The Insurgent Communicator

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The future of communications is already here, but most corporate communications – specifically internal communications – are proof that William Gibson was correct. The way we communicate in society, from publishing to consuming information, has been reshaped dramatically over the past decade. But inside a corporate environment, you’d barely notice it.

The new communications covenant

In our personal lives we scroll through streams of updates and tweets at lightning speed, digesting news and information from the serious to the mundane. We gorge on videos in the hope that a one-minute video can communicate more to us in less time than reading. We slow down just long enough to interact with the content by liking, sharing, or adding a comment. These habits have become so ingrained that when we come across content that cannot be acted upon we almost feel betrayed, as if the covenant of the new media age has been broken.

Most of all, the content sources we view are customized to us – not by an entity that thinks it knows what we should receive, but by ourselves, either handpicked or based on our preferences, profile data, and personal network. While some may say this creates an echo chamber, the more one expands their network (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn) the greater the chance for serendipitous encounters with news/information beyond one’s usual horizon — more so than via any editorial driven publication.

Most internal communication professionals know this of course. So why do most corporations communicate to their staff using “web 1.0” methods or worse? Sure, some companies have implemented internal social networks where employees can customize their activity feeds, but when it comes to publishing and accessing “the official” news they often have simply recreated the old publishing model on a social platform, rather than re-imagine how the news can be created, published, and consumed. There are cultural and leadership factors in play here, but I want to focus on the less obvious reason, the communications staff.

Fear of change vs. opportunity

In story after story of companies implementing ESNs (Enterprise Social Networks) I’ve heard similar refrains: “Our comms people don’t want to use it” or “The communications team is actively resisting adoption efforts.” So even though they are well aware of the communication trends around them, which they’ve probably adopted in their personal lives, and even though they likely know that the future is here and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches them, they are resistant to the change. They only see the threat to the status quo and not the opportunity that comes with it.

They fear losing the control that comes with being THE source for their area of news in the company. They fear what might happen if (gulp!) their news isn’t as visible as before in a new social model or if the decision to receive their news is (double gulp!) left up to the employee! They fear the change that will come as the role of a professional communicator evolves, as it certainly will. They also fear possibly losing their job, seeing a diminished role for communicators in this future. But what they should fear most is being left behind.

Communications is the new front for organizational change

The opening quote also pertains to the larger world of business too. Companies are changing – or will be forced to change in the near future, some radically. The very idea of “the company” as we know it and the nature of what it means “to work” is being called into question by futurists, thought leaders, and enterprise change agents (some of whom are communicators), many of whom exist at the fringes of mainstream business but whose influence is slowly bleeding into the center. Radical change always starts from the edges in.

There is an opportunity here for communicators. Author and futurist Clay Shirky said, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” Apply this to your organization. The influence that communications – as a group, process, and medium – wields is immense.  The communications department should be on the vanguard of your organization’s evolution.

We know though that many won’t sign up for this path, even if the opportunities for the individual and the profession as a whole are spelled out in blinking lights. Such is the nature of change. This means however, more opportunities for those few communicators that do want to be change agents for their organization. It can be risky of course. The old command and control culture will fight back and if you ride too high in the saddle you will be picked off before you’ve had a chance to influence real change.

The insurgent advantage

That’s why a subtle approach will have a more lasting impact. Start by building a purposeful network in your company – you will need allies. If there is an ESN start “working out loud” to demonstrate the power of social communications, even on an individual level. Work with your internal stakeholders on new ways to publish their news – start small, but think big. If you can re-imagine the communications process for one small group, it could have implications companywide. Influence your allies to introduce the same changes in their groups.

Share your ideas with communications leadership, but don’t present them as some revolutionary way to change the face of communications at your company – that will expose you as an insurgent and the machine will fight back. Instead, find ways to couch them as enhancements to the current model, such as additional means to broaden the visibility of messages and increase readership. They will probably still reject them, but you’ll be planting the seeds of change, and as your network and influence grow through your underground efforts those ideas may resurface again from a different person in a different part of the organization, possibly from a place they can’t afford to ignore. Being a constant gardener for the future of the workplace is no less rebellious, but will pay off more than the efforts of someone whose overzealous passion for change can be misunderstood, thus marginalizing them.

It will take patience and drive but you’ll still be working against the system, from the inside, as a trusted colleague and employee looking to make your workplace better. Do you have what it takes to be an insurgent communicator?

Enterprise Social Networks – What you need to know

I reviewed Thursday’s upcoming webinar on ESNs hosted by Carrie Young and Harold Jarche.  This is really one of the better webinars I’ve seen in a long while that explains in-depth, with real case study examples, the essentials about how working in an enterprise network matters deeply to a company.

Don’t miss this one.  Really.

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Register here.

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The Future of Work is The Future of Leadership

An insight about the future of work dropped this morning as I discussed leadership in the network era with Harold Jarche and Jon Husband, my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide.

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The Future of Work is the Future of Leadership

The future belongs not to the leadership of technology. The future belongs to the technology of leadership.

Our opportunity is not incremental improvement in the leadership of change to implement network technologies. Our opportunity is a much more important transformation of the critical human technology of leadership for the network era. Only new leadership capabilities & concepts will enable us to realise the potential of the future of work

Realising Human Potential is What Matters

If you are one of the thought leaders, consultants or vendors working to bring about the adoption of social collaboration technology, you know there is a raging debate about what changes in social and network technology means for organisations. However, there is much that is unclear in the debate about the future of work.  Social Business is deadnot dead or even not enough. The biggest challenge is adoption, lack of executive buy-in, return on investment or even organisation’s success. You need a collaboration layer, you need purposeful collaboration or you need cooperation instead.

If you are a manager in an organisation trying to achieve outcomes in a rapidly changing business climate, you most likely missed this entire conversation. The debate about the impact of social collaboration technology is not even on your radar (unless a consultant or vendor has caused you to reflect on it for a moment before you returned to the daily challenge of running your business).

What matters most to managers is more effective human collaboration – collaboration that improves the performance of your business for your customers and delivering better work experience for your people. Managers everywhere wish there were better ways to tap the talents, innovation and engagement of their people to help deliver better outcomes. That is at the heart of the discussion of employee engagement in our organisations.

The technology that engages people and realises potential is called leadership. That’s why so many investments are made by organisations in leadership development and in a push for leadership in every role. Leadership is the most effective technology to solve for the management wish.

Network Era Leadership Realises Human Potential

Work is a human task. Leadership is the work of mobilising others to action. Leadership is how we help people to realise their human potential. Much of our network and collaboration technology is just an infrastructure for the work and leadership required. The network can magnify the culture of the organisation, but we need the right leadership models for managers to realise the potential of a network era of work.

Traditional management & leadership approaches inherit many of their concepts from process models borrowed from the industrial era. In this mindset human potential is measured in productivity terms.  The command and control culture focuses on using the right processes to drive human productivity and align that productivity with the right tasks. The engines of human potential (engagement, knowledge creation, experimentation, innovation & enablement) are driven out as sources of volatility & waste. What many call leadership is better described as a process of command of people with an efficiency mindset. That is not leadership at all.

These traditional management concepts also get baked into organisational systems. We have built much technology to explicitly or implicitly reflect these industrial models of management and work. Look inside any organisation and you will find plenty of systems designed from the top-down that reinforce hierarchical command and control. Pull out your system process maps and look for your employee’s ability to do exception handling. In many cases there is no exception process. Exceptions are handled in hacks.

Transparency, responsiveness, the ability to work across silos and effectiveness are often surrendered to tight control of process, narrow measurement of process outcomes, compliance and efficiency. Critical systems in customer management and human resources systems offer some of the most striking examples of these constraints and are widely copied from organisation to organisation. To the frustration of everyone, managers and people must work around these systems to collaborate and cooperate effectively while managing waves of top down change management to bring them back to compliance with process.

The disruption of the networked era is evidence of the scale of change that networks are bringing to our lives. ‘Kodak Moment’ has an entirely new meaning today. This pace of change focuses our attention on a need for change in the concepts of leadership & organisation to support a changing world of work.

We need not focus much on the threats of this era. The opportunities of new models of work and leadership are greater. New network technologies give a glimpse of the potential for leaders to better leverage the people of organisations for work and innovation.  However, realising the potential of human collaborative and cooperative knowledge work in networks demands new leadership models.

We Know How to Start Leading in the Network Era

Each new era brings social changes and requires new more effective concepts. We updated the concepts of leadership and management at the birth of the industrial era, leveraging existing concepts from the military and other spheres of human life. Now people need to work to develop new models to leverage the infrastructure delivered by networks and collaboration technology.

The good news is that many of these concepts are already clear and have been developed by practitioners to the point where they are capable of application in everyday work. These practices now work highly effectively and can be taught. Managers now need to pick these up and build the capability in their people to lead in new ways, using:

  • Deeper self-awareness and understanding of human behaviour and drivers of high performance
  • A greater focus on systems and a wider view of outcomes and stakeholders
  • Purpose & Trust to enable leadership & followership in every role
  • Experimentation & Adaptation
  • Collaboration & Cooperation
  • Network models of work organisation like Wirearchy, Pods and Swarms
  • Social work and learning, such as personal knowledge managementworking out loud.

However, we cannot expect managers do to all the work alone. We will need to support them with learning, coaching and the opportunity to practice the new skills and mindsets.  We need to change the organisational systems and processes that hold back this opportunity to better leverage human potential.

Making these changes is the great challenge of leadership is in the new network era. It is the work I will be focused on with my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide as we help others to navigate these changes.

The future of work is the future of leadership for everyone in organisations. Building a better more effective model of leadership will help realise the human potential of this future. Join the effort in your organisation to build a new technology of leadership to make this possible.

You Can’t Add a Collaboration Layer

Human to Human

Collaboration is human-to-human interaction. We are rich, creative and diverse, given the chance. You can’t add a collaboration layer to your existing processes.

Collaboration is not something that helps with the work. Collaboration is not something you integrate into your existing systems. Collaboration requires a fundamental rethink of the way work gets done. Collaboration is not a layer because it changes the whole system. Great collaboration goes the whole way through.

The phrase ‘collaboration layer’ is common. The idea of a collaboration layer most likely has its origins in information technology architecture. Collaboration systems are often represented as a different layer of the system stack, similarly to the user interface. As a result vendors and others talking to an IT audience will often promote the need to add a collaboration layer to existing processes. After all adding a collaboration layer sounds relatively painless – all the benefits of collaboration without the change.

As the application of the phrase shifts from systems architecture to the business conversation on how work gets done, something gets lots in translation. Success in the application of social collaboration systems does not come from integrating one more piece of technology into the stack. Collaboration is not an integration challenge. Collaboration is not about machine-to-machine or even machine-to-human interaction. Collaboration is human-to-human.

Collaboration can’t just be layered in on top of everything else. Collaboration requires a rethink of the entire process to foster the best of human interactions. Networks are required for collaboration. However, great communication requires more than a network. Great collaboration requires a community. The highest value collaboration goes beyond a community and builds a change movement.

To bring community to life you need to do more than add a layer of machine-to-human and human-to-human communication over the top of your Taylorist processes. The goal of social collaboration is not to make dumb workers better informed. The goal is to leverage their collective knowledge, intelligence and creativity. Allowing workers to share purpose, connect and create new and better ways of working together comes from giving them the opportunity to connect deeply and to rethink the processes and entire systems that they use to do their work. The best innovations in social collaboration are when entire traditional processes disappear because a newly engaged workforce finds a better way.

People will not stay long in a conversation where machines send them status updates. There is much less value in collaboration, little community and no change if the process is the process and can’t be rethought. This is one of the reasons so many enterprise social networks struggle. Without the prospect of creating a sense of community and the ability to change things, what is the point of participating?

If you want the benefits of rich collaboration, growing community and powerful change driven by your people, then you will need to move beyond a collaboration layer on existing processes. Letting your people use collaboration to change the whole system for the better has to be possible. Collaborative humans will demand it.

Simon Terry  @simongterry

This piece was cross-posted from simonterry.tumblr.com

Enterprise Social Network Haiku – of Course!

http://www.haikudeck.com/e/zyiBjGpBxO
Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

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Change Agent Rainer Gimbel is leading change for Evonik Industries AG, a leader in the Specialty Chemicals industry.  To convince 33,000 colleagues to change work habits they’ve used for the last 10-15 years, requires a lot of evangelizing, change management and sometimes… poetry.

 

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Incent to Share

Photo by Eric Ziegler

Your company doesn’t share information.

There are silos in your organization.

Each silo is not interested in helping the other silos.

Enterprise Social tools are integrated into business tools

Enterprise Social tools are still not being used.

Why is it not working?

Culture culture culture.

Technology is not what wins the battle, change and culture, that’s what’s needed .

Find the incentives for people to share.

from Eric Ziegler’s http://zag.zig.us blog http://zag.zig.us/2013/11/incent-to-share.html

Setting Expectations

 

Photo by Sarah Ziegler

A friend and I were recently talking about adoption. Specifically we were talking about the adoption of tools that help build enterprise communities. One idea we discussed that I haven’t read that much about is:

        Setting expectations.

While I know this idea is not new, I have not heard much about the use of setting expectations for Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business or adopting enterprise social networks. For example, as a people manager, if you have read it once, you have read a million times. To help guide your employees to ensure they know what to do, you need to set expectations with your employees. If you don’t the manager is at a higher risk of not getting the best performance out of each employee.  This is an oldie but goody. But why don’t we use this same idea in the enterprise for adopting enterprise social tools?

I find that for some people, they just want to create a community because their peer has one (the me too syndrome).  Others have good intentions but don’t know where to even start to build a vibrant community. In both situations, neither have defined what expectations they have for their community. In both situations, instead of just allowing them to create the community and have it fail, the requester needs to clearly understand their goals so they can use the technology to meet their goals.

So, step 1: get the requester to define their hopes and dreams for the community they want to build.  Have them define how do they see the community working. Have them, articulate what their goals are for the community.  Work with them to design how the community will work. The key to the success, is to get them to set their own expectations for the community and then have them work to have their community meet that expectation.

While setting expectations are great for the community, one of the keys to ensuring the community is as vibrant as desired, the community manager must communicate what expectations they have for the community to the community. In addition, as the community grows, the community manager must influence the community to meet those expectations, while being willing to reset their expectations and adapt to how the community grows.

Setting expectations are crucial, being influential and flexible is equally important.  But then again, isn’t that the recipe for success in almost all situations?

from Eric Ziegler’s http://zag.zig.us blog http://zag.zig.us/2013/11/setting-expectations.html