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.

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.

 

Solving Business Problems with Better Collaboration

Three years ago I was invited to meet with a local authority to discuss advanced collaboration. They had just been informed that the council’s head office was to be sold, so they had to find ways of enabling a workforce that was used to being “in the office” to do their jobs effectively from distributed locations or from home. This required a cultural change as well as new working practices, so new collaboration tools that can help users to make this transition would be key to success.

Recently I was invited to present on “Socialising your Intranet” at the National Communications Academy Scotland event for Scottish local authorities, so I contacted the council to discuss how their project had gone and whether I could use them as a case study. It was great to hear their excitement about the journey that had been on over the last few years. From the start, support from the Chief Executive down had stronger than they expected and they had actively engaged managers and team leaders to become agents of change in their organisations – resulting in over 50 use cases being implemented already, from better supporting community hubs, to transforming the registrar processes, to improving traffic flow on the roads. The final value was much greater than simply facilitating the move from fixed desks to remote and home working that had been their starting point.
Find the pain points that will drive the necessary investment of time and effortA colleague and good friend, Louis Richardson, likes to explain how much easier it is to sell someone a headache pill rather than a vitamin pill. Sure, vitamins are good for the body, but if you can help to get rid of someone’s headache they will be much more committed taking the medicine and making the changes needed for success. In this case, the urgent need to move to distributed working was the first reason to act, but then using middle management (so often inhibitors for change) as the driving force for a new way to work was a brilliant way of finding more headaches – and curing them.

So what are the headaches your organisation faces? Could better collaboration tools and techniques help to address them? Finding a new way to work has helped many organisations become more agile and adaptive in a changing world. Could you transform your organisation into a more satisfying, more successful place to work.

Social Collaboration in Government

A while back I wrote a blog post on Social Business in the Public Sector where I discussed a keynote presentation John Swinney, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, made at Public Sector Digital Scotland, where he:

… clearly set out the need and the promise of the digital age. To move from government programs that are what they are, and either match a citizen’s needs or don’t, to delivering the personalised services that each individual citizen requires.

I was reminded of this listening to him present the keynote at ONE Public Sector Scotland last week, where he discussed progress made, the importance of enabling public sector workers to be empowered to do the right thing for the individual in front of them, and the need to become “relentlessly person-centred”.

In my social business masterclass later in the day, I tried to visualise this concept. Pre-digital, government programs were “one size fits all”:

But in the digital world, the citizen should be able to select exactly the services they need from a menu on offer:

However, you can only go so far down this path through technology, by providing a single front end that unifies services – or even by integrating back end services to smoothly move the user from one web site to another to deliver a coherent user journey that takes the citizen to what they need without them having to understand the internal structure of the government agencies providing it. To truly deliver an exceptional citizen experience, you need the government agencies involved, or more accurately the employees within them, to collaborate seamlessly as well.

 

This isn’t just about coordinating applications across the government web sites. Or even simply about aligning policies and procedures across government departments. Rather the issue is that: not only does the public not care which government department, agency, or public sector body is providing the service they need, but they want to be able to access the knowledge and expertise of public sector employees without worrying about which bit of the government pays them.

The good news is that responding to this desire not only produces more effective government services, it can also create more efficient ones. Initiatives like the Government Digital Service and G-Cloud have made good progress in reducing the cost of public services while improving their effectiveness. Now it is time to take things to the next level. To move beyond common web sites and infrastructure to start to integrate government employees into a single ecosystem of public servants focussed on better servicing the needs of the citizen.

This isn’t a new concept, like it is in some commercial companies where competition not collaboration is embedded in the culture. Collaboration is natural in public services, but what is needed is a focus on exploiting the latest social collaboration technologies to create an environment where expertise can be reused instead of replicated, knowledge can be shared as a by product of users’ day to day activities, and inter-departmental collaboration can reduce the cost of delivering services.

Cross departmental collaboration, cross agency collaboration, cross public sector collaboration – and, indeed, collaboration beyond to include local government, the third sector, delivery partners and small & medium enterprises who can help to service the citizen’s needs. The first challenge for government was integrating services – the next is integrating people.

In IBM, when we think about how public services can be taken to the next level we build stories about how cross government collaboration could save costs and change the lives of citizens. Could we help departments respond to freedom of information requests faster and at lower cost? Could we make it painless for a citizen to complete their tax return? Could we make it easier to claim benefits by removing barriers while reducing the chance of fraud? Could collaboration between local government social services, the police and school teachers save the life of a child?

Now that would be something to be proud of.

 

Driving Social Adoption by Understanding the Power of Habit

Thanks to Mark Fleming for recommending The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg to me earlier today, and reminding me of Charles’ TED Talk on the topic.

I often talk about the key to social collaboration adoption being changing people’s behaviours, so it is important to remember that most behaviour is driven by habit. Changing those habits is often the biggest challenge in social adoption.

As the video shows, when employees are carrying out habitual processes, doing what they always do, the are effectively asleep as far as actively helping the company achieve its goals is concerned.

In his book (though not the video), Charles talks about how Paul O’Neill, when he was appointed to be the new CEO at Alcoa, focussed on changing employees around health & safety and in turn was able to drive the other changes to processes necessary to transform the company.

So, when you are building a social adoption plan, don’t just think about the behaviour changes you need employees to make, but think about how you are going to help them to change the habits that drive their current behaviour.

Video Interviews on Social Business published by IT Pro

The IT Pro web site recently posted three short videos in which their group editor, Maggie Holland, interviews me about different aspects of Social Business:

These complement the Special Report IT Pro published recently with IBM on Are You A Social Business.

While on the topic of IT Pro, they have a couple of relevant articles on this topic on their web site in which I am quoted: Going social: implementing a social business strategy and The importance of compliance in social business.

Much of this content is also available through the Cloud Pro web site.

Social Business Trends for 2014

Traditionally I use the journey back from IBM Connect to put together a blog post based on buzz at the event to forecast key trends for the year(s) ahead (take a look at my 2012 and 2013 predictions and see if you think they worked out – most of them continue to be major areas of focus).

So, following on from the review of 2013 that I wrote on the way out to Orlando, here are the new themes that I expect to dominate in 2014:

Social Business Design

Social Mail: The most exciting new announcement at Connect 2013 was IBM Mail Next. Until now, the infusion of social collaboration into the mail client has built out from the mail box. It has taken the form of sidebars, business cards, links and embedded experiences that seamlessly take the user from their mail to adjacent social content. IBM Mail Next reimagines the inbox in terms of the conversations you have having with other people and the actions and projects they are part of. By thinking about the context of the conversations, rather than the mechanism of the email messages, and by applying analytics and task management capabilities to help you keep track of your different activities, IBM Mail Next offers a user-centric tool for managing collaboration.

Social Intranet: IBM Mail Next is browser or mobile app based, and is part of a broader trend to move all forms of collaboration, from collaborative document editing to real-time multimedia meetings, into pure browser applications that are also surfaced as mobile apps. It has become clear that users prefer to do their collaborating from mobile devices, so this aiding the transition to a post PC era whilst significantly reducing desktop support costs (one of the biggest parts of the IT Budget). Indeed, bring your own device is rapidly showing that users would like to choose their own tools, and where organisations embrace this they can improve the user experience at the same time as reducing costs. All of which makes the Social Intranet increasingly the core of enterprise IT: a single integration layer that provides role based, personalised access to applications, content and processes to each individual user via a browser or their mobile device.

Social Ecosystems: But in today’s world, an intranet isn’t enough. Modern enterprises can’t deliver what they need to through internal collaboration alone. Companies need their ecosystem of suppliers, partners and channel to deliver their brand value, and close collaboration with those organisations is critical to success. So just as the mobile trend is challenging the traditional concept of the corporate firewall, since most of the devices that need access to it spend most of their time outside of the firewall, so the need to provide access to applications, content and processes by external parties is forcing organisations to question their approach to the enterprise perimeter – and in the process giving them the opportunity to position Software as a Service (SaaS) as a natural extension to their intranet environment as part of a hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Social Projects: But this trend towards external collaboration with your ecosystem cannot be addressed by simply throwing open the gates to your network. What organisations need to do is define specific projects to deliver identified business value and then design a solution to address them. This is very different from the way IT traditionally create enterprise-wide infrastructures – but again, Hybrid SaaS comes to the rescue, avoiding the need to spin up new server infrastructures but instead reusing integration that has been done with SaaS services to create a model that accelerates return on investment by deferring costs until business value is realised.

We are also seeing a revolution in the way we design these projects – no longer thinking about the data and applications you have available and how can they be delivered to the users, but thinking about the user journey required by the multiple actors within and outside the organisation to execute a required process to deliver maximum business value. Implementation is then about putting together those user journey (by integrating content, applications and processes from the intranet, leveraging the service oriented architectures of the last decade and cloud services of this decade) and delivering them through compelling browser and mobile app experiences using open, standards based integration.

Users will access many of the processes delivered via these social projects from their new social mail environments, the social intranet will integrate them with the resources needed and the participants will not just be internal but spread across the whole social ecosystem – as a result driving new levels of personal and organisational productivity by making business processes easier, faster, cheaper and more satisfying to use.