could be weeks or months. They might be working ‘fast’ to fix an issue (i.e. fixing it within their shortest operational timescale), but still disappoint the retail store for days until the issue is resolved.
  • Head Office might work to its logical planning time scale, the quarter. When the dispute is escalated to head office there will be yet another definition of ‘fast’ to manage.

Managing the Rhythm of Collaboration

One reason the inner and outer loops approach works well in organisations is that it accommodates the differences between work that happens in immediate teams that is often on the shortest cycles of time and collaborative work that happens more slowly. A fast flowing operational feed will bury messages that invite reflection, discovery, serendipity, co-creation and the longer cycles of innovation.

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In Cultivating Communities of Practice by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, their research into effective communities of practice highlighted that the rhythm of a community was an important part of effective communities. These communities had predictable and routine cycles that helped foster connection, sharing and working together to solve problems and innovate. Community members could adapt to the collaboration activities of the communities because they were predictable and because they aligned to the time cycles of the wider work going on across the organisations. If collaboration needs to be pushed against the grain of the organisation or the cycles of teams, then it will have an unsustainable overhead of community management and the collaborative community will not be sustainable.

When facilitating adoption of collaboration in an organisation, community managers need to consider the time cycles of the use cases that they want to see to deliver the organisations strategy.  In doing this community managers need to consider:

  • Change takes time. Have we allowed enough time & support for behaviours to change and for activity to mature into something self-generating?
  • Is this use case relating to the time cycles of inner loop or outer loop collaboration? Which approach will best support the use cases we are looking to see sustained?
  • What is the natural cycle of activity in the business? How can we align this collaboration activity to a natural and self-sustaining cycle in the business?
  • Are there any time cycle differences between fast moving and slow moving teams that we need to allow for or manage in this collaboration? How do we manage these transitions to enable effective collaboration?
  • What is the aggregate impact of all the various cycles of activity in the collaboration community? Can we engender more effective communication by adjusting the cycles or managing the calendar of activities to reduce conflicts and periods of high demand on users?