E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

Open Business

Never Underestimate the Power of Education and Enablement

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the winter

A few months back, if you would remember, I got started with this series of blog entries about the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients who are just about to embark on the so-called Social Business Transformation journey or with those other clients who may want to spice up their digital transformation efforts carried out so far and whatever other change initiatives already put in place. Up until now, I have talked about four out of the five pillars from the framework itself that I use, going from ‘What’s your purpose?’, to then ’Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them’, to ’Building a solid library of use cases’, to then move on to ‘Enabling early adopters to lead your change initiatives’ and for today I will go with the fifth and final pillar, which is perhaps my all time favourite one, more than anything else, because of how often it is either ignored, or neglected, and yet it’s one of the most important, critical ones for the success of whatever the programme I may have worked with over the course of the last 20 years and not just necessarily related to social networking for business, but in almost for everything else for that matter: never underestimate the power of education and enablement.

When thinking about education and enablement in a corporate environment around a social business adaptation programme that may well be underway across the organisation, there are typically two different types of initial reactions as to how most businesses would confront the whole topic of enabling the workforce. To name:

  • No, we don’t need no stinking education, nor enablement, because, you know, these social tools put in place are just so easy to use that no-one would need it, nor find it useful nor relevant. After all, everyone can tweet, blog, share a status update, or perhaps a file and what not.
  • Yes, we will be having an education and enablement programme with a very thorough overview of features and capabilities, because, you know, we need to ensure people understand fully the huge potential they now have at their fingertips.

While both reactions may well be rather valid, in my experience from over the course of the last two decades of having worked with hundreds of clients, as either a salaried employee or as an independent freelancer, I have learned that neither of them are very effective in their overall efforts, more than anything else because both of them put an emphasis on the (social) tools themselves resulting in an overwhelming experience by the knowledge (Web) workers themselves to the point where they would eventually switch off and go back to the traditional tools they may well be the most familiar with from all along, like, for instance, *cough* email *cough*.

The thing is that when you start thinking about your education and enablement programme around your Enterprise Social Networking tools suite, or any other emerging social tool for that matter that you may have put in place already, the focus should never be on the tools themselves, but on the behaviours and the mindset you would want to inspire while defining new ways of getting work done more effectively. Essentially, the focus should be on the mindset that triggers the mantra of ‘working smarter, not necessarily harder’. And that’s when you realise that what really matters in an effective education and enablement programme is just simply how you may help the rest of the knowledge workforce adapt to a new set of behaviours and habits based on something they already know really really well: their own core business practices and use cases.

You know, change is hard, we all know that, but, at the same time, it’s also inevitable, as in we can only decide up to how long we are going to be able to delay it; so when you are willing to go the extra mile and provide the necessary conditions AND context for knowledge workers to choose how they would want to define that new and enhanced set of business practices, there is a great chance you would become rather successful over time. Not only generating the right level of awareness about your own change initiatives, which is always a good thing, but also you may experience an increase in the active participation from the knowledge (Web) workers themselves across the board when they decide to make use of these social tools to execute on the use cases they are already really good at while using other (traditional) tools.

Eventually, it’s all about how you come as close as you possibly can to discover and find out plenty more how people really work, how do they do their daily tasks, what they struggle with, what they learn, what gets them stuck, what they do in a heartbeat without too much thinking, what they still consider potentially pernicious pain points to their own productivity and may be what makes it tick for them. That’s why when putting together your own education and enablement programme it’s essential that you listen carefully, capture as much information as you possibly can and offer them a vision around ‘WHAT IF I could show you a way of getting your work done much more effectively with a whole lot less effort?’ Who wouldn’t want to buy into that, right?

Yes, I know some of you folks may be thinking that while going through that exercise you would need to build yourself up with tons of patience and perseverance as it’s going to take a good amount of time to get it done. And you are right, but remember that you are on this Social Business journey for the long run. It’s not a sprint, it’s never been a sprint, but a marathon, so, as such, you need to prepare well in order to avoid giving up too soon. It’s a slow process, it will take time, tons of energy, effort and really good work, but totally worth it, because at the end of the day you would manage to help your fellow colleagues adapt to not only a new set of social tools, but also adapt to a new set of behaviours and a specific mindset that may be completely different to everything you did before, but that you would want them to stick to in the long run. This is also the main reason as to why context is so critical, because whenever that enablement programme misses the context of why it was put together in the first place, i.e. for what purpose, it will fail within the first few months of having it in place. So don’t lose track of that context, specially, over time, because, in a way, it will help you justify the entire programme.

Time plays against you, for sure, so you would need to tame it accordingly but, in my experience, the best thing is to start small and build from there. Build your enablement program in small increments, develop a grassroots effort of excitement from your fellow colleagues through engaging early in the game that wonderful community of practice of champions you have been working with already. In a previous blog post I mentioned how there are a number of different activities you could put into action with the help of that community of ambassadors; well, this education and enablement programme would be one of them, if not the main one. So while the time constraints are there, relying on those advocates to help you out while you help them, is probably as good as it gets. Building community right from day one.

Your biggest challenge though may well not be how much time it would take you to put the programme in place, but what kind of format are you going to use for it, so that people may find it relevant, useful, and overall more engaging than whatever else you may have done in the past. Time, in this case, will also play against you, more than anything else because hardly anyone nowadays would be looking forward to going through an enablement module of about an hour, for instance, no matter how interesting and helpful it may well be. No-one has got a free hour anymore as we keep treasuring and nurturing that Cult of Busyness. So you would need to tweak that. Easy. 30 minutes.

That’s all you would need when putting together this enablement programme with an initial number of different modules based on use cases and business practices. Remember, nothing about social tools, nor their different features and / or capabilities on their own for that matter. I know you are all probably thinking I am crazy, but, frankly, 30 minutes is all you need, because you should not forget that your education programme will be based on specific tasks, activities, business practices, use cases, etc. etc. you name it, of how people actually work, so if you focus just on a single task at a time it shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to cover it all nicely.

In fact, over the course of time I have developed a particular structure myself that has worked really well in terms of keeping things at bay, focused, straight to the point and with a lovely combination of both theory AND practice within that specific time constraint that would still be rather relevant to the knowledge (Web) worker interested in that particular topic. Here’s the typical overview of an enablement module around a specific task, say, for instance, around sharing a document with your colleagues:

  • 20 minutes of theory, where you, basically, apply the following structure:a) Show the old way of doing that task (i.e. file sharing via email) where you can also introduce potential challenges and new opportunities;
    b) Show the new way of doing that same task (i.e. file sharing via a specific social file sharing space either as part of your ESN or standalone);
    c) Explain the main personal benefits of shifting from the old way to the new way (notice my emphasis on personal as a golden opportunity to try to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question);
    d) Insert a success story from a fellow colleague (one of the champions, for instance, since they have already changed the way they themselves work) where he/she can explain how they do it, so that people can relate to it with a real story. After all, we learn better through stories we can relate to from fellow colleagues versus just our own.
  • 10 minutes of practice, where you, essentially, go live into the Enterprise Social Networking tool you may have at your disposal and spend some time walking the audience live through the different steps of how you achieve and complete that old task in a new way. And here’s the most important tidbit of them all, encourage everyone in the audience, whether face to face, or remote, to follow your steps and play with the new way to complete that particular task. The gist here is that your fellow colleagues can find out, for themselves, how easy it is to complete that particular task defining and using new ways of working. See? Who is going to deny you 10 minutes of their time to show you how to acquire, embrace and adapt to a new set of behaviours and habits? No-one. BOOM!

From there onwards, as you get to build up that comprehensive list of education and enablement modules, it’s just a matter of figuring out how you would want to make them available to as many people as possible and in multiple different formats and methods of delivery. But before you move into that, and just in case you may feel a bit overwhelmed about the prodigious amount of modules to put together, remember it’s all about starting small, and grow from there, without forgetting, of course, you have a good head start already, because you still have a rather solid Library of Use Cases which you can then port over and convert them into education modules. You are not starting from scratch, nor are you alone by yourself, since you can also count on that community of champions who are just waiting for you to ignite that strong sense of purpose of transforming the organisation, while you help them help you spread the word around.

Finally, a quick short tip in terms of helping you potentially identify how many ways, and methods of delivery, you would want to make available to knowledge (Web) workers for whenever they may ask you what kinds of enablement materials are out there. In principle, you should aim at introducing as many as you possibly can, going from face to face workshops (remember they shouldn’t go beyond 30 minutes!), to remote weekly webinars where every week you pick up a specific business practice to focus on, to hosting office hours sessions, to perhaps make all of the materials (i.e. presentations, videos, audios, etc. etc.) available online in a specific open space for people to choose as they may see fit what may matter the most to them at that point in time, to work with specific teams, or individuals, who may require a bit more attention and therefore more focused enablement materials. The list goes on and on and on …

The idea is to make your education and enablement programme as open, accessible and available to as many people as you possibly can. Some times folks may require your attention, help and assistance, but in most cases, because of the nature of those 30 minute long modules, people would be self-serving themselves, and their teams with the materials you make available, which is exactly what you would want to, because, if anything, you would be sending across a couple of rather strong messages: doing and living social with a business purpose is not as difficult as it may seem and, secondly, you, too, could contribute your bit towards helping your business become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise by doing something so relatively inexpensive as determining your own learning activities based on your needs and wants.

And that’s probably as good as it gets, really, because that’s the moment you are sending out another very clear message to everyone that in order to adapt successfully to a new way of working through these different social technologies everyone, and I mean, everyone, needs to chip in accordingly, based on their own needs and in their own terms, not your own, in order to make it a huge collective success over the course of time.

That’s how you realise when the real marathon for everyone begins …

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Enabling Early Adopters to Lead Your Change Initiatives

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Continuing further along with the series of articles around the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients, it’s now probably a good time to share some more details about the fourth pillar itself, out of the five of them, after having talked about ‘What’s your purpose?’, ‘Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them’ and ‘Building a solid library of use cases’. This particular item in the adaptation framework is all about enabling your early adopters to become the change (leading) agents within your organisation to help transform not only how your business operates through the extensive use of enterprise social networking tools, but also to inspire that personal transformation journey every single knowledge worker might need to embark on, once your firm decides to go social. My dear fellow BlueIQ Ambassadors? Are you all still out there?

Back in the day, about a decade ago, within each and every organisation there was always a chance to have the odd, strange team mate who would be just that, social. *The* weird one. Remember them? The one who was almost always on line on different social networking tools, exploring, playing, discovering new, perhaps, more effective ways of getting work done; yet, since they were just alone by themselves within each team, they didn’t manage to make much of an impact other than being the ones no-one would talk to, because, you know, they were social. Fast forward to 2016, do you still have some folks behaving that way within your teams or within your firm? Of course, I know you do! Great! You are now ready then to execute on enabling your early adopters to help you transform your business…

But before we go into that with a bit more detail, you may consider yourself lucky working on such Social Business transformation programme right from the start within your company. You may consider yourself lucky as well if you have a (small) team of rather talented colleagues working and executing with you on the various different change initiatives you may have going on, but the thing is that neither you, nor your rather talented and smart team, can scale over time, eventually, and that’s why you need to be prepared for whenever that happens, because, whether you like it or not, you will need some help at some point in time and the soonest you start mobilising it together, the better.

That’s why it’s going to be incredibly important for those of you out there working on Social Business Adaptation programmes to start building a strong sense of purpose for those (social) early adopters who, in its due time, will become your small army of volunteers, as they will be rather keen on going the extra mile to help you achieve your different goals. But it all starts with giving them a purpose. You can call them whatever you would want to: ambassadors, champions, advocates, evangelists, connectors, change agents, etc. etc. you name it. What’s really important about this exercise of giving them a reason-to-be is to essentially build a strong community of practice where they would feel and sense they are no longer the weird ones, but they will be on a new major, critical mission: transform the company they work at. That’s where it all begins…

That’s how IBM’s own BlueIQ Ambassadors got started back in 2007. We were a small global team of about 8 people who were working on IBM Software’s own Social Business Adaptation journey and right from the very beginning we realised that we weren’t going to scale in terms of how far we could reach out within the organisation, so within a few weeks from the programme launch we decided to put together a community of practice, BlueIQ Ambassadors, where we’d be talking to multiple teams, business units and divisions asking for volunteers who may be willing to help out spread the word around social and execute on a number of different initiatives. And within a couple of weeks we had a small community of 50 people (that grew, over the course of two years and across the board, to 2000 ambassadors in 50 countries). We had scaled. We could start!

Over the course of the last few years I have always said that online communities are perhaps the most significant and major driver of your own social business change and transformation efforts, so having an initial community of practice of social evangelists or champions that could act as a leading example of defining and creating new business practices that could then spread around in multiple ways, whether through word of mouth, virally, or through traditional communication channels, is probably as good as it gets. An open community of volunteers where not only social networking advocates are welcome to join in but also everyone else for that matter who may be interested in this new way of working. The purpose of the community is that one of connecting, learning, collaborating and sharing with others what they are working on. That way there is always a huge amount of collateral materials AND conversations that will be created and sparked to then be reused accordingly in a number of different contexts and scenarios.

Right from the beginning we knew that, when putting together such community of practice, we would have to come up with a set of criteria to join the community to get things going, so we decided to keep things relatively simple and put in place two specific items for other fellow social networking advocates to come and join us:

  • A social networking ambassador should be a rather passionate advocate for all things social and should want to help enable others in their terms at their own pace, because, after all, they are all volunteers.
  • A social networking ambassador should be willing to want to learn more about social networks and social software, in general, in order to stay ahead of curve at all times as a lifelong learning experience.

And that’s it! That’s as simple as it can get when you build such community of advocates, because what you would want to focus on is not necessarily on a specific skills set, because they can always acquire them over time, but more the right mindset and behaviours. From there onwards you can model together how you would want to operate as a community of evangelists wanting to spread the message around about what your social business transformation efforts may well be about and how other people can get involved. And, right there, right then, your collective Social Business Journey begins …

As a community facilitator of such community of practice, and any other online community, for that matter, there are a number of different tasks and activities that you would need to act upon in order to engage its members, but perhaps the most critical one is to eventually ensure you can answer, for each and every member of the community, the most important question of them all: What’s in it for me, if I join the community? Some folks may join the community because they want to be in the know; or they may want to learn more; they may have decided to help out with the enablement efforts of not just their own close teams, but also the different communities they are already part of; or they may want to be part of the different mentoring, coaching, or facilitating initiatives put in place so far; they may want to co-create relevant content together; or they may want to learn more through general education sessions (even perhaps with external guest speakers) about a particular (niche) topic; they may want to have open access to executives, so they start their own personal journey to become the new leaders of tomorrow; or they may decide to reach out to you, as the community facilitator, and ask you the question you have been anticipating all along: how can I help you advance our collective efforts in transforming the company we work for? 

Putting together a community of practice is not an easy task, as I’m pretty sure all of you know by now already. There are a number of different phases you would need to go through in order to arrive at the critical one of community launch before you are ready to go, but from there onwards, perhaps the most important, critical task you would have is how you plan to make the community grow into a more mature and sustainable state where it becomes self-serving and self-regulatory to the point where you no longer (almost) exist, at least, your presence. You are just one other member of the community, just like the rest of us, contributing and participating in the conversations as you may see fit adding value where you can, just like everyone else is.

Now, I am certain you may be wondering by now about what tasks, activities, and initiatives this community of practice of social business ambassadors could be focusing on, while helping you and your team execute on the different change plans and transformation efforts you may be responsible for. Well, I will be sharing plenty more in detail on an upcoming blog post about this particular topic, when I will talk about the fifth pillar of the Social Business Adaptation Framework I have been referencing so far. But for now, though, and to act as a bit of a teaser, I am going to take the liberty of embedding over here a presentation I did over 4 years ago about ’The Secret Art of Cultivating Online Communities’ where, over the course of a bit over 30 minutes, I shared plenty of the community building techniques I have used as a community facilitator of the BlueIQ Ambassadors community itself, as well as plenty other online communities I have been stewarding over the course of the last 20 years and still going strong. Have a look into it and see what you would think and how far you could relate to it as well:


Becoming a Jedi Master. The secret art of cultivating online communities – Luis Suarez

Finally, I should add that when thinking about enabling your early adopters, and build a community of practice around them, to lead your change initiatives, there is something that always gets either ignored or rather neglected and that has perhaps remained one of my favourite everlasting key takeaways from community building done right: it’s never been about you, the community facilitator, but about the community itself you are cultivating, and that means every single day you would need to go the extra mile for your community members, think about their needs, not necessarily just your own, and question yourself how you can best serve them accordingly, because the moment you fail to do so by focusing on just your own needs, that’s the moment when your community will become dormant, if not extinct, over the course of time, and that’s the last thing you would want to see happening, because when taking into account your social business journey you need to focus on the long term and having such an active and thriving community of practice will help ensure not only the success you are aiming for, but also an everlasting flair around it that will be pervasive enough on its own way beyond your own digital transformation initiative as well as the community of practice itself. And that’s just as good as it gets and what you should be looking for all along right from the start!

My dear fellow BlueIQ AmbassadorsWhere Art Thou? 😀🙋🏻‍

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Building a Solid Library of Use Cases

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the winter

You may still remember how a while ago I put together over here a couple of blog posts, where I was talking extensively about the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients in their various different change initiatives as part of their own Social Business journey. That framework is based on 5 different pillars that I consider essential for every Digital Transformation programme to be successful over the course of time and since I have already written about the first two (What’s your purpose? and Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them) I guess it’s now a good time to talk further along about the next pillar in the framework: Building a Solid Library of Use Cases. 

I have been advocating for social software tools (as an opportunity to explore their huge potential in terms of how they help us become more effective at what we do by becoming more open, collaborative and innovative) from as early as 2000, when I was first exposed to different instances of blogs and wikis, whether inside or outside of the firewall, along with what today would be known as social profiles. And over the course of the last 16 years, and still going strong, one of the many things I have learned, as both a passionate advocate and evangelist, about all of these (still) emergent social technologies is that in other for knowledge (Web) workers to adapt to social software, which, by the way, is not the same thing as adopt, and discover new ways of working smarter, not necessarily harder, the focus should never be put together under these social tools themselves, but more on the different behaviours and mindset of those same knowledge workers. Essentially, it’s about figuring out what kinds of new behaviours you would want to inspire across the workforce, but also what kind of mindset should be going along with those behaviours. If you have got a chance to influence both behaviours and mindset you will have a great opportunity to witness your own change initiatives succeed n the long term.

You see? Technology, all along, has always been an enabler, and just that, an enabler, nothing else, no matter what other people would tell you. It’s the one that helps us shift gears and change the way we work and live our lives, but at the end of the day tools are just tools, enablers that allow us to achieve a specific goal whether on a individual level or within a collective. What matters most at the end of the day is what kinds of behaviours do we want to inspire with these change initiatives to eventually provoke a shift of mindsets that will help stick around those relatively new efforts of becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise.

In order to influence such shift of both behaviours and mindset, social tools per se are not going to help much, so if your enablement efforts have been about educating people on how to make good extensive use of Enterprise Social Networking tools focusing on just features and capabilities there is a great chance that, if you ask knowledge workers about how things are moving along, the number #1 answer you may receive can probably be summarised with a single keyword: overwhelming. To no end, too, for that matter! And they would be right, because, more than anything else, if there is anything that all of these ESNs have got in common is that they are quite substantially different from what so far has been the king of both communications and collaboration in the enterprise. Of course, I am talking about email. It’s just too easy to fire up an email and share it across with your colleagues, but when you need to figure out how you are going to use a specific capability within your ESN things might get a bit more complicated. On purpose. Why? Well, because of fragmentation, which is a really good thing on its own, but I will talk about that and what I meant with it at a later time.

That’s why, when thinking about developing your enablement strategy within your Social Business journey, you should focus not necessarily on the smart use of your recently deployed ESNs, but focus on something much more sustainable instead and with a higher chance of creating the right impact from the start: people’s business practices. Put your emphasis on helping improve how people work, remove the potential friction(s) that may be out there, and provide an opportunity for people to own their own discovery of those new ways of working. Remember, it’s not about empowering your employees and fellow colleagues, but about enabling them effectively to think AND do different. That’s why the third pillar of the Social Business Adaptation Framework I keep using all the time has always been about building a solid library of use cases.

Now, there are multiple ways of how you could get started building such library, and I will be sharing a few of them with you today in this blog entry as well, but perhaps the most effective one that has always worked for me and in multiple ways has been something so relatively simple, yet so effective, it’s just mind-blowing: ask the people themselves! Exactly, talk to your employees and fellow knowledge workers and ask them ‘how do you get your work done?’, ‘what are some of your favourite business practices you used today?’, ‘what use cases do you think could do with a bit of an improvement?’, and perhaps one of my favourite questions of them all: ‘what are some of your main key business pain points?’ Or, finally, the killer one: ‘how can I help you become more effective at what you do?’

And listen … And listen again … And listen to all of the responses they may give you, because over the course of time you will be getting started with that solid library of use cases, or business practices, based on what they tell you. And this is something that will be rather critical, because doing that, establishing a very powerful two-way conversation right from the start, will send out a very clear message to everyone that you are there to help them out, but they still own it, they are an integral part of the change and transformation process and this will become key to your change initiatives’ success, because if you get them on board early in the game, and you help them answer the most poignant question of them all around social business (What’s in it for me?) there is a great chance that your work will fly on from there onwards! But again, focus on this rather important task, far too often both ignored and neglected: listen to your fellow knowledge workers. They know way better than you do about how they work. 

Over the course of the last few years, while exercising that art of listening with customers, I have been able to collect and curate a list of 70 different use cases and business practices, and it’s been, all along, quite a fascinating journey on its own, because it has enabled me to learn, through first-hand experience, about how people actually work and, more importantly, how I could help them become more effective in getting their work done, specially, by eliminating or, at least, mitigating, the various different business pain points they have may have been experiencing over the years.

However, when working with a client I never start with the full blown 70 use cases themselves. In fact, my advice, depending on how much time, how many resources, how many people in your team or how much funding you may well have, has always been about start small and build from there. So I, typically, start with a list of the top 15 most impactful business practices and use cases I have been working on with clients over time, but sometimes even those are just too many! Thus we go smaller and in this case I usually make use of this wonderful whitepaper put together by IBM under the heading ‘Patterns for the Social and Digital Enterprise’, which can also be found at this other link, in case the .PDF may not work. The whitepaper itself helps set the stage on what those six patterns included in it could translate into business practices and use cases with the one around Expertise and Knowledge as being one of my favourite ones, of course.

But sometimes even executing on those 6 different patterns can be too much to get things started. So we go smaller again and at this stage I usually focus around the Top 3 most relevant and applicable business practices and use cases to most organisations I have worked with from over the years. They are perhaps the top 3 most impactful use cases I can think of, that, when executing them, knowledge workers would be off to a rather interesting and enticing journey of discovery of new ways of getting work done, but also of connecting and collaborating with their fellow colleagues, out there in the open and accessible to everyone else to benefit from. Now, I know that, over time, I will be able to talk more extensively about each of them and what they would imply for both knowledge workers and the organisation, but, for now, I thought I would perhaps list the three of them and share across a short paragraph as to why they are worth while exploring further along. So let’s go and see each of them briefly:

  • Working Out Loud: Originally coined by Bryce Williams in 2010 and with roots pretty close to Wave Winer’s Narrate Your Work along with Observable Work (#owork), working out loud has become incredibly popular nowadays thanks much to the superb piece of work done by John Stepper and a few other folks who keep advocating about perhaps one of the most profound shifts in how we behave at the workplace embracing the open source principle of default to open versus whatever else was there in the past by making extensive use of open collaborative principles and social software tools. If you are interested in the whole topic, I can strongly recommend you take a look and read through the wonderful book John himself has put together with tons of practical hints and tips, guidance and know-how that will keep you busy for a good while.Like I said, I will be talking plenty more over the course of the next few weeks about working out loud principles, techniques, practices, lessons learned and what not, but in you are willing to learn plenty more take a look into this blog post about the celebration of the upcoming Working Out Loud Week taking place this November. It’s lots of great fun and tons to learn more about this particular business practice and use case. I can assure you that.
  • (Social) File Sharing: Without a single doubt, I keep advocating and advising clients I work with that if they would want to see a significant impact of their ESN adaptation and change initiatives with a single use case where they can already measure the impact from day one, specially, in terms of both individual and team productivity, the use case of (social) file sharing is as good as it gets.Imagine this scenario for a minute, take your own organisation, once your ESN is fully deployed, up and running and everything, you entice and encourage knowledge workers to move all of the attachments they keep sharing via email into the (social) file sharing space you may be using, whether as part of an ESN or whether you are using Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, One Drive, etc. etc. And see what happens over the course of the first few days, weeks and months. No more struggles with mail quotas (the well known mail-jail annoyance), no more duplicates, no more power struggles of who owns what document and for what purpose, no more who has got confidential access here and there to which documents, no more who was supposed to do what update to what file and for what reason, and, eventually, no more precious, critical knowledge getting lost into thin air once mail boxes get deleted. And so on and so forth… I could keep talking about this topic for years. Actually, I have.
  • Asking Questions Openly:  And, finally, one of my favourite business practices and use cases that I keep advocating for in terms of helping knowledge workers transition from the good old mantra of ‘knowledge is power’ to ‘knowledge shared is power’. There are folks out there, in which I’d include myself as well, who keep advocating that one of the first, most primal methods of instigating a Knowledge Management System within an organisation is through implementing a system that would facilitate Questions and Answers out there in the open. Yes, I know, this is not new! We have been having newsgroups and forums for well over 50 years when they were operating via mainframes, yet, if you ask around the number one option people resort to when asking a question is, of course, still email.Ouch!, I know! The thing is that the main reason why that happens is not necessarily just because it’s easier to fire up that email to your colleagues to ask the question away, but it’s a much more fundamental one. It’s a cultural one. It’s an opportunity to protect your own turf, to hide the fact you don’t know it all and can continue to be the expert everyone thinks you are, so when you may be asking a relatively simple, or silly question, it’s hidden from everyone and only one or two parties will find out through that private exchange. So you are safe. For now. The rest of the organisation is doomed though, because, right there, that exchange is dead to everyone else. Like it never existed, nor took place.

    Bill French once quoted ‘email is where knowledge goes to die’ back in 1999 (Yes, you are reading it right! That’s 1999, way before social software tools came into play at the workplace), so you can imagine the kind of impact you would opening up yourself into when you inspire and entice your colleagues to work out loud and start asking questions in the open, vs. via email. A whole new world of re-discovering talent, skills, and expertise will open up and that, on its own, would confirm you’d be on the right track towards becoming that successful Socially Integrated Enterprise when the knowledge of employees is not their own anymore, but with the entire organisation. But we will talk plenty more about this one over the course of time, specially, the political implications in the corporate culture, in general. Yes, I know, it’s a biggie.

Now, I realise there may well be a good chance that despite all of what I have mentioned above you’d say that, for whatever the reasons, you may just have the time, resources, funding and team to start the adaptation work of your Social Business journey within your organisation using just one business practice or use case.  Which one would it be, you may be wondering, right? Which one would I pick myself from the 70 of them I’m currently using with customers? Well, that’s pretty easy. If I just had the resources to execute on a single use case it would be the one about working out loud. Why? Well, pretty easy as well, if you ask me.

Imagine this scenario, for instance. Imagine if all organisations would come one day to work and proclaim to the world that from that day onwards their modus operandi would be based on the following motto: default to open. Connect, share, collaborate, innovate AND learn out in the open, transparent and public to everyone. What do you think would happen?

No, don’t worry, before you start screaming at me out loud, I’m not advocating that all of a sudden we should all become 100% open and transparent on everything that we do at work. It’s not about that. It’s how low the % of openness and transparency is at this very moment, so from that very small % to a 100% there is a whole new scale of opportunity to be explored out there and that’s what I am advocating for. Finding that comfortable level of how transparent you would want to become not just to your employees and customers, but also to your business partners, and, why not?, to your competitors, as well. After all, it’s organisations that need to be transparent, not the workforce per se.

Oh, and you know what? There is also one other favourite business practie I’d put up there, in a close second place, if I were to execute on two use cases with customers versus just one. It’s the one that, to me, defines how successful over the course of time the Social Business Adaptation and Change initiatives will become once it’s in place. Which one is that? Well, finding an expert, across your organisation, who may help you solve a problem without you not knowing either the expert or who can help you track him / her down for that matter. And all of that with the lovely constraint of doing it within 5 minutes. Yes, in iust 5 minutes. Do you think it’s possible?

Of course, it is possible. It’s only a matter of how you decide, for you and your organisation, to, finally, get to operate as networks and communities.

Welcome to the Connected Enterprise!

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Mastering the Art of Collaboration Through Conversation

 Gran Canaria - Risco Blanco in the winter

Can you have too many conversations at work? And I don’t mean that in the sense of just cultivating, building or nurturing your social capital skills per se, even though we all know they are the key to success for the 21st century organisation, as my good friend Valdis Krebs once wrote about, but I was mainly referring about work related conversations themselves. Can you have way too many of them to the point of not allowing you to get work done effectively in a timeline manner? If you are thinking that some times we may well have far too many, I am going to ask you to hold on to that thought for a minute while I challenge you all to think the moment we feel we are just having far too many conversations at the workplace, specially, through the extensive use of social software tools, that’s probably the moment when we would all stop collaborating, because, to me, conversations and collaboration are pretty close to one another, which brings me to this particular rather thought-provoking article from Andrew Pope who comes to question ‘How much collaboration is too much?

Collaboration is probably one of the most loaded words in today’s workplace that I can think of (And I am pretty sure there are plenty of other good candidates out there as well!) and, probably, it has been like that over the course of the last 25 years or so, when it first came about while being associated with the whole concept of groupware. There are tons of different definitions about collaboration out there and what it is, but, to me, the most effective one is this one: ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’. 

Now, let’s go back in time, about 17 years ago, when The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published, and let’s have a look into this particular quote from David Weinberger himself about the one main role of knowledge workers, according to him. To quote: 

Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation – literally. And ‘knowledge workers’ are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations

While I can certainly vouch that there may well be situations where collaboration just plainly fails due, mostly, to a lack of purpose, of consensus, or a lack of a trustworthy environment to work in or just simply because of either (micro-)management or leadership not working hard enough on it (Highly recommended read by Deb Lavoy on the topic, by the way!), I would also state that if you come to think about it and do a correlation between collaboration and conversations the risk of failure is almost non-existent. More than anything else, because, if anything, as a knowledge (Web 2.0) worker, you are what I call feeding the beast, essentially, switching gears successfully from the good old push model into a pull model. It’s when we switch from good old information into conversation.

Conversations are, most probably, the lowest common denominator towards a successful collaboration between peers who want to achieve a common objective. If anything, they manage to destruct everything that seems to separate knowledge workers and put them all at the same initial level, i.e. no status, no hierarchy, no silos, just an opportunity to learn about one’s own collaborators before executing on the task(s) at hand. So when I started reading through Andrew’s article about ‘How much collaboration is too much?’ I just couldn’t help thinking that if we were to take collaboration as a series of conversations the failure rates would probably be a lot less and that’s a good thing. Let’s see how sustainable that premise of collaboration = conversations really is in terms of Andrew’s article. 

The balance between collaboration and concentration as well as establishing a time to focus just plainly disappear, because when you think about collaboration as a series of conversations the first thing you come to terms with is that work becomes learning and learning is the work, which means you realise you are no longer at the centre of the interactions, not that you ever were, for that matter, in short, of the conversations, but you are just one of them. You are now part of a massive exchange of conversations happening out there in the open and pretty much like with the good old known Web 2.0 river of news you dip in and out as you may see fit, based on the work you need to complete, and when you are done and come back to that firehose it’s all business as usual. You just resume the dialogue wherever it may well be at the time. Yes, of course, I know, it’s tough to let FOMO go, but you see?, you are now part of a giant social network, or of multiple clusters of networks and communities, who trust you just as much as you trust them, so there is no need to fear being left out. If anything, it’s those very same networks that will work really hard to ensure you are up to date on whatever you may have missed out that may be relevant to you. And all of that thanks to the power of conversations.

Of course, there is a time that needs to be established to focus on getting that work done, but because you are now operating as part of a network (or a community of practice for that matter), don’t make it an individual activity, but a collective one, if you can, that is, depending on the confidentiality of the information you need to work with, because there is a great chance that within the first five minutes of you having to do that work you will be depending on, or need, the help of one of your peers. So focus may be a good thing, but don’t isolate yourself too much, because nowadays we are working in such complex environments that we need to be able to reach out pretty easily in order to accomplish our tasks. Remember the good old days, say 15 to 20 years ago, when you used to work at your office cubicle, with the door closed, in a single project with a single team reporting to your boss executing on a number of different tasks you could complete in no time before you would move into the next thing? Well, those times are now gone, at least, for the vast majority of us. So don’t isolate yourself too much away from the overall conversations, even if you just see them fly over you, it’s still a good reminder you are no longer alone at work. 

We all know that in every single workplace we have different working styles from various different generations and we therefore ought to have colleagues who are just plainly not good collaborators. At all. Well, that’s fine, if only, because I have always believed it’s a myth. Whether we like to admit it or not, we, human beings, are supercooperators by nature. It’s in our genes, our DNA, it’s how we have gotten work done over the course of millennia as a matter of mere survival adapting to the world we live in. So if you feel you have got fellow knowledge workers who are not very collaborative you may start asking yourself why is that happening? And what can you to do help out? And, of course, the art of conversation comes up, once again. Remember, we are all now part of giant cluster networks and communities at work, that gather in small groupings while having to get that specific piece of work done. And in that case, as my good friend Harold Jarche has been writing about for a good number of years, in networks cooperation trumps collaboration.

When you think about collaboration and collaborating with your peers, there is something we always keep leaving out of the equation, when, in reality, it’s critical, and that is context. Context defines how, why, when, what and with whom we get to collaborate to achieve a specific objective, yet, when you come to think about it, context is almost always left out, as if we didn’t have the time to think about it, so instead of aiming at that collaboration mix that Andrew writes about we just keep wondering why things didn’t work out all right. This is where conversations come to the rescue, because by thinking that collaboration is all about the conversations you have the first thing you understand is that there will be an imperative to understand everyone’s needs and wants while everyone else becomes a whole lot more understanding and flexible, if anything, because there is a massive transformation of both our behaviours and mindset when we realise that collaborative work is not longer a physical activity happening while we are at the office, but it’s mostly a state of mind. And that’s exactly where context kicks in, trying to fit in and accommodate, as best as it possibly can, the needs from everyone embarked on that collaborative piece of work. 

Ah-ha! And this is where we come to realise, at long last, that collaboration, if anything, is all about having conversations, whether face to face or online through the various different social software tools that we may have at our disposal. Andrew himself put it quite nicely towards the end of the article when he wrote the following quote: 

Use the time that people are actually together in a room to have a conversation.

Indeed, except that room is no longer just the physical meeting room per se, but also the social networking tools put in place out there, whether inside or outside of the firewall. They are as well the ones that, at long last, help us understand, in very clear terms, why we need to talk and speak up more often, in the first place, in the workplace, but, secondly, why we also need to create and define new ways of working through those networks and communities enabled by the conversations we host. Back in 1998, yes, you are reading it right!, back in 1998, the one and only Howard Rheingold wrote ’The Art of Hosting Good Online Conversations’, so if we ought to get better at collaborating with one another, and if conversations and narratives are the new documents we better get started today, as my good friend, Esko Kilpi, wrote about not long ago: 

‘Work is communication and the network is the amplifier of knowledge. The process of communication is the process of knowing. Knowledge work is about a community-based cognitive and emotional presence. Bridging, bonding and belonging. […]

Work is communication. Conversations and narratives are the new documents. Conversations cannot be controlled. The only way to influence conversations is to take part in them.

If we want to influence the process of knowing we need to develop new habits of participation and new habits of communication.

Are we there yet? I really hope so.

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The Illusion of Control

Gran Canaria - Guayadeque in the winter


The illusion of control is coming back, and it’s coming back with a vengeance, apparently, according to this article from Henry Mintzberg, who has been noticing, how, lately, most organisations seem to have put more tight-in controls within, and outside, the firewall in order to control what seems to be uncontrollable anymore (if it ever was!), that is, the workforce. Whether that may well be rather accurate, or not, you can tell me in the comments below what you think about it, if you wish, I have got this little theory going on in my mind that we, knowledge (Web 2.0) workers, may have to blame ourselves for that to happen in this Social, Digital Age. Somewhere along the way we seem to have completely forgotten about the initial value add proposition from Social Business and Social Software tools (Connect, Collaborate, Learn and Share) and instead we all, collectively, decided to turn it into one of the most massive surveillance operations in our entire history, whether at work or for personal use. We seem to have become just that, pure data, i.e. *the* product, leaving out entirely our networks, connections and relationships. 

It’s probably one of the main reasons as to why we keep talking on a rather regular basis about Management vs. Leadership, when they might be one and the same depending on the context and the task at play; why we keep using Community Management (and Community Manager(s)) vs. Community Facilitation when all we are doing is either facilitating or stewarding online communities; why we keep witnessing (some times in the first person) teams being killed left and right; why we continue to talk about hierarchy vs. networks as opposed to thinking that hierarchy is an integral part of wirearchy, after all; why we keep investing in control when it’s been rather well documented that trust is cheaper, way cheaper; and so on and so forth. 

Not long ago Carmen Medina once tweeted: ’[…] the worst human instinct is the desire to control others’ and somehow I suspect we may have made it even much worse upon ourselves with all of these emerging (social) media tools where, if anything, we have become masters in showcasing our various different dysfunctional behaviours that, obviously, need to be controlled somewhat, before we may mess up even further, acknowledging, without realising much about it, that, when doing so, we won’t have to, necessarily, be either responsible, nor accountable, for what comes across from our own different devices. It’s not our job to worry about that. Therefore, the imperative need to be controlled. Instead. our main worry, at the moment, seems to be ‘I need to make myself present out there [*wave* *wave* *wave*], hopefully, noticeable enough I get my own 15 minutes of fame in that media pedestal, regardless’. No wonder the powers that be would want to curb those inevitable urges a fair bit and try to re-control things back into place. If only for their own sanity, before they start questioning what’s really going on.

If anything. It’s probably one of the main reasons, if you look into it a bit deeper, as to why (social) analytics, in whatever form or shape (big data, small data, or just simply data), has surpassed, in terms of attention and commitment from the business, the Social Business transformation journey. Carmen herself put it in much better words than I could have ever in a different unrelated tweet to the one above:  

The struggle for control is real. Very real, I would probably state it’s an integral part of our human nature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we just can’t fight the urge to control things AND, specially, people, and look out for potential better solutions, specially, when they have clearly demonstrated that they work really well. You see? Control has always been an illusion and whether people would care to admit or not, we just can’t control folks because we may want to. We just can’t. It’s that simple, yet so complex at the same time. In fact, I would dare to state it’s way more demanding (think in terms of €€€) and resource intensive to control than to trust (your) people. Trusting your people is always cheaper, as my good friend Lee Bryant once wrote and I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement, even more so if we are ever so keen on transitioning into social networks and communities as the new operating model.

This may well be a bit too obvious, but both networks and communities don’t respond well to control. They never had, they never will. Quite the opposite. It’s a whole lot more about how you inspire to provide the right conditions in facilitating the conversations to flourish naturally, to help enable people to network, connect, collaborate, learn and share what they are doing for work and in that context learn through plenty of hands-on how to work smarter, not necessarily harder. So instead of spending time in front of your Digital Dashboard watching over what people are doing, or saying, in whatever the digital platform and try to make some sense of that firehose of data, better think about how you, too, could dive in and be also part of the conversations. Most of the times, it’s far more effective to relinquish control and trust your people to do the right thing to only realise, after a while, you will be getting it back twofold in terms of value add, instead. Remember the good old mantra of leading by example? 

It would be a good time now to put it into practice, by all means, before it’s all too late and your knowledge (Web 2.0) workers revert back to making extensive use of one of the most harmful and damaging siloed tools within the business world that has ever existed, i.e. corporate email. Where will your organisation knowledge go after it dies in their own Inboxes? To put it in other words, think about it, after all, when was the last time you embarked on designing for loss of control? Perhaps it’s a good time today to start thinking about it, and figure out how you could make it happen, in case you may not have, just yet, because as my good friend JP Rangaswami wrote nearly 8 years ago

It’s about relationship and covenant and caring and respect as the motivators to do something, rather than command-and-control and more-stick-than-carrot.

He then pretty much nailed it with this other short, but rather thought-provoking sentence: ’Collaboration is not an option, it’s an imperative.’ In this day and age, at long last, we may well need, then, to start putting our actions behind our words, if we would want to make that happen, because, somehow, (open) collaboration and control don’t seem to work well together and if control is really coming back again we ought to re-think again what we are doing with the so-called Social Business transformation journey? Are we doomed yet?

Hopefully, not! Please do tell me we aren’t going back again to Henri Fayol’s ‘Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling’.

Please do tell me we may all have learned something, after all, over the course of the last 100 years…

Control? No, thanks! We don’t need control in this Social Era, do we?

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The State of Surveillance We, The Good People, Are Creating

 Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes at sunset

Over the weekend, the one and only, Dave Snowden, put together what I think would probably qualify as one of the top 3 blog posts you may well read during the course of 2016. Just the first paragraph will do. It is that good on its own. In fact, if there would be a way to describe what this year has been like so far (thinking we still have got three more months to go), I don’t think it would get any better than that. I am hoping my good friend Dave will forgive my liberty, but I’m just going to reproduce over here that first paragraph, so you may have a look and judge for yourselves. I can strongly encourage you all to then go and read through out his entire blog entry and sign up, if you can help. It will totally be worth your time. To quote: 

There was a wonderful, if depressing, tweet from J.K.Rowling yesterday: If we all hit ctrl-alt-del simultaneously and pray, perhaps we can force 2016 to reboot. Brexit, the rise of Trump, the failure to support the peace initiative in Colombia, support of elderly white socialists, Universities are closed in South Africa by riots arguing for education and so on. Racism and misogyny are legitimised by popularism. The Chinese curse to live in ‘interesting times’ might have been made for this year and its not over yet. It’s been called a post-fact society, a world in which reason has little or no place, people vote against their own interests and the establishment is rejected as an act of rejection, not an act of reasoned protest. Syndicalism and being part of a movement is more important that to actually change things. We live in echo chambers, augmented and enabled by social media, to prevent encounter with any uncomfortable truth. We live in a world where despair legitimises any protest and in a world of pre-victorian levels of income inequality and opportunity who can dispute the morality of those who are the victims of a system which is maintained for the elites?

WOW! I mean, just WOW!! Yes, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, mind-boggling paragraphs you will be reading in a long long time. And yet, there is one single sentence that, when referring to media tools and their current impact, it pretty much nails it for me as to why I’m no longer as comfortable and confident, as I used to be, to continue making heavy use of them to change the world we live in. Why? Well, because, if anything, we are doing everything else but change the world. In fact, we are probably making things even worse. Allow me to explain further what I mean with the sentence itself from Dave I am referring to: ‘We live in echo chambers, augmented and enabled by social media, to prevent encounter with any uncomfortable truth.’

You know, I don’t necessarily mind the need to have echo chambers per se, as I feel they may well be somewhat necessary to make us all feel somehow more comfortable, to a certain degree, with the unknown territory of the complexity domain, so that we can attempt to make some sense out of it all, collectively. However, when those echo chambers turn on their own filter bubbles to just augment the worst in all of us showcasing our very own dysfunctional behaviours, and, specially, through the impact of the so-called social media, I am no longer sure that amplified through media tools echo chambers are good to humanity, in general. Indeed, welcome to the awfulness of the social media shaming phenomenon.

Sharon Richardson, also over the weekend, reminded us all of such dreadfulness pointing us to this rather poignant TED Talk by Jon Ronson under the rather provocative title ‘How one tweet can ruin your life’, where he gets to talk about how voiceless people like you and me can now, finally, have a voice with media tools like Twitter, for instance. A new, ‘powerful and eloquent tool’ that inspires ‘a democratisation of justice’ where ‘hierarchies would level out’ and where we would be doing things better. Except that, after a while, we didn’t. At one point in time we realised ‘we want to destroy people, but not feel bad about it.’ And we did oblige accordingly. 


My goodness! When did we transform ourselves into ‘unpaid shaming interns of Google’? When did we decide to turn Twitter, as one example of many others, into a ‘mutual approval machine’ where we get to approve one another, even to the worst of both our individual and collective behaviours? Where did we lose our capacity for empathy? That seems to be at the heart of it all as Jon himself nicely concludes on his TED Talk referenced above: 

The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to the voiceless people, but we are now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless. Let’s not do that!’

Indeed, Dave himself also puts it rather nicely with this particular quote, along the very same line: 

’But escape we must and that escape will not come by condemnation, indulgent sarcasm or condescending humour (and that was as much confession as condemnation). If I pickup the very basic lessons of what I have taught over the years then we have to start from where things are, not from where we would have liked them to be, or think they should have remained. 

I am pretty certain you would agree with me that today’s media tools, compared to, say, 10 or 15 years ago, are not the Social Web I think we would all want to build, create, nurture and sustain over the course of time. More than anything else, because there seems to be a complete lack of both constructive feedback and healthy critical thinking, as well as adding value into the conversations by not only creating and making, which I realise is way tougher than just destructing, but also by showing empathy for others to the point where we seem, instead, to first seek that self-assurance and approval by others, usually, of our worst behaviours and within our very own echo chambers, than try to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, specially, if they are total strangers, just to see what it feels like.

Dave himself writes in that stunning blog post referenced above already what empathy is all about: ‘the ability to see things from different perspectives is creating something sustainable. That means exploring not only the ways in which we engage citizens, but also how we create meaning.’ And if we ought to lead by example, and, believe me, we surely should be leading by example, we probably have got to start here, that is, questioning what kind of smart use do we want to give to all of those media tools and figure out for ourselves, and our future generations, what kind of Social Web do we want to have and thrive in? One where we all turn into voiceless humans, once again, because of the ill-behaviours of a very few amplified and augmented by the good people or do we want to continue with that Social Revolution I blogged about three years ago and that we started over two decades ago when the first instances of social software tools came about? 

Tons to reflect upon, I am pretty certain, but perhaps this week is just the perfect one to get things started as tomorrow we get to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. In fact, as we continue to make use of these (social) media tools, we probably should start asking ourselves this initial question, without even venturing, just yet, to have an answer for it: Is today’s Social Web the one Ada would have wanted all along for our future generations?

Something tells me that’s not the case, so the follow-up question would be then, ‘what are we doing about it?’ How do we prevent and enable those human voices from becoming voiceless once again? Something tells me that empathy will play a key role, and since empathy is actually a choice, it may well be down to us all to start questioning what do we want to get out of all of these (social) media tools in the first place. If not just for us, for Ada herself. How can we treasure and celebrate her legacy? It’s the least we owe her, don’t you think? 

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

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