Safety Matters: and in the workplace it is everyone’s responsibility

Never has the topic of Safety been more in the news – and with the dreadful events an Grenfell on everyone’s mind, many are asking questions about whether they do enough to ensure safety in the workplace? Or do they also have a disaster waiting to happen?

Key questions to answer include: are you listening to the concerns of your workforce around safety? Do you ensure that the employee you hire have the right attitude to safety? Do you actively encourage employees to think about safety, rather than just posting instructions on noticeboards and in email newsletters and hoping everyone reads them? Are you sure your employees understand why the safety rules are important, not just what they are? Do your employees collectively help enforce safety?

… Or are there just a few voices in the wilderness talking about the topic and being largely ignored?

Creating a Safety Focus through People Engagement - social tile

Workplace safety is just one area where engaging the workforce in a conversation helps significantly to drive business outcomes. There are many related areas where the same process applies, from cybersecurity (making employees, a significant weak point in your defences, aware of phishing and human engineering attacks while applying the security updates you want them to) to customer satisfaction (ensuring that every customer touchpoint with your employees builds on your corporate messages and embodies your customer service ethos).

Workplace safety has always been one of the key engagement patterns that IBM has used to drive adoption of these technologies – because adoption of an engagement platform is not the end goal organisations have in mind, rather improving business outcomes is what they are trying the achieve. To do this, technology is not enough: both cultural change and process change are critical to creating these outcomes.

A culture of workplace safety is best achieved through open, transparent discussions with all staff about its importance – and these conversations can also highlight the process changes needed to succeed. A colleague of mine used to work in process improvement for a company that ran an oil pipeline across the US. By encouraging conversations between the three divisions responsible for different parts of the pipeline, he was able to identify an operational procedure in one division that had been actively abandoned in another division because of safety issues it raised – this preventing a major safety and ecological disaster that was waiting to happen.

That is why more and more organisations are adopting employee engagement platforms that go beyond team collaboration and support conversations across the business, horizontally and vertically.

I’m currently working with my friends at Tap’d Solutions on a webinar to explore how employee engagement can impact safety matters.

If your employees don’t think that safety matters, then this could be a crisis for your business that is just waiting to happen. Are you engaging with them on the topic in the way you should be?

Updated 26/6/17: The scheduled Webinar on this subject has been postponed due to logistical issues. Dates removed from the post and I will make a new blog post once it is rescheduled.

 

Team Collaboration and Employee Engagement

Over the last few years I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to HR people about the way employees use technology to do their jobs. As someone with an IT background, who is often frustrated that conversations around the technology used to communicate and collaborate are too focused on cost of ownership and richness of functionality, rather than on whether the tools actually help employees to do their jobs more effectively, it has been refreshing. As an expert in HR said to me recently, “I don’t care what tools people use, I only care about what they do with them”.

Of course, such discussions also have their frustration – especially when business people say “don’t talk to me about choice of collaboration tools, in this organisation collaboration technology is something that is inflicted on us,” or IT pipe up in a meeting and say “so we’ll do that with Sharepoint as it is our strategic collaboration platform” even though it is not suited to the use case being discussed and so will end up not being adopted by the users.

I really don’t think this can go on. I see business people actively promoting Shadow IT to their teams because the solutions IT are providing are not fit for purpose, sometimes with IT turning a selective blind eye as they have no budget to address the need, and I see HR teams wanting to reinvent their workforce and the way they work, but knowing that they will fail if employees continue using last generation technology.

What is clear to me is the IT must become actively involved in the design and capabilities of the digital workplace if they are going to create a workforce that can respond to the consequences of digital transformation and the business disruption it brings. I’ve been talking for a while about the fact that business need to move from a “tools outward” model (deploy the platform and see how people use it) to an “employee inward” model (design employee journeys to maximise productivity and the value that employee brings to the organisation). It is time for HR to start thinking about the entire employee experience (not just they way they engage with HR processes) as leaving the tool choice to IT is going to become a drag on the organisation transformation required for the digital age.

One of the areas where we have failed to help with this change is in the way we use the term “collaboration” to encompass all forms of employee to employee interaction, resulting in a “one tool fits all” mentality which doesn’t match reality – and certainly doesn’t fit with the way the Mobile, Social, Cloud, Analytics and Cognitive enables tools that people use in the private lives have evolved.

To illustrate this, I’ve been using the contrast between team collaboration and enterprise wide employee engagement. No-one can doubt the need for good team collaboration tools – and, indeed, the tools in this area are finally improving significantly as team start to move from email, Sharepoint and Skype towards platforms like Slack, Box, Cisco Spark and Watson Workspace.

However when organisations try to use those same tools for organisation-wide engagement, they hit a problem. Team collaboration tools are all about focusing on the current activities and not getting “distracted” by things outside. These activities are limited to those directly involved or with a need to know. By default they keep content private, only sharing final team deliverables.

Lack of Engagement

The solution is an enterprise engagement platform.

Engagement Platform

The benefits of enterprise wide employee engagement are manifold. The best known exponent of this is John Stepper with his Working Out Loud movement – building relationships that matter to create a collaborative, innovative culture. Opening up to engage with the rest of the organisation (and beyond!) provides easier access to expertise and knowledge, enabling better decisions and helping get work done faster. But I believe the benefits go far beyond improving individual productivity.

Engagment Platform Benefits

When conversations happen beyond the team, they enable ideas and insight to flow up and across organisations – the most obvious benefit being increased innovation, more effective management and less nasty surprises. Similarly these conversations help understanding flow down an organisation, so every employee can make every decision in the context of the organisations goals and strategy as well as their tactical needs. They spread awareness across different business units, departments and teams so that the actions employees take every day are aligned with the strategy at the top and the actions being taken in other parts of the organisation.

This requires the opposite to silos – it requires open, transparent behaviours. It is what enables agile, outcome focussed teams to coordinate what they do instead of creating potential conflict. It helps avoid unintended consequences and provides early warning of an approaching crisis.

That is not to say that an enterprise wide engagement platform can replace a team collaboration platform. It can’t. But the same is true the other way round. Trying to use a team collaboration platform for enterprise wide engagement simply will not deliver the desired results.

Of course, deploying an engagement platform will not, of itself, deliver these benefits. People have to use it in the right way. That requires a cultural shift, supportive leadership that truly leads and personal change of behaviour. But we know that behaviour change is hard, so it requires well designed tools that support and encourage this change.

Fortunately, we already have engagement platforms that have been proven to support this way of working: enterprise social networking tools like IBM Connections – although we have traditionally done them a disservice by calling them collaboration tools. They deliver a very different user experience to team collaboration tools but, because their scope is the whole enterprise not just a single team, they require a level of commitment and organisational change that goes far beyond something IT can deliver alone.

But it is exactly this change that HR must think seriously about as it tries to build a workforce fit for the future.

Catching up with Social & Other Media in 2016

Looking back, I realised that I failed to publicise several of the other social media posts I published in 2016, so here is a summary (the headings are links to the content):

Collaborative Ecosystems – You are not alone

Was a guest post for the European Union’s FutureEnterprise project, funded by the European Commission to opening new avenues for Internet-based Enterprise Innovation in Europe, for which I was a Subject Matter Expert. The blog post looks at how social networking can provide mutually supporting ecosystems to enable innovation.

Digital and Social Media Opportunities for HR and Employee Engagement

In an interview with Jo Dodds for DSMLF Radio (a podcast series for the Digital & Social Media Leadership Forum, which is available on SoundCloud), I discussed how use of a social collaboration platform in businesses can encourage employee engagement and help HR to better achieve their objectives organisations to better leverage the diversity of their workforce.

A New Way to Collaborate

This webinar looks at IBM’s cloud collaboration service (IBM Connections CloudIBM Connections Cloud), explaining how its social networking and engagement capabilities take collaboration to a new level, and enterprise-wide level, and allow it to outperform alternatives like Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite.

From Collaboration to Engagement

My presentation at ICON UK 2016 on how social collaboration technologies can be applied to improving employee engagement and hence business results is available on SlideShare.

Cognitive and the Office of the Future

This webcast from IT Pro features a conversation hosted by journalist Stephen Prichard in which Clive Longbottom, of analyst firm Quocirca, and myself discuss Cognitive Computing and how it is going to impact employees and the way we work in the future.

cognitive-the-office-of-the-future-itpro_cs999_ibm_webinar_banner2

As usual, the theme of all of these is how digital transformation is changing the way employees collaborate, engage and work . Expect more on this topic as 2017 continues.

As always, discussion on this topic is welcomed in the comments…

Are we still talking about Tags or Taxonomies?

Sometimes its easy to forget that things that are settled in your mind, are still unclear to others. This is especially true when you are immersed in an organisation that uses social collaboration as the main form of communication, when a lot of the world still uses email only.

So when I was asked recently whether tags should be standardised, it rather took me aback. But then I remembers that 10 years ago, much heated debate and excitement was  provoked by tagging philosophy. In fact, one of my earliest social bookmarks was this 2005 article on Tagging and Why it Matters by David Weinberger at Harvard in which he argues that:

…the biggest obstacle to KM achieving its vision of making all information available to everyone in the organization was in fact the difficulty of building and maintaining large classification systems. Even then, such systems never represent everyone’s way of thinking about things. Tagging, on the other hand, doesn’t require a team of Information Architects to argue for years over whether the right term is “natural language processing,” “language parsers,” or “nlp.” Users can use whatever term works for them…

The conclusion I have come to over the years is that tags and taxonomies are different things: both have value, and both are good for certain purposes. This is very visible in platforms like WordPress, where a blog post can be assigned both categories (a classification system the blog owner creates) and tags (applied more informally with greater variety and changing over time). We also argued interminably about things like whether they should be case sensitive (is “conservative” the same as “Conservative” as a label, but also what will people type when searching?) In fact, I blogged about tagging back in 2012 in the importance of tagging.

Ultimately what sold me on tags as the more important tool was the fact that they can reflect the needs of different user communities and evolve as those needs change (and no-one was even talking about being agile then). So, taking the example of an organisation I came across recently, SEPA means Scottish Environment Protection Agency to one group of people and Single Euro Payments Area to another. Does that mean one of them has to change the terminology they use and the way they label things? Nor practical. You can, of course, create a hierarchy (“environment/sepa”, “payments/sepa”), but that puts content in silos – and then if you happen to be in the wrong place when looking for something you will not find it. In general, promiscuous tagging is recommended to address this issue – so if I tag something with “sepa, single, euro, payments, area, eu, eurozone”, then even if my “sepa” search comes up with a whole load of stuff about payments, refining it with “environment” will get rid of them.

One thing to remember is that the flexibility of tagging doesn’t mean standards will not emerge. Displaying a type ahead list of tags to choose from is one way this happens in enterprise social platforms like IBM Connections, but even more critically the whole point is that the tags reflects the terminology that the users are used to using to refer to whatever is being tagged – so they naturally use the same terms (or learn to use the same terms by observing what others do). The alternative (forcing everyone to use a specific term) has a significant disadvantage that it means that anyone who doesn’t understand the terminology cannot effectively find anything – whereas if they were able to discover a few things that have also been labelled using the terminology they know, they can then be led to the right terminology by seeing the tags on the content they do find.

Now this doesn’t mean that categorisation is worthless. It has valid uses (just like Folders – which are basically categorisation of files). However, as it turns out, tags can be used to implement categories but not vice versa. Typically a standard prefix is used to indicate a category within tags – and, as discussed before, complex categorisation requires a hierarchy anyway. So using the tags “org.environment.sepa” and “org.payments.sepa” gives you a way of providing very specific access to content – at the cost of intellectual complexity: why would someone interested in European financial settlements know whether to look for “org.payments.sepa” rather than “org.eurozone.sepa”? However as long as the “sepa” tag is also used, they would pretty quickly realise that the the results all contained either “org.environment.sepa” and “org.payments.sepa” and so know which one to use in future.

Once you get used to this approach, you discover that tags are a great way of refining sepatagcloudsearches (in IBM Connections, by clicking on the tag list on the left hand side of results). So you can quickly refine a free text search by clicking on a tag: e.g. if “sepa” finds a load of both payments and environmental stuff, clicking on “environment” produces a relevant set of results. Or if you don’t find what you want, you can remove “environment” and add “scottish” or “scotland” instead until you do get what you are looking for. This approach also works well starting with a categorisation search (“org.environment.sepa” to get all content related to SEPA, then click the tag “waste” if you want information related to that topic).

The good thing about using tags is that they can change as the terminology changes (have you ever had your department renamed?). The bad thing about using tags is that they will change as terminology changes. In the short term, that is handled by searching for multiple tags. In the longer term, relevant content either gets retagged as needed (as people realise they had to use the old tag to find it, and so add the new one as well) or gets systematically retagged by the content owner (by searching for the old tag, and then adding the new tag to those objects found which are still relevant) – yes, that requires some effort, but will be done if doing so provides value (and time will hopefully not be wasted on it if it does not).

Which leads to my last thought, which is a generic response to questions of the form ‘should I use “colour” or “color” as the tag?’ The answer is to ask the question “why are you tagging it?” If the answer is just so you can find it again, use whichever tag you will search on. If you want other people to find it, then try to imagine what they will search for (which often means using both, in this case so that both British and Americans will find your content).

To conclude then, my recommendation is: tag everything promiscuously with the audience for your tags in mind; create taxonomies when it makes sense to formally categorise data, and implement them as structured tags (and then make sure there is effort and governance to manage them going forward).

Secret Code Breakers and Public Social Media

Around 10 years ago, I went to Bletchley Park, home of Station X and the British code breakers of the Second World War who cracked the Enigma cipher, shortened the Second World War and layed the foundations of computing as we know it today.

A few years later I encountered Dr. Sue Black on Social Media as she launched her campaign to save BP for the nation (SavingBletchleyPark.org), then shared a stage with her at a BCS event and subsequently helped crowdfunding her book: Saving Bletchley Park (which was officially launched in paper form last week, having been available as an eBook for a while). As a supporter I've had my copy for a while, but it was only when I took a few days vacation after Easter that I had the time to read it.

Book Cover

In the book, you don't just learn what it was like to work in a top secret, code breaking organisation during World War 2, and how to run an effective social media campaign in the modern day, but also get insights into BP's influence in creating computers as we know them today, the crucial importance of the Women of Bletchley Park and some of Sue's other efforts to promote women in IT.

Sue and her co-writer Steve Colgan skilfully interweave the anecdotes and stories of real life Bletchley Park veterans with Sue's own story: from her first visit to BP, through her initial campaigning in the tradition media, to her discovery of Twitter and subsequent recognition as both a social media guru and key saviour of Bletchley Park. Vivid, first hand accounts are the common characteristic of both stories, making the book both informative and engaging – not just for anyone interested in history, but also those wanting to use social media to create history today. As a first hand account by one of those figuring out how to use Twitter effectively in its early days, it contains many tips for those wanting to utilise it effectively for campaigning today.

When I came to put Saving Bletchley Park onto its bookshelf after reading, I discovered that I have a small library of Bletchley Park books and was reminded that the The National Museum of Computing was closed when I visited the park – so it's definitely time for a return visit.

To get your copy of Saving Bletchley Park, visit Amazon, your favourite eBook store, Waterstones or your local independent bookshop.

 

Moving from Employee Enablement to Engagement

As social, mobile, cloud and analytics technology continue to redefine collaboration, organisational structures and the way business is done, HR is coming under increasing pressure to take a central role in engaging and empowering employees, not just enabling and evaluating them.These technologies are redefining what it is to be an employee, as millennials expect to bring the technology they were brought up with into the workplace, redefining how organisations function, as aspirations to build a startup culture and work with an ecosystem blur the boundaries of the workforce, and redefining the business models around which current management structures were designed. Agility, empowerment and engagement are what a modern business wants from its employees – and it is looking to HR to help to deliver what IBM calls a Smarter Workforce.

In practice, this transformation occurs at two levels: the macro or strategic level where leadership is provided, permission to change is granted and the rate of adoption is managed; and the micro level of individual teams, processes, departments or business units that pioneer new practices to address the challenges they face – whilst continuing to coexist with legacy operations around them, which were built in the old world. This freedom to drive change at the micro level is key to maintaining traditional revenues and reducing the risk that comes from massive disruptive change.

IBM BusinessConnect 2015 in the London this November I was heavily involved in the HR Day, where instead of giving HR leaders a day of presentations we ran a series of workshops designed to get them to share experiences with each other, under the guidance of IBM thought leaders. A recurring theme of the day was giving the employee a voice, with discussion on areas like continuous listening to better understand the workforce, using analytics on employee generated data to gain new insight, engaging with employees to create a culture that enables change, leveraging diversity to avoid groupthink, and using customer facing staff to better understand the changing market.

Talking to delegates, there was a high degree of variability in terms of digital platforms used to give the employee a voice and how they were being deployed (even the terminology varied from Engagement Platform to Talent Suite to Social Intranet to Collaboration to Enterprise Social Network). In some cases, HR teams were taking the lead by leveraging specialist jam platforms, wrapping social collaboration around employee survey platforms or deploying talent management platforms – often as stand alone services using a Cloud platform. In other cases, they leveraged external, cloud based services already being used in business units to improve the way they work. Finally, there were organsations with an enterprise social strategy, where IT offered a platform that could be used for HR purposes – offering significant benefits of reach and integration with where employees were already doing their jobs.

Earlier this year I participated in the Munich and London events in another IBM seminar series Continuous Listening – The Future of Employee Voice where I talked about how the IBM Connections social business platform (in the Cloud or on premises) could be used to increase the effectiveness of employee surveys by engaging with employees around the process. I demonstrated four specific ways in which such engagement could add value to an employee survey.

Taking just a couple of examples: when asking employees about their level of satisfaction with some aspect of the business, what if you could provide a link to a collaboration space where they could make concrete suggestions about ways it could be improved, comment on ideas from other employees and then vote on the ideas offered? Or how about engaging employees in discussions around the actions being taken to address concerns identified in the survey, crowdsourcing the answers to questions management might have about the concern and letting your employees know that their voice was being heard – and so encouraging them to engage seriously in future surveys.
This is a great example of using an employee engagement platform for a specific purpose. But it also illustrates the extra value that comes from having an enterprise wide platform where employees genuinely engage every day, with their team, with other employees and with management, because if it is where they do much of their work it avoids the need to “go somewhere else” to take part in this process. The engagement platform becomes, in effect, part of their desktop (or, increasingly, something they always have in their pocket). That is why IBM offers its Connections technology platform in different forms – on premises or in the Cloud, enterprise wide or packaged for a specific business purpose, in a browser or on a mobile device – enabling customers to move from niche deployment to enterprise use as their needs evolve.

Cloud, Mobile, Social and Analytics aren’t just impacting HR, these technologies are also challenging the IT department to transform. Just providing a tool, like a laptop or email, is no longer enough. In today’s world organisations need well designed employee experiences that address specific business needs – use cases like the employee survey above. IT can’t create those. It can provide a rich engagement platform, with capabilities like collaboration, social networking, team places, communities, audio/video, knowledge management, jamming, etc., but in today’s world of consumer grade IT and technologically empowered employees the business needs to take ownership for using the platform to deliver results.

As well as HR doing that for itself (using an engagement platform for Onboarding, Surveys, Talent Management, Appraisals, etc.), HR needs to partner with IT to help the rest of the organisation to use its most powerful resource – an engaged workforce – to deliver more satisfied customers and better business results by not just enabling and evaluating employees but empowering and engaging them.

The return of the accidental recipe

I haven’t been blogging regularly recently – I’ve been distracted by other things – and I’ve decided that I need to fix that. However as I’ve been busy during my working hours, I decided to resurrect something from early in the life of this blog – an accidental recipe.

So often, as you work on digital transformation, the end goal changes as you progress. You start off thinking you will end up in one place, but you learn and experiment as you go, and sometimes what comes out of the other end is much more wonderful that you expected at the start. True transformation often emerges, rather than being designed (we give the name Design Thinking to a process that is not really about designing to an end goal, but designing as you go – so you really don’t know what the endpoint is until you get there).

Tonight I had an idea for dinner. Fish baked in the oven and using up the new potatoes and large beefsteak tomato that I had in the cupboard. I bought a cod tail from the fishmonger (though you could do this with any solid white fish) and looked what else he had around – some shallot onions would help, a small fennel, and the herb section included a bunch of Dill which seemed promising (may thanks to Sandy’s the fish shop in Twickenham for both inspiring and providing the key ingredients for this meal).

Now any of you who have worked with me on social adoption projects will know that I start with known frameworks that work, and tons of experience, and make the rest up as I go along (depending on the emerging business needs and the evolving culture of the participants). I cook the same way.

So here is the recipe I invented (generous for 2 people):

  1. Clean a couple of handfuls of new potatoes and parboil them for around 15 mins.
  2. Meanwhile, I used a Le Creuset casserole pot to cook the dish, on the hob and then in the oven. Lightly fry 2 or three shallot onions (finely chopped) with a chopped garlic clove in a little olive oil for a minute. Add a small fennel (sliced) and fry for another minute. Throw in a roughly chopped beefsteak tomato (or whatever tomatoes you have to hand) and half a bunch of Dill (I used just the leaves and left the stalks behind). Sprinkle with black pepper and stir together.
  3. Add a small Cod tail (skinned) to the pot in largish pieces. Add a splash of white wine. Thickly slice the parboiled potatoes and spread on top. Cover and transfer to a preheated oven at around 180 degrees.
  4. After 15 mins, remove the lid and spinkle with  good covering of parmasan cheese. Continue cooking without the lid.
  5. After a further 10 minutes, transfer to under the grill (I have a combined oven/grill so I could just switch it to grilling).
  6. After 5 minutes or so, remove and serve (with additional parmesan – and, of course, a glass of the white wine!)

It was one of those times when I really didn’t know how it would turn out, but it seemed like a good idea. And the result was amazing – the potatoes really absorbed the flavours, especially the Dill which made the meal very special.

Whether you are transforming organisations or cooking dinner, there is nothing quite like exceeding expectations!