Enterprise Soulless Networks?

What is happening with Enterprise Social Networks? We seem to be nowhere futher harnessing their value than we were in 2010. Check out this article from the Economist back then. It reads like an ad for Facebook at Work today!

Mark Britz piqued my interest yesterday with a tweet:

I replied:

I took our conversation and turned it into a post:

Social. It used to be so simple. It was simply connecting, sharing, helping each other. But somewhere along the way, technology has taken over. Technology has become the lazy answer to problems that organizations refuse to fully understand. And, as the technolgy is sold on utopian promises to solve those problems, vendors are creating more and more ways to "nudge" employees in the right direction.

Case in point - Enterprise Social Networks. It's simple really.

People aren't collaborating? You Don't Have a Collaborative Culture. People aren't sharing? They don't want to. People aren’t liking? There’s nothing to like!

And hey, instead of fixing this, let's create user interfaces that nudge or even bludgeon people with the tech. Let's have stickers for most likes! We'll force people to like with bots next! That will engage people (although not the people who actually get value from an ESN).

You see, an #ESN is a tool that requires a culture where everyone is a treated like an adult. Where people can try and fail with support. Where people can ask for help. Where leaders are fallible every day and share their experience of being so.

What we're talking about is a social workplace where collaboration, some self-forming teams, intrapreneurship and a relatively loose structure are standard.

If you don't have this, then your ESN really will be a Facebook for Work. Superficial, full of content marketing (mostly from corp comms and marketing), and lacking useful interaction.

Honestly, if your executives don’t see how the future of their company depends on dialogue, conversation, transparency, openness and self-direction...you can only hope the generations change in charge before the company has a Kodak moment (of the wrong kind).

By the way - the people who are actually using your #ESN “in the right way”. Let them and don’t get in their way. If you have 30% of your company engaged and getting value from the tool, it doesn't matter if the other 70% don’t use it. Don’t force them! Don't create campaigns, don't add more tech, don't make the tool become more work than their work.

I'm agnostic when it comes to which is a better ESN. Social tools do the same thing - they help connect people more quickly over distances and other barriers. Please bear that in mind when I pick on a vendor here. This is what I'm talking about - the end of simplicity at Jive.

Is the focus on tech creating Enterprise Soulless Networks? 


Ideas go nowhere in the top-down organization

Our CEO wrote a blog yesterday asking for people to submit ideas for products and others things in the comments section. I've been thinking and writing about innovation in legacy orgs recently, so I thought I'd respond using some of what I've learned.

I've been trying to help us use Yammer as an ideation platform, so I wrote what I hope is a thoughtful reply. To me, all the ideas in the world are useless without a way to support employees owning those ideas. That means lean startup-style intrapreneurship programs, agile decision making, alternative business model generation, and supplemental support such as design thinking. I said that in the response. Let me know what you think:

"People do suggest ideas everyday. I think the problem is more it's they are not heard. There is no process to help employees own ideas, test them, evaluate them, and scale the best.

I've been running Yammer for two years at ..... Yammer (and similar social tools) require a different way of working: more transparent, agile, and with ownership of ideas. It's a model well used by companies.....

If we use digital workplace tools like Yammer to their potential, X-Co would be an idea-rich network of a company. To leverage this, it means complementing with lean startup/agile business model prototyping and supportive processes like design thinking. These help you stop thinking so much, stop ever-planning, and get "doing." We could take an idea, test it and turn around very quickly. Yammer helps - but it's the other stuff that are key. Here are links to two small examples in the last two weeks in Yammer:

Idea 1: great example of innovative small win thinking with a link to the example.

Idea 2: a really current idea from an intern.

... [I had to redact a bit here]

Who knows what else we might uncover. Look at the amazing ideas that have appeared under this blog. It's not always the big data, market insight from big vendors, paid-for consultant expertise that we need.  On Yammer, every day, I see great small ideas too. We need a way for owners to take them on and run with them - quickly and with support. (I'd love to own making this a reality)."

I'll see what response I get. I hope it's positive - I see such great potential every day.

Transformation Doesn’t Happen in Silos

Mark Britz and I get into pretty interesting conversations on Twitter. We’ve been doing this a lot and thought it’s about time we shared more widely. We've put together a post based on our latest chat. You can read it here and on Mark's excellent blog.

There’s much talk of transforming HR, reimagining L&D, shaking up corp comms, disrupting marketing, “hacking” [insert your dept name here]. Transformation! Hacking! SEO buzzwords abound. LinkedIn feeds are full of it. Trade publications are recommending it. Armies of consultants are demanding it. Organizations are spending a fortune on it, yet once again nothing is fundamentally changing. 

When “change” happens (and it can) it still happens within the department. This reveals our paradigm - the way our leaders see the structure of organizations - a last century, industrial era mindset. The result is a transformed department…that’s it. With the same problems, the same people - apart from the ones who were fired - the same leaders, the same titles. Really, nothing changes. It’s just the same old re-organization - not transformation.

A real transformation would see the end of these silos, an end to big departmental structures, decentralisation of power, a shift in authority, an end to the “business relationship manager”. For example, a real transformation of HR would likely result in no HR silo. Now that’s revolutionary!

Why do we do this over and over again? This time Amara’s law is particularly pertinent:

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." - Roy Amara

Short Run:
Leaders are sold on technology as a solution to big problems… big problems in their areas. But this isn’t transformation, it’s piecemeal modification. For example, in HR: people analytics, performance systems, another LMS, maybe even an ESN. IT are dumping every shiny tool they see onto employees in a bid to keep up with “being digital”. Comms (the marketing of four years ago) are obsessed with new “channels” to give employees more and more information. And it’s not a question of whether comms or HR or IT are well-intentioned; it’s whether they are willing to keep repeating the same mistakes. 

All we’re doing is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Long Run:
Technology is changing product development and distribution, it’s changing political discourse, it’s changing the consumer landscape, and has the potential to continue transforming our physical landscape. Take for example this Greg Ferenstein article on Medium where he reveals a simulation that showed how vast amounts of urban land could be reclaimed and 90% of cars would disappear due to automated vehicles. Technology stands to reimage the globe, physically, socially, and politically like never before. 

We are naive if we don't think organizational structures can't change. Or are we short sighted, comfortable in our paradigm so as to unconsciously impede the progress of digital transformation by holding tight to familiar structures. Our cautious human nature prevents us from embracing real change. If we could just get out of our own way and let go of our archaic reward structures, our traditional ideas about leadership, our inability to be truly open and transparent with our work. Could we harness technology to create the modern firm - one that actually benefits consumers, workers and shareholders alike? The answer is Yes - there are already companies doing just this! 

What’s Next?
If you’re fed up with endless re-orgs, talk of “transformation”, talk of disruption with no compelling alternative vision to the current state of affairs, uninspired by leadership, and feel like you’re working Einstein’s world of insanity. What do we suggest for those of you who would like to get started?

Well, the kicker is, there’s nothing easy. And when you’re out there on your own talking about new ideas, it’s tough.

Frankly you can only transform yourself. You can only change your viewpoints, outlooks, beliefs, ideas, and work. The fortunes spent on changing organizations are wasted because those who spend the money don’t change - they just tell others to. Change is social. Change happens one conversation at a time as Euan Semple has said. Be bold and talk about new ideas. Build your networks of like-minded support across departments, not just your own. Here are some frameworks to help guide your first conversations. There are no formulas - no one-size fits all. You and your organization will need to be agile to adapt to circumstance. To create your own version of the networked organizations.

A few things to get you started. 

Cluetrain Manifesto

What is Wirearchy by Jon Husband

Organize for Complexity - Niels Pflaeging

A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making Cynefin - Dave Snowden

Harold Jarche’s Blog

Euan Semple’s Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do

Race Against the Machine - Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

Show Your Work - Jane Bozarth



Deckchair photo: Deck Chair by Cliff https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/3278644345 (CC BY 2.0)



Small Data in Big Orgs: Not Sexy Enough

Working in a large company is frustrating. One way in particular is when trying to quickly *do* something with interesting pieces of small data. When enterprise social networks are used well, employees share all kinds of wonderful insights that benefit the organization. Much of what is shared is individual insight or ideas, based on real front-line experience. The research scale is n=1, but it doesn't mean it is worthless. Quite the contrary. 

Here's an example (and what inspired this post). Just this week I saw a novel product placement idea from a field sales rep on our ESN. They had negotiated something different with a local store. I was impressed and asked them how they would measure the impact of the idea. They came back a few days later with actual figures that showed it was a good idea. But that's where the story ends. 

I asked around (globally) if we could take the successful idea and run it as a prototype in a few more stores. Could we use the same measures of success for a short, defined period - basically run a very defined sprint. Then, should the idea work again in other stores, scale it as fast as possible. In my mind, why couldn't you go from a small, tested, successful prototype idea to a bigger rollout in a few weeks? The opportunity window might be small, but the effort would likewise be small. The result may not scale, but would open up a new level of engagement with the sales team.

As I've discovered many times, systems and processes are not set up for small data experiments. To run a small team, agile experiment, you need marketing, sales, product teams and others to do two things:

  1. be represented on the experiment team by someone who has been devolved decision-making authority; or
  2. be OK with not being part of the experiement team

Instead, all want to be involved and have significant input. Or, in this case, the opportunity was too small to even register an interest.

It's a shame. Big organizations are getting better at looking at their big data, but they are missing out on the small. Big data is sexy. Small data isn't. Big data is where the big rewards are (so say the marketing consultants). But as Rufus Pollock of the Open Data Foundation says

"Size in itself doesn't matter – what matters is having the data, of whatever size, that helps us solve a problem or address the question we have."

The field sales rep I worked with had solved an interesting problem in an innovative way. Unfortunately, we couldn't go any further.

I've always been a connector. People to people. People to information. I see many small data opportunities, just waiting someone to make the right connections. But it's shame there is little operational support for it in big organizations. As I've written before, the future of organizations depend on how they leverage networks: for innovation and continued longevity. At the moment, the lack of understanding of the benefits of small data is another reason that big legacy organizations cannot harness the innovation network potential they possess. 

I'll keep plugging away. The flip side of being a connector in a big organization I find heartwarming, rich seams of ideas and collaboration every day (even if no-one else notices). 

Mind the innovation [insert well-known retail company name here]

I had an interesting experience in a well-known retail store the other day. A great example of not leveraging employee networks for innovation.

I had downloaded their mobile app, which was quite nice. Mainly, though, to get a discount. 

When it came to pay, I had a great conversation with the person working the checkout. 

"How are you finding the app?" she asked. I gave her some feedback and then asked her the same. She gave me a detailed reply that told me the developers had obviously not thought about her experience when creating the app. She also had some very neat ideas to improve both the employee and customer experience of the app and more generally. She was a super-responsive employee.  

"How do you pass on this feedback?" I asked after heading her ideas. "Well, I can tell my manager, who might pass it onto the area manager. But, really, what's the point?" I sympathised - it's all too familiar. Disconnented companies, top-down companies - where innovation goes to die.

What a wasted opportunity to loop employee networks into a crowdsourced development opportunity. Who talks to customers the most? Who works with your app the most? Who can continually get feedback in a conversational, empathetic way? Your front line staff. 

It doesn't matter how many cool design labs your development team run, or how many post-it notes end up on the wall. If your company doesn't tap into their innovation networks, it's another Innovation opportunity lost. 

Funnily enough, she had enough authority to decide what counted as "t-shirt" for the promotional deal of the day. Or was it she wasn't given any clarity or a place to ask?

Top-down companies: where innovation goes to die

The more top-down stuctured and controlled a company, the less innovative. Why? Because to be innovative you need to leverage networks. Internally, externally, partnerships, industry, government, ecosystems. Networks need trust. Top-down breeds mistrust. 

I was thinking about this when talking to the organizer of the Social Workplace Conference (at WeWork in London, June 10th - I'm facilitating a session!). A social workplace, whether in person or virtual is all about creating connection, building value networks, and knowing how to harness and deliver on that value. It's far more than just "getting along". It is far deeper than "partnerships".

This is crucially important. I've been reading some interesting articles such as this one that say we're at the lowest point of innovation in over two decades. It may be that the digital revolution is getting embedded and we'll see things pick up. But I think the issue is cultural and organizational. Our companies are not set up to deliver on networked or ecosystem innovation.

By ecosystem, I don't mean more apps for a particular platform. I'm talking about the large networks that need leveraging to solve some of the most complex issues facing society (and your company).  

You see, innovation is about people: connecting people and ideas. It's a cultural thing, not a technological problem.

As Steve Case explains in The Third Wave, it's about generating trust. He's talking about the AOL-Time Warner merger in this quote, but the book explains how trust and large-scale collaboration/innovation networks are crucial in order to exploit the digital innovation potential that currently exists:

"The searing failure of the merger of AOL and Time Warner came down to people, relationships, and culture. We had a pretty good sense of what we should do, but we didn’t have the right people, or the right culture, to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us. The lack of trust crippled the company’s ability to be successful."

Sounds like a history of many M&As. And now legacy companies are trying to catch up by creating venture funds, inovation labs. These sometimes hope to co-opt the start-up/entrepreneurial cultures of other companies (or at least hoping it rubs off). But because they are not viewing innovation as a process that includes networks and large scale collaboration, the ripple effect is going to be small. If you can't even harness your organization internally for new ideas, the chances of seeing the bigger picture are pretty low.

The funny thing? Big companies could have network-building economies of scale. They have lots of employees, their products and services invariably involve huge collaborations, they are used to working with government and industry. But becuase of their organizational structure, leadership, purpose and vision, they are LEAST placed to leverage this huge potential.


I don't know which article of so many to link to from these people, so here's a list of people I ready frequently. Go read the experts: Niels Pflaeging, The Ready, Jack Martin Leith, Harold Jarche, Mark Britz and Jon Husband (my diagram is in homage). And many others. 



Leadership Development: Analogue and Outdated

Most company leadership development programmes are outdated, analogue, and not fit for the digital workplace. They might use fancy LMS systems and incorporate all kinds of excellent experiential learning methods. They might also incorporate some famous academics (apart from company ego, I still don't understand this) and have a social/peer learning element. But in essence they are the same old programmes that we're seen for the past two or three decades. And - guess what? - nothing changes.

To be a leader you've got to be:

  • Authentic - check.
  • Situational - OK.
  • Accountable - yep, got that.
  • Transparent - well, I'll try.
  • Good at simplifying - yes, well, that's not going to happen at XCo..
  • A good listener - now, I don't have time for that too.
  • And whatever our company believes is important too - I'm tired.

And when you're finish the programme, you head back to work and try to be a better leader. But then the work gets in the way,  the reward and promotion processes act as disencentives, and only some of it sticks...maybe.

ROI? Well, the industry is worth billions to providers. But I'm not sure about value to those paying for either external solutions or in-house development. 

There are two problems I see every day:

First: leadership development does not incorporate actual work. It is side of the desk stuff. The people delivering the programmes usually have no experience in the business. They have an intrerest in leadership and are experts in the theories (or at least folk tales of leadership).

But second and most important: leadership development programmes don't use the tools a company already has for work. It adds more tools - sometimes really fancy ones. But it doesn't, for example, show you how to collaborate on a document with your team, to hold open meetings on a video call, or to build your value networks using social media.

It's the second problem that I see as most critical. The new digital tools that are arriving in the workplace require the behaviours I listed earlier. Then, they can scale the behaviours to a wide audience. I can't emphasise enough that the tech itself does nothing and changes nothing. It can only scale what we already do.

I truly believe that helping a manager get comfortable and successful using digital tools would be far more effective than most leadership programmes. For example, working with their team using Skype, Yammer and O365. Or Google Docs and Hangouts. Or see my previous post on how an ESN is a great social media practice ground for execs. In all situations, collaborative behaviours and skills are best learned by collaborating.

If we want our companies to be innovative, creative, and agile (or the buzzword of the week) this is what needs to happen. This is the new change "management". It's also scalable and more able to adapt to circumstance. Get potential leaders using the tools, acting in a way that makes them effective, and delivering measurable value. Or, even better, coach those who are already using the tools effectively because they are your real future leaders. After all, no analogue leadership programme deals with #DigitalCultureShock.

I've been interesting in digital leadership ever since I used to sit in an office, writing "leadership programmes". I was excited to learn about the research and methods to develop "leaders" but was disappointed to feel that the programmes didn't bring the value I was expecting. I believe was because they were not tied to the immediate work people needed to actually do or the systems they used to do it.

There have been a lot of interesting pieces on Digital Leadership skills recently - like this one. Or anything written by Harold Jarche. Writers on the new wave of leadership talk about people adept at human skills and bringing the best out in others - using digital tools to expand their influence (in a positive way) and opening new spaces for others to excel. Current leadership development does nothing of the sort.


Adoption is a Sales Metric, not a Value Metric

I was at a Microsoft event a few weeks ago. Their take on "any-device" collaborative technology is interesting and could yield huge benefits to organizations (if they are really ready for it!). But I found one thing frustrating about much of the discussion.

It was the focus on adoption as the key measure of success.  

I hear the same metric bandied about in IT, comms and HR (LMS "adoption" anyone?). To me, it's a useless measure. It's a metric for salespeople to measure their success, not for users getting value. Indeed, Microsoft even rewards their salespeople based on client adoption numbers (or at least they did in 2012). 

I've been working with social collaboration technology for years, in IT, HR and Comms departments. Often, I've had my dislike of adoption as a useful metric questioned. But I'd rather have 20% of the organization using new digital technology and getting deep value (i.e. it's completely embedded in work processes) than 80% just turning it on every day.

Yes, there's the argument that you push towards a tipping point in numbers of people using a technology. But really, how do you know that people are getting value: e.g. engagement in their work, reduction in technology-related stress, improvement in business processes, greater sharing or learning? These are outcomes. Adoption is not an outcome. These things take time and a focus on deep integration into work. Adoption focuses on IT as the outcome, not the desired changes in systems, processes, behaviours and culture.

This is why the latest buzz term "digital transformation"  means different things to different types of organisation. Old terms stick and new terms get appropriated to mean old things. And metrics like adoption stick around far too long.

Social Media for C-Suite? Get on your ESN first!

I've been reading a lot of marketing stuff recently about "social" CEOs. You know - Branson and others who use Twitter and Facebook to promote their brands. (Although no-one ever mentions whether they personally use these accounts or have teams of social media PR people writing for them).

I get it - having your leadership talk up your company and products is a great thing. It can show authenticity, passion and help to build social "proof" of your products or services. And it's no surprise or coincidence that the top social CEOs also run some of the most successful companies (e.g. see http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-what-the-worlds-top-50-ceos-do-on-social-media-2015-06-05)

However, when I read about the reluctance of many c-suite execs (or anyone else for that matter) to use social media in a genuine way, the answer of the marketing and PR industry is to just "do it" (and pay armies of consultants to help).

They are missing a step and a crucial practice ground - the corporate Enterprise Social Network (ESN). If you can't or won't model successful social behaviours with your own employees, why would you talk to your consumers/customers? If you can't be [open, transparent, authentic, accountable, conversational] on internal social media, you should not be on external social media.

Above all things, an ESN is a learning platform. Use it to learn and see what works or doesn't work. Work out loud.

If you believe in scaffolded learning, the internal ESN is a safe practice place where you can build your social media knowledge and practice, practice, practice. Above all things, an ESN is a learning platform. Use it to learn and see what works or doesn't work. Work out loud. Ignore the marketing/PR stuff for now and connect with your company first.

Speaking Different (Business) Languages: social organizations and legacy orgs

Everyday, I see two different business languages that don't connect in meaning. I’m wondering if there is even a middle ground to bridge the two.

The differences depend on beliefs about people. You either believe organizations are complex and social, comprised of people who need to connect and collaborate. Or you believe organizations are machines and people are the cogs (who just take orders from the top).

Business Model Generation, Lean Startup, agile, holocracies, sociocracies, culture, purpose, engagement, learning, innovation, community, networks, design, decentralization, plain english (or your language of choice). This is the language of new organizations. 

Productivity, efficiency, re-structuring, shareholder value, control, management speak. This is the language of legacy organizations. 

I use the language of new organizations every day when talking about the value of enterprise social networks (ESNs). It lands well with small groups and fits well with aspirations and wishes of those people who genuinely want a change in how organizations are structured and operate. However, over time, the language has lessened in impact. I've been wondering why? Mark Britz has written an excellent post on how the vendors of enterprise social changed their words to suit old business language.

I think it’s also one step further - that goes wider than enterprise social networks. Old business has incorporated new business language into old business models. The language is changing, but the models are not changing significantly. In my case, the power of the words that were used to sell the idea of social organizational change is disappearing. Now we have the equivalent of “new business” greenwash - in employer branding and leadership speak. It leads to workplaces that talk such a different talk from reality that the difference is jarring.  

Legacy companies speak of innovation, creativity, design, agile, learning etc. But they may lack the deeper, shared understanding of these ideas that newer organizations possess. And that's why I feel we may not bridge the divide. It comes down to belief: in people, their capabilities, and how you think humans should treat and work with one another. You either believe a human organizations or don’t. To believe the latter but talk new business language makes our lives harder by lessening the impact of transformational ideas, words and evidence.

I'll work every day to prove myself wrong, but at heart I don't think I am. Maybe FB at work will change things, as Carrie Basham Young has eloquently written? But even then the metrics she talks about lack meaning and are still wedded in traditional business models. Has time run out on the promises of ESNs and other hopes for real change in legacy orgs? (ESNs are one small part – definitely not a cure-all). Are you able to bridge the divide?