“Digital Channels” or Work Tools?

At my last job, when I started introducing the comms team to our new enterprise social network (ESN), I asked a simple question:

Is our enterprise social network a “digital channel” or a work tool?

Most comms teams I speak to see it as a the former. It’s a shame because it greatly limits what an ESN can enable an organization to achieve. It’s also surprising because ESNs are no longer new, disruptive tech tools – in fact, like Workplace by Facebook and Yammer, they are quite mature.

An ESN is a tool to get work done. To get work done, employees need to interact; they need to talk to each other. Two-way interaction is the key driver of value in an ESN, as it generally is offline in an organization.

A comms channel always means a focus on marketing-like stats – content views, clicks, likes, shares. There is little value in this one-way view, aside from the always-nebulous idea of “people now know about this” (to which I always ask: “how do you know?”).

Of course, content can be about the work – especially wider strategic initiatives and org change.

But there is a key difference between:

“Wow, a lot of people viewed this content”


“Wow, a lot of people talked to each other about this content”

Comms teams need to move from “it’s been seen” as a sign of value, to “did this drive valuable discussion?”

Think content-agnostic. Think conversation as key. Where is working through the ESN driving value?

The deeper thought here is also that key internal partnerships also drive ESN value. IT (OCM), Comms, HR and others should be working together far more closely to ensure one team’s perspective doesn’t dominate “what is the ESN for?”

How deep is your company collaboration?


Companies are making huge invesments in technology and change efforts to break down silos. Yet aside from the a few stars of change, most efforts fail to achieve the full benefit of what was planned (they don’t necessarily “fail”).

An enterprise social network (or team-based chat tools) tends to be part of the planning.

Based on my experience, I think the problem lies in the top down-only nature of most change efforts. They are top-down and target the company as a whole. Take a look at this diagram above. Can you spot how you are trying to change things?

Most companies hope that shallow, broad-based efforts (top right) will be enough to change a company. Over time, especially as tech and consultancy sales stories go, you this will generate deeper collaboration through momentum. But it doesn’t really work like this.

For example, getting an enterprise social network and using it as a comms tool. Yes, there will be discussion about the business in general. A few hardy souls will speak their mindful thoughts. And a few leaders will join them. But in terms of generating business value from the change spend (IT, OD, Comms, Coaching, L&D) – the ROI (for want of a better term) isn’t there.

Moreover, in this scenario, the internal teams (IT, Comms, HR/L&D) don’t have to collaborate between themselves too deeply. In my experience, HR don’t necessarily jump on anything other than HR tech. IT are second most reluctant. Leadership Development doesn’t even incorporate the technology (hello IT OCM and HR L&D team – what’s going on?)! The goodwill and huge effort of (usually) a comms lead is wasted compared to what could be. How crazy is it that this is side-of-desk stuff?

To achieve lasting change, you need to focus on deep, narrow usage too. This will develop the awareness and skills to build a social business through deep collaboration (aided by the technology). This means working with groups and teams who want to try something different. At Kellogg’s, this is how I approached it – although this was also because of how my job was structured. I thought that narrow, deep collaboration was the best way to drive broad-based deep collaboration.

This isn’t “organic” although it helps with organic growth by building awareness and good stories. This requires meticulous planning and hard work to develop relationships across the business.

A hybrid approach is probably best. But this requires both great collaboration between internal departments. And it also freedom to experiment from those very same departments. I have not heard of many stories where this is true in enterprises.

Similarly, small companies and startups need to be mindful that they don’t regress as they grow. They might start with deep, broad collaboration. But it’s easy for collaboration to become silo’d – especially in startups aching to “build our their X function” or eager to have 20 VPs. Watch that culture as you grow.

We can help build collaboration and learning projects at the deep end that can complement your broader efforts. If you want to know how – inquisitive HR, Comms and IT types – contact us.

Lean Startup Social

It was a great job! I worked fully remote in IT for Kellogg’s as Global Lead for Digital Collaboration. My instructions: “go make Yammer successful”. That was it. I wasn’t even given a working laptop (I had to use my own.) And there was not a lot of support (the company was definitely not set up for remote working).

But I was confident I had the answers people would want to hear. After running social learning and collaboration pilots and projects for many years, I thought I had all the use cases I needed. So I jumped in, set up a few calls, and told people how Yammer would change their work lives.

I went too fast. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I didn’t listen first.

It was time to go back to the drawing board.

In a previous job I developed an intrapreneurship program. It was based on lean startup principles. This seemed a good fit for what I wanted to do, so I decided to use lean startup to test ideas for an internal consultancy service.

I pulled out a Lean Canvas (you could also use the Business Model Canvas) and got to work. This was real business analysis in action. I had a product in Yammer that I thought people would want, but needed to test where it would be best applied in the context of their work. I needed to work out how and where I could “sell” it and my support services into different parts of the organization. I had to find partners to help expand my reach globally. And I needed to establish how to measure my success.

Lean startup methodology requires you to actually talk to people to test your ideas, to ask people about their “jobs to be done”. It’s very different to usual internal workplace deployments (of tech, learning programs, comms/HR content pushes). You cannot assume you know what people need. Probe-sense-respond; it’s Cynefin in action. Adaptable, agile, iterative. I believe it’s the only way to develop successful corporate projects.

I ended up having close to 2,000 conversations. You can read more here.

Lean Canvas image is from https://blog.leanstack.com/why-lean-canvas-vs-business-model-canvas-af62c0f250f0

Analogue. Outdated. Get Leadership Dev Out of L&D?

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
  • Add in whatever L&D decide throw in, despite not understanding it. Let’s go with Design Thinking today.
  • And whatever our company believes is important too…

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 Trello, Asana, Skype, Yammer and O365. Or Google Docs and Hangouts. 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.

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.

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.

This post orignally appear on www.theworksocial.com

The 10% Rule: 2,000 Conversations to Organizational Mastery

10,000 hours. That’s the time taken to master a subject. It’s far more complicated than that of course.

It got me thinking. At Kellogg Co (Kellogg’s), I talked to over 2000 employees during my time launching Yammer. I talked to c-suite executives and the newest intern. I talked to field sales managers in New Zealand, commuications advisors in South Africa, marketing leaders in Turkey and Egypt, and US truck drivers in supply chain.

As a remote employee (a test case in itself), the experience for everyone was the same: from global HQ to Japan IT. And you know what? I never did any more than start with a simple question:

Tell me about your job

I talked with many of the people again and was able to find ways to improve their collaboration and learning experiences. But I didn’t jump to solutions at first. It was about connection and understanding.

So I propose a new rule: the 10% rule. You need to talk to at least 10% of employees at an organization before you can help. Kellogg Co had close to 20,000 employees globally. Yes, this isn’t scientific! But maybe you become a master of understanding your organization in the process.

Have you spoken to 10% of your employees so far?

I will write more posts about how I worked at Kellogg Co and other companies over the next month. Want to get started sooner? Contact us for a conversation.

You can’t implement technology with the culture you are trying to fix

There’s a reason you can’t solely use technology to change a company culture. The current culture operates within a set of processes, principles and reward structures that promote certain ways of working.

New technology cannot change this.

Technology will just offer window into what it not working in your organization.

A new LMS won’t help people learn more; it’ll just be a new place to dump more eLearning with tests. New collaboration tools won’t make people more collaborative. They will just become new places to store files.

In fact, most technology will be used in a way that only provides a fraction of the potential value of the tool.

New tech, same use.

It’s not all bad. There are pockets of wonderful people in every organization that are itching to work differently. I’ve met and worked with so many. They are probably your best employees (although many go unrecognized). They will seize upon new technology that supports their way of work. Of course, they are already be running their own shadow IT.

Generally, though, technology-driven change means a build up of different systems and it will confuse everyone. Successfactors for HR. O365 (AKA congnitive overload) for IT. Broadcast tech and an ESN for comms. Different Sharepoint portals for different departments. Data tools, Salesforce, marketing tools. Competing tools for the same purpose! If the medium is the message, the message is at best confused. At worst the message is “we don’t know how to do this!” (Do you find yourself asking “which tool when?”).

It doesn’t matter how much “change management” efforts you put into telling people what they need to do.

All the while your most effective employees are using Google Drive and WhatsApp or Facebook.

The tech vendors promise change, but your company isn’t ready.

Samsung is famous for having two of many apps in their Galaxy phones. Two email apps, two messengers, two browsers. All because the company culture meant competing groups worked against each other. Technology is a window into what doesn’t work in your organization.

Wherever you sit in an organization: HR, Comms, IT, out in the business. You can prevent this by focusing on small steps first. Simplify. Play the long game. We can measure this stuff too!

We offer collaboration support for everyone and digital leadership coaching for executives. Then you can contact your preferred tech vendors.

Contact us now to get started.

Transforming Nothing 

Digital Disruption has given way to Transformation.

When I work with people in legacy companies, transformation means nothing much. (Many of these people work in pockets of new thinkers who are trying to make multiple, iterative, small, effective changes).

Yet for a majority of those in top management:

  • Transformation means old companies stuggling to maintain market share.
  • Transformation means outsourcing people (shared services models) to try and wring out the last bit of value from existing structures.
  • Transformation means vast change projects that fail to address the basic building blocks of the organization.
  • Transformation means top down big technology and big consultancy projects that cost millions, yet deliver little. The projects merely tick the “transformation box”.
  • Transformation means a new order that is exactly the same as before. The same leaders, the same jobs, perhaps different titles. It’s window dressing.

To me it says “we don’t know what we’re doing!”

This type of transformation is as useful and exciting as the Transformer toy I was given as a kid. It turned into rock.

Is your company going through one or many “transformations”? Has anything changed? How do you feel?

Image from http://www.jaredunzipped.com/2015/09/the-triumph-of-rock-lords.html

Are You A Practitioner of “Social Learning”?

I just had a lovely call with a Learning leader for a global 100,000+ people company about getting started with social learning. They had some very good questions. I thought I would share my thoughts on them as it was a really enjoyable conversation.

1) Why is there so little about the How of social learning? Everything is about the Why.

It’s true. There are books, articles and many conference presentations about why you should support social learning in the workplace. But there is little available to explain how. I think there are two reasons for this.

First, the why needed to be the focus for many years. No one was listening. The early proponents of workplace social learning, collaboration and  the technology that can support it, had to work hard. The most prominent are those who I owe my career trajectory to – such as the ITA (Harold, Jane, Clark, Charles, and Jay) and Dan Pontefract. Others have taken up the why piece, including many technology vendors. This leaves a problematic situation. Too many are “practitioners” of the why, not the how.

Second, few people have had careers as practitioners of social learning. I’m very lucky to be one of those people (along with Mark, Helen, and Michelle). But even then, I don’t really call it social learning. It’s collaboration support, connecting, community management, innovation ideation, design thinking, or whatever makes sense to those I work with. Simply put, I help people collaborate and learn together. I enjoy theory, but I love the challenge of doing. You need to enjoy working in the grey and have thick skin to like doing this work.

2) Why are there no stories of companies doing social learning well? What companies are known for great social learning?

This highlights one of the most common misconceptions of social learning in the workplace. Heard of Facebook, Google, Dropbox, even Microsoft? How about the thousands of small remote-only companies? They do it, but most would not even call it social learning. They have business-outcome-focused collaboration, information sharing, or “working together”. It’s just not called social learning and isn’t owned by L&D necessarily.

Stories on LinkedIn, HBR, Forbes/Inc etc. about social learning tend to be hyperbole. Every big company has good and bad. Most legacy enterprises practice social learning to different extents. But it’s in pockets with certain groups and people. It’s just not a enterprise-wide part of the culture. This what I worked with at Kellogg’s.

And that’s OK because – honestly – it’s unlikely to be enterprise-wide. Support who wants to be supported. Work with those who are open to new ideas. You likely work in a small team. Social learning support actually helps you target high value internal clients and get success stories quickly. Some ideas will work, others will not. You just need to be flexible and ready to iterate.

And remember, no employer branding poster ever says next to a smiling headshot: “[Company Name] is a great place for learning socially”. Seriously – social learning support is not Leadership Development with Harvard Profs in VR. It’s practical, quick, and incredibly valuable. But it’s not a big shiny thing.

If you want help getting started with the practical side of social learning (or collaboration support, or your term of choice) in the workplace, get in touch.

Technology Won’t Change Your Culture

Technology won’t change your culture.
I have to emphasise it again.  Technology won’t change your culture. No matter what technology you buy. Stop accepting the tech vendor promises at face value.

You need to put in the hard work to change the people side of systems, processes, rewards, learning, and organizational design. The implications for old school IT techniques are huge. Design-Deliver-Deploy will only launch the tech. Ancient OCM campaigns, issued from up above by various silos, will have no effect.

It’s difficult and shocking to many.

Take a look at this matrix.

Tech-Culture Matrix

The most progressive and effective path is to move from the bottom left, up to top left, and then to the right. That’s the path most consistently high performing organizations follow.

But far too many try to push right immediately and never receive the benefits the vendors or big consultancies promise.

Where is your company? Which path are you taking?